I’m reading this morning, during “coffee with God”, out of Matthew 9. I’m reading through the gospels in Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” because I’ve read them lots of time in the more traditional, literal translations, and am finding great joy in being shaken awake by some of his phrases and wording.
Listen to how Peterson articulates our calling:
“Don’t begin by traveling to some far oof place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. God to the lost, confused people rigfht here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.” (Matthew 9:5-7)
There are two pieces to this exhortation.
The second piece is this: Make God’s good reign visible in your neighborhood, among people who need to see the compassion, mercy, justice, healing power, and generosity of God. Jesus is telling us to live out the ethic of the kingdom by being the people of blessing we’re called to be. We, each of us, have gifts to give – ways we can be a blessing in our city, among our neighbors. We need to get on with it, right in the midst of our own living, right in the midst of dealing with the reality of our own brokenness. Wait until we’re perfectly fixed before we begin serving and we’ll begin waiting forever. I addressed this piece in the sermon from this past Sunday.
But BEFORE the second piece, there’s the first piece: “Tell them that the kingdom is here.” This is called evangelism. That little phrase, “the kingdom” carries a big punch. It means that God’s reign has begun. By virtue of the resurrection, the kingdom is here, in covert expressions, existing outside of the power structures of this world.
Note that the citizens of the kingdom all share some things in common: They’ve repented. That means that they’ve heard about the king, and His reign, and have declared their intent to live under that reign. They’ve decided to change the way they live, embracing a new economic ethic, or sexual ethic, or set of priorities, all of which are rooted in becoming a new person.
This encounter, with the king and the kingdom is foundational. You can’t actually be part of the kingdom without becoming a citizen, and you can’t become a citizen without repentance. Some of us would like to simply invite people to get on with feeding the hungry and clothing naked while never mentioning Jesus. To do so would be a giant exercise in missing the point, because the truth of it is that, to go the distance, to lay down my life, I need to become a different kind of person.
The first without the second is nothing more than a host of NGO’s. But, as even this atheist journalist says, Jesus makes all the difference.
The second without the first, is the tired pietism that reduces the gospel to a legal transaction, grating me a ticket to heaven while bypassing my need to live differently here and now.
We need both. This fall, our church has signed on for the upcoming “Harvest Festival” in November, which is an outreach to our city with Pastor Greg Laurie. Greg’s an evangelist, and he will be talking about the universal problem with the human condition, which is that all of us are separated from God. He’ll show us that Christ is the answer. He will, as all gifted evangelists do, challenge every person to respond to what the Holy Spirit is doing – to invite each person to accept Christ.
This is good, and appropriate. Whether our local church will agree with every fine point of style, music, and articulation isn’t that important. That Greg preaches Christ and lays the foundation for people to enter God’s story is what matters.
What matters just as much is that those who receive Christ be invited into the work God is doing, the work of making God’s good reign visible in our city. That’s why we want to be there to follow up with people and welcome them into the work God is doing.
Missonal – and Evangelistic. Asking which is more important is like lobbying for inhaling or exhaling. I pray that we who follow Christ will embrace both elements.