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1 - What Shall I Do With the Stranger?
"...I say to Him, 'God is it okay to luff strangers?' And God says to me, 'Yitzak, vat is dis strangers? You make strangers. I don't make strangers."
Rachel Naomi Remen interviewed a Holocaust survivor, Yitzak, at a retreat for people with cancer, for her book Kitchen Table Wisdom. Initially uncomfortable being vulnerable with a group of strangers, Yitzak tells Rachel at their last meeting that he took up the matter with God and asked God what this retreat was about.
Rachel wanted to know what God said in response to Yitzak. The result is the quote above. To Yitzak, the fellow cancer sufferers were strangers. To God, no one is a stranger.
In essence, what Yitzak came to terms with is that a stranger is perhaps a human construct, not a divine one. We decide to make people close to us or to make them distant. We decide who to let into our world and who to keep away. Sometimes a stranger is just someone you haven’t said hello to yet.
And then when we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we learn something very sobering—and that is we were once strangers, too.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:12: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
My favorite passage of scripture that addresses the question “What shall I do with the stranger?” is Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35-40:
"For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? And when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?" The King will answer and say to them, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me."
2 - What Shall I Do With the Fallen Soul?
Let’s turn to the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.
Martin Luther King Jr., when he preached on this passage, said, “The priest and the Levite asked, ‘What will happen to me if I stop to care for this man?’ and the Samaritan asked instead, ‘What will happen to this man, if I don’t stop to care for him?’”
Here’s where our responsibility comes into play. We can’t keep people from getting wounded. Wounds are going to come. But we don’t have to infect the wound and we don’t have to leave them infected.
Everybody you meet has already been wounded to some extent. But we don’t have to leave the wounds infected. Pour in the oil and wine and do what you can to bring health. And then bind them up. We have to be covering the wounds. Remember the text in Proverbs, which is also quoted in the New Testament? Love covers a multitude of sins. Love covers. If you go through your life with your wounds exposed to the world, you catch infection. The reason we cover up wounds is to protect the wounded person from infection.
There are grieving people among us. There are fallen souls among us. There are wounded and hurting people among us.
He pours in the oil and wine, he binds the wound, and then he carries the man to the inn. And throughout the church’s history of reading this text, the church has always seen the inn as the church.
We need to be the kind of community that knows our own limitations as healers and knows the gifting of people around us. That is a wise community, connecting each other to people who can help.
3 - What Shall I Do With the Lonely Person?
I first felt the call of God on my life to become a pastor when I was talking to a lonely man at a church in Virginia. He had come forward after the service and asked me to pray for him. I was part of the prayer team. When I asked him, “How can I pray for you?” he just said, “I don’t know, I’m just—I’m just so lonely.” I felt that word echoing around the deepest parts of my soul, and I'll never forget the look in his eyes.
The Spirit of God whispered words of calling into my heart in that moment—calling into the work of being a pastor. And I am very aware of the epidemic of loneliness in our world today.
One of my favorite authors, Andy Crouch, recently gave a “Q Talk” called “Overcoming Our Greatest Affliction” where he spoke about how lonely we have become in our late-modern culture.
Also, I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review (Sept. ’17) by Vivek Murthy, who was the Surgeon General of the United States for several years. This quote really struck me: “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes, it was loneliness.” That’s quite a statement!
Here’s a question to ponder and pray about: “What shall I do with the lonely person?” And then, how can we—together as the church—be a people who work hard to make connections, forge friendships, and help people find genuine community?
The church is better equipped to cure the epidemic of loneliness than anything else in the world. How might God be inviting you to be a part of this cure? As we come together, share our testimonies, and do life together as God’s people, by God’s grace we will see loneliness dissipate and be replaced by true belonging.
Loneliness & the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty. ̵ Mother Teresa
4 - What Shall I Do With a Less-Than-Perfect Church?
Every church is less than perfect, including Living Word. Perhaps an imperfect church is God’s way of loving idolatry out of us. Perhaps, through an imperfect assembly of God’s people, he is showing us the fleeting, false hopes that are powerless to satisfy us. He is showing us all the things we are trusting in that will only let us down.
Do you have unrealistic expectations? Are you feeling that you have already arrived and don’t need people giving you any advice? Now is always the time to repent and believe the gospel.
Are you always discontent, waiting on the next big thing, dreaming about some ideal church you haven’t yet found? Take time to praise God for what he is doing now. Then ask yourself why you struggle so much with contentment. Even if you got what you wanted, chances are you likely will still be looking for the next thing. Learn to be satisfied in Christ.
Take some time today and read Jesus’ seven letters to seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Each of these churches had strengths and weaknesses. Read and reflect on what Jesus thinks a church should be like. And then join in the awesome work of helping us be the best we can be right here at this less-than-perfect church.
5 - What Shall I Do With a Divided Nation?
Our nation seems divided and exhausted. We might need to lighten up and not form opinions about every news story.
As we check our news outlets and then share our thoughts, it seems there are a lot of people talking past each other. Our ability to have constructive conversation, and sometimes any communication, has broken down. When Kristen and I were in college, we used to listen to a Billy Bragg song called “Ideologies Clashing,” and it reminds me of what we’re seeing today—clashing ideologies all around us.
I was recently listening to a podcast where retired pastor Tim Keller was talking about the difference between ideology and a strong conviction. He said ideology believes in the illegitimacy of the alternative. So, an ideology doesn’t say, “Well, you’ve got some good points, but overall you’re wrong.” Ideology says, “You’re illegitimate, and your views are, too.” Whereas convictions still leave room for someone else’s view to be legitimate, even if you disagree.
So, when we live in a culture where people are looking at things so filtered by ideology, it becomes harder to see the truth. We can have opinions, of course, but we don’t need to form strong opinions about every news story. To feel so strongly, when we are at a distance and can’t possibly have all the facts, feels ideological. And it adds to this division we’re seeing.
If you read The City of God by Augustine, written 1,600 years ago, you see someone who had the same faith we have now, wrestling with a lot of the same things we face today. Faith gives us a larger perspective and context to the news of the day. The gospel should help all of us bridge gaps in divergent political views.
There’s nothing wrong with being “political,” because being totally silent can just be a support of the status quo. But there should be incredible humility and meekness in how we engage in politics as people of the kingdom of God. What is needed, according to Augustine are people who live in the Earthly City, but are looking for the City of God (the kingdom of God).
- Songs We Sing
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