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God's Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers:

Empathy Today and It's Significance for Being the Best Neighbors With Those in Your Neighborhood--New Effort Is Exhausting, Yet Exhilarating: a Reflection on Zechariah 9:9-12 and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

There is no moral consensus on racial, gender and socioeconomic equity in our country. In David W. Swanson’s, Rediscipling The White Church, Brenda Salter McNeil writes, “…many Christians think that racial reconciliation is some liberal, politically motivated social agenda that has nothing to do with their faith as followers of Jesus Christ.”[1] Even Christians appear to be not of one voice. Many do not believe that racial inequity, gender inequality and socioeconomic disparity exist. Even at our most recent General Assembly (GA 224), the Presbyterian Church (USA) could not get enough votes to discuss a motion to speak, as a denomination, “that Black women and girls are disproportionately affected by the systems of white supremacy and misogynoir in communities, the church and society at large.” The Assembly needed 326 of the commissioners, 2/3rd’s, and received 306. No statement could be discussed or written.

Matthew, in his retelling the Jesus narrative focuses on people attending to their roots, those relationships in one’s family lineage and history. In Matthew’s case, that attention is on the Jewish family. Matthew is generational and intergenerational in his approach. Jesus disrupts that focused thinking. Jesus’ definition of family transcends one’s particular ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic demographic. Jesus makes the case that the truth of one’s identity is in the affirmation of Jesus’ Lordship and our adoption into God’s family. All people are created in the image of God. When Jesus says, “…learn from me” in Matthew 11:29, he isn’t wanting a theological conversation, but a life that begins to embody the Kingdom of God in a person’s words and actions. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female. Why? All are one and belong to Christ. What I have been arguing the past three weeks in my sermons is that we must come to terms with our complicity in the problem. In what ways am I protecting my “whiteness,” gender and socioeconomic demographic and not affirming that all are one in God’s design? And, I am asking you to consider the same.

Listening connects to empathy. Empathy leads to actions of compassion. Compassion builds warm relationships. This is the witness of the texts in Zechariah 9 and Matthew 11. The power of God is innate in all people. Followers of Jesus know that this power of God is a creating, redeeming and sustaining force for racial, gender and socioeconomic equity. In this regard, Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller in Neighborhood Church write, “One of the most remarkable traits of Divine Redeemer (DR) is its steadfast commitment to staying and ministering in a challenging neighborhood of a city that consistently ranks as one of the most economically segregated in America. This resolve “to stay put” has not been easy, requiring deep levels of intentionality.”[2]Geneva is placed in the midst of the Laguna Woods, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel and Lake Forest communities where disparity exists in racial equity, gender equality and socioeconomic demographics.

The texts in Zechariah 9:9-12 and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 assert that bringing about heaven on earth is a slow process that requires diligent, persevering and “staying put” effort.

In Zechariah 9:9-12, we learn divine forgiveness follows God’s judgment.

In Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, we discover our lives are receptive, if not captive, to evil. But, being yoked to Jesus changes that relationship. As individuals and communities, when we believe we are unconditionally loved by God, we cannot help but direct that love toward others. With that being the case, if we turned our passion toward the One who knows us the best and loves us the most, God, we then move away from the fallen powers that separate instead of unite people. As we turn toward God and see God in others, we find rest for our souls, just as Jesus promised.[3]

J. Herbert Nelson, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) said at the recent General Assembly (GA 224), “there is a Savior who reminds us you can go to the poor, to the broken, to the widows, and make a difference,” to get out of the church building. “I don’t ever remember Jesus having a church house. Every one he went into, he got thrown out of.”[4] We are the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing hope into despair, peace into discord, joy into sadness and love into hate. Unfortunately, rather than setting aside political commitments to listen, be empathetic and demonstrate compassion, all too often white Christians ignore people who may be “different.”

On this Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, we put on the yoke of Jesus. That yoke unites us, shoulder to shoulder, with Jesus. Where he goes, we go. Yes, new effort is exhausting, yet exhilarating. It’s the way of Jesus, to be yoked with him, as he engages real people with real needs in a real world in real life ways to end the disparities and inequities which exist between White and Black, Indigenous and People of Color. The effort is worth it, my friends. It’s about the Kingdom of God coming about on earth as it is in heaven.

[1]David W. Swanson, Rediscipling The White Church (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 1. [2]Krin Van Tatenhove & Rob Mueller, Neighborhood Church (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 41. [3]In the three paragraphs of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Robert A. Ratcliff, Stephen Breck Reed, Mihee Kim-Kort and Nibs Stroup in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 120-123, 123-125, 135-137 and 137-138. [4]Leslie Scanlon, Outlook national reporter in “From lament to action,” The Presbyterian Outlook, GA 224.

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