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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--Who Needs Whom?: a Reflection on Exodus 19:2-8a and Matthew 9:35-10:8

The power of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of life, lives in everyone. But only those who have responded to God’s love for them in Jesus Christ know it. The Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh, the Pentecost story, is your story and my story on this Second Sunday after Pentecost. You have the power of God in you. Now, what are you doing, in word and deed, to bring about the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?

Before Peter Parker, the super-hero Spider-Man, went public with his newfound superpowers, he had an authentic and vulnerable conversation with his Uncle Ben. Sitting in the car, Uncle Ben admonishes, “These are the years when a man becomes the man he’s going to be for the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into. You’re feeling this great power, and with great power comes great responsibility.”[1] Power comes with responsibility. How Christians use power will either advance the common good, bringing about the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven or perpetuate the building up of special interest groups.

Living a life devoted to God and others requires a keen understanding to whom one belongs and finds their identity. The power of God within each believer is a creating, redeeming and sustaining force. Others see, in word and deed, Jesus. The world in which we live is where we too see God. In this regard, Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller in Neighborhood Church write, “If our Christian conviction regarding incarnation teaches us anything, it is this: the world we live in is the place where we encounter God…Consequently, the neighborhoods where we abide are places of revelation where we encounter God if we are paying attention.”[2] Who needs whom? Humans need a personal relationship with God to participate in the creating, redeeming and sustaining power of God in bringing about the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. And the Bible gives a specific picture of what the kingdom of God looks like.

The texts in Exodus 19:2-8a and Matthew 9:35-10:8 assert that God seeks humans to be reconciled with God, be reconciled with others and be participants with God in others being reconciled with God.

In Exodus 19:2-8a, we learn that when the people obey God’s voice and keep God’s covenant, they experience being treasured by God.

In Matthew 9:35-10:8, we learn that Jesus has compassion on people, because humans are like sheep, helpless and lost, without a shepherd. God uses “found” humans to love lost humans into being “found.” How is this possible? First, Jesus lived passionately. Jesus’ life was committed to do whatever was necessary for people to understand who he was and the new life they could have. Second, Jesus’ passion was framed in compassion. Jesus hurt for those who didn’t or wouldn’t know him. Jesus’ passion was for healing the brokenness of human experience. Whereas passion means “an enduring inflicted pain,” compassion means, “suffering with” those who inflict the pain. Jesus not only endured and endures inflicted pain, but Jesus endured and endures the pain with us. And third, Jesus mandates his followers to live passionate lives. Jesus established himself as the champion for the marginalized and oppressed, the helpless and lost. God is the harvester of the field. But God has chosen followers of Jesus to participate with God in that harvest.[3]

Be reminded that the power of God in your life brings about reconciliation, which is the labor of healing the enmities that divide people from people, countries from countries, communities from communities, neighbors from neighbors, White people from Black people and rich from poor. The power of God motivates and moves disciples of Jesus Christ to bring about reconciliation, the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

During times of stress, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests, we hold on to the one who knows us the best and loves us the most. We are to be reconcilers. We encounter the unholy realities of poverty, violence, apathy, indifference, racism and classism that put people at risk and divide us. Again, Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller, the authors of Neighborhood Church write, “Neighborhoods teach us these same lessons. Each of them has particular gifts that provide unique opportunities to encounter the holy tangled up with other, unholy realities.”[4] The Triune God, one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a power for good, bringing about salvation from the unholy realities of life and ushering in life eternal.

I cannot ignore the unholy aspects of living as a follower of Jesus Christ. Neither can you.On this Second Sunday after Pentecost, we recognize the power of God residing in us. And that power understood correctly builds unity, not division.Wherever justice and peace prevail, through words and deeds of love and compassion,we collaborate with God to bring about the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Who needs whom? We need God and others. God needs us. It’s funny that way, isn’t it?

[1]The source of this citation is Spider-Man (Columbia Pictures, 2002), directed by Sam Raimi; submitted by Derek Chinn. [2]Krin Van Tatenhove & Rob Mueller, Neighborhood Church (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 18. [3]In the three paragraphs of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Song-Mi Suzie Park, Mark Ramsey, Sonia E. Waters and Denise Thorpe 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), 68-70, 71-72, 80-83 and 83-84. [4]Krin Van Tatenhove & Rob Mueller, Neighborhood Church, 19.

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