Summary: A sermon on physical and spiritual care in God's community, the church (Outline and material adapted from Daniel Overdorf's book, What the Bible Says About the Church: Rediscovering Community, chapter 3 Communally Responsible, pages 71- 79)
Older baseball fans remember when Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play MLB, joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Wherever the Dodgers traveled, opposing players and fans spewed hateful words and racial slurs at Robinson. Pitchers threw fastballs at his head. Opposing base runners attempted to gouge him with the spikes on their shoes as they slid into second base, where Robinson played. Fans threw trash and spat upon him as he returned to the dugout between innings. During one game, the jeers escalated. As fans screamed their tirades and obscenities, one of Robinson’s teammates, a white man named Pee Wee Reese, called time out. Reese walked from his position at shortstop and stood next to Robinson. Reese put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder and simply stood there with him, accepting the jeers alongside his friend. Jackie Robinson later commented that the gesture saved his career; he learned from such friendships that a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.
In contrast to current thinking that seems to treat society as nothing more than a collection of unrelated individuals who happen to live together, God calls us as individuals to recognize our responsibility for the local church; on the other hand, God calls the church as a whole to recognize its responsibility for the individuals
Thesis: Let’s talk more about providing care within the community especially the community of faith focusing on OT
Physical care within the community
From the OT we find the poor mentioned at least 130 times. Cannot talk about all of these instances and what the Lord had to say about the poor but will mention this custom: “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.” Deuteronomy 24:19-22, NIV.
From this we see that God’s followers care more about one another than they care about profit or the accumulation of wealth. Several customs and Scriptures give particular attention to groups commonly marginalized in society- aliens, orphans and widows. God held such compassion for these marginalized of society that He warned them: ““Do not ill-treat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” Exodus 22:21-24, NIV.
From the NT we find much the same emphasis. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27, NIV. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18, NIV.
* Illustration: Daniel Overdorf- One of my older sisters and her husband served for 12 years as missionaries to Haiti. Among various other ministries, such as church plants, a school, and feeding programs, they discipled a few young men who today lead various churches and ministries. One participant in this was a shy young man named Miltador. Miltador showed a heart to obey even the most radical instructions of the Bible. Like most Haitians, Miltador lived in poverty. He did have one possession that many Haitians did not. Miltador owned a cow- a feat that may not sound all that impressive to us, but one that would give Miltador’s family an opportunity for ongoing nourishment from the cow’s milk and ongoing income breeding the cow and selling its calves. Miltador came into possession of the cow after several years of work. A local farmer hired Miltador, then just a boy, to take care of a calf. Each morning and evening Miltador retrieved the calf from the neighboring farm, found a place for it to graze, then returned it to its home. Miltador cared for the calf, with no pay, until it had grown and could be bred. When the farmer finally bred the cow, the farmer gave Miltador a calf- his only payment for years of work. As this discipleship group, including Miltador, studied through the NT, they came upon 1 John 3:16-18. Paul, the man who lead the study, struggled with whether to teach the passage. American Christians need this message; we typically think of Haitians as the ones who need help. Because the passage was in the Bible and because even the poor need to recognize the need to help others, he taught this passage. The next week, when Miltador arrived at discipleship group meeting, Paul casually asked about his cow- was it healthy? Miltador hung his head, “I don’t have the cow anymore,” he confessed. “What a tragedy? What happened to the cow?” asked Paul. “My brother has been sick, and needed to see a doctor,” explained Miltador. “He had no money to pay a doctor. Last week you told us that if we have material possession, and see our brother in need, but don’t help- how could the love of God be in us? So I sold the cow and gave the money to my brother so he could see the doctor.” What an example of how individual Christians are to take care of physical needs. How often does the American church miss the depth of community to which God calls us!