The Gospel in Two Words

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46

I recently heard of a minister who preached a sermon entitled: “The Gospel in Two Words”. (The minister was Rev. Bob Beverly, author of Peace, etc.)

Now that seems like a pretty daunting task, putting the Gospel into two words.

If you did that,

What words might you use?

(Reckless love. Wild ride. Surprising encounters. New life.)

Any of those options might be a good fit.

Yet, none of those word were the ones the minister chose.

A minister preached a sermon, The Gospel in Two Words.

The two words:

Jesus stopped.

Now when I first heard that, I was a bit surprised. After all, how could the Gospel be summarized in the words “Jesus stopped”? These two words come from the story of Jesus healing a blind man in the Gospel of Mark. In Mark’s account, the man begs Jesus to heal him as Jesus passes by with his crowd of disciples and throng of important people. The man starts shouting frantically, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

The throng starts shushing him.

“Keep it down,” they say, knowing Jesus had other, more important things to get done.

And then,

Jesus stopped.

Jesus stopped and called to the blind man.

Jesus is a young man under pressure to get things done. Jesus’ to-do list is longer than I can possibly imagine. Even in the story of the blind man, Jesus is multi-tasking: passing through Jericho, teaching his disciples, answering questions … and there in the midst of his crazy work day, someone starts calling out to him.

Now, when we are interpreted in the midst of our busy day by a stranger, there might be some natural reactions like walking faster, making excuses or pretending the person is invisible.

But Jesus doesn’t do any of that. Jesus pauses, looks the blind man right in the face and asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What a beautiful moment.

Jesus stops in love for another human being. And in that moment, the man’s sight is restored. He sees and he sees. He sees the Holy One right in front of him.

What we learn from this Scripture is that, in the moments of messiness and disarray and struggle in our lives, Jesus stops and ministers directly to our heart.

The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus stopped. That Jesus stops right now. This is the story of Jesus’ life. We read in the Bible: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and a man named Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector, ill-at-ease with himself and the pay around him, and so he shimmies up into a tall sycamore tree so that he can see Jesus when Jesus passes by. And when Jesus passes by, he stops and see what is on his heart and says, “You come down, for I am going to your house today!”  Another time, Jesus is strolling through Samaria and sits at a well. At the well, Jesus takes a moment to chat with a Samaritan woman – something at the time that good Jewish guys didn’t do. But Jesus did, Jesus takes the time to look her in her eyes and see to the heart of her struggles – speaking the truth of her life and the five husbands she had gone through. Right then and there, Jesus offers her the living water that comes from God.

The Good News is that Jesus stops.

In the midst of our uncertain and messy lives, Jesus stops in love and calls to us.

My friends, when has Jesus stopped for you?

I am reminded of the story of Zoe. Zoe is a middle aged woman who attends a church in California called St. Gregory’s. When Zoe arrived at St. Gregory’s Church, she was newly sober and she immediately bonded with Sara Miles, a middle-aged lay leader who had found her faith late in life. Sara coordinated a lot of the church’s community activities. Upon Zoe’s arrival, Sara put Zoe to work caring for others. Zoe lifted potatoes in the food pantry, set tables at the soup kitchen and gave bread to the guests. Sara asked her to sweat and talk to people she didn’t know.

And one day, after Zoe had been at the church a year, Zoe comes to Sara. Zoe had been struggling in her life and her faith journey and she says to Sara: I want to have a new life. Sara stops what she is doing and replies: “You already in it.”

Sara invites Zoe to affirm her Baptismal vows aloud, in celebration. Zoe agrees and Sara goes and fetches Paul, the Priest of the church, so that he can join them. They all go into the church sanctuary and gather close to the altar. Sara places her hand on Zoe’s shoulder. It was an unfinished year for Zoe, because our lives are unfinished work.

And Paul begins: “Will you continue the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in prayers?” Paul asks Zoe, reading the vows of Baptism deep and slow.

“I will,” says Zoe, “With the help of God.”

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” Paul inquires.

“I will,” Zoe responds, “With the help of God.”

Sara keeps her hand tight on Zoe’s shoulder and their breaths rise and fall together.

And now the next thing that Paul did was part of their church’s tradition. At their church, they had a tradition that harkened back to Jesus’ first resurrected appearance to the disciples. When the disciples were waiting in fear after Jesus’ death, Jesus appeared to them, resurrected, and then Jesus breathed on them and invited them to touch his wounds. Early Christians in the 3rd and 4th century began re-enacting this event by blowing on one another by way of blessing. Likewise, at St. Gregory’s, they have a tradition of putting their wrist on the person’s temples so that they can feel the blood beating in both bodies and breathe, blowing lightly over the bent head, incarnating again the breath of the Spirit.

And so, in the manner of that tradition, Paul came near Zoe and blew gently over her wispy gray hair, blessing her as she went forth in the world. And in another manner of the early church tradition, they shared little glasses of milk that Paul fetched and Paul handed Zoe a spoon of honey, so that the first thing she tasted in her new life might be sweet. And then Zoe went out. (Story from Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing and Raising the Dead by Sara Miles)

I love this story because in the story, Sara and Paul don’t go on doing what they are doing but they stopped in love for Zoe. And in that moment Paul and Zoe and Sara see Christ in one another and have a sweet taste of new life together. The moment does not undo the difficulties that Zoe suffered and yet that moment of renewal energizes Zoe and reminds her of her Baptism.

The Good News, is that Jesus stops and calls to us.

Reminding us that we are loved and seen and claimed by God.

This message is the heart of Jesus’ life. Time and time again, in the midst of the hungry and the sick and the strange people around him, Jesus stops what he is doing and takes the time to see and minister to the people right in front of him. This message is also at the heart of today’s Scripture. In the Scripture, Jesus blesses and celebrates the people who pause in the midst of the chaotic lives to see those around them – Jesus celebrates the people who pause to chat with the stranger, give bread to the hungry and stop by and check on the sick.

Jesus blesses people like Zoe and Sara and Paul. So that in their time together of sharing needs and meeting needs, Christ was made known.

The rest of today’s Scripture can seem a bit stark with its fiery language. Yet, I find it helpful to view the passage as one of invitation rather than judgment. Barbara Brown Taylor, a well-known author and preacher, comments, “Life is never as clear cut as [the Gospel writer Matthew] makes it out to be.” We all have bits of goat and sheep within us. The story today reminds us that at each moment we have a choice: What kind of person will we be? What can of life will we live? This Scripture invites us to choose to be like Jesus, to be people who stop and see into the hearts of those around us.

One of the things I love about this church is the way it stops and see people, whether it is how we minister to the community around us or how we minister to each other as the family of God. As a new pastor, I give thanks for the many ways  the people of this church stopped in love and welcomed me.

It was a beautiful moment.

That moment, of stopping in love is a moment that we invited to repeat again and again in the ways that we treat others.  This passage invites us to continually listen to the community around us, so that we might know what the hungry and the homeless, and the sick and the naked might look like and how we might stop in love for them. It invites us to listen that we might know what form the hungry and sick take in our area — whether they are folks struggling to find affordable housing in an expensive Shoreline whether they are families looking for food whether they are elders shut in their house, unable to get out.

The question of this passage becomes for us, how might we listen? This is something that we have been talking about for a while – we have been talking about the ways that we might have neighborhood potlucks, or get to know the local baristas or visit senior centers. We have been talking about how the ways we might stop and see the people around us in new ways.  For that reason, we will be hosting an event here on Saturday, February 7th. I know it is a long way off, but Christmas and our annual meeting come before that. The deacons and I have been talking about this and on February 7th we invite the church to come together, that we might form an action plan for the ways we will go into the community to listen. An action plan for the ways that we might pause like Jesus in love and ask, “What do you want?”

The Gospel in Two Words.

Jesus stops.

And now we are invited to do the same. Amen.

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