Christian Charity

Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Selection of Seven Men of Honest Report by Fra Angelico (1400-1455 A.D.).

The Selection of Seven Men of Honest Report by Fra Angelico (1400-1455 A.D.).

I feel like I am doing a mini preaching series on overlooked passages in famous texts. Today, our first reading is a pretty famous one. We have the appointing of the seven where we meet Stephen for the first time. And then, Stephen is martyred for pronouncing Jesus as the Christ. And, we are also introduced for the first time to “a young man named Saul.” Saul is of course the person we know as Paul. I mean, the point of chapter six is to introduce us to Stephen so that we have context for his martyrdom in chapter seven. And the point of chapter seven is to introduce us to Saul who will later become Paul, kind of a famous guy. Yet, out of all this, what caught my attention was the first verse, “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.”

The church is a place that people come to for healing. Jesus told the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17). Yet, here is the early church not taking care of each other. Just a few chapters before this was Pentecost. People were joining the church left and right and we hear over-and-over again how they broke bread together. How people sold possessions to take care of the needy amongst them. Yet, by chapter six something as little as language was breaking the fellowship of believers. The difference between a Hellenist and a Hebrew in this context? Hellenist were Jews who no longer spoke Aramaic. They grew up all around the Roman Empire and they just spoke the lingua franca of the day, Greek. That’s it! The only real difference.

I believe that there are people in our midst that we overlook every day. I believe that there are people you know that you treat more like a Hellenist than a Hebrew. You give a little time, lip service, not much else. You say, “That’s a shame.” And, then you move on. It is not because we do not know the person or even what is going on in their lives. It is simply because we do not care. “Oh that stinks. But you know, where God closes a door He opens a window! I’m sure you’ll land on your feet. Now, excuse me, but I need to go refill my coffee.”

The fact of the matter is, it is hard to care when you are your own god. All sin stems from this, we want to dictate what is right and what is wrong. We want to be like God (Genesis 3:5). And, when we erase the First Commandment – you shall have no other gods – what you get is a god in your own likeness. And a god in our own likeness is primarily concerned with ourself. And, if all you love is yourself then you cannot “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31).

But, we are called to a higher standard. James, in his letter to believers, put it this way:  

8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:8-13).

Mercy triumphs over judgment. In Genesis at the Garden of Eden mercy triumphed over judgment. On the cross, mercy triumphed over judgment. In Baptism mercy triumphs over judgment. In Confession and Absolution mercy triumphs over judgment. In Communion mercy triumphs over judgment. In this place, Christ Lutheran Church, The Forgiveness Place, MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGMENT. For we are all guilty of sinning and so are worthy of death. But, in our place Christ died for us so that we might have life instead.

The Apostles were quick to seize on the issue. But, instead of fixing the issue themselves they called on the church to show the fruit of the ministry, to put their faith into action. We have been saved by grace through faith, but do we stop there? James points out, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works,” (James 2:18b).

Every now and then I find myself driving in the early morning hours. Whether it is driving cross country or simply headed to the hospital for an emergency. There is a difference between driving during the day and driving when most people are asleep. The roads and interstates are barren. There is something about driving at night. It is peaceful. The world is asleep. Everything is quieter, hushed, like all of creation is trying not to make noise so that people can sleep. I know why I am driving. Sometimes it is for good reasons, just trying to get to a destination. Other times it has been because of an emergency of some sort in my family. Most times now it is due to an emergency in a parishioner’s family.

Well before I became a pastor I started to wonder about the other people in the cars on the road at two, three, or four in the morning. Who were they? What was going on in their lives to make them be on the road at that time instead of asleep? Were they coming home from working, or going in? Were they like me and just trying to get a jump on traffic when starting a long trip? Were they just trying to get the baby to sleep for a bit? Or, was there some great pain in their lives? The person behind those headlights, were they going through a bitter divorce because their job put them on the road six days out of seven? The lady just passed me, was she on the way to a loved one’s death bed? Sometimes I go out into my backyard at night and listen to the highway traffic. I hear a semi driving past, does that father miss his kids that he only sees on weekends when he is lucky enough to be home? I hear another car pass, I wonder what is going on in that person’s life? What love, or pain, or grief is in their heart right now?

And then I start to think, how could I help that person? If somehow, I could make time stand still and sit down and talk with that person, how could I help them? As I listened to their stories how could I share the love of God with them? How could I pray for them? How could I help meet their needs, ease their pains, quiet their consciences?

Deeds of Christian Charity by Pieter Aertsen, 1575. Public Domain.

Deeds of Christian Charity by Pieter Aertsen, 1575. Public Domain.

You know, I cannot help the people on the road. But, I can help the people around me this morning. I can help my neighbors in my neighborhood. I can help those I work with. Those I run into at the store. The barriers there are only the ones I want to erect. May we share the love of God not only in our words, but in our actions.

This weekend is Mother's Day. Mothers, whether biological or adoptive, are people that have sacrificed a great deal. Dreams and desires put on hold or abandoned. Lots of time, money, and effort goes into raising a child. But, you know what, mothers do not do it begrudgingly. Now, I am a dad not a mother, but I think the love of children is pretty similar. My son is fifteen-months old. And I love him, even when he does not listen to me (I am already dreading when he becomes a teenager). I sacrifice for him. I love him even when he has one of those nasty teething diapers and then decides to do interpretive dance while I am trying to change his diaper and by the end of it I am the one who feels like they need a shower. Nothing my son does would ever change that. 

This is the same love God has for us. And, it is the same love we get to take out into the world. God grant it in Jesus name. Amen. And now may the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.