The past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about what our church values. These are the things we care most about. We’re returning to a few of what drives us, what keeps us pumped, what is most important about who we are. We’ve talked about loving any person at any time at any cost. We’ve talked about being visionary – believing that God can work through us to make an eternal difference, even if our own efforts seem insignificant and we sometimes feel weak. Today we’re going to finish by talking about one more value: the value of being focused on people.
Ever play I Spy? One person says, “I spy with my little eye something that is…” and everyone else has to guess what they’re talking about. Whenever I play this game, I’m amazed at how we see things differently. You and I could be looking at the exact same scene, and we can see things completely differently. You are going to go home today having noticed things that I hadn’t even noticed. This happens all the time.
Seeing is more important than we realize. Specifically, seeing the right things is critical. Elton John, the British singer, used alcohol and cocaine for years. In the early 1990s, he gave them up and said his eyes opened up and he began seeing things he hadn’t noticed in years. Eyesight is important spiritually as it is physically.
Today’s message is all about seeing. Seeing is surprisingly important if we want to serve the way that Jesus wants us to. I want to look at a hinge passage in Matthew 9 today. It’s a hinge passage because it is placed deliberately between two sections, and it links the two. This passage is the key to tying two sections of the book together, and it gives us an important clue into how we can serve like Jesus did.
In Matthew 8 and 9, you have story after story of Jesus healing people. He cast out demons, healed paraplegics, forgave sins, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind. Matthew 9:35 says, “Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives” (The Message). This is what the ministry of Jesus was all about. It’s exactly what I want for our lives to be about – bringing wholeness and healing and hope to broken lives. This is the section on one side of the hinge that we’re going to look at today.
The other side of the hinge is found in Matthew 10. Matthew 10:1 says, “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness.” Matthew 10 is all about the followers of Jesus serving just like Jesus. So you have two important sections that need to be tied together.
The question for me is: how can we serve like Jesus? How can our church have the same influence on society that Jesus had? How can we serve like Jesus?
There’s a hint in the hinge section that ties Matthew 9 and 10 together. Matthew 9:36-38 says:
He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn’t know where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is so great, but the workers are so few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send out more workers for his fields.”
The key to serving like Jesus is that we also see like Jesus. When we look at people, serving them like Jesus begins with seeing them the same way that Jesus does. It starts with seeing before we ever get to doing. Let’s unpack this a little.
When we see people, what do we notice? First impressions count for a lot. It’s hard not to form an impression based on their appearance. Clothing and personal style counts for a lot. Before we ever talk to a person, we can guess a lot about their personality by the way they wear their hair, the clothes they’re wearing. Our guesses are usually right on too. Personal style speaks loudly.
Then there’s affluence. Sometimes you can’t tell how much a person is worth. Usually, though, it’s not hard to guess. I’ve got friends who look rich even when they’re dressing down on the weekends. The cars they drive, the houses they own, all speak pretty loudly about their affluence. A friend of mine works for Rolex. As part of her employment, she gets to wear a Rolex as long as she works there. Since starting her job, she’s noticed how many people wear Rolexes on the subway here in Toronto. Some people have a lot of money.
When you get past first impressions, we tend to refine our opinions of people. We find out that we like some people we weren’t sure about at first. Other times, people that impressed us at first aren’t that impressive the more we get to know them. We see people based on how much we like them and how much we enjoy being around them.
Back up a bit and look at groups of people. I don’t know if you’ve been at a sporting event or a concert, or even church, and stopped paying attention to the event and started looking around. What do you see? When you fly in to Toronto at night and see the lights of the city, and all the cars buzzing around, what do you take notice of?
Jesus saw something that I don’t always see when I see people. The NIV for verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This is an indictment of the religious leaders of the day. The Scriptures are full of this “sheep without a shepherd” image, and it’s usually describing a time when the religious leaders of the day stopped doing their job. You know what a sheep without a shepherd is? Dead meat. It’s prey for other animals. Jesus noticed that the people were harassed. They didn’t have answers to life’s greatest challenges, and the fault was, at least in part, because the religious leaders of the day weren’t doing their job.
This gets me. I don’t think we usually see people this way. Notice that Jesus wasn’t blaming the people for being harassed. This isn’t an indictment on them. He felt compassion on them. It’s easy to blame people for not believing the same way that we do, but it’s a lot harder to look at them and to feel compassion, and then wonder if we’re doing enough to convey the wholeness and the hope and the health that Jesus showed in his life. This is what Jesus saw as he looked at people.
Jesus noticed as well that they were helpless – that they were experiencing distressing problems and unable to care for themselves. He looked past the external pressures they were facing and saw something much deeper. He saw a need that the people felt, but they couldn’t put their fingers on. It’s the emptiness that we’ve all felt sometimes, the desire that, as U2 sang, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
The key to serving like Jesus starts here: it starts by seeing people the way that Jesus sees them. It means looking past the externals and really caring about people. They matter more to Christ than we know.
C.S. Lewis wrote:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners–no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
It starts, as C.S. Lewis says, with taking people seriously. Even before we do anything to act, to serve, it starts with seeing people the way that Jesus sees them. It’s caring about people the same way that Jesus does.
It’s interesting what Jesus says. We tend to think that we’re ready to act to meet people’s needs, but they’re just not ready. Jesus turns this on its head. He says that the people are ready, but we aren’t ready to go and care for people this way. Think about it. Jesus was facing more needs than he could meet by Himself. There was no way that he could by physically present everywhere to meet every need. The problem wasn’t that there weren’t enough needs to meet. The problem is that Jesus couldn’t be everywhere. The solution is that his followers go out and take Jesus with them, to be the presence of Jesus to people who have needs and are ready to have them met.
Jesus said, “So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send out more workers for his fields.” Don’t pray for more needs. Pray that we’ll be sensitive to the needs that are already there. Pray that we’ll overcome our inertia and get out there with and care for people. I’m not just talking about preaching at them; that’s not what Jesus did. He taught them, but he also cared for them. He healed them. He brought healing and wholeness to them.
Within our immediate community, there is no shortage of people who are ready to receive friendship, hope, and wholeness. They probably aren’t ready to be preached at. They are ready to be seen and loved. They are ready to receive hope and care. The problem is not the shortage of needs. The problem is the shortage of people ready to go.
We talk at Richview about being people-focused, because we believe that people matter most to God. What matters in the end are not the programs that we run or the facilities or the normal things we think about as a church. Those are only tools. We exist, we serve, because we want to love people the same way Jesus did. We want to see them the way that Jesus sees them.
There’s an old rabbinic saying: “The day is short and the task is great and the laborers are idle and the wage is abundant and the master of the house is urgent.” Are you ready to see? Are you ready to go?