By Jason L. Sanders
My church is having a cookout this weekend. More on that later.
A lot of people like to say that they’re following Jesus. What they really mean is that they like following Jesus just so long as he’s going somewhere that’s okay with them. But if you’re really following Jesus, you’ll always be on your way to hurting people. And, more often than not, you’ll always be moving away from your tribe.
Our tribes are killing us. Instead of simply obeying Jesus’ command to love one another, we get our marching orders from politicians and pundits. Our ears are itching and we have accumulated quite the team of pundits and politicians who will tell us what we want to hear. As a result, we can’t seem to get along with the people who we actually live with.
In Matthew 14, Jesus feeds 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fish. If he had wanted to, he could have very easily set up an earthly throne for himself and his disciples. Instead, he went to the other side of the sea. The other side of the sea is where the unclean people lived, at least as the Jewish people saw it. On the other side of the sea, people ate pigs without washing their hands.
Shortly after showing up there, Jesus healed and likely taught another large crowd. Like the mostly religious crowd on the other side of the sea, this crowd got hungry. And Jesus refused to ignore their hunger. He had compassion on them.
Again, with just a few fish and some loaves of bread, Jesus fed thousands of people. He could have simply had the food fall from the sky. That’s happened before, you know. But instead he brings in a third party. His disciples. Their job was to take the food that Jesus had just created and pass it on to the ceremonially unclean hands in the Gentile crowd.
The Church needs to follow Jesus’ example of bringing people together. Food is usually a good way to do that.
Jews and Gentiles didn’t spend a lot of time together in Jesus’ day. They were supposed to be enemies. But that day next to the Sea of Galilee, they came together with needs that only Jesus could meet. For all of their differences, that’s one thing they had in common.
More on that cookout that my church is having. We’re not doing it in my backyard or even on our church property. We’re doing it at the Jackson Housing Authority. Most of the people who live at the Jackson Housing Authority are black. But this isn’t one of those deals where the white church tries to step in and save the black community. We’re not having a cookout to feed the folks at the Jackson Housing Authority. We’re having a cookout to eat with the people at the Jackson Housing Authority.
Oh, and there’s another group of people who are invited to our cookout.
The relationship between the police and the people in the community where I live is very good. But we want it to stay that way and we don’t want to sit back and wait for something terrible to happen before we decide to act. We don’t want to sit back and wait for our tribe to tell us what to think or do. We don’t want to allow the media to reinforce whatever stereotypes we may have.
We want to follow Jesus.
And when we follow Jesus, we will always be walking toward hurting people.
Some of those hurting people will be white police officers and some of them will be black citizens. Both need Jesus, just like the rest of us. And, by God’s grace, the Church will be used in arranging the meeting.
When we have our cookout this weekend, I don’t expect us to miraculously feed the whole community with five hot dogs and two hamburgers. But I am expecting the miraculous. I’m expecting whites and blacks to come together, share a burger and get along in Jesus name. If you’ve been watching the news lately, such a thing seems more and more miraculous.
But this will never happen if all the Church cares about is winning an argument on Facebook or getting the last, loudest word in an argument. It helps when we humble ourselves, repent and bring our deficiencies to Jesus. For far too long, the Church has stood waiting for the world to repent, all the while failing to repent of, or even recognize, its own sins.
Shortly after Jesus fed the thousands of Gentiles, he walked back over to his home side. The religious side. And he was met by two other groups that usually did not get along but had come together. Rather than coming together around Jesus, the Pharisees and Saducees were coming together against Jesus. In a bipartisan effort, they wanted Jesus Christ dead. Unity apart from Christ never works. It always ends in death.
In recent months, the Church has sought unity with some nefarious tribes, all the while still claiming to follow Jesus. This cannot be. If we are truly following Jesus, we’ll be walking toward hurting people. Hurting people who think differently than we do. Hurting people who don’t look like us. Hurting people who don’t vote like us. But hurting people who need the gospel just as much as we do.
And as we march behind Jesus, we will often find ourselves marching away from our tribe.
Your church might not be in Baton Rouge or Dallas. Perhaps it’s in a small community like mine. Either way, the people there, whether they wear a badge or civilian clothes, need the gospel. And it’s the Church’s job to take it to them.
You might not know where to start.
That’s okay. Just follow the example of Jesus and give them all something to eat.