- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. John Mack at First Congregational Church in the District.
To become a more multiracial and multicultural church, we are looking at our worship and music, our programs, people networks and pastoral leadership. We are also talking about "marketing," another word for evangelism.
Our enthusiasm for this new work is palpable. It must have been something like this for Jesus and his disciples as they traveled town to town [Matthew 9:35]. Jesus found people who were harassed and helpless. He knew their worth, even if society did not. And yet Jesus had so few disciples to help. So he prayed that God would send more workers.
Where others saw a human problem people lacking education, work, resources and direction Jesus saw a harvest. We are learning to be a little like that. When we began the dinner program and Zacchaeus Kitchen, we looked at our homeless and poor guests as a problem. But we've gotten to know the people we serve, so we see the harvest. We haven't got it perfect yet. But people are being connected to resources and experiencing miraculous transformations. We pray that God will provide more workers for the harvest.
In saying that First Congregational is multicultural and multiracial, we are not counting heads. Our goal is to put aside everything that stops us from identifying with the marvelous mix in the metropolis. We are learning, like Jesus' disciples, to become "welfare workers." Notice that today, welfare worker has become a dirty name. Jesus, in this passage, is teaching us to be a worker who sees a harvest rather than a famine. Once he taught this to his disciples, they were free to apply their compassion.
From the passage, can you tell where Jesus sent out the disciples to recruit people or minister to people? Jesus, in fact, doesn't make the distinction. The question is not how to be good, for we are already good. The question is: What are we supposed to do to be good welfare workers?
First, we have to go out. Go outside our group, out to Shaw and Arlington, to Silver Spring and Capitol Heights. We are not just an inner-city church. The MCI Center reaches as far as Metro reaches, and so can we. And we charge no admission.
We should also go out together. There are no lone rangers. Together, in pairs, we learn and share support. We realize the impoverishment of "I," which is capitalized with such inflated importance. So then, "we" go out. And we always bring good news. We bring it even amid poverty, injustice and oppression. What is that good news? That the kingdom of heaven has come near. What is that kingdom? It's what we are talking about. It is a community with no insiders and outsiders, and it is the joys of being welfare workers.
Our fourth point is to treat everyone well. Help others, but do not humiliate them by providing everything and not accepting their hospitality. We are entering a world of give and take. Mutuality of love makes everything go two ways. We are not better than them.
We see two final things in Matthew. The disciples were not always well-received. Some people will listen to you; others will be hostile. We can feel free to move on. Negativity does not provoke us. Our responsibility is not the results, but to share the message. This passage has nothing of the things normally associated with Christian evangelism. The people do not have to believe in Jesus. They are only being invited to hear the good news and respond.
When Jesus traveled, many people joined him. Others who responded to his message stayed back in their communities. The good news, in other words, worked for the welfare of the city. That is the message Jesus gave to his disciples and to us. By doing our welfare work, we find our own welfare. And how much deeper is that welfare than the one we try to arrange for ourselves.
Next week: A sermon at a Maryland congregation.



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