Why should we reach out?

This posting will probably make more sense if you begin with yesterday’s post: What is it to reach out.

The next question I wanted to explore was “Why should we be outward reaching people?”


            Jesus tells us that being outward reaching is the most important thing we can do. 

“You are the salt of the Earth.  But what good is salt if it loses flavor?…You are the light of the world like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see.  Don’t hide your light under a basket!  Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all.  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly father.” Mathew 5 13-16

            What’s the point of salt that doesn’t taste like anything?

            What’s the point of a light that you can’t see?

            There is none.

            What’s the point of following Christ and hiding it?

            There is none.

            The reason that we should shine is so that people will notice God and thank him for our kindness. 

            It’s easy to look at these stories and call them figurative.  We’re not salt.  We’re not lights.  Sometimes Jesus overstates the case to make a point: it’s a device called hyperbole.  Are the above claim hyperbolic?

            One way to notice when Jesus is being hyperbolic is to ask if we can take the passage literally.  Clearly we’re not lights or salt.  So perhaps we’ll wonder about this, and just take it all as a suggestion that we reach out… Jesus politely requesting that we reach out when it’s convenient for us to. 

            If this sentiment were never revisited in scripture, it would be fair enough to fail to take it literally.  However, the gospels do circle back to this idea, repeatedly.  Let’s take a look at one example:

            “Then the king will say to those on the right, ‘ come you who are blessed by my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you fed me.  I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.  I was a stranger and you invited me into your home.  I was naked and you gave me clothes.  I was sick and you cared for me.  I was in prison and you visited me. 

            Then the righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you?  Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality?  Or naked and give you clothing?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will tell them, “I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.”

(Mathew 26 34-40)

            There’s not so much wiggle room here.  There’s no good reason to take this as a metaphor.  We’re not pretending to be salt.  We’re not imagining that we’re light.

            We’re confronted with a very basic question:

            What have we done, today, for the prisoner, for the naked, for the starving.

            Jesus could have used figurative language.  He could have said “It’s like mistreating me when you mistreat them.”  He could have said “abusing me is similar to mistreating them.”  He certainly knew how to say “Don’t mistreat them any more than you mistreat me.”

            But he didn’t.

            He said mistreating them IS mistreating him.

            This leads me to ask a very hard question to myself, and to you.

            The question I have to ask is this: How have we been treating Jesus?  The powerless, the naked, the hungry, the lost… These people are Jesus among us.  How have we been treating him? 

            There is this image that haunts me.

            The image is that I might come to this place, and sing, and pray, and raise my hands to my creator.  I might fill my heart with so much love for him that I feel transported.

            And then the sermon ends… and I go about my daily life. And this Jesus that I love so much is all around me but I’m too foolish to see it.  I am haunted that I might promise my love on Sundays to him, and then neglect and abuse him for the next six days, until the next Sunday, when I start the whole cycle of abuse again.

            It’s interesting to notice something about the passage: the people who are reaching out, they don’t do it because they know Jesus is the least among them.  They are as surprised as the people who’d been mistreating the poor and oppressed that Jesus was in those that they fed, clothed, visited.

            They weren’t looking for heavenly frequent flyer points.  They aren’t motivated out of a desire to score brownie points from Jesus.  They just do it because it’s the right thing to do.

            We’re considering the question right now “Why should we reach out?”

            Here’s the really short answer: Because Jesus told us to.

            And here’s a slightly longer answer: Because Jesus, somehow, is in those who we reach out to.  And Jesus is in us when others reach out to us.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

One thought on “Why should we reach out?”

  1. This is the second post that results from me wrestling with the core values of our church’s small groups.
    The value that both these posts refer to is the value of outward-reaching. There will be one more posted in the next couple days. Any thoughts or reactions to these are welcomed… I’m particularly interested in figuring out if this series of questions relate at all and which portions seem like the most relevant and interesting. (Or conversely, which parts seem like the most irrelvant and boring.)


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