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Practicing Compassionate Outreach
Scripture: Matthew 8:1-4; 9:18-26; 11:28-30
Track 10 of 12 in the Being with Him means Looking Like Him series
Running time: 33 minutes, 14 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, May 9, 2004
"Practicing Compassionate Outreach"
"Being With Him Means Looking Like Him"
(Matthew 8:1-4; 9:18-26; 11:28-30)
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

The number of adults not attending a worship experience has doubled since 1991. The American population has increased approximately 15%. But in 1991, about 1 out of 5 adults did not ever attend a church service. That number has now increased to 1 out of 3 adults. It is primarily those who are younger rather than older who don't attend any kind of worship experience. It is primarily men as opposed to women who refuse to come to a worship experience. It is primarily single, as opposed to married who don't come to some kind of a worship experience. The point in fact is, the greater our population growth, the lower the percentage of adults who find themselves in an experience like this one on any given Sunday morning.

For those of us who are in love with Jesus, who have had some kind of life changing encounter with Him, that is simply unacceptable. Now I recognize that one of the guaranteed freedoms in American culture is the freedom to choose not to go to an assembly. You don't have to do this you know. You're here by choice. Nobody can force you to come here. It's one of those guaranteed rights that we inherited just by virtue of being an American citizen. But for anybody in whose life Christ has made some kind of impact, that thought of people not worshiping together, collectively, with other people, simply has to be an unacceptable statement.

If we haven't learned anything else, we have learned at least this much in looking at Jesus. Everyone matters to God, and, therefore they should matter to us. If, in fact, everyone matters to God, then somehow those same people need to matter to me. And the issue is, that everyone has a face, don't they? It's not some generic everyone. It's the person that you're thinking of right now that doesn't attend any kind of worship experience, has no personal relationship with Jesus and I'm going to encourage you to take just a second and write that name down somewhere, or those names. Maybe on the corner of your bulletin or on the front flyleaf of your Bible, just jot the name of that neighbor or husband, or spouse, friend, who doesn't attend any kind of worship experience who has no living vital relationship with Jesus. Take a note of it and begin to pray for that person. God cares about that person and God cares that the person doesn't get involved in some kind of experience whereby they can interact with God's people and interact in a regular basis with Him.

They tell me, and, this strikes me as utterly incredible, that nearly 1 out of 5 people who claim to have a relationship with Jesus, who claim this "Born again status", whatever that might happen to mean in our culture. One out of every five who claim to have a relationship with Jesus does not attend a worship experience. Thirteen million Americans never attend a church service and yet claim to have a relationship with Jesus. That strikes me as really odd, but, probably is true.

When I look at Jesus, one of the things that I discover is that He is always reaching out to people. He demonstrates for us this sense of compassionate outreach. He is always touching people. Always concerned about who they are and that they matter to God. I'd like for us to think about that this morning. What does it mean for people to matter to God and to matter to us and what might that look like as we begin to think about that experience.

Back in 1992 the group REM came out with a song "Everybody Hurts". Just a brief bit of the chorus goes like this.

. . . . .everybody hurts sometimes, everybody cries
Everybody hurts, sometimes
So hold on, hold on, hold on. . . . .
Everybody hurts

It's true isn't it? In life, everybody hurts. Therefore, we ought to be sensitive to those people and their needs. That's the bottom line expression of having spent some time with Jesus is that if people hurt, God's people somehow want to respond to that hurt.

Ah, look at this text over in Matthew Chapter 9. Matthew Chapter 9, we're gonna read just this brief story Matthew 9:18ff . Two stories interwoven, one inside the other. Stories, frankly, about life. Chapter 9:18: While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, "My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live." Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed."

Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed you." And the woman was healed from that moment.

When Jesus entered the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, "Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep." But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.

Here are these two simple stories. Jesus in a journey to go to some place to heal a little girl interrupted by someone who has been experiencing bleeding for twelve years, been totally unclean all of that time by Jewish practice. He interrupts His journey. Heals the woman, turns around, goes and faces this death situation where He brings hope. That's life, death and despair. You can hardly get around going anywhere without bumping into life. It's just the nature of the way things work.

Last Sunday morning, we didn't do this in first service, because I didn't learn about it until second service. But, during second and third service we prayed for a young woman giving birth prematurely to a little baby over in Columbia. That baby was born at one pound, fifteen ounces and doing well today. Off of the respirator, just absolutely pigging out on two ounces of fluid every several hours. But that's life isn't it?

You run into a friend in the grocery store and the next thing you know your talking about, well, my best friend has cancer. It's just the way life is. People hurt.

I'm 52 years old. I've lost three parents to cancer. I've buried four parents. I've had my house burn. I've had a child go through divorce. It's just life. It's what happens. It doesn't make it good. It doesn't make it easy. It just means it's real. It's what happens to us. People hurt and the expectation is that when you are a Christian and you see people hurting, you have one single substantive response. I want to help. That's the nature of Jesus. To compassionately reach out to somebody who is hurting and try to do something about it. We don't try to explain it away. We just try to help it.

I was doing training for our summer camp teams, our high school kids or college kids who'll go out to these high school camps and one of the questions that they regularly get asked (we've been keeping track of the kinds of questions that campers ask), one of the tough questions that campers get asked every summer is this. Why do bad things happen to good people. Now they don't frame it in that word. They say, why are my parents divorced? Why did my daughter or my sister get killed in a car accident? Why is my best friend, why is she a drug addict? But it's the same basic question. Why do these bad things happen? And the answer is. We live in a fallen world. It's called life. There are no exceptions to it. It just happens to all of us. We learn to live with it because in a context of being a Christian, being a believer, what we look for are opportunities to minister to folk.

The young parents trying to teach their children particularly their newborn, toddler. . .stay in your own room. Sleep in your own bed. . . . .but, I'm afraid. . . . . .it's alright. . . . . stay there, you'll be okay. . . . .Jesus is with you. . . . .yeah I know, but I want someone with skin on. . . . .I want somebody that I can touch. . . . .somebody that I can feel. Isn't that how we are?

In this report about Americans not attending some kind of a worship experience, some kind of church service, George Barna says, church events are not the answer. . . .connections are. . . .real live people! Now that doesn't make events bad. It just means church events must somehow cause us to connect with people. See it's distinctly possible that you could come in, park in the parking lot, walk in the door and if you do it just right by casting your eyes in a certain way, even the ushers and the greeters will leave you alone. You know how to do that, right? If you just look correctly, they'll not shake your hand. You know how to get through the passageway. You can come in here, sit down and if you do it right, when it's time to greet people, you can avoid being greeted. You can come in and sit with three hundred people and never have talked to or been touched by anyone, if that's what you choose. See, an event is not the answer. It's the connection that is the answer.

Churches have been using vacation Bible school for years to try to help little kids come to know Jesus and the problem is we have them for a week and then we stop touching them. We stop dealing with them. The issue is not the event. The issue is the follow up.

I went to Pat _________ house the first week after vacation Bible school. Here was his first sentence. You will not baptize me. Oh, well, okay. How was VBS for your kids? I went back two weeks later. He says to me, If I ever am baptized. . . . . . I said, well, how you doing Pat? And I went back two weeks later. . . .when I decide to be baptized. . . . Up to this point I haven't said a word other than, Pat, sure were glad to have you in VBS. Have your kids around, enjoyed having ya. I went back two weeks later. . . .I'm gonna be baptized, but I'll tell you when. . . . ha He would have never come to Jesus if somebody had not gone to make the connection after the event. That's true around here, you know. We do lots of things that are event oriented. . . Christmas, Easter, other kinds of stuff, but it isn't the issue that we had the event. The issue is that we made a connection with a real live person, which is why we would encourage you, especially those of you who have been long term people here at Madison Park, when service is over don't automatically turn to your friend. Look around and see somebody that you don't know and make a connection.

Next week we're going to go to Baldwin School. You all know that. Ten o'clock service, everybody in the same place over at Baldwin and the issue will not be the event. The issue will be, do we make connection. Do we somehow touch each other in a way that draws us into a relationship?

Everybody hurts and what we need are ways to connect to deal with those hurts. That's the whole point of this campaign, you know. Is to give us space to connect. My dream is that there will be people standing around with coffee cups in their hands and we'll have to shoo them into the assembly, because they will have so tightly connected. My dream is that in the middle of the week, people will say. . .I tell you what, I will meet you out in the new part of the building and we'll have lunch together and people will connect. My dream is that it's where Bible studies will begin to be held because it will just be a nice space to connect.

My guess is twenty years ago nobody ever would have dreamed what Madison Park looked like. Of course, twenty or thirty years ago you wouldn't have dreamed that you're where you are. Right?

1974 I was a fledgling preacher in my first church. 1984 I was a fledgling Bible college professor. 1994 I was a fledgling European professor. 2004 I'm still a fledgling seminary professor. The more things change the more they stay the same.

1974 I laughed at runners. 1984 I decided to become one. 1994 I thought I was one. 2004 I now give advice to them.

I don't know what Madison Park will look like in ten years do you? You know what I do know? It won't look like it does today, not the building, nor the crowd, nor the way we worship, nor the way we do discipleship. Nothing will be quite the same as it is today because, because things change. We live in a world where people hurt and the church adapts to that hurt to try to meet people's needs.

But it's not just that everybody hurts, it's that everybody has value and when people have value, we do everything we can to protect their dignity in that value.

Look at Chapter 8. Just back up a chapter in Matthew's gospel. Matthew 8

When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

You understand the significance of this? He touched him. He touched him. Nobody touched a leper, ever! Just wasn't possible.

Max Lucado has written a perspective on this that I found to be absolutely fascinating. I just want to share just a little piece of it. It's his imaginative reflections on this particular story through the mouth of the leper.

For five years no one touched me. No one. Not a person. Not my wife. Not my child. Not my friends. No one touched me. They saw me. They spoke to me. I sensed love in their voices. I saw concern in their eyes but I didn't feel their touch. There was no touch. Not once, no one touched me. What is common to you I coveted; hand shakes, warm embraces, a touch on the shoulder to get my attention, a kiss on the lips to steal my heart. Such moments were taken from my world. No one touched me. No one bumped into me. What I would have given to be bumped into, to be caught in a crowd, for my shoulder to brush against another's. But for five years it has not happened. How could it? I was not allowed on the streets. Even the Rabbi's kept their distance from me. I was not permitted in my Synagogue. Not welcome in my own home. I was untouchable. I was a leper and no one touched me.

Several weeks ago I dared to walk the road to my village. I had no intent of entering. Heaven only knows I wanted to look again upon my fields, gaze upon my home and see per chance, the face of my wife. I did not see her. But I saw some children playing in a pasture. I hid behind the tree. I watched them scamper and run. Their faces were so joyful and their laughter so contagious that for a moment, just for a moment, I was no longer a leper. I was a farmer. I was a father. I was a man. Infused with that happiness, I stepped out from behind the trees, straightened up my back, breathed deeply and they saw me. Before I could retreat, they saw me. They screamed. They scattered. One lingered though, behind the others. One paused and looked in my direction. I don't know, I can't say for sure, but I think she might have been my daughter. I think she might have been looking for her father.

That look is what made me take the step I took today. From behind a rock I watched Jesus descend a hill. Throngs of people followed Him. I waited until He was only paces from me, then I stepped out. Master. He stopped and looked in my direction as did dozens of others. A flood of fear swept over the crowd. Arms flew in front of faces. Children ducked behind parents. Unclean, someone shouted. I don't blame them. I was a huddled mass of death but I scarcely heard them. I scarcely saw them. Their panic I'd seen a thousand times. His compassion, however, I had never beheld. Everyone stepped back except Him. He stepped forward, toward me. I spoke. Lord, you can heal me if you will. Had He healed me with a word, I would have been thrilled. Had He cured me with a prayer, I would have rejoiced. But He didn't. He wasn't satisfied with speaking to me. He drew near me. He touched me.

Five years ago my wife touched me. No one had touched me since until today. I will be healed. I'll never forget the one who dared to touch me. He could have healed me with a word, but He wanted to do more than heal me. He wanted to honor me, to validate me, to christen me. Imagine that. Unworthy of the touch of a man, yet worthy of the touch of God.

We believe in human dignity simply because we are made in God's image. That's what is so utterly frustrating and so frightful about those images from Iraq is that we've lost the sense of human dignity and worth. But as believers, we believe that people matter, not just that they matter, but that they have dignity and we do whatever we have to, to protect that kind of dignity. It's why we do what we do around here in the sense of showing people compassion by reaching out and trying to literally touch them. Not to do it from a distance. Not to try to send money to it, but to actually have volunteers go down to Walter Hammond or Redmond & Lee and spend time in that setting. It's why we don't have just a simple benevolence committee where we just hand out money through the church office but rather we have a team of people who are deeply concerned about people's lives, who meet with them and talk with them and share with them and council them and guide them and literally touch them at the place of their hurt so that they can be healed.

It's why there's a whole new ministry here called Contact. It's gonna have a group of people that will go to hospitals and nursing homes and shut-in's houses and literally reach out to touch people.

For as long as I live, I will remember sitting in my office getting this phone call. It was Lucille. "Brother Chuck, it's Lucille." like she needed to tell me. "I just talked to my son today for the first time in nineteen years. He called me." And then she burst into tears and hung up. Nineteen years she waited for the voice of a wayward son to just say "hi mom, it's me."

Isn't that what today is about? Mom. . . .isn't that all you really care. You don't care whether you get a card or a gift certificate or lunch. What you long for is the touch of a son or a daughter to just say to you. . . ."hi, it's me." Because hurting people want to have their dignity touched. They want to be made to feel important, not just like another number, another figure.

It's why I'm convinced why our divorce care ministry has been so utterly, incredibly successful. Because people are treated with dignity in the midst of one of the worst experiences in their whole life. It's why we can never, ever let this building or any future building strip us of the ability to touch people where they live. It's why this church will never be housed in a space. But this space will become nothing more than a mission station to send people out into the world.

I have a good friend who attempted to minister to the Lawndale Community Church in South Chicago. I don't know if you know much about Lawndale. Lawndale was when one of those neighborhoods . . . . . was actually started by a gentleman who went to coach football at a local Chicago high school and he fell in love with people and saw that they needed Jesus and the next thing you know, they had turned an old abandoned building into a community center and a pizza place and had given jobs to young men at . . . . . . . . .Chicago. Those white, urban, suburban wealthy churches decided they wanted to get on board, they began to try to send people down to Lawndale to help. And here's the standard rule. You cannot come to Lawndale to church unless you live in the neighborhood. And when a wealthy banker from one of the wealthiest churches in a suburban Chicago area tried to come down and offer his services, the answer was, "Not unless you live here."

That's our challenge. To never let 48th and Broadway become home. It must only become the place from which we go. People hurt and we have to do everything we can to try to help build those kinds of connections where people are touched sensitively. Forgive my insistence, but it is why you have heard me say repeatedly that we need you to connect. It doesn't make any difference to me whether you connect in a women's Bible study or a youth program or an adult discipleship class or a bridge community or, if this assembly is the place where you connect so long as you sense that as you come here, you belong. Because that's the issue. Belonging. And if you leave here today and in some way we did not communicate to you that you belong, would you honor us by telling us that? So that we can do whatever we have to do to fix that. Because we will never be satisfied to have people come into this place and leave without having made a connection where they feel like they were honored as people. Everybody hurts, so we try to help them meet their need. Everybody has value and so we try to protect their dignity.

Everybody lives forever and therefore we seek some kind of response from them. We read this text last week. I want to read it one more time over in Chapter 11. It's these famous words of Jesus. Such powerful words

Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in your heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Jesus says repeatedly, "Come to me, and I will give you rest." The frustrating thing when you read Scripture is however. He doesn't just say, Come to me. There are times He says, depart from me.

I have to confess to you, sometimes I wish somebody had not told me the truth. I would find it deeply satisfying to believe in the doctrine of Universalism and or annihilism. Here they are. The doctrine of Universalism is, ultimately everybody gets to go to heaven. The doctrine of annihilism is, if you're not a Christian when you die, just die and that's the end of it. There's nothing after that. The problem is that neither one of those doctrines is true. Everybody had to make a choice. You either hear Jesus say, Come to me and you respond to that or one day you will hear him say depart from me, and my friends, that's not acceptable to me. You know that name you wrote down, those faces you saw? The thought of Jesus saying to that person, depart from me isn't acceptable. It's not allowable. And so, the church has to be the church, making sure that the message that everybody matters gets said. Because every person in your life, every person in your circle, every person touched by this congregation needs to know that they can come to Jesus and they can be healed. . .they can be touched. That their dignity will be protected and their life will be changed forever.

And so, Paul captures it when he says, God has entreated us to beg you to come to Christ. To be reconciled to God. And so the church goes because we understand that people need Christ.

Now whether you bring them or you go to them or you take them or you go with them, it doesn't make any difference to me, but, you've got to do something. You just can't ignore them. That is unacceptable.

So you know that name, that face. I'm asking you to do something with that this week. If nothing else, commit yourself to pray for that person with diligence. Maybe it's to call them on the phone and say, will you come and join us over at Baldwin next Sunday. Maybe it's to say, would you come to the small group meeting that I'm a part of. Maybe it's, would you come to our women's Bible study. Maybe, would you meet me for coffee somewhere and let's just visit. Let's just talk. But, would you decide that you're going to do something about those people who hurt, especially those people whose hurts are eternal?

We come to this part of the service every week. We come to the end of a sermon where somebody has stood up and for twenty or thirty minutes has talked. Whether they've said anything or not remains to be seen. But it comes down to this every week, doesn't it? What are you gonna do with Jesus? This One who compassionately reaches out to all hurting people, will you become like Him? Will you, like Him, reach out to somebody who hurts and just take them by the hand this week and say, somebody really cares about you, because you matter to God and so you matter to me too.

And if you don't know Jesus, if you've never been touched by Him in a way that has changed your life, let Him touch you. You heard Him. That message He spoke in Chapter 11 is the same message He speaks today, Come to me. If you're weary, Come to me and I'll give you rest. Come to me. Let me touch you and change you forever. There's a world out there needing to be touched. Maybe you are one of those people. If we can help you, if we can minister to you, please let us do that. Come and see us. Talk to us.

Let's stand and sing.