Ever-Expanding Ripples (NASCAR)

I had to make you uncomfortable, otherwise you never would have moved.

This quote recalled conversations with a friend in Washington, who often spoke about how if we are comfortable, we have no reason, no desire to move which pairs with a common saying of a cousin ‘do something every day that scares you’.

Similar to the lack of comfort I experience with our Matthew scripture, this sermon was uncomfortable to prepare, it will be uncomfortable to preach, and it will be uncomfortable to hear. However, this is how we are moved, how we grow, and honestly how we are formed into the persons that God has, is and will continue to call us to be. This discomfort is compounded with our social crises, but perhaps that increases its necessity and urgency.

In our Matthew 9-10 scripture, Jesus is completely engulfed in his earthly ministry.

Jesus’ earthly ministry, according to Luke 4 (14-21) and his reading from Isaiah, is to:

  • Bring good news to the poor;
  • Proclaim release to the captives;
  • Return sight to the blind;
  • Free the oppressed; and
  • Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    including debt forgiveness and the restoring of family lands.

Returning to our Matthew 9-10 scripture, the tasks of Jesus’ earthly ministry also included teaching and curing every disease and illness.

Jesus, God in human flesh and bone, is weary but moved with compassion for the multitude of people in need.

Jesus, God in human flesh and bone, is overwhelmed by the abundancy of human need.

Jesus commissions the disciples into his earthly ministry, that is Jesus invites and enables the inter-most circle of twelve to actively participate in the curing of every disease/illness and the casting out of unclean spirits.

Jesus offers sounds advice, which we all should heed, when you are unwelcomed and criticized because of our commission into Jesus’ ministry the proclaiming Christ in word and deed, seeking justice, acting with compassion and mercy, and loving and serving ALL PEOPLE, especially the most vulnerable, shake it off and move on. This is easier said than done.

But, Jesus sends the disciples to engage in ministry with ONLY the Israelite persons, specifically noting to avoid the Samaritans and Gentiles. And thus, my comfort in our Matthew 9-10 scripture comes to a sudden halt.

The Gentiles are uncircumcised, pork-eating pagans.
You are descended from said Gentiles, unless you are of the Sematic race and Israelite ethnicity.

But, this discomfort with Matthew 9-10 reminds me:

  1. The Gospel of Matthew is often noted as the “Jewish” Gospel.
    It emphasizes Jesus as Jewish and Jesus as the Jewish Messiah sent for the Jewish people.
  2. The Holy Scriptures are always and forever an expanding ripple of God’s Kingdom that is here, near, and not yet fulfilled which embraces all people, the entire earth, and the whole creation.

This ever-expanding ripple effect is expressed in the Great Commission in Matthew 28, for Jesus tells the disciples “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

I was led to investigate if there is a linguistic connection in the Greek of the commissioning narratives in Matthew 9-10 and 28… and there is a clear connection.

These scriptures utilize the term ‘ethnoes’, which can be translated as Gentiles, people, tribe, or nation and is the root for our English terms of ‘ethnic‘ and ‘ethnicity‘.

Matthew 9-10 translates it as “Gentiles“, while Matthew 28 translates it as “nations“.

And thus, in the Great Commission (Matthew 28), Jesus is sending the disciples (and us) forth to the specific persons, the specific tribes, the specific nations of the Gentiles that were prohibited in the initial (Matthew 9-10) commissioning.

What does this mean? We are called into the world, yet again to:

  • proclaim Christ in word and deed;
  • seek justice;
  • act with compassion and mercy; and
  • love and serve all people, but especially the most vulnerable despite their ‘ethnoes’.

In this time of social crisis and unrest, this ever-expanding ripple effect of God’s grace might be uncomfortable and challenging, but it is urgent to do so.

As a well-written protest sign read:
We say Black Lives Matter.
We never said Only Black Lives Matter.

We know All Lives Matter, but we need your help because black lives are in danger.

As a beautiful, inside and out, black clergy friend Pr. Jenifer Tillman (M.Div.), wrote:

Dehumanizing some LIVES will leave ALL LIVES BLACK and BLUE.
Some roses are red, and violets come in shades of blue,
but I know that God loves me because God loves you, too.

Unfortunately, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the whitest denomination in the United States. 

And the simple truth is that All Lives Matter is not a true statement if some lives are less valued, such as:

  • Samaritans and Gentiles,
  • Immigrants and Refugees,
  • Blacks and all People of Color,
  • Socio-economically depressed persons, and
  • the LBGQT+ community.

I love NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), but it has a negative reputation for catering to a stereotype of uneducated, prejudice, and racist persons. However, NASCAR has been boldly, bravely, and quite publicly confronting racism demanding that the organization, its teams, and the fans do better for the sake of equality, equity, and unity. This led to a ban of the Confederate Flag at events, and to para-phrase the words of Bubba Wallace, Jimmie Johnson, and NASCAR leadership:

The Confederate flag is seen by some as a sign of heritage, but others see hate.
It has a history of being used for purposes of intimidation
and thus should be removed from sporting events,
where people from all walks of life are invited to attend.
It is not the closing of the door on certain fans,
but rather the opening of a door for others.

NASCAR also announced this Pride Month, their involvement with ‘You Can Play’.
It is an effort to support the inclusion of LBGQT+ athletes, coaches, and fans.

These efforts of NASACR to boldly and bravely denounce racism and welcome LBGQT+ filled my heart with love and pride that leaked from my eyes in tears of joy, restored my hope in humanity to answer our divine call to love ALL PEOPLE, and reminded me of that ever-expanding ripple effect of God’s grace and inclusion.

NASCAR, similar to pastors and faith communities, have been accused of becoming too political, but in the words of ‘A Southern Pastor’ on Facebook:

“Preaching that we are to love our neighbor, welcome the stranger, and
stand up for the marginalized does not mean you are making political statements.
It means you are making Biblical statements.”

How can we love the neighbor, welcome the stranger, and stand up for the marginalized?

Well as NASCAR driver Daniel Suarez and other voices have shared:
It is no longer enough to simply be not racist, we must be anti-racists.

Vulnerable racial and ethnic groups cannot dismantle and change systematic racism in systems that were not created by said racial and ethnic groups.

  • Therefore, we with white privilege must not passively ignore prejudice comments or ‘jokes’.
  • Therefore, we with white privilege must speak on behalf of our vulnerable siblings.
  • Therefore, we with white privilege must lift up our vulnerable siblings and their voices.
  • Therefore, we with white privilege must seek to dismantle systematic racism.
  • Therefore, we with white privilege must partner with our vulnerable siblings to rebuild just systems.

May we be emboldened, empowered, and sent forth into the world to walk with our most vulnerable siblings even if we had previously been taught to avoid them.

May the Holy Spirit work in, among, through, and despite us to ever-expand God’s grace and inclusion not in word alone but in our lives lived.

May the Holy Spirit work in, among, through, and despite us to bring forth the kingdom of God on earth. Amen.

Scriptures Matthew 9:35 – 10:23 and Matthew 28:19.
Originally preached on 14 June 2020 at Trinity LC (Union City, IN).

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