June 2, 2024 – Spirit-Filled People Justice Seeking

Hebrews 13:1-3 and Matthew 25:31-40

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. – Hebrews 13:1-3


[Jesus said,] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘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 gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’” – Matthew 25:31-40

Spirit-Filled People: Justice Seeking

You may have noticed over the last few months that our youth director Sarah always opens our Sunday announcements with three specific phrases…and if you haven’t noticed, I invite you to listen for it next time, because she always says that this is a place where we experience God’s grace, learn to live like Jesus, and participate in God’s grace with our neighbors in and beyond these walls.  And the reason she always shares these is because this is our congregation’s new mission statement, which our Leadership Board adopted last year after our fall retreat, where we did some strategic visioning work with Rev. Dr. Bruce Emmert. (Some of you might remember that he gave a message here last fall where he encouraged us to celebrate the great things this church is doing and step out in faith as we continue to answer God’s call in our lives!)

As part of our planning process, the Leadership Board came up with five dreams that we have for the future of this church: we said that we believe that God is calling us to be:

·       A church where we grow in faith together through intergenerational discipleship opportunities.  This is why we’ve been putting such an emphasis on all-ages events recently!

·       A church where we build strong relationships through gathering, breaking bread together, and sharing our stories.  If you’ve been to any of our all-church meals this year, you know that this is also something we’ve been really intentional about—honestly, our Sandwiches and Stories event back in April was probably one of the most exciting and joy-filled things I’ve seen at this church all year!  We had all these mixed-age groups of people from age 2 to age 89 eating together and then touring the church together and telling stories about what this place means to them and how it’s made a difference in their life.  It turns out there’s a lot of power in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the stories!

·       A church where we experience God’s grace in worship and are empowered to live like Jesus in the world.  In other words, we come to worship to meet Jesus on Sunday, and then we go out to live like him throughout the week!

·       A church where we share our prayer needs freely and pray boldly together. This is why we’ve been offering prayer stations and exploring different prayer practices here in worship.  

·       A church where we participate in God’s grace with our neighbors to create positive change in the world. 

That last one is an encapsulation of our missional work, like our food and diaper ministry, the Servant Outreach assistance fund, and our ongoing support of STEPMC.  And yet, we believe that our outreach needs to go beyond just this community.  As Christians we are called to create positive change not just locally but globally—and that’s going to be our worship focus for today! 

As I mentioned earlier in the service, June is Refugee Awareness Month, and the 20th is World Refugee Day. On top of that, we’re about to send a team of youth and adults down to Fort Worth, Texas to learn about and be in service with newly-arrived refugee families.  So it seems very appropriate today to wrap up our Pentecost series on the work of the Holy Spirit by spending some time praying for refugees, and considering how God might be calling us to be advocates and allies for those who find themselves displaced. 

You know, I think one of my favorite things about the Pentecost story is how it reminds us that the Church is not bound to one place or one culture.  The Church has been a worldwide movement since its inception, and it’s been on the move since the very beginning!  We talked last week about how 3000 new believers were baptized on Pentecost, and how they all carried the Gospel back to their homelands, which resulted in new communities of Jesus followers starting to up all over Africa, Asia, and Europe. 

And we know from the New Testament that these fledgling churches were intentional about praying for one another and supporting one another.  Especially in the letters of Paul, we hear about Christians caring for one another even when they were hundreds of miles apart.  One example I really like is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he writes to the church at Ephesus Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly.” Now Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he sent this letter to Ephesus…and out of curiosity, I plugged these two cities into Google Maps, and I saw that they are over 1000 miles apart!  So Paul was in jail, literally in chains, and yet he was praying for his siblings in the faith over 1000 miles away!  What a great example for the rest of us!

And something else we see throughout the New Testament—as well as in other historical sources—is that Christian communities have long been known as being a safe place for travelers.  And we see this encouraged in today’s Scripture reading from Hebrews! Christians were known for their hospitality; their willingness to invite strangers to the table; their care for those who had fallen on hard times.  Which, when you think about it, makes a ton of sense—because the Christian movement is rooted in Judaism, and the Jewish scriptures are full of stories of God working through the lives of nomads and migrants and refugees.  Through people like Abraham and Sarah, who were in their 70s when they left their home in order to follow God into the wilderness.  People like Joseph and Daniel, who were violently forced to live in strange new lands, and people like Ruth and Naomi, who left their homes behind in order to seek food and safety in an unfamiliar country. 

So given all of that, combined with what we know about Jesus—what he calls us to in our Scripture reading from Matthew 25, where he reminds us that however we treat the hungry and the homeless and the imprisoned and the foreigner, we treat him—how could our hearts not go out to those who are without food and shelter? How could we not pray and advocate for those who are far from home? How could care of the migrant and the refugee not be a natural extension of our Spirit-filled faith? 

According to statistics from the end of 2022, 108.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights violations.  For perspective, that would be like if the entire population of the Midwest plus Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas suddenly found themselves violently forced out of their homes and onto the streets. (See image below.)

A map of the united states

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Of the world’s 108.4 million displaced peoples, many of them are considered internally displaced, meaning that they’re still in their country’s borders, but they’ve had to flee their home to stay safe.  Those who have had to leave their home country are called refugees—and although some of them wind up migrating to Europe or North America, most of them stay in a country closer to home, and most of them want to go back home as soon as it’s safe.   

I have a video that I’d like to show you from United Methodist Communications, which features an interview with a Methodist missionary who works closely with refugee communities.  There are some hard and heartbreaking things in this video; there is also a lot of hope and a reminder that our Church is at work in some really powerful ways.  One quick note: the video is six years old, so the statistics you’ll hear in the video are no longer accurate.  The number of refugees in the world back in 2018 was still very high but quite a bit lower than it is now; it’s largely grown in recent years because of violence in the Middle East and the war in Ukraine. 


I know that this information can be a lot…and the magnitude of the refugee crisis is so large that it can feel really overwhelming.  So what are we supposed to do with this?  When I think about our feeble efforts to address the world’s pains, I think of this quote, which is attributed to the Talmud:  “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”  I love that: we don’t have to do it all, but we do have to do something.  So what does that look like when it comes to justice for refugees?  How do we partner with the Holy Spirit in this work? 

Well first of all, we do what we’re doing today: we pray!  Just like Paul prayed for the Ephesians when he was 1000 miles away in Rome, we too can remember our sisters and brothers around the world in in prayer.  We can also commit ourselves to learning, and growing in awareness.  Our Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church has a whole page on their website devoted to ministry with refugees (www.greatplainsumc.org/ministrywithrefugees) and we have churches—especially in larger cities like Wichita, Kansas City, Lincoln, and Omaha—that have regularly sponsored and supported incoming families.  And in just a few weeks, on Sunday the 23rd, you’re going to hear a special presentation from our Fort Worth team, and you’ll get to hear all about what they learned and experienced during their time in Texas.

Also, we can give!  UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is one of the best ways to do this—100% of all UMCOR gifts go directly to those in need, because administrative overhead is all covered by the denomination; refugee support comes from Advance #982450, the International Disaster Response and Recovery fund.  Also, Church World Service is one of the UMC’s ministry partners; they do a lot of refugee resettlement and outreach efforts all over the world. 

So friends, hear the Good News! We are called to make a difference, and we are called to partner with the Holy Spirit in seeking justice for the world.  I invite you now to raise your voices and let’s join with the Holy Spirit by praying together.  Our prayer today is a variation of the Apostle’s Creed—which is a historic affirmation of the Christian faith that dates back to the 5th century—but this one has some additional text written by the Rev. Jose Luis Casal, which reminds us that caring for our neighbors around the globe is a key part of our Christian faith.


“Immigrant’s Creed”—Rev. Jose Luis Casal


We believe in God Almighty.

We believe in Almighty God,

who guided the people in exile and in exodus,

the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,

the God of foreigners and immigrants.


We believe in Jesus Christ.

We believe in Jesus Christ,

a displaced Galilean,

who was born away from his people and his home,

who fled his country with his parents when his life was in danger,

and returning to his own country suffered the oppression

of the tyrant Pontius Pilate, the servant of a foreign power,

who then was persecuted, beaten, and finally tortured,

accused and condemned to death unjustly.

But on the third day, this scorned Jesus rose from the dead,

not as a foreigner but to offer us citizenship in heaven.


We believe in the Holy Spirit.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,

who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,

and reunites all races.


We believe in God’s holy universal Church.

We believe that the church is the secure home

for the foreigner and for all believers who constitute it,

who speak the same language and have the same purpose.

We believe that the communion of the saints begins

when we accept the diversity of the saints.


We believe in the forgiveness of sins.

We believe in the forgiveness of sin, which makes us all equal,

and in reconciliation, which identifies us more

than does race, language, or nationality.


We believe in the resurrection.

We believe that in the resurrection

God will unite us as one people

in which all are distinct

and all are alike at the same time.


We believe in eternal life.

Beyond this world, we believe in life eternal

in which no one will be an immigrant

but all will be citizens of God’s kingdom,

which will never end. Amen.