Protecting the Vulnerable

Sermon for 4/22

TEXT: Deuteronomy 10:12-22

God calls us to care for the widows and orphans in our midst, along with the stranger and foreigner. What is it that these groups have in common? In their culture, all of these were vulnerable. Orphans have no parents to care for them, Widows have no husband to care for them, strangers and foreigners have no claim to land, and therefore are at risk of being homeless and unable to support themselves financially. As the most vulnerable in Hebrew society at the time of the Exodus, they represent those who are most vulnerable to abuse and neglect at any time in any culture. So, we can take this principle, and look at our own culture and ask, “Who are the most vulnerable among us, most at risk of neglect and abuse?

But why should we care for them? What is to be our motivation? It is not simply out of our obedience and love for God that we are to care for the vulnerable among us. Rather, we are to do so out of our own personal connecction, our own life story. But, what if we personally have not been poor and vulnerable? Well, in the argument from Deuteronomy, the LORD says, “you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Deut 10:18b) But all those who left Egypt as adults died in the wilderness during the 40 years of wandering. So the call from 10:18 is a call to historical and ancestral memory, not only personal memory. It is the same call that motivates African Americans today to continue to connect with the sufferings of their ancestors who were slaves – which according to this text should then motivate them to care for the least and lowest and most vulnerable.

For us, the connection with children is easy – all of us were once children. As such, we were all vulnerable, so that as we hear this text, we hear a direct call to care for those who are now vulnerable as we ourselves once were. Our compassion is to be motivated by our ability to make a personal connection to those who are vulnerable.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, thus we have chosen to partner with the Collin County Children’s Advocacy Center to raise money and awareness in support of work with abused and neglected children. CCCAC has as part of their mission statement, “A place where healing begins.” If you have any sharing in sympathy for children who have or may experience abuse and neglect, support CCCAC, and support the Children’s Festival next week – This is a concrete expression of our willingness to do what God asks of us, as followers of His Son, Jesus.

And speaking of Jesus, what’s his connection to all of this? How does the life and ministry of Jesus connect with this call? In several ways:

  1. It is suppposed that Joseph, Mary’s husband when Jesus was born, had died by the time Jesus begins His ministry, thus explaining Joseph’s absence from the gospel accounts of that period. So, Mary was a widow. We see Jesus, even from the cross, taking care of His mother by asking His disciple John to care for her after His death, as though she were his own mother: “Woman, behold your son. Man, behold your mother.” (John 19:25-27).
  2. Jesus cared for the vulnerable in His own culture. He welcomed and blessed the children, giving them a place of importance in His life and countering the Apostles’ inclination to send them away as unworthy of Jesus’ attention. He showed compassion on the sick, cripple, demon-posessed – even on the Sabbath, and in opposition to the teaching of the Pharisees and Saducees. He made room in His life and ministry for women, accepting them as people worthy of His attention, and even worthy to sit at His feet and be taught along with the men.
  3. Most importantly: Jesus became vulnerable himself, becoming like us in every way, taking on human flesh, being found in human form. He understands human frailty, brokenness, sorrow, lonliness, suffering, temptation…. “15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4) AND, as Paul says, perhaps quoting a very early Christian affirmation of faith, hymn, or creed, “5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ” (Philippians 2). Christ humbled himself, becoming not just a human, but like a slave, like one vulnerable to the point of death!
  4. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the judgement with the image of separating all humanity into two groups, based upon how each one responded to the needs of those around them, specifically – “the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, sick or imprisoned.” – in other words, the vulnerable and those in need of help. And He goes so far as to say that when we serve the vulnerable, we are serving Him!

So, my only question is, how could we not? How could we ever turn our backs on those in need and refuse to help, refuse to even acknowledge their need, and our call, opportunity, and responsibility to answer that need? What we choose to do is not always easy – perhaps rarely is it. But the question of whether to act, that should be very easy indeed. Afterall, where would you be if Jesus had not acted on your behalf, when you were vulnerable, lost, and dead to God because of the sin in your life?

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