Inclusion Through Evangelism and Outreach (Romans 11:11-24)

Sermon for April 26, 2020

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11:30-12:30pm on Sunday

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Greetings New Cut Church and Friends,

 

Our Scripture reading is Romans 11:11-24. In Romans 11, Paul continues preaching his desire for his blood brothers and sisters to know the Lord. Hear now the Word of God.

 

Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

 

I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry  in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.  For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?  If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

 

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.  After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

I’m going to start out this sermon with a tale of two churches in the same city, Wilkinsburg Pennsylvania: Covenant Fellowship Reformed Presbyterian Church and Mulberry Presbyterian Church. Both of these churches were or are located in the inner city of Wilkinsburg. I am mainly telling some of the history of Mulberry. The first church is Covenant Fellowship Reformed Presbyterian Church. I am familiar with Covenant Fellowship because I grew up in this church and lived in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania for five years as an adult. I’m grateful that this church is where I was taught about Jesus Christ. When I returned from the Navy, I returned to my childhood church. I met Becca. We got married. We moved into Wilkinsburg. We wanted to love the community, and living in the community was a sensible way to do that, even if we would be a minority.

As you may know, as your Pastor, I am avid walker. One afternoon, I was walking in Wilkinsburg in the inner-city and came across a beautiful stone church. It was huge and beautiful. Something about the architecture communicated the greatness of God. But there was something wrong. The church was abandoned. In the midst of this grandness was broken windows, boarded up doors, and overgrown grass. There was a church building, but no church, and no church sign. However, I did find carved in one of stones, “Mulberry Presbyterian Church.” These gave me the keywords to see what had happened with this church.

One particular article “Sale of Wilkinsburg church a godsend to many agencies” gives an idea of what happened with Mulberry Presbyterian Church. I will share here some excerpts from that article.

In the days before Thanksgiving, the emergency food pantry at Mulberry Presbyterian Church in Wilkinsburg came perilously to close to losing its home of 19 years.

The outreach program assists up to 30 families a month and is an arm of Wilkinsburg Community Ministries, a coalition of social services carved out of neighborhood churches.

But in September, the food pantry learned the church that provides its space was shutting its doors. After 103 years at 740 South St, the grand old stone Mulberry Presbyterian could no longer afford to stay open.

Citing utility bills that were too high, membership too low, the Pittsburgh Presbytery announced the church would close Nov. 28.

The Mulberry congregation swelled to 2,000 people in the 1940s, but age and changing racial demographics have shrunk attendance to about 25 worshipers on Sundays.

The Pittsburgh Presbytery asked $4 million for the structure, which includes a 1,000-seat sanctuary, an industrial-size kitchen and a gymnasium with locker facilities for men and women. It needs a new roof, electrical upgrades and other repairs.

An all-white congregation, Mulberry Presbyterian was located in a town reputed to be one of Pennsylvania’s most segregated.

That concludes the excerpts from the article. Mulberry Presbyterian was located in a town that at one time was nearly uniformly white. However, the demographics of Wilkinsburg changed from nearly uniformly white, to mostly black, at least in the part of Wilkinsburg that Mulberry was located. Instead of becoming a diverse, community church, reflecting the diversity of the Kingdom of God, Mulberry remained an all-white, homogeneous congregation, and shrank until it died.

However, the Presbytery sold the property to a new congregation in 2006. It was a small, all black congregation. There was hope, that in some way, this congregation could carry on the legacy of Mulberry, and maintain the services to the community. But that didn’t last for many years.

Wilkinsburg was a town with many abandoned, dilapidated buildings. In fact, this was a hazard for children. They could be playing around in or near these buildings that literally were falling down and collapsing. These buildings needed to be demolished. But since there were so many vacant homes, there was not a strong tax base to pay for demolishing these falling-down buildings. On the flip side of this problem, was an opportunity. You could buy up a lot of properties, many that didn’t require extensive repairs, for less than the price of nice car. The catch was that, due to the low tax base, you would pay a hefty tax for these buildings.

 

The new Baptist church pastor saw an opportunity. With the churches 501c3 tax status, meaning no taxes, he could buy up these buildings and not have the hefty tax. So he bought one building after another, supposedly for community programs. But due to corruption of the pastor and his use of 501c3, the 501c3 status was pulled, and taxes were owed on everything, and I believe that included the grand church building that seated 1,000 in the sanctuary. The church closed and was now another abandoned building. And it wasn’t just any old abandoned building. It was a huge abandoned building, taking up an entire block. A 2019 news article referred to this church as the “Wilkinsburg Ghost Church,” a fitting title for the eerie looking building, a ghost of what it had once been.

So what happened with Mulberry Presbyterian Church? From the information I gave, you could probably cite several things that went wrong. And I want to be careful myself not assume too much. But I would like to point out one of the primary issues. The demographic of the church was white. The demographic of the neighborhood was black. But nothing changed in the makeup of the church. Now, Romans 11 is about belonging to God and different ethnic groups, the Jews and Gentiles. A short qualification. This isn’t a sermon about race relations. It’s a sermon about evangelistic zeal to and inclusion of all kinds of people into the family of God, which includes all races and all ethnicities. Maybe Mulberry was faithful in evangelistic zeal and inclusion of all people. I couldn’t tell you for sure. But it’s situation certainly highlights the importance of evangelistic zeal, inclusion, and outreach for all people.

In this part of Romans, chapters 9-11, the focus is Paul’s heart for his kinsmen according to the flesh, his blood relatives, the Jewish people, and the zeal he has for sharing the gospel with them. He writes in Romans 9:1-4

I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit – I have a great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.

He then writes again in Romans 10:1, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” Even the purpose statement at the beginning of Romans reflects this zeal for the gospel to go to all people groups. This verse, Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Paul says here that the gospel is for everyone, and refers to the two ethnic groups, Jews and Gentiles. The gospel is for everyone.

The church needs everyone of all types and backgrounds. Throughout this passage, we get a picture of what looks like a group of people being cut off from the people of God. In v. 17, we have a picture of a broken off branch representing the people who had not believed in Christ, particularly the Jewish people. But it was not ideal. That’s why Paul had evangelistic zeal for his brothers and sisters of his ethnic group. He wanted them to be grafted in and belong. And he points out here in Romans 11 that it is better for everyone if these broken off branches are grafted in. V. 12 says, “But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater will their full inclusion bring?” Here, for the Gentiles, the full inclusion will be greater riches. The church is greater and richer when the gospel is shared with all types of people without discrimination, and when these people are reached out to and included.

Now, does this mean the makeup of a church needs to be forced? No, not really. Churches will be what they will be and there is diversity with different kinds of churches. Forcing a certain kind of diversity only brings a uniformity which is the exact opposite of diversity. But when it comes to evangelism, outreach, and hopefully inclusion, this does mean that different types of people should be excluded because it is uncomfortable or difficult, or because you don’t normally interact with that group. Sure, there may be certain types of people that you have rapport with that make sense especially for you to reach out to. For example, I might focus on reaching out to veterans because I am a vet. However, don’t ignore everyone else. It can be surprising how much we have in common with people we didn’t think we would. And while we have something to offer, namely the gospel, remember that the full inclusion of different people is a blessing to us too.

There is a need to for various kinds of people to be included in the family of God, and there is a blessing when they are included! Getting to this inclusion involves evangelism and outreach. Now, an important aspect of evangelism and outreach is humility. Verses 17-21,

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Here, the branches that are grafted in, the branches that belong to the family of God, are instructed to be humble. You who are in Christ are not to look at those who are broken off as if you are superior. You are not to be arrogant. Now, this is all in the context of Paul’s evangelistic, missional focus towards the lost. It is essential that evangelism and humility work together. Remember, as Paul says, you stand by faith. And if you stand by faith, that is a reason for humility. Whoever you know that needs the gospel, you need it just as much as they do. And with Paul’s warning in v. 21, you yourself need to make sure that you continue in faith! You needed the gospel before, you need the gospel now, and will need the gospel always.

Our mission statement at New Cut is “Caring Enough to Share the Gospel.” Here in Romans 11, we see that there is a need to share the gospel with many different types of people so these people can belong to the family of God. Incredibly, we find that there is a great blessing for us in the family of God when these people are included. We see in Romans 11, that our posture should be one of humility, knowing that it is by faith that we stand, and that we need the gospel just as much as anyone else needs the gospel.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Andy

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