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Don’t worship justice. Worship a just God

Bread for the World’s Rev. Eugene Cho describes Jesus’ two most important journeys — to Calvary and Samaria

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Eugene Cho

LOUISVILLE — Had he been told in advance about the death and heartache wreaked by the pandemic, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and the killings of people of color over the past 15 months, “I’d be tempted to run away, to cower in anxiety and fear,” the Rev. Eugene Cho, president and chief executive officer of Bread for the World, said during a sermon featured in last month’s Festival of Homiletics. “I’m grateful that God, out of God’s goodness and grace, has invited all of us to be leaders in a church that serves through humble servant leadership.”

The sermon text for Cho’s sermon, which he titled “The Whole Gospel,” was John 4:1-4, the preamble to the story of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, where we’re told by the gospel writer that Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee, “but he had to go through Samaria.”

“Even as we open up God’s Word and proclaim the good news, as we acknowledge the pain and injustice and brokenness of the world,” Cho told the preachers and others in attendance during the online festival, “may we always proclaim the good news that that tomb is still empty … and that our God remains in control.”

Cho founded and for 18 years was senior pastor at Quest Church in Seattle. He was also the founder and visionary of One Day’s Wages, a grassroots movement of people, stories and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.

As a “professing evangelical, I am often asked this question,” Cho said. “What’s more important — evangelism or justice?”

Those are not “competing commands,” Cho said. “The Great Commission and the greatest commandment are not two separate invitations. But they constitute the whole gospel, the main thing. If we are faithful preachers, we must pursue and embody both of these things.”

If Cho were to preach while at the same time stripping out love or holiness out of God’s character, “I would never be invited back to the Festival of Homiletics,” he said. “How can we know God apart from the love of God?”

How, then, have some in the church “extracted justice out of God’s character and called it a progressive, liberal issue?” Cho asked. “The pursuit of justice is messy and complicated, but do not say justice is not a part of the very nature and character of God.”

Turning to his sermon’s scriptural text, Cho focused on verse 4: “But [Jesus] had to go through Samaria.”

“He didn’t have to do anything. He’s Jesus,” Cho said. “It gives us a glimpse of his character.” At the time, Jews traveling between Judea and Galilee would have taken “a long, circuitous route” to avoid traveling through Samaria, “a journey that took nearly three times longer than going in a straight line. If there were such a thing as hashtags during the time of Jesus, it would have stated ‘#samaritanlivesmatter.’”

“Jesus went to Samaria to shepherd this woman, to speak life into this woman, to share with her that she is fully created in the image of God and is wonderfully and fearfully made,” Cho said. “Jesus declared to her that, ‘You have been seeking worth and value here and there,’ but Jesus is the living water able to quench our deepest thirst.”

Pastors must “never grow timid in sharing the good news,” Cho said.

“It grieves me in the church there are Christians who will go their entire lives as Christians never taking Jesus’ invitation of the Great Commission to heart,” Cho said, “never genuinely sharing the gospel story with others to guide someone to the wonderful salvific news that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.”

Surveys indicate 1 in 5 Baby Boomers believe evangelism is the wrong thing to do, and among Millennials, it’s nearly half, according to Cho. “We have to name and repent of the harmful ways the church engaged in evangelism in ways that were antithetical to the kingdom of God,” Cho said. “We have to name the colonization, the ways we acted that were contrary, so that we can repent, confess and learn from our mistakes — and not grow weary of entering Samaria to share the good news that Jesus Christ is the living water.”

During Holy Week, “Jesus didn’t just enter Jerusalem and go straight to the cross,” Cho noted. “He confronts hypocrisy, heals, hosts a meal and washes dirty feet. The kingdom of God is about life on Earth as well as eternity in heaven. It doesn’t just revolve around you.”

“If we are honest, we are all seduced by the temptation of making entertaining sermons to speak to a consumeristic culture. Friends, that’s a false gospel,” Cho said. “May our proclamation also bear witness to God’s love for the world,” including pursuing justice. “Reconciliation matters, Black and brown bodies matter, the oppressed matter to God and the dignity of every single human being matters to God.”

During his public ministry, Jesus undertook two journeys of significance, Cho said — his journey to the cross, and this one to Samaria.

“Both of these constitute the whole gospel,” Cho said. “May our preaching confess and proclaim this good news.”

But, he urged preachers, don’t err on the side of caring so much about justice that other qualities of God are downplayed, or ignored.

“Justice is a beautiful thing, but we do not worship justice. We worship a just God, and therefore we pursue justice,” Cho said. “Even good things can grow to become idolatrous.”

“Friends, may we be about the whole gospel,” Cho said. “May our preaching bear witness to the good news that is Jesus Christ. God bless you!”

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