By David Neuen
As a student at Vanderbilt University, I would regularly attend fall football games to cheer for the team. To get the crowd excited the announcer would shout over the loudspeaker, “Who ya with?” and the fans would exclaim “VU.” “Who ya with? VU!”
“Who ya with church? Certainly we want to align with the will and mission of God who according to Matthew’s infancy narrative is with us.
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.” —Matthew 1:23 (NRSV)
God himself as Jesus is closing the gap between human need and divine power. The infinite creator and transcendent source of purpose and meaning selected to come to earth, a particular locale during a particular moment in history, to love us, teach us, and reach us.
God is with us. But who is the “us”? It was assumed by the earliest followers of Jesus that the “us” meant the struggling people of Israel, suffering under the heel of foreign oppressors. God was with the chosen community of faith. But Jesus would quickly reveal that God’s understanding of “us” was larger.
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus gave indications that His power and compassion reached to all people. He healed a Roman centurion’s servant. He traveled through the Gentile region of the Gerasenes. He ministered to a Samaritan woman at a well. And as Jesus culminated his earthly ministry, he told the apostles to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, but also in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Go to the local neighborhood but also across the country and to all corners of the globe to communicate that God is creating a new community and all are included. Even the hated Romans.? Yes. And slaves. You bet. The table grows bigger and bigger, embracing all the sons and daughters of earth because, in Christ, God reconciles all people to himself.
We are confident God is with us, people like us, our people. But do we act as if God is with all of us, even those with whom we do not agree, or do not understand, or do not like? Do we see all people as the reason God came to this earth, all people as recipients of God’s love, transformation, and empowerment? Does the “us” of Emmanuel inspire the church to expand its ministry to the “us” of this world? Who ya with church?
I am excited about the incredible work a number of UHUMC leaders are doing to launch our “Siloam Ministry for Supportive Services”, in the coming year. This ministry is an intentional effort to welcome and show grace to young people that experience various forms of physical or mental disability. I know some courageous people are going to volunteer and be trained to serve in this ministry. They will be amazing! But my prayer is that our whole congregation will be changed to see all people with awe, wonder, delight, and gratitude. Realizing Emmanuel longs to be with all of us, our ministry will endeavor to impact and uplift some students and families that have felt excluded and unloved because of behaviors perceived to be outside the norm. But we celebrate the spark of God in these young men and women who will join our Siloam Ministry. And we will graciously display with mercy that God is with us, all of us. Praise and thanks be to Emmanuel. Amen.