Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Matthew 25:35-40 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

St. Francis of Assisi said that Jesus reaches out to us through the poor and the oppressed. He thought that Jesus uses those on the margins of society to come to us, and to somehow connect us with Him.  It’s an interesting thought and the more I think about it the more I can see examples of this notion at work in my own life and in my own experiences and I believe that the scripture we just heard backs this theory up in the words; "whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me."

Tony Campolo is a well-known Christian leader in America.  This is something which he wrote about meeting Jesus in the suffering:

‘Whenever you meet a suffering person, you will find that Jesus is there waiting to be loved in that individual. That’s why Jesus said, "whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me." You cannot reach out to a person in need, you cannot embrace somebody who’s hurting, you cannot minister to somebody who is in desperate straits, without having that eerie and wonderful awareness, that Jesus is coming back at you right through that person.“

Tony then tells this story to illustrate his point:

One day he was walking down a street in Philadelphia and a tramp came towards him. The tramp was a dirty and covered with soot from head to toe. He could hardly believe what a mess this poor man was in. He had a huge beard and there was rotted food stuck in it. As he approached Tony, he held out a cup of McDonald’s coffee towards him and said, "Hey mister, want some of my coffee?"

Tony looked at his dirty, filthy man and said, "Thanks, but that’s okay," and  then walked by him. The minute he passed him, he knew he was doing the wrong thing, so he turned around and said, "Excuse me. I would like some of your coffee." He took some of the coffee and sipped it and gave it back to him and said, "You’re being generous. How come you’re being so generous today?" The tramp looked at him and he said, "Because the coffee was especially delicious today and I think that when God gives you something good, you ought to share it with people." Not knowing what to do Tony offered him some money, the tramp declined the money but said there was something that Tony could give him and he asked for a hug. 

There was Tony in his best suit and tie, and there was this filthy tramp, covered in soot and they hugged each other on the street.  Tony said that as they hugged he had the strange awareness that he wasn’t hugging a tramp, he was hugging Jesus. He found Jesus in that suffering man.

If you study the bible for any length of time, you come to see an interesting thing. God does not treat everyone equally because   throughout the Bible we are asked to reach out to the poor and the oppressed, the broken and the hurting.

The single thing that Jesus preached about the most was loving and serving the poor and marginalised in our society.  I believe that this very scripture is telling us that if we have no compassion for the poor, then how can we say we love and follow Jesus, how can we say that we are  Christians? because if we have no compassion for those who are broken and hurting then where is the love of God in in our hearts?  How can we be the hands and feet and serve the Lord if we have no compassion for the poor?  God tells us 2,000 times in the Bible how a Christian should react to the poor. Over and over again God tells us very, very clearly that as a Christian we must have compassion for the poor, as a Christian we must love the poor and as a Christian we must help the poor. Because it is through these act of love that we serve our Lord well.  We have just heard it in this scripture from Matthew;
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

So if this is true why aren’t we rushing out to help the poor or the needy and oppressed?  Well perhaps because it is quite frightening for some of us, or because when we think about helping the poor, we imagine it to be a painful, or upsetting and of course we will need to make sacrifices. But, by thinking this way,  we are actually denying ourselves the opportunity to meet with Jesus and we are denying ourselves the joy of serving Him.  Consider this - do think Mother Teresa used to get up in the morning, drag herself out of bed and say,  here we go again, another day on the streets of Calcutta.  I’ve got to meet the needs of the poor again.  I don’t think so. I think that she jumped out of bed with excitement and enthusiasm because she was serving God, and those who knew her always talked about the bubbling joy and energy that radiated from within her.  By serving the poor she met with Jesus day after day after day and this gave her the drive and the energy and the passion to get up every day and serve her Lord.  She knew that she was ministering to Jesus all day long, she knew that Jesus himself comes to us through people who are in need and she knew that as she served them, the joy of Jesus came into her life and energized her.

She knew also that it’s not enough to just say you care. It’s not enough to say, “Oh, that’s so sad, to see people suffering. I really feel sympathy. I’ll pray for those poor people.” She knew that  although God wants our prayers he also wants us to take action too.  Because Jesus says we have to put our hands and feet into our feelings. He needs our hands and feet to serve him as well as our prayers he needs us to put our faith in action.

We have to  stop paying lip service by saying ‘we love people’; and we have to really love them, and we can only do this through our actions because the love God requires of us  can only be shown in our actions.  If you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, love and care, food or drink and you bless them — but then you don’t give that person what they need,  What good does that do?  The answer is nothing. It does no good. Because you have got to take action as well as prayer.

This is how  the Kingdom of God should operate in the world, because we are called to serve, we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to go where God leads us to roll up our sleeves where we need to serve, to take action where Action needs to be taken.  We follow a God of action and as followers we must be prepared to be men and women of action.

Don’t misunderstand, I am not suggesting we have to solve the world’s water problem or feed all the hungry people in the world, but we do need to feed somebody. We do need to love others, we do need to help somebody who’s suffering whether it’s the homeless person on the street or our lonely next door neighbour.

Imagine if all of Gods followers just helped one person a day.  What an amazing effect that would have. I believe it would change life on this planet forever.  I recently read that so many people in the world think so little of the Christian church because they think that we don’t really help anybody. They believe that we spend our time within the walls of our little church buildings, focusing on ourselves and protecting ourselves and our buildings. They say they don’t see us out in the world helping people. I am not here to say whether they are right or wrong, because this is what they see, this is what they believe, but I am sorry to say that there have been times when I have heard people saying similar things about Christians, who care more about their church roof than the poor and struggling in the community around them..

I believe that this scripture is a commission and it’s a commission asking us to change that opinion. If we are not doing something to help people in Christ’s name, outside the walls of this church, If all of our ministry activity is done here in this building, then we are ignoring Jesus’ command, to go and reach the whole world and it could start today, it could start by inviting someone you know to be lonely for tea, to visit someone in hospital, to give someone without transport a lift.  If each of us helped  just a few people a week then together we can make a big difference to this community.

I love this prayer from Teresa of Avila;

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

I will finish with a story, a little boy was walking home through the park after church where his minister had told the congregation that you never can tell when you’ll meet Jesus.

As he was walking through the park, he noticed an old woman sitting on a bench. She looked very lonely, so he sat down next to her. He said "Hi" and then offered her some of his chocolate bar, which he had been saving.
She accepted the piece of chocolate with a smile. They talked for a while about nothing in particular and then the boy offered her another piece, which she also gladly accepted.
They talked a little while longer and then the boy got up to leave.
As he began to walk away, he turned around, ran back to the bench and gave the woman a big hug. And, she gave him her very biggest smile.
When he arrived home, his mother saw a big smile on his face and asked, "What made you so happy today"?
The boy said, "I shared my chocolate bar with Jesus. And, guess what, Mum? She has a great smile".

Meanwhile, the old woman returned to her little flat which she shared with her sister. The sister said "You’re all smiles today",. "What made you so happy"? She said, "Well", "I was sitting in the park sharing a chocolate bar with Jesus. And, you know what? He looks a lot younger than I expected"!

Jesus uses those on the margins of society to reach us, to connect with us, its an amazing thought and I wonder, if we open our hearts and eyes how many opportunities there are out there for us to meet with him and connect with him?  Its worth a thought isn’t it?

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It is my prayer that my words may be of some comfort or may bless you in some way...I love to hear from you and your journeys...every blessing H