James 2:14-17 and Matthew 25:31-46
(Quoted scripture is New Revised Standard Version)
There’s an old story, probably invented by some preacher, about a boy living in a children’s home. For grace at the dinner table, the superintendent of the children’s home usually prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, let this food to us be blessed.” After this happened several times, the boy said to him, “You always ask Jesus to come, but he never does. Will he ever come?”
The superintendent said, “If we really want him to, he will.”
The boy thought, “I really want him to, so I’m going to put a chair beside me tonight so he’ll have a place to sit when he comes.”
That evening, during supper, there was a knock on the door, and standing there was an old man, poorly clothed, cold and hungry. The superintendent invited him to join them for supper, and he pointed to the empty chair. The man sat, and the boy gladly passed food to him and even shared from his own plate.
Later the boy said, “Jesus must not have been able to come himself, so he sent this man in his place.”
This story is a good illustration of both our scripture passages. From James chapter 2 and the words of Jesus in our Matthew chapter 25 passage. James wrote, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (vv. 15-17)
In Matthew 25 we read what Jesus said to the sheep on his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me. — Truly I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (vv. 34-36, 40)
Last week I cited scripture passages which told us that every person is important to Jesus; no matter the color of their skin, their age, or their economic status. Every, created in the image of God, human being is important to Jesus. I said you are important to Jesus, no matter what you may have done in the past, or what was done to you in your past. You are important to Jesus.
John the apostle wrote in 1 John 2:2, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus died so that all people may have life eternal, if they choose to believe in Jesus. I asked you to believe that you are important to Jesus, and to look at others with eyes and a heart that knows every person is important to Jesus.
In our American culture we are so bombarded with advertisements that tell us that our lives should be ‘all about us.’ Yet, Jesus says in the Bible our lives should be lived to serve others. Our lives should be lives that love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus tells us these two commandments are all the laws God gave Moses combined, and they are the most important!
Many churches encourage tithing as a financial stewardship discipline: Giving 10 percent of income to Christ’s work, and yes, this is from the Bible. Yet, how many go further and encourage disciples to give one-tenth of their time to God as well, doing ministries they may one day recognize as serving the risen Lord Jesus through service to others?
If we spend eight hours a day sleeping, that leaves 16 waking hours. One-tenth of that is 1.6 hours. Multiply that figure by seven, and you get just over 11 hours a week. Just think of what the typical congregation could accomplish, if it used all those hours to serve “the least of these” in their community!
The late Ernest Campbell, formerly pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, used to point out that there are two places where the strength of a Christian’s commitment is recorded in writing: the checkbook and the calendar. Of the two, he went on to say, the calendar is probably the most revealing.
“When did we see you, Lord? Was it during the hours we spent in front of the TV or iPad or out shopping? Was it during the time we spent cleaning the house, or mowing the lawn? Or was it those extra hours we put in at work, hoping to acquire the boss’s favor and get that promotion?”
Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” There is nothing wrong with living life abundantly, but if we allow our abundant living to crowd out Christian service, we just may be taking our place among the goats.
Reverend James E. Wallis Jr. wrote this in 1974, “The new evangelical consciousness is most characterized by a return to biblical Christianity and the desire to apply biblical insights to the need for new forms of sociopolitical engagement.” (1)
In other words, get to know God’s word and apply those insights to how you live your life, and let those biblical insights determine the people you vote for to govern us.
Rev. Wallis has written many books and is often featured on TV news talk shows as a spokesman for the Christian community. He talks about the ministry of the Sojourners Neighborhood Center in Washington, D.C., his hometown. This center stands just one‑and‑a‑half miles from the White House. On any given day three hundred families stand in line outside the center to receive a bag of groceries which is critical to getting them through the week.
Just before the doors are opened and all the people come in, all those who help prepare the food join hands and say a prayer. The prayer is often offered by Mary Glover, a sixty‑year‑old black woman who knows what it means to be poor and knows how to pray. She prays like someone who knows to whom she is talking. She has been carrying on a conversation with her Lord for many, many years. She first thanks God for another day, “Another day to serve you, Lord,” she says. And then Mary Glover may pray something like this, “Lord, we know that you’ll be coming through this line today so, Lord, help us to treat you well.” (2)
Hebrews 13:2, tells us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Be careful how you treat anyone you meet. They may be an angel, or they may be Jesus in disguise.
When we are welcoming to the stranger, we may be welcoming Jesus. When we serve the poor, we may be serving Jesus. When we visit the sick, we may discover Jesus there. When we minister to the prisoner, we may meet Jesus in that jail or prison.
One of the most influential people of the last century was a man named Albert Schweitzer. Schweitzer was one of the most brilliant students in Germany. He was outstanding in philosophy. He was one of the greatest of all organists, and in particular played Bach as no one else could play him. Yet, at the back of his mind there was a feeling that would not be stilled. He once said that as far back as he could remember, the thought of all the misery in the world had deeply troubled him. He came to believe that he did not have the moral right to take his happy youth, his good health and his ability to work as a matter of course. He believed that we must all take our share of the misery which weighs so heavily upon the world.
Albert Schweitzer decided to give everything up and to study night and day to be a doctor. He went as a missionary to Lambarene in Africa where he established a hospital. One day a poor African man who was in much pain was brought to his hospital. “Pain is a more terrible lord of mankind than even death himself,” Schweitzer once said. Schweitzer laid his hand upon the man’s head and said: “Don’t be afraid. In an hour’s time you will be put to sleep and you will feel no more pain when you wake up.” When the operation was over, the man discovered Schweitzer waiting there beside the bed. The man looked around, and said again and again: “I have no more pain! I have no more pain!”
Schweitzer wrote, “His hand feels for mine and will not let it go.” (3)
In the children’s movie Whistle Down the Wind, Haley Mills and her friends stumble across a vagrant sleeping in the straw, while they are playing in a country barn. The frightened children shout, “Who are you?” The shocked vagrant replied, “Jesus Christ.” What the man meant as an expletive, the children took as a fact. They thought the man was Jesus Christ. So, they treated him with awe, respect and love. They brought him food and blankets; they talked with him, and listened to his story. Their tenderness transformed this ex-convict’s life and opened his eyes to the Lord.
There is a contemporary Christian song by Matthew West that resonated with me from the first time I heard it. I’d like to share the lyrics with you this morning.
I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do
He said, “I did, I created you.”
If not us then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
Oh, it’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something
God created us to be in a relationship with Him and with other people. He created us to love and serve Him by loving and serving our neighbor. As followers of Jesus Christ, who claim the name Christian, we are called to love and to serve.
Jesus, in John 13:14-15, told the disciples after he washed their feet, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Jesus exemplified what it means to serve others. We must follow his example. You never know when it may be Jesus you are serving.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
References: 1. en.m.wikipedia.org. retrieved July 6, 2018
3. William Barclay, And He Had Compassion (Valley
Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1976), pp.186-187.