Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.”
1 John 3:17-18 “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Psalm 82:3-4 “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Proverbs 14:31 “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor God.” Acts 20:35 “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Isaiah 58:10 “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”
James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Proverbs 29:7 “The righteous know the rights of the poor; the wicked have no such understanding.”
Galatians 2:10 “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”
Do we remember the poor? What are the rights of the poor?
James spoke not just for himself but for his brother, Jesus whom James called Lord, when he defined true and acceptable religion simply as two things: To look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. By this comes the kingdom of God.
The portrait of the Son of Man is a fearsome one in our reading. All the nations of the world have gathered together and are forced to recognize Christ’s sovereignty as the risen Jesus stands upon the Mount of Olives.
From the throne, the glorious one separates the people. To illustrate the separation of one individual from another, Jesus likens this to a shepherd who separates out a flock of sheep and goats grazing in the same pasture.
The sheep receive the place of honor and inherit God’s kingdom. The goats don’t.
The reaction of both is stunned surprise. Not one is given the chance to respond. The issue is already settled. Each person is simply told to which group she or he belongs.
The sheep can’t believe they have served in any special capacity. “Then the righteous will answer, ‘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?'”
The sheep are asked to take their place on the right side of the throne because their genuine faith had produced good works. They had responded to the pleas and the needs of those about them.
But they had kept no records; they expected no praise. For them it had been a glad privilege. They certainly hadn’t done it because they thought they were going to be rewarded nor did they reach out in acts of hope and love for someone more important in their mind than for the person in need in front of them. Their faith had turned outward to God’s world and to embrace all of God’s children, but especially those in need.
Still not one deed performed in that way had ever escaped the watchful eye of the God of mercy. They had laid up abundant treasure in heaven in the Holy One’s eyes.
For the risen Christ the ultimate mark of a Christian is not his creed, or her faith, or Bible knowledge, but the concern which you show to those who are in need. Visit someone who’s sick. Write to someone in prison. Help shelter some without home or hope. Rescue someone from hunger and fear. Clothe those in need with your faith and Christ’s kingdom.
Can you imagine life if God wasn’t on the side of the poor? Can you imagine this world if God didn’t have a moral basis—if God’s power didn’t include God’s goodness?
It would mean neither liberty nor freedom would be our natural state, but rather slavery and servitude would be the inherited and rightful condition of all. It would mean power should not be tempered by laws and ethical treatment but only by a greater and ever greater force. It would mean only those who can take and overtake would have the words and authority to reinforce their cruel right and rule. It would mean the poor and vulnerable would live without hope or help, either from on high or from within hearts.
If you think at times our world seems to totter and shake due to violence, tyranny, poverty, and hopelessness, a world without the mercies of a compassionate, just and peace-seeking Creator and Redeemer would be a creation unutterable and unthinkable.
God is a God of goodness. The Lord stands on the side of those who have fallen. Our faith in the God of mercy, peace, righteousness, and compassion mustn’t be shaken. We must stand and act as individuals, a church, and a country on the side of compassion, justice, peace, and goodness. Let your faith become real as it works to do good.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Find your heart for good works. Spend time, that most precious commodity, in God’s service for others. Realize the joy there is in ministering in Christ’s name.
The truth is many people wonder what their purpose in life is. Too many live lives so narrowly defined, existing thinly, and wavering in worth. They have lost contact with what they’re supposed to be doing. Life feels stressful, without real direction or deep connection. What’s missing is soul to their life. They don’t know what they’re here for.
In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family, including his pregnant wife, had perished, but he, prisoner number 119104, had lived. In his bestselling 1946 book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning.
Frankl worked as a therapist in the camps, and in his book, he gives the example of two suicidal inmates he encountered there. Like many others in the camps, these two men were hopeless and thought that there was nothing more to expect from life, nothing to live for. “In both cases,” Frankl writes, “it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them….”
When we no longer expect anything important from ourselves, we’re not in synch with what God expects from us. Deep down we know we’re
meant for more than just getting and keeping what’s ours. There is more to this than just this.
It’s up to us to have the courage to find that more, to pursue the kingdom, to become a disciple of Christ, to live compassionately for others and God’s glory. This is the more you may be missing in your life.
I want to follow up with what Sarah told us about Family Promise with some educational and I believe inspirational food for thought for us as a church and individuals.
Following the 2008 recession, homelessness in the US among families grew, resulting in strategic community programs to provide transitional housing. Families who are able to enter a shelter instead of living on the streets usually stay there briefly and do not become homeless again. Shelters work to assist every family with their unique situation, whether it’s the loss of employment, medical crises, addiction or domestic violence.
The situations that lead to homelessness can often be resolved when families have access to a stable residence, meals and childcare. Finding employment is considerably easier while staying in a shelter. Shelters are also concerned with the principle of “rapid rehousing,” which involves access to temporary financial assistance, rent assistance and help securing a new home. Rapid rehousing is part of the federal government’s approach to reducing the homeless population throughout the United States.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, roughly 75 percent of families who enter shelters are able to leave quickly, with minimal assistance, and never experience homelessness again. By helping people who need basic care in an emergency, shelters eliminate further problems associated with homelessness before they happen.
What are we good for? What positive impact will your 60, 70, 80, or 90 years make on people who are really in need?
What will this church have done to save people from homelessness, rescue them from drug abuse/overdose, human trafficking, refugee crises, low wage labor, poverty, anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender actions, lower quality education, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic activities, lack of adequate health care, racism, and/or hunger? Are we not supposed to be thinking deliberately and acting purposefully toward bringing help and hope to human beings in our community, state, country, world?
Perhaps we’re unwilling or afraid to begin because we ask too much of ourselves. Sometimes, we believe if we can’t fix the problem then what’s the point. But that’s not what this is about.
Christ doesn’t tell us we have to transform the world in order to be his follower. He didn’t say, ‘I was sick, and you did not cure me; in prison, and you did not release me’ but, ‘You visited me not, which you might have done.’ He tells us all we have to do is go and be there.
Christ isn’t asking for miracles from us, but for comfort, compassion, and care from us. The goats in our scripture are in eternal trouble because of the omission of good works in their power to do.
Here’s a question: Do you know why dogs and cats are so different? A dog looks at you with those big brown eyes, cocks its head to one side and says to itself, “You love me, you feed me, you care for me, you take me for walks… you must be God.” A cat looks at you with those piercing green eyes and thinks to itself “You love me, you feed me, you care for me, you stroke me … I must be God.”
In this regard, we ought to be dog people. Let us be those who see in God’s love for us the power for us to love others.
Be willing to do the good works God has given you. Find ways to love those who are in need of so much and yet will take so little. And may our church find even greater meaning by committing itself to doing God’s good purposes.
Can our church say Amen.