They Are Us!

Ez 34:11-12, 15-17 / 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28 / Mt 25:31-46

There was a brand new president at the local university and he was known as a brilliant scholar and intellectual.  When he started appearing at one of the local churches on Sundays, the pastor was anxious to impress him in hopes that he’d join the parish. And so, week after week the pastor worked for hours preparing brilliant sermons replete with scholarly quotations and important insights.  Eventually, the president joined the parish, and the pastor just couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Sir, could you tell me which one of my sermons finally persuaded you to join our parish.”

With a puzzled expression, the president replied, “I really don’t know what you’re talking about. A little old lady in the back row made me feel so much at home by telling me how she missed me when I wasn’t here. That’s why I joined the parish.”

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The little things, done with love, make all the difference. Laid end to end, they can add up to a powerfully good life. If you doubt that, look at Mother Teresa.

That’s what Jesus is telling us today. He’s summing up all his teaching and giving us the bottom line: “If you want to have life now and in the hereafter,” he says, “you’ve got to use what God has given you, and use it to take care of his people. Nothing else makes matters. Nothing less will do.

“Staying out of trouble is good,” he says, “but it isn’t enough. You’ve got to DO something for God’s people: Feed the hungry, comfort the sick, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison.”

Those are Jesus’ ultimate criteria for success or failure in life. So how are we doing? With the folks far away, many of us are doing fairly well: with generous checks, volunteer work, and prayers. But have we noticed the prisoners, the sick, the hungry, and the naked who are closer at hand? They’re right here, in this church, in our families and schools. They’re across the bridge table from us and across the desk from us: God’s hurting, hungry people, whose spirits are starving, or trapped, or stripped naked by life’s cruel turns.

They’re all around us. As Pogo would say, they are us!  And each one of us has something to give them, some part of our selves that they need, to be healed, to break free, to grow up, or just to survive another day. They are right here, and they need us now.

And so we need to pray: May God give us hearts as tender as his own, to see his hurting people, to embrace them, and not to turn away. May God give us great hearts that give our all and hold nothing back!