Monday, November 24, 2008

Help! Who Should I Help?

Am I a sheep or a goat? How do I know? What if I’m a goat? Maybe I’m a sheep, no I’m a goat. I walked by that guy on the street the other day with his cardboard sign asking for some money so he could buy food for his family.
But I brought cans of food for the food pantry. And I brought some of my old coats to give to the Open Door Mission. Does that count?
How many of us have fed someone who’s been without food, or given a drink of water to someone who was dying of thirst, or gave clothes to someone who didn’t have any, or visited someone in prison? If we have then we’re sheep. On the other hand how many of us have walked by a hungry person on the street, failed to clothe a naked person, or not visited someone in prison? If we’ve done this then we must be goats. I suppose we could be good goats.
You know what the real problem with all this is? We’re trying to figure out whether we’re sheep or goats and that’s not the point. The whole point of this parable is not about “doing” but about “being.” We’re looking at this parable and trying to understand what it is that Jesus wants us to do. And that’s not the way to look at it. We should be reading this parable and asking the Spirit to show us how we need to change our being in order to be more like Jesus.
Friends, I believe it’s all about love. Paul reminds us right away in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.”
This parable is not so much about what the sheep did as their attitude while they were caring for those who had needs. What they did was out of genuine love and compassion without any thought of getting anything back. They were just helping out a fellow human being.
It’s even possible that while they were preparing food or handing out clothes or wiping noses they might not have even felt close to God at that particular moment. Or maybe even for days on end or weeks on end they may not have felt the presence of God. They may have even been wondering if he even really cared what these folks were going through just to survive from one day to the next.
Mother Teresa wrote about such feelings in her book “Come Be My Light.” She struggled with her faith but she kept on doing what she felt God had called her to do, be His light to the people.
I believe that’s what our lesson from the gospel is about. It’s not whether we are sheep or goats. It’s about our attitude. It’s about our attitude and our reasons for doing this work as we feed the poor, care for the sick, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners. If we’re doing with the idea that it’s going to earn us a spot in heaven then I’m afraid that we’re going to be very disappointed.
Not one of us does it perfect every day. We’re going to walk by someone sometime. Sometimes we feel like we don’t have anything left to give and so we don’t. But other times we hear God’s voice, we feel his presence, and we just do it because we know it needs to be done. And we may be the only ones who notice that it needs doing.
This winter may be a hard winter in more ways than one for a great many folks. The Food Pantries and the shelters are going to need our help as their supplies of food and clothes dwindle.
We have many members who aren’t able to worship with us any longer and they miss it. That’s why it’s so important to give them a call, stop in for coffee, or send them a letter. They need to know that we haven’t forgotten all about them just because they aren’t here with us any longer.
Food, clothes, and fellowship are what everyone needs. And there are many who are missing one or two or all three of these. God gave us a directive that we should care for the poor, the sick, and the lonely. If we help these folks and love them as much as Jesus loves us then we all benefit. As John told us God is love and those who do these things in love are born in the love of God and experience a closer relationship with Him.
God made a sacrifice for all of us when he sent his Son to die on the cross for our sins and the damage they have done to our relationship with Him. That’s the kind of love Jesus was talking about in the gospel, sacrificial love. It’s not our love for God but his love for us and what he’s done for us.
If He loves us so much we certainly ought to love each other enough to help our sisters and brothers out when they need a hand.
Friends, this is hard work, caring for all those in need. It’s difficult to know how much help to give and who to give it too. If we give all we have can we trust in God to provide for us in our need? I have been reminded that if I give it all away then I will be the one looking for a friend to help me.
I would leave you with this thought this morning. Jesus is the King. He is our intercessor before the Father. He took all our sins upon himself so that we could receive the assurance of forgiveness. He loves us because we are his brothers and sisters. He made us who and what we are. He is coming back and we will be judged for what we have done with what he has given us. May God find us faithful.
Thanks be to God for the gift of his precious Son, Christ the King. Amen.

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