Giving – thanks

The following is a portion of the sermon I shared this past Sunday with the congregation present at my local church. If any of it sounds familiar, or you think you deserve credit for a portion of it, please contact me. It has been said that a sermon is made up of the study, life, and ideas of the preacher – and everyone s/he has ever heard or read! So, in that perspective – pause, think, be grateful.

“The day is coming when Jesus will come as King to reclaim the world and to judge all that is in it. That day is nearer now than it has ever been before. You can’t argue with logic like that can you! When the Son of man comes as King, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. And the people of all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will divide the people into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put one group on his right and the other on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; For I was hungry,

because sometimes I just couldn’t make ends meet. After my divorce from my husband and without a high school diploma, I just couldn’t get a job that would pay the rent and put food on the table for my children and save a little for the unexpected. I was usually able to keep us going, but sometimes the money just wouldn’t stretch. Kids grow so quickly! and with the cold weather that came – I just had to buy a coat for my little girl. And wouldn’t you know it, my car wouldn’t start the next morning – the battery was too weak. I managed to hitch a ride from a passing motorist, but I had to buy a new one so I could get to work again – I can’t afford to miss a day of work. By the time I’d paid for the battery, the rent, and for the coat, my whole paycheck was gone and I had nothing left for food. Well a good mother can’t starve her children, can she? We had enough food in the house so I could feed the kids’ dinner each night, and I knew that they would be given breakfast and lunch at school, but I hadn’t really eaten myself for a few days when you found out what was happening. And then you gave me food. You gave me some boxes and canned goods from your own pantry and some zucchinis you had put up from your own garden. And you didn’t make me feel patronized or pitied, you treated me as a friend, as though you reckoned I’d do the same for you, and as though you really enjoyed my company. And you proved that that was true because the next week when I had some money again and I didn’t need help, you asked me and the kids over for dinner and you sat and listened to my story. And you shared your story with me. You became my friend instead of just another do-gooder.

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; For I was a stranger,

I was lonely. Even though I was living in one of the most populated areas of North Georgia, I knew nobody who cared about me and I had nobody I could really call a friend. I thought my English was passable when I moved here but I found it very hard to understand what people are saying and to follow a conversation. I mean, I couldn’t work out what someone meant when he said, “He’s country as a bowl of grits.” And, “Is he’in yore kin?” or “That dog don’t hunt.” I guess there was still a lot I had to learn about the manners in this place. I didn’t really know how to make friends here, I didn’t understand the sense of humor and I didn’t know what to say or how to behave, and that makes you feel pretty uncomfortable. No one wants to know you when you don’t fit in and when nobody wants to know you, you never will. But you were different; you offered me your hand and you called me “friend”. You were patient with me when I didn’t understand things and you took the time to explain and to help me to feel comfortable. You introduced me to your circle of friends and together you gave me time and companionship. You took the time to ask about me and about my home. A few of you helped me with all the paperwork and the immigration department so my family and I could be reunited. You got personally involved instead of leaving it to the professionals. You made it clear that your homes were open to me and together you made me feel loved, accepted and valued; you gave me a people, a family, a home.

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; For I was cold and homeless,

because a property development company had bought the trailer park where I lived and several others in the area, and rather than maintain them they had let them fall into ruin until they were ordered to close them down. The developer wanted to demolish them anyway to make way for a new shopping center, and I, along with my girlfriend and our baby and many other people, were evicted. There was no where else for us to go because this was happening all over the area, not enough alternative low cost housing was being provided, people didn’t want “that” kind of development in their neighborhood. But you took a personal interest and found us a spare room until we could find a suitable place to go. Then you, and some of your friends got together and organized a network of people who had spare rooms and could do the same when necessary, and you helped us to deal with real estate agents and landlords so that we could get a small apartment to live in. You put your own reputation on the line when you lobbied the government and the county commission and the developers, calling for them to act quickly to ensure that the supply of low cost housing were maintained so that our story would not be repeated over and over again.

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; For I was sick.

I was scared and I was scarred, inside and out. I ran away from my family when I was 12 years old because my daddy had been forcing me to have sex with him since I was eight years old and I couldn’t take it any more. But then having got away from that, the only way I could survive was to prostitute myself on the streets of Atlanta to the hundreds of men who are only too willing to part with 20 dollars for half an hour with a pubescent kid. I cringed and screamed inside every time they touched me, but you’ve got to eat somehow, and you’ve got to do something to numb the pain. Some people seem to be able to, but soon I couldn’t let them touch me with their filthy grasping hands unless I was smacked off my brain, and shooting up ain’t cheap so I just had to work more and more. You’d reached out to me before, but I’d turned away; you didn’t belong in my world and I was sure I wasn’t good enough for yours. But at 19, when I was lying in a bed in Northside Hospital dying of AIDS, you came again, and you sat with me, you talked to me, and you listened to my story, you brought me flowers and told me that you loved me. You could have just given a donation to the hospital or something but you chose to give yourself. No one had ever kissed me before without demanding sex but you kissed me on my cheek without asking anything of me, just to say you cared. And you held my hand and you cried with me and comforted me as I died.

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; For I was in prison.

I was arrested and, fair enough, I was guilty but it’s scary and lonely in there shut off from the world. But you came and visited me, you made the effort to personally come there to see me. And then you came back with some of your friends, and you all started visiting me and some other prisoners regularly. You helped me to know that there were still some on the outside who cared about me, who respected my human dignity and recognized the image of God in me. And you worked for prison reform and for prison accountability so that I wouldn’t just be brutalized by the system and come out worse than I went in.

Then the righteous will answer him,

“Lord, we can remember a lot of hungry people but when did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we see you a stranger and invite you into our circle of friends? When were you evicted and we set you up in a new place? We can remember quite a few people we put up for a week or so but I’m sure we’d remember you if you’d been at our place; I mean, those scars in your hands are pretty distinctive, we wouldn’t have forgotten them. And when were you sick and dying? I remember the hospital but I don’t remember seeing you there. And when were you in prison and we came to visit you?”

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers and sisters of mine, You did it for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “You who are cursed, depart from me; Away to the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry

when my simple paycheck didn’t go the distance. And you heard about me and you said that people like me should be more responsible with our money and I’d have to wait until I got another check. And that anyway people shouldn’t have kids if they can’t afford to care for them, so it was really my own fault and I’d have to live with the consequences of my own irresponsibility.

You who are cursed, depart from me; for I was a stranger

in an unfamiliar land, and you made no effort to understand. You thought that I was just ignorant and rude and that I should learn English if I want to come to this country. You said that people like me were taking jobs away from good, honest, hard working Americans. Besides, you had heard that people from my part of the world were lazy and dishonest, and were responsible for a lot of gang violence in some parts of town and so you were afraid that I’d be a bad influence on your kids so you kept your distance. Nothing I could do was ever likely to help win my way into your circle of friends.

You who are cursed, depart from me; for I was cold and homeless

when the developers evicted me so they could bulldoze the trailer park I lived in to make way for another shopping mall, then you wouldn’t have to drive as far. You said if there was a problem with homelessness, someone should form a committee and do something about it. You had seen people who’d lived in trailer parks before and you thought that they usually weren’t very fine people so it was a job for a professional. And the guy who broke into your house last year and took the video and the stereo had been living in a trailer park not far away. You felt that this was not the kind of area to have trailer parks in it and so it was better for the community that they were closed down. Besides, you said, no-one can stand in the way of the market forces, and having trailer parks on prime real estate was such a waste! And you know, that shopping mall sounds like a pretty good investment.

You who are cursed, depart from me; for I was sick,

I was dying of aids. I was a shattered and broken kid who never really had a chance. And the closest you ever came to taking any notice of me was when you wrote to the county commissioners saying that you didn’t feel safe to leave your car doors unlocked or walk down the streets any more and that they should do something about keeping prostitutes and drug addicts of the streets. And as for dying of AIDS I guess you figured that it wouldn’t be safe to come near me and that anyway it was surely the judgment of God for my sinful lifestyle and I deserved to die alone.

You who are cursed, depart from me; for I was in prison

and did you care? No, you were pleased because you figured that society needed to be protected from people like me. You figured I had to be made to pay for my crimes, and that I needed to be taught a lesson and made an example of. You were a bit worried because the courts seemed to be getting so lenient these days and in no time at all maybe I would be back on the streets. “Doesn’t deserve to be treated like a human being, throw away the key,” you said, and you wrote to your local congressman to advocate the use of capital punishment.

They also will answer,

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and not feed you? We didn’t know, you must have us mixed up with someone else. Well, can you get you something now perhaps? When did we see you lonely and lost in a strange culture? You were Jewish or something weren’t you, we figured that the Jewish community was pretty good at looking after their own. When did we see you homeless? I can’t remember ever seeing anyone who was homeless, except maybe on the news reports; You weren’t one of those kids on the television with the torn jeans and tattoos or something were you? When did we see you sick or in prison and did not visit you? We’d have come for sure if we’d known you were in there. We gave some money to the hospital charity, doesn’t that count for something?”

He will reply, “Get away from me, for I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least or the dirtiest or the weirdest or the sickest of these, my brothers and sisters, you did not do for me. You who are cursed, depart from me;. Away to the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
~ Matthew 25:31-46

We are given some clear guidelines on what we are called to do as followers of Christ as we seek justice, share mercy, and give generously to the work of God’s kingdom.

So as you sit down this week at your table for Thanksgiving dinner, say thank you for your family – for your children, for your brothers and sisters in Christ, even for your crazy Aunt Beth! Say thank you for the food you are about to eat – for the fried turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and rolls – even for the creamed peas. Say thank you for your warm homes, your health, your safety, and then get a good night of sleep in your own bed, because there are the least and the lost amongst us and there is work for us to do!

Share your thoughts ~ YOU are important here!

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