November 22 Sunday service
Hymn STF 663 I the Lord of sea and sky
Reading Matthew 25 v 31 – 46
Hymn STF 673 Will you come and follow me
This passage is a reminder that our Christian life is more than just being in church and singing hymns. It is also about the practical working out of our faith in response to the needs of others.
We only have to look at what has happened in America this last 4 years. The attitude of Donald Trump has been purely on putting America first. It has been about giving tax cuts to the rich and neglecting the poor. Abandoning policies which would help combat climate change. It is said that he has emphasized individualism above community spirit. He has left a very divided country which will take years to heal.
God wanted something different for the people of Israel. He focused his laws on community. If you did something wrong, you didn’t just harm one person, the community itself was damaged. God asked people to focus on him because then it would be easier for them to be aware of other people’s needs. If we are purely focused on ourselves we do not always think of others. In our reading from Matthew ch 25, The king says, “to those on his right. Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.” It is a fundamental need for people to have something to eat and drink. But it seems as though some people are blind to other people’s needs, even the very basic ones.
When we see beggars in the street, what is our attitude to them? Do you think that they have brought it on themselves, or do we feel that we can help them in some way? This passage goes to the very heart of serving God through serving other people. It is about our attitude towards those in need. Do we have
compassion or do we blank them out of our mind? We cannot help everyone but we can be compassionate. But what is our basic attitude to those in need? Is it to have compassion? Because that’s the response that God wants us to have. To put ourselves in the other persons shoes. To think how we would feel if we were in their situation. When I was in training, I had a placement in Clapham. One day I was walking along and noticed a young woman begging. I asked if she wanted something to eat and drink, she said Yes. I took her to McDonald’s, only to find out she was a vegetarian. I bought her fries and a coffee. We want to help them, even if sometimes we get it wrong and we feel embarrassed.
The third situation of need is nakedness. Quite rightly, if we saw someone who lacked clothes, we would want to help them, and this includes a family who are trying to provide for their children. These days there are charity shops, but also churches provide opportunities for clothes to be sold cheaply or even given away. This is one way the church is meeting the needs of people in deprived areas. Another aspect of nakedness is being vulnerable and losing dignity. I think the church can play a vital part in a community by addressing these issues. The coronavirus has made us very aware of vulnerable people in our churches and in the community. There has been a tremendous response all over the country of people in communities helping those in need in their area. In our own churches I hope that we are caring for the vulnerable in our communities as well as in the church – whatever that need may be.
Another aspect of nakedness is that of giving people their dignity back. Treating people with respect, valuing them as individuals, not making them feel that they are begging for help, or that we are doing them a favour. If we think about what God has done for us. The way he reached out to us when we were lost and dwelling in the mess that we had created. He redeemed us, he washed us clean, he bathed us in his love, he gave us back our dignity. We felt clean, valued and loved. God can work in us to help people regain their dignity. To help them in a practical way. But also, to help people realise that they are loved and valued by God, unconditionally. In doing this service for others, we cannot be judgmental. We have to allow people to choose their own lifestyle. But still be willing to pick up the pieces if things go wrong. After all, that is what God does for us.
In the other 3 situations of need, those who are sick, those who are strangers and those in prison. We need to be aware of the individual needs and requirements of the people. As we have seen when people get Covid-19, it is not just the physical symptoms that are worrying, it can be the psychological effects as well. When people are sick physically, it can also affect them mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We need to care for those who are sick.
When someone feels they are a stranger, we need to help them feel accepted and part of the community. It is not enough just simply to say ‘Hello’, we need to get to know the person, that means asking questions and taking an interest in them. The final category is that of being in prison. There is wonderful work being done by chaplains and prison visitors. But most of us are not involved with prisons and prisoners. But we do need to be aware of individuals who have been released from prison, that they will need a support network around them.
I would also suggest that there are other ways of being in prison. The Pandemic has made many people a prisoner in their own homes. They feel anxious, even scared, they may feel lonely and vulnerable. They may need help to free themselves from their ‘prison’, that doesn’t necessarily mean being out of the house. They need help to get them through the boredom, restlessness etc. They need to communicate with the outside world. It is so important that we keep in touch with those who are ‘stuck’ in their own homes.
The other people who may feel imprisoned are those who are trapped – in addiction, by circumstances, by illness, by emotional pain or mental health problems. We need to come alongside them and share with them. We need to believe that God will give them strength to cope, but also, we need to believe that God can release them from what binds them. God has released us; he has given us the freedom to live in his love. We need to show our gratitude to God, by showing love and compassion to those in need. Amen
Hymn S of F 1187 Before the throne of God above
Hymn His love will find the answer
God Bless Peter