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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Christ. Amen.
It is a favorite story of mine. A little boy wanted to meet God. He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he packed his backpack with cupcakes, several cans of root beer and started on his journey to meet God. When he had gone about 3 blocks, he saw an elderly woman sitting on a park bench watching the pigeons. The boy sat down next to her and opened his backpack. He was about to take a drink from his root beer when he noticed that the lady looked hungry, so he offered her a cupcake. She gratefully accepted it and smiled.
Her smile was so wonderful that he wanted to see it again. So he offered a root beer as well. Once again she smiled at him. The boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling without saying a word. As it started to get dark, the boy realized how tired he was and wanted to go home. He got up to leave but before he had gone no more than a few steps, he turned around and ran back to the old woman, giving her a big hug. She gave him her biggest smile ever.
When the boy arrived home his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked, “What has made you so happy today?” He replied, “I had lunch with God.” Before his mother could respond he added, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile in the whole world!” Meanwhile, the elderly woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face. He asked, “Mother, what has made you so happy today?” he replied, “I ate cupcakes in the park with God.” And before her son could reply, she added, “You know, he is much younger than I expected.” My friends, where have you seen God lately?
In our Gospel Lesson today, Jesus tells us a parable that when he returns “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” The criteria for his judgment may be astonishing. It will be as self-evident and visible as the differences between sheep and goats. Christ will not ask anyone about their creeds or their standing in the community, or your yearly income, but instead, he will ask, “And what have you done for me? What have you done for the poor family on the other side of town? Ever make any visits to the local jail?” What have you done for the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the physically afflicted, the oppressed, the poor…For whatever you have you done or not done for the least of these, you have done for me.” And all the righteous and the unrighteous together will say, “But Jesus, when did we see you?”
Now, we would all miss the point of the parable if we believe it is their good deeds that get the righteous into the kingdom. Frankly, the righteous y weren’t even aware that they were doing these things for Jesus. Often their right hand didn’t know what their left hand was doing. No, they did what they did simply because of the necessity to help, love, serve, visit, feed, all because they had been helped, loved, served, visited, and fed themselves.
The unrighteous, on the other hand, were holding score cards. They knew exactly what they were doing. They held their cards tightly and kept points of how many times they helped others, and the amount they gave. They made sure their picture was in the paper for serving at a soup kitchen, or attending a charity ball, and they knew what compelled them to help: social pressure, the desire for recognition, and the fear that someday that might be in that position. They forgot to ask the question, where had they seen Jesus that day?
Which are you the righteous or unrighteous. Do you keep score? Have you ever said, “Well, I won’t volunteer there again. I didn’t get a word of thanks.” Or “my gift wasn’t even recognized.” Unfortunately, many of us, myself included, always have to be asked, stroked, cajoled, and pampered to be sure we’re going to have a wonderful time before anyone gets our help. We don’t like it, but we always find ourselves complaining about helping people. It is so much easier to keep a score card and only help those who are worthy, and have made the right decisions. And so we never see Jesus in our neighbors or in our lives.
Unfortunately, that is not the story that that runs through scripture or the lives of the saints. In the Old Testament, God came to the tent of Abraham and Sarah in the form of three men. Sarah slaughtered the finest livestock and served the best to the strangers. In the Book of Hebrews, it is written, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” In the legend of St. Martin of Tours, a naked and shivering beggar, pleaded with a young Roman soldier. Like all the other soldiers, Martin had been assigned a large cloak to keep him warm in the winter nights, yet feeling compassion for the beggar, Martin cut his cloak in two with his sword and gave half of it to the beggar. That night Christ appeared to Martin in a vision, dressed in the parted cloak, and commended the young soldier for his charity. “Where have you Jesus in your life?’
Now, I imagine most of us haven’t had the experience of St. Martin sharing his cloak, or like Abraham and Sarah being surrounded by the Holy Trinity at breakfast, or even being greeted by angels at dinner, yet I am convinced that God is near to you every day. Yes, he is hidden in the faces and figures of the poor, the needy, the hungry, the sick and those in prison, and he is watching.
A few years ago, as Janna and I were heading off to Europe with a group of parishioners from a previous church, we were faced with the questions: who is going to take care of the kids, the house, the plants, the mail? Truthfully, I should say that Janna was faced with these questions. I was merely aware of her putting together daily schedules. But she was asking the question, who is trustworthy enough to take care of our most valuable possessions? It was a tough question. You don’t ask just anyone to care of your children for 13 days. You trust them with someone who is very reliable…in all the small day-to-day details and all the large important details. Come to think of it, I probably wouldn’t trust myself to the task. But my friends, God’s entrusts us to take care of his precious possession-the world- and everyone who dwells upon it. That is the meaning of the Jesus’ parable. So what will we do with it?
My friends, Jesus doesn’t demand from you the building of a cathedral or a seven year commitment to the mission field. Jesus invites you to do simple things. He invites you to feed the hungry, offer a drink to someone who thirsts, welcome a stranger, cheer the sick, and visit those in prison. These are things which anyone can do. This is not a noble request, requiring you to give away all your wealth, so that your name may be written in the chronicles of history. No, Jesus invites you to provide simple help to the people you meet every day.
But there is a twist. For on that final day, when Christ shall will come again to judge the living and the dead, the question, “Where have you seen Jesus?” will be turned around, and instead Jesus will ask, “And where did I see you?” And on that day, he will welcome the righteous into his eternal kingdom. May we all be counted among that number. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.