The least of these...
The chosen hymns for this week, There is a Redeemer and These are the days of Elijah can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
The least of these...
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday for 28th June.
I do not want you to be fooled by the shortness of the reading today.
Our reflection will be based on only two verses of the Bible.
That implies that there isn’t much going on today, but that could not be further from the truth.
I remember listening to a minister who had heard his friend had had to give up the ministry due to a big scandal. And this minister phoned up his friend, not to scold him or berate him or even to be angry at some kind of betrayal of the ministry. He just wanted to ask him how it could happen.
How could this minister who, week after week, had preached from the word of God, given advice as to how to put this word into action, allowed himself to fall so badly?
How could he hear that advice given to others and not take it to himself?
And the man said, ‘I used to do this...(man hits the Bible and then reaches out as if to give the wisdom to others)
When I should have been doing this (man hits Bible, then moves hand to his own heart, before then reaching out to give it to others.)’
These two verses are short, but they have a big message that our hearts need to hear.
But before we hear them let’s prepare ourselves before God, let us pray...
And let us start with the prayer Jesus taught us
Which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil;
For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever.
It is good to do something together, something that reminds us of easier times, something that helps us feel security and offers hope of better times to come.
Remind us that there are things that are temporary, and no matter how hard or how long the hurt lasts, it is still temporary,
We will survive, we will overcome, we will grow.
So we pray for those who have suffered illnesses of body and soul; those that are recovering from operations, those that need recuperation, those that need rest. Remind us that it may take days, weeks, months, maybe even a year or so, but with care, with patience, with perseverance, things will get better.
We pray for those who are fearful for their job, or those wondering if they will find employment, those whose contracts are changing, those that are worried about their finances in the future.
Give them the tenacity and the dignity they need to keep on moving forward, to not give up on themselves or their situation. To know that no matter how dark the nights get, the dawn will return, there will be light, there will be hope.
We pray for your church, we pray for all of those with sincere faith no matter their creed or culture, and we pray for the community that they miss. We pray that they find ways to keep contact with each other and remember in their hearts that they do not face this crisis alone. That one day we will return to worship together as a people.
Give us the courage to believe that the family of faith is always joined as a family, that even though we may be separated by distance and time, our love is never separated.
Let our faith give us hope,
Let our hope give us courage,
Let our courage drive us forward to a better future
From Matthew 10:40-42
Here are a couple of verses that could change how we live our lives.
One in particular,
‘You can be sure that whoever gives even a drink of cold water to the least of these my followers because he is a follower, will certainly receive a reward.’
Here is a tricky question,
Who deserves to be helped?
Do we truly believe everyone deserves to be helped?
Like the beggar in the street asking for money, even though we have read that some are really scam artists that make huge amounts of money from professionally begging,. Or those that will just use the money you give them for drugs?
Or what about that prisoner in jail, found guilty of crime because he or she is guilty of the crime?
Who deserves our help?
I want to tell you a true story.
I’ll warn you now that my reaction to what happened, Roseanna’s reaction to what happened, and God’s reaction to what happened might be totally different. This isn’t a simple story with a simple point.
The incident happened over 20 years ago.
I had just moved into the manse. I hardly knew the area.
And the thing about manses is that people who are desperate often come to the manse looking for money. Some of these people might be skivers.
If you are in a place long enough you get to know them, and they get to know you, and you avoid each other.
But a new minister in a new manse and they may be looked at as fresh picking.
So it was that this guy comes to my door and asks for money. His brother is seriously ill in Dundee, might be near to death, needs money to get the bus to Dundee, and maybe something extra to get something to eat because he hasn’t eaten in a few days.
Can you image that happening to you?
You can send him away but what if he is telling you the truth, what kind of person does that make you?
You can question him to see if any of what he says is verifiable, but again what kind of person are you to question a man going through that kind of stress?
What do you say if he says, ‘Are you calling me a liar? Why would you presume that I would lie about something like that? What kind of person are you?’
As it turns out I did none of those things.
I had only just moved to Alva, mostly I had lived in Glasgow and had a wee stint in Aberdeen.
And I knew Alva was a lot closer to Dundee than Glasgow was.
Well that isn’t completely wrong. Glasgow is further away from Dundee, I just didn’t realise that it wasn’t that much further away.
Just for the record Dundee is over 50miles away and it is an over 2 hour round trip.
Anyway I got in the car.
The guy just looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing?’
And I said, ‘You need to get to Dundee as soon as possible. I’ll take you to Dundee.’
I don’t know if he was scamming me or not.
I don’t know when I dropped him off whether he was cursing me because now he was in Dundee and trying to work out how the hell he was going to get back to Alva, or whether he was thanking me for getting him so close to his brother who was really ill.
What I do remember is that my reaction to what had happened and my wives were completely different.
My reaction was, ‘Who would have thought Dundee was that far away?’
My wives reaction was, ‘What did you think you were doing? He could have been a psychopath. Beat you up left you are the side of the road and taken your car.’
That is the tension we live with...
‘...whoever gives even a drink of cold water to the least of these...’
What if Roseanna was right?
What if he was just a skiver looking for some extra cash so that he could get some extra drugs?
What if this skiver realised that there was a new young, inexperienced, naive minister in the manse and that out of guilt or shame or just embarrassment he would give away some money just to get this guy away from the manse?
And what if in the car he panicked?
He didn’t know Dundee, it was just a place far enough away that it needed about £20 to get there. That in my head I would care so little about this guy, that I would think so little of him that £20 was a fair enough amount to get him out my sight and never see him again.
But instead I was driving him to a city so far away and how was he going to get home? And he panicked and attacked me so that he could get the car and get home.
It’s not as easy as it seems.
But here is the bit that matters...
‘...whoever gives even a drink of cold water to the least of these...’
If you are worried about this then think about this
Jesus isn’t asking us to sort the guys life out.
Jesus isn’t asking us to make some great commitment to the guy.
All Jesus is asking of us is to care enough to make his life a wee bit better.
Jesus is interesting; because Jesus hung about the least in society quite a bit.
People who maybe their reputation was a bit on the dubious side.
People who were notorious for stealing off others, like Matthew or Zacheaus, tax collectors who were the corrupt of the corrupt, and not only corrupt, they were collaborators in the Roman Empire.
People who sold their bodies for money; like prostitutes. There was this one time this woman is caught in the act itself, brought before Jesus to be tried. It is an open and shut case, the punishment is clear, she should be stoned to death...and Jesus lets her off. Tells her to go away and not do it again.
Lepers. Now leprosy was incurable. If you had leprosy you had to leave everything and become a beggar in colonies of other lepers. Your family would have a funeral service for you and then destroy everything that had once been yours. It was so bad that people believed it was a curse from God, that you must have done something really evil to deserve that living death.
Jesus talked and touched lepers, and when he could, he healed them.
The disgusting, the awkward, the revolting, the least...Jesus became part of their life to make it a wee bit better.
That’s all he asks of us, it can be as little as a cup of cold water, just to make their life a bit more bearable.
Here’s my problem.
If we decide who we are going to help, then under what criteria do we do that?
That they deserve it?
Let me give you another true story...from when I was a teenager.
A friend of mine called Kenneth goers on a pedal-bike ride between Glasgow and Paisley.
On the duel carriageway a taxi gets to close and clips him flinging Kenneth and the bike onto the pavement. The bike is wrecked Kenneth’s head is gushing with blood.
He remembers staggering for over a mile, suffering from concussion, trying to get somewhere, knowing he was in danger but not knowing where safety could be found.
Here’s the thing, no one stopped to help.
Maybe they thought he was just a drunk who had fallen and was staggering home.
Maybe they thought he was a druggie who was just too high.
Maybe they thought if they let him in the car he might attack them.
Whatever their reasons, no one stopped to find out if he needed help.
If we only help those who we think deserve it then under what criteria do we help?
Jesus said, ‘whoever gives even a drink of cold water to the least of these...’
In Jesus eyes it didn’t matter, if we can make the lives of others just a wee bit better, that was the way to live our lives.
And let’s be honest.
One day ‘the least’ that needs help will be us.
We might be a pensioner trapped in their house with loneliness, wouldn’t we deserve someone to help us?
Or maybe we fall the pavement and really hurt ourselves, wouldn’t we think we deserve someone to help us a little?
Imagine living a life where we considered everyone we met as important enough that they deserved us making their life a wee bit better, maybe by the words of comfort that we give, or the actions of love that we show.
Who knows, with God’s patience and tolerance and love for us as an example...maybe we can.
My fear is, if we don’t do that, if we live our lives making excuses for not getting involved, then one day we will be in need, and no one will help, and their excuse will be, ‘But how do I know if I can trust them? I’ll play it safe, I not doing any one any harm.’
Let us pray.
Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by the needs of others out there.
And the temptation is to cower away from the world, scared that we will drown in the tsunami of problems that others are facing.
But the truth is that they don’t want us to solve all their problems. The truth is that most of us just want to be treated as if we matter, that we are not just a number or a a statistic.
Help us to meet others with a heart that is open.
Help us to see that your ever generous heart is always watching over us, that you seek to show us kindness and gentleness.
And that in response all you ask from us, is a heart that shows humanity to those around us.
This we ask in Jesus name.
Thank you for being with us today, either on the video or on the telephone.
Remember you can ask the church to pray for people you care about through the web page.
That you can give to the foodbanks through the special trolleys in the supermarkets.
Please look at the webpage or facebook page to see contact details if you are struggling and need someone to talk to.
Until next time...
May God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done,
And may we, through grace, with or without words, know the way, show the way, be the way. Amen