The Least of These

Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time is familiar with the phrase I chose for today’s blog post title. They are words Jesus actually spoke in Scripture. The least of these. We read the words and tell ourselves we help the people rejected by society or rejected by church society, but more often than not, we really don’t. We get so busy and caught up in our own lives that we forget people who are alone or the people who are carrying burdens way too heavy for the rest of us to think about. We go to our jobs, spend time with our spouses, and parent our children–all of which are good things, but aren’t part of the business God wants us to be about.

Before I go any further, let me quote the Scripture so you can see the words. From Matthew 25:34-40: “Then the King will say 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.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

This Scripture goes on to say that those who did not do these things for the least of these would go on to eternal punishment while those who did would go to eternal life.

Now, I’m not trying to say we have a work-based faith. Far from it. The verses that are featured in this blog are just as true today as they were yesterday and as they will be tomorrow. God prepared us through grace to do these good works–not before we are saved, but after as it says in Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

These words of Jesus did get me to thinking though. How tolerant are we of the least of these in our churches? Oh, we’ll go out and help them. We’ll feed the homeless, volunteer in a pregnancy crisis center, give someone a place to stay, or visit the hospital. But, how tolerant are we of the people who think differently or who are the least of these in our churches? Are we tolerant of the person who appears poorer than us? How about the person who walks in alone? How about the person who is a different race or gender than us? There can be an element of shame involved among those of us who are different. Don’t believe me? Let me go through some examples.

How about the statistic that the Sunday morning worship hour is the most segregated hour in America? This statistic was first quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. whose life we celebrate today in the United States. Ashamedly, so many years later, a poll finds that 86 percent of church congregations are composed of mainly one racial group. (LifeWay Research). We want to worship with people who look like us and have no interest in changing it. Reading those statistics brought me to tears.

What about differences that can’t be seen? I have a friend who runs a ministry to people whose career is not desirous in our churches. She invited some of these people to come to a particular church. At first, it was all right, but then their career became known, and she was asked not to bring them back. It’s not like they had dressed for their career to come to church. They were wearing clothes like the rest of us wear. But, people were still uncomfortable enough to not want them there. I’m pretty sure Jesus cried when that happened, and I did too. Another lost opportunity to bring people to Jesus.

Now, to bring the differences a little bit closer to home. I had a relative in the 1960’s who became a widow with the early death of her husband. She became different from the other people in her church. Different enough that people didn’t know what to do or say, and her family was left by the wayside. That abandonment traveled across the generations, made it so I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and still affects me today. Yes, things have changed for women in a lot of ways, but if a woman wants to serve in a church and is not married, she is relegated to serving with other women or with children. What happens when a woman is called to more than that like I think I am? I believe Jesus expects a woman to fulfill her calling whether she is called to something in the church that is traditional for women or something that is not so traditional.

There are also differences in thought, differences in how we think things should be done in our churches, and differences in sins committed as well as many different ways we can be the least of these. In other words, we are all different people who don’t fit the mold some churches say we should fit in. It’s almost a relief to type these words. God made us all differently, and we need to reflect that in our churches as we minister to the least of these. I pray that God gives us the courage to break out of the molds we have set for ourselves and bring more people to a saving relationship with Him.

God’s blessings on you all today!

 

The Least of These

Matthew 25:35-40

” ‘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.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ”

Many of us are familiar with this passage where Jesus is speaking to His disciples. It is one of the fundamental tenets of Christianity — serving others in Jesus’ name. And it’s something that’s fairly easy to see when we’re doing the kind of work indicated in the passage. Feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, going into the prisons.

There’s one place though that it might not be so easy to see the least of these. That place would be in our own churches, the people sitting next to us. Now, the question might be asked. How are the people sitting next to us the “least of these”? They don’t look like they’re hungry; they don’t look like their sick; they are generally wearing clothes (and if they’re not, your church might have a whole other set of problems, lol). All kidding aside though, the people sitting next to us might need someone to say, “I love you,” to say, “Jesus loves you,” or to just give them a hug. Sometimes I think we take it for granted that the people who sit in our churches don’t need to hear this spoken out loud. But, they do. They most certainly do. It might be the only hug they get that week; the only interaction they get with someone who truly cares; or the only indication that they’re not alone.

See, this has happened to me. I have been in churches where no one has interacted with me during the whole service, where I have felt overwhelmed by pain. I know God loves me, but to hear it spoken by fellow Christians helps me to know I’m not alone. It’s part of being the hands and feet of Jesus, of letting others see Jesus in you. And I’m just as guilty as anyone else. I will go into my church, go to where I usually sit, and not interact with anyone during the whole service. Or if I interact with people, it will be the customary greetings of “Hi, how are you?” and not make a point of expressing how I really feel. I want to be different. I don’t want to be a passive participant. I want to look at the people around me and show Jesus’ love to them, by word and by hug, and to let them know they’re not alone.

I will end with the lyrics to this song by Kari Jobe. It is a song that has touched me to the very core this week and helped me to realize I’m not alone.

“When I walk through deep waters
I know that You will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear

I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me

In the midst of deep sorrow
I see Your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You
Lord, You fight my every battle
And I will not fear

You amaze me
Redeem me
You call me as Your own

You’re my strength
You’re my defender
You’re my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You’ve always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul”

God’s blessings on you today!