When have you seen Jesus? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us: you have seen him – and helped him…or not – whenever you have encountered the least of these who are members of my family”
In Jesus’ story, both groups of people were surprised. Those who had cared for the “least of these” asked incredulously, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'
Neither group realized that in caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, those in prison or anyone else that would be considered “the least of these,” they were caring for Jesus.
Where have you seen “the least of these”? At the food shelf? By the side of the road? At the bus stop? At school? At the hospital ER? Jesus still shows up unannounced – in the form of strangers and neighbors who need our care. We know this – and yet we are still surprised when we see Jesus in places we don’t expect him.
Perhaps you saw the story this past week of Kate – a young woman who ran out of gas on the freeway in New Jersey. She pulled off on the closest exit –her heart pounding – got out of her car to find a gas station. But instead, she met a homeless man with a sign at the end of the exit. He told her to get back into her car and lock the doors. He then walked to the gas station and bought a can of gas with $20 – the only money he had. Here was a homeless man – and yet – Kate was the one who was in need.
Kate decided to give back. For a few weeks she would drive back to the spot where the homeless man – his name is Bobby – would sit with his sign. She gave him some food, bought him a jacket, hat and gloves – some socks. Bobby was grateful – and honest that the reason he is homeless was because of some bad decisions that he made. But as Kate got to know Johnny, she decided she wanted to help him get second chance. So she and her boyfriend started a Go-fund me page and they raised seven hundred dollars, for which Bobby was really grateful. But Kate wanted Johnny to be able to get an apartment and a fresh start and knew he would need a bit more to do that and so they made a youtube video, telling the story of Bobby’s generosity – and her wish. The funds started pouring in. They have raised over $300,000 to give Bobby a second chance.
Who was the “least of these”? Who was the person in need? In this story, Bobby’s compassion and generosity led to Kate’s gratitude and then her compassion and when she shared their story, it lead to even more generosity. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama explain in The Book of Joy, compassion, generosity and gratitude are essential for living meaningful lives filled with joy.
Archbishop Tutu tells the story of a mother in South Africa who could not stand to see all of the orphans who were on the street - abandoned after losing their parents to HIV Aids. So she started bringing them into her home. She had about a hundred street children in a three-room house. But soon people started to notice. One group offered to build housing. Others began to collect food. This woman’s generosity inspired others. Tutu says, “One shouldn’t pretend that people don't get overwhelmed…but do what you can where you can.”
See your neighbor’s need – whether that neighbor be the person you live next to or the person at the food shelf or the homeless person on the street or the person who runs out of gas on the freeway. Do what you can where you can - knowing that in serving your neighbor, you are serving Jesus.
Where have you seen Jesus? Maybe you have seen Jesus in the face of a woman telling her “Me too” story. Vulnerable women and girls have begun to share their stories of being sexually abused or harassed. Or maybe you have seen Jesus in the eyes of another vulnerable people. The Star Tribune recently reported on seniors in care centers who have been abused and their protests ignored – or silenced. Where have you seen Jesus? How can you respond? It depends. Sometimes what is needed is a compassionate, listening ear. At other times…we are called to respond with action – be that a letter, intervention, a youtube video or maybe a glass of water to someone who is thirsty. As Bishop Tutu says, “Do what you can where you can - knowing that in serving your neighbor, you are serving Jesus.”
What about us? How can we, as a church in Robbinsdale celebrating our 75th Anniversary, how can we do what we can where we can to serve our neighbor and to serve Jesus?
Our bishop, Bishop Ann, gave us – and all of the congregations in the Minneapolis Area Synod -- a challenge.
One of our “new starts,” Tapestry, has a need. Tapestry is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual Latino and Hispanic gathering place, a place in the midst of the city where the community could explore what it means to be church. Its pastor, Melissa Melnick, is particularly gifted in seeking out people that others consider “the least of these” and not only hearing their stories but also providing resources and opportunities to know the love of God first hand. At Tapestry, they gather people together to care for one another, creating a tapestry of lives woven together – both in their own community and with their band which not only plays for their own worship service but also for other churches. Some of you may have heard them last year when they came last fall to kick off the Wildfire Confirmation program. They were doing what they could – where they could to serve the neighbor and serve Jesus.
Then last April, tragedy struck as news came that Melissa’s son, Chris Stanley, had been swept into the Mississippi. You may remember hearing or reading about this story. Chris, a young college student, and a friend had climbed a fence to sit and watch the falls. They had no idea just how dangerous it was. One of them was able to swim to safety. But Chris could not be found. Melissa, her family and friends and the people of Tapestry gathered at the river to watch and pray, wait and hope…for 10 days before Chris’ body was found.
Now Melissa, her family and the ministry of Tapestry – people woven together by God’s love – are in need of care. The service and mission committee will be meeting to see how we can answer the question of what we, as a church in Robbinsdale celebrating our 75th Anniversary, can do to serve our neighbor Melissa and Tapestry and to serve Jesus?
These are just a few stories. Jesus shows up – in surprising places and in surprising ways. We never know where we will next see the face of Jesus. We only know that Jesus invites us to serve our neighbor – especially those in need – and promises that by doing so, we will be serving him.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus has commissioned us and sent us out to be ambassadors saying, “Let your light shine before others that they will see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” This is the message that we will be embracing this year for our 75th Anniversary. This is the message that the saints who have gone before us – Gertie Dumont, Linda Swanson, Betty and Harry St. John and so many others --- have proclaimed with their words and deeds. And this is our mission too.
Brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s not only do what we can where we can to serve our neighbor and to serve Jesus, let’s let our light shine. In Jesus’ name. Amen.