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My Family – Sermon for Community Crisis Ministries Sunday

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Matthew 25:34-40

The Community Crisis Ministries Team selected our scripture for this morning.  When Kathy Sahrbeck gave it to me, she asked if it was OK, if it was appropriate for CCM Sunday, and if I thought I could preach from it.  I said, “Oh, sure, no problem!”—on the outside.  On the inside I was thinking, “Whew, boy, here we go!”  My less-than-enthusiastic internal response was because this is definitely a passage of scripture that is appropriate for the day, but it is also one of those passages most likely to be met with some version of “yeah, we know this already.”  We know we’re supposed to see God in everyone we meet.  The idea appears in some of our hymns and occasionally in our liturgy.  We talk about this every Sunday in chapel.  During our prayer time I always ask for signs of grace or places we saw God this week.  I often don’t get much response, but sometimes the answer is in a person.  We were created in the Imago Dei, the image of God, and so we need to recognize the image of God in one another.  See?  We know this already, right?  Guess I can sit down now and we can get to the real reason you came this morning: the offering.

But just because we know it doesn’t mean we always live it.There’s a famous quotes that says, “Some people are bothered by the parts of the Bible they can’t understand; I’m more bothered by the parts I do understand!”  This idea that everyone we help is God is one of those beliefs that we like much more in abstract than in real life.  In real life the person we give money to may not say thank you and may blow it on booze.  In real life the person in need might make questionable financial choices, when we know far better how their money should be spent.  Real life can be messy and smelly and annoying, and seeing God in others doesn’t always make us feel warm and fuzzy.

But there’s another problem with this concept of seeing God in all the faces we meet.  “The unfortunate tendency many have is to superimpose God’s face on those we think we are supposed to love/care for/be with….We slap the label ‘God’ on the hurting people we counter so that we don’t have to really see them….[When we do this, we] take others and place them in a role that is a part of our own little drama of how we are following God.  The goal is to really see those in need (including ourselves), warts and wrinkles and smelliness and all.”[1]

I have a book call A Child Laughs: Prayers of Justice and Hope.  It is divided into short chapters, and in the chapter on street ministry, the authors provide a poem from the point of view of someone on the street.  It is called OutRAGEous (Or Why I Can’t Walk Through the Doors of the Church)

You think I’m outrageous

Because my rage is visible

It is coming out of my pores

You don’t want to see me

Because I make you uncomfortable

“There but for the grace of God go I”

I am you in different circumstances

You are afraid and I am outraged

 

Please see me

Hear my story

Help me voice my rage and my sorrow

And I will do the same for you[2]

 

I love that last line: and I will do the same for you.  We often think we are the ones with something to give because we have the money.  We think we are the ones with something to teach because we have the education.  The speaker says “please see me”—not my need, not God superimposed upon my face.  See me.

Here is prayer from this same chapter. It is called Surrender.

hey God—

 people are always

telling me I should

make different choices

 

so patronizing

 

or at least I should

consider making

different choices

 

blah blah blah . . .

 

I am holding

on for dear life

white-knuckling it

 

but I am so tired

 

maybe I can relax

my hands just enough

to let the color return

 

unclench my jaw

 take a breath

 can you meet me there?[3]

 

This poem is, I think, a great reflection of what Community Crisis Ministries does.  We meet people where they are, holding on for dear life, a white-knuckle experience of every day.  Your gift helps them stay in their homes, pay for heating oil, buy them medication, let them relax their hands just enough to let the color return.  Yes, we can meet them there.  And we do.

And yet . . . one of the members of the committee admitted that sometimes it’s easier to see someone’s need than to see their full humanity.  Even in our charitable acts, we have to be careful not to superimpose God’s image onto others and fail to see them.

But actually I’ve made a common theological blunder here.  I’ve been talking about the image of God, and how we are supposed to see God in others.  But that’s not quite what the scripture is about.  We’re talking about Jesus here in this passage, not the Creator God, the first part of the trinity.  In our scripture the Jesus figure says, “I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was in prison and you welcomed me.”  And the people said, “When did we see you this way?  We don’t remember seeing you hungry or thirsty or in prison.”  Jesus replied, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The least of these can mean various things—the lowest of social status, the least valued or respected, the least independent; or it can mean the one for whom I feel the least responsible, which may or may not be the same thing.  But the rest of the sentence is equally important: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Those in crisis are members of Jesus’ family.  Those in need are members of Jesus’ family.  Those for whom we feel least responsible are members of Jesus’ family.  And sometimes they look like Jesus—            not the white-washed, sparkling clean Jesus, but the real Jesus:

the rule-breaker who was deemed a trouble-maker;

the one who hung out with the wrong crowd, with people down on their luck;

the one who got angry, went into a seemingly irrational tirade in the temple;

the one who got tired of people and would hole up alone;

the one whose body was broken;

the innocent man killed by law enforcement officers.

Yes, sometimes his family looks an awful lot like him.

And sometimes his family looks an awful lot like us:

rushed and stressed and running on fumes of ambition;

lonely and depressed and living on fast food faith.

See me, the homeless person asks.

See me, the lonely person cries.

See me, the fragile ego begs.

 

See me, not the façade.

See me, not the need.

See me, not the status.

See me, Jesus’ sibling. Your sibling.

 

Only then will we see Jesus.

 

 

 

 

[1] From the comments section of an article by David Lose, “Christ the King A: The Unexpected God.” Concept attributed to Barbara Brown Taylor.

[2] Maria Mankin and Maren C. Tirabassi. A Child Laughs, p. 178-179.

[3] Ibid, p. 179-180.

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