Serving Where Service Is Needed

What Made Jesus Mad?

Keith McFarren

October 11, 2020

Matthew 25:41-45


 


 


 


 


     The old man who would go down to the ocean every morning and walk along the beach.  One morning following a big storm, he was walking along the shore and found the beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see. 


     Off in the distance, the old man noticed a little boy walking.  As the boy came closer to the man, the man noticed that the boy would stop, bend over, pick something up, and throw it into the sea.  The young boy got the best of the old man’s curiosity and as the boy came closer the old man called out, “Good morning!  What, may I ask, are you doing?” 


     The young boy stopped and looked at the man and replied, “I’m throwing starfish back into the ocean.  The waves and the high tide have washed them up onto the beach, and they can’t get back into the water by themselves.  The sun is going to get hot and they will all die, unless I throw them back into the water.”


     The old man looked around at all the starfish that lined the beach for as far as he could see and said, “There must be thousands of starfish on this beach.  I’m afraid you’re not going to be able to make much of a difference.”


     The little boy bent down, picked up a starfish and threw it as far as he could back out into the ocean.  Then he turned and looked at the old man and smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”


 


     As the church becomes more involved with relief and justice and various types of mission work, we need to be reminded that “making a difference to this one” is not going to solve all of the world’s problems.  As meaningful as this starfish story is the answers to many of the world’s problems lie in a bigger perspective.  It’s as though we throw this starfish and that starfish back out into the ocean without solving the problem of why they keep washing back up on shore again what seems to be a never ending cycle.


     Some of the reasons have to do with politics and some of it is due to corruption; and some of it has to do with the church and people like us who would rather just give things away because that’s the easiest way to do it. We’d rather just give people a bunch of fish, instead of teaching them “how to fish”  so that they can learn to take care of and provide for themselves and their families.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus made it very clear that we need to be personally involved in loving and saving and serving the people who are need.  In fact, he goes so far as to say that we’re not really even serving those who are the “least” when we do this, but we’re actually serving Jesus himself.  That’s why he said “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). 


 


     “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”    So, what does that exactly mean?  Every Sunday morning when we went to Faith UMC in South Bend, at the corner of Ironwood and Lincolnway, no matter what the weather, no matter what the temperature, there would always be two or three people standing on one of the four corners or in the median with signs that would say, “Need money for food!”  And as they stood there, they would be smoking cigarettes, talking on their cell phone and drinking a giant – sized Slurpee from 7-11.  Which makes one wonder – is that really Jesus?


     What’s more disturbing is that the South Bend Tribune checked these so called “needy” people out and found out that they were making more money standing on the side of the road holding a sign, begging for money, than a lot of people did who worked an honest job for forty hours a week…and they drove a better car as well.  So how are we, as Christians, to know what to do?  How are we to know when to roll down our window and give these people something?  Should we always do it, just to be safe and be on the right side of Jesus?  If the punishment for not doing it is being separated from God and then being sent to hell, then maybe we shouldn’t take any chances and err on the side of generosity.


     But then again, we have to remember that we’re not going to be judged solely on our “works” when the time comes.  So, I don’t think we need to worry about being banished from heaven just because we missed a homeless person here or there.  But at the same time, we do have to be aware of Jesus’ warning about totally ignoring justice and helping those in need (like the story of the Good Samaritan).  How do we reconcile what it means to care for those who are less fortunate than we are?


     How do we solve the problems of inequality?  What are we to do when four hundred million children around the world are living in extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than $1.25 per day?  21,000 children die every day as a result of poverty or poverty related diseases.  Every 4 seconds, a person dies of starvation, and most often it is a child under the age of five (Greg Nettle and Santiago Mellado, Small Matters: How Churches and Parents Can Raise Up World-Changing Children, Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 2016, 23-24).


 


     So what is our responsibility in the midst of all this?  The Bible is very clear about it.  The Bible is very easy to understand when it comes to telling us what to do, but as Soren Kierkegaard writes, “we pretend to be unable to fully understand it , because we know very well that the minute we do, we are obligated to act accordingly” (Soren Kierkegaard, Provisions: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, Walden, NY; Plough Publishing, 2014, 193).


     Here’s what the Bible tells us to do…and I’m going to read it from The New Living Testament because it makes it easier to understand:


     “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).


     “[Godly people] share freely and give generously to the poor” (2 Corinthians 9:9).


     “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.  Rescue the poor and helpless, deliver them from the grasp of evil people” (Psalm 82:3-4).


     Finally, Jesus says this, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.  Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [will have] eternal life”


(Matthew 25:45-46).  


      


     As we sit here this morning listening to Jesus tell us what we are supposed to do to help those who are less fortunate than we are, it’s easy for us to say, “We agree.  We need to do something to help those less fortunate than we are!”  But the problem is…there isn’t a whole lot of “me” included in that “we.”  It’s a whole lot easier to let someone else do it…let the government or some non-profit organization or let the people that have all the money help.


     It’s like the two little kids that walked into a dentist’s office and the one little kid said, “I want a tooth taken out.  No gas.  No Novocain.  Just pull it because we’re in a hurry.”


     “You’re a pretty brave little guy,” the dentist said.  “Which tooth is it?”


     The boy turned to his friend and said, “Show him your tooth Sammy!”


 


     We talked last week about God giving the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai.  What I wanted to stress to you was this wasn’t just a one time affair.  He wasn’t just giving it to the people who were there that day.  He was giving it to all future generations as well.  And just as God was giving his Commandments to all people for all time, Jesus, in our scripture reading this morning is telling not only the people of first century Israel what needs to be done, but he’s also talking directly to you and me.


     “Whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me.”  But he also said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  He’s talking to you because it’s all about you.  It’s not about we…it’s about me.


 


     That’s where all of our problems begin.  The problems of church and society begin and end in the heart of the individual…in the heart of people like you and me.  That’s why The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount was so important, because everything within it focused on the emotions of the heart.  Our heart is at the center of everything that matters in God’s kingdom.  And if my heart is in tune with God’s kingdom, then everything I do for those who are less fortunate than I am will not only change the life of those that I am helping, but it will also change my life as well because it will draw me closer to being what Jesus wants me to be and doing what Jesus wants me to do. 


     The essence of the Gospel is to have a change of heart…meaning that it takes more than just belief to follow Jesus.  New Testament writer James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “What good is it, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  …faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.  (James 2:14-18).


     This is why we need to connect or become personally involved with the “least of these” because the least of these more often than not, turns out to be Jesus and Jesus is the only one who can change our heart.


    


       As I was writing this Thursday morning, I couldn’t help but think of some of the conversations Kristine Stark and I have had.   Kristine and Bob and Keith and the rest of The Fishers of Men band go out on the streets and play their music and evangelize…they try to bring people to Christ.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  In fact, considering all the people they come into contract with, they could very easily consider themselves failures because not a lot of the people they come into contact with actually change their lives.  And that upsets Kristine at times.


     She feels that they aren’t being very successful.  They are doing what God wants them to do.  They take people in off the streets and provide shelter for them at their home and feed them, but a very large majority of the people don’t want to cooperate.  I remember telling her you can’t break a horse that doesn’t want to be broken.  They want to do things their way…and pretty soon the people are gone…gone on their own or Bob has to ask them to leave because they won’t follow the rules. 


     I remember telling her that my theory is kind of like the little kid in the story about the star fish – “you can’t save them all” – but I do believe that you can make a difference for a few.  In fact, I know of two people right here in this church whose lives have been turned around by Bob and Kristine and Keith.  Two people who were out on the streets with an unknown future until by the grace of God they were taken in and got themselves straightened out. 


     Saving two people out of hundreds doesn’t seem like very many…but if you were to ask those two people, I’m sure they would tell you that it made a big, big difference to them.  And if the truth were known, I’m sure that Bob and Kristine and Keith would admit that their lives were changed for the better as well.


 


     It’s easy to be overcome with a sense of helplessness when we’re looking at a world filled with poverty and hunger and injustice.  It’s easy to say that I can’t fix it for everyone.  I’m just one person.  But know that it is important that you fix it for someone.  We all know someone who needs a little help.  We all know someone who is lonely or sick or poor or imprisoned in some way or another…but we don’t know what we can do to help them.


     Jesus and his disciples found themselves in the same situation.  Thousands of people were following them and it was getting late and the disciples said to Jesus, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging…”


     Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.”


     “But there are so many people and so many needs to fill” they said.


     Seeing that his friends were overwhelmed Jesus told them to “do what we can with what we have.  What do you have?”


     That’s a pretty good question – what do you have?  What do you have to make life better for someone else?  What do you have that can make life a little better for someone else?  You feed them.  You change their lives for the better.  Quit sitting on your hands and quit feeling like you have nothing to offer the world around you and go out and start providing some justice to those who are faced with injustice.  Go out and start being merciful to someone who desperately needs some mercy.  Go out and start being faithful to the God who has been so faithful to you.


 


     Our scripture reading this morning is the only scene in the New Testament with any details pertaining to our final judgment.  And it might be surprising to some people to find that our judgment is not based solely on our confession in Christ or grace or justification or the forgiveness of our sins.  What counts is whether or not one has acted with loving care and compassion for those in need.  What counts is whether or not we are willing to respond to human need.  What counts is whether or not we are willing to respond to Jesus.


    


     We’ll soon be faced with having to decide whether or not we want to provide presents to support one or two Salvation Army Christmas families again this year.  I can’t think of a better way to respond to the needs of the world around us and to respond to Jesus than to reach out and make a difference in someone else’s life.  And the neat thing about it is, that reaching out and making a difference in someone else’s life will end up making a difference in your own life as well. 


     Maybe “making a difference to that one” as the little boy said, was not so much about the life of a starfish as it is about your own life?  What if it’s about changing your heart and changing your relationship with those less fortunate than you are; what if it’s really about changing your relationship with Jesus?  What if it’s really about spending eternity with God? 


 


 


Sermon Series What Made Jesus Mad? based on the book What Made Jesus Mad? by Tim Harlow, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2019.      


Serving Where Service Is Needed

What Made Jesus Mad?

Keith McFarren

October 11, 2020

Matthew 25:41-45


 


 


 


 


     The old man who would go down to the ocean every morning and walk along the beach.  One morning following a big storm, he was walking along the shore and found the beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see. 


     Off in the distance, the old man noticed a little boy walking.  As the boy came closer to the man, the man noticed that the boy would stop, bend over, pick something up, and throw it into the sea.  The young boy got the best of the old man’s curiosity and as the boy came closer the old man called out, “Good morning!  What, may I ask, are you doing?” 


     The young boy stopped and looked at the man and replied, “I’m throwing starfish back into the ocean.  The waves and the high tide have washed them up onto the beach, and they can’t get back into the water by themselves.  The sun is going to get hot and they will all die, unless I throw them back into the water.”


     The old man looked around at all the starfish that lined the beach for as far as he could see and said, “There must be thousands of starfish on this beach.  I’m afraid you’re not going to be able to make much of a difference.”


     The little boy bent down, picked up a starfish and threw it as far as he could back out into the ocean.  Then he turned and looked at the old man and smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”


 


     As the church becomes more involved with relief and justice and various types of mission work, we need to be reminded that “making a difference to this one” is not going to solve all of the world’s problems.  As meaningful as this starfish story is the answers to many of the world’s problems lie in a bigger perspective.  It’s as though we throw this starfish and that starfish back out into the ocean without solving the problem of why they keep washing back up on shore again what seems to be a never ending cycle.


     Some of the reasons have to do with politics and some of it is due to corruption; and some of it has to do with the church and people like us who would rather just give things away because that’s the easiest way to do it. We’d rather just give people a bunch of fish, instead of teaching them “how to fish”  so that they can learn to take care of and provide for themselves and their families.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus made it very clear that we need to be personally involved in loving and saving and serving the people who are need.  In fact, he goes so far as to say that we’re not really even serving those who are the “least” when we do this, but we’re actually serving Jesus himself.  That’s why he said “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). 


 


     “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”    So, what does that exactly mean?  Every Sunday morning when we went to Faith UMC in South Bend, at the corner of Ironwood and Lincolnway, no matter what the weather, no matter what the temperature, there would always be two or three people standing on one of the four corners or in the median with signs that would say, “Need money for food!”  And as they stood there, they would be smoking cigarettes, talking on their cell phone and drinking a giant – sized Slurpee from 7-11.  Which makes one wonder – is that really Jesus?


     What’s more disturbing is that the South Bend Tribune checked these so called “needy” people out and found out that they were making more money standing on the side of the road holding a sign, begging for money, than a lot of people did who worked an honest job for forty hours a week…and they drove a better car as well.  So how are we, as Christians, to know what to do?  How are we to know when to roll down our window and give these people something?  Should we always do it, just to be safe and be on the right side of Jesus?  If the punishment for not doing it is being separated from God and then being sent to hell, then maybe we shouldn’t take any chances and err on the side of generosity.


     But then again, we have to remember that we’re not going to be judged solely on our “works” when the time comes.  So, I don’t think we need to worry about being banished from heaven just because we missed a homeless person here or there.  But at the same time, we do have to be aware of Jesus’ warning about totally ignoring justice and helping those in need (like the story of the Good Samaritan).  How do we reconcile what it means to care for those who are less fortunate than we are?


     How do we solve the problems of inequality?  What are we to do when four hundred million children around the world are living in extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than $1.25 per day?  21,000 children die every day as a result of poverty or poverty related diseases.  Every 4 seconds, a person dies of starvation, and most often it is a child under the age of five (Greg Nettle and Santiago Mellado, Small Matters: How Churches and Parents Can Raise Up World-Changing Children, Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 2016, 23-24).


 


     So what is our responsibility in the midst of all this?  The Bible is very clear about it.  The Bible is very easy to understand when it comes to telling us what to do, but as Soren Kierkegaard writes, “we pretend to be unable to fully understand it , because we know very well that the minute we do, we are obligated to act accordingly” (Soren Kierkegaard, Provisions: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, Walden, NY; Plough Publishing, 2014, 193).


     Here’s what the Bible tells us to do…and I’m going to read it from The New Living Testament because it makes it easier to understand:


     “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).


     “[Godly people] share freely and give generously to the poor” (2 Corinthians 9:9).


     “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.  Rescue the poor and helpless, deliver them from the grasp of evil people” (Psalm 82:3-4).


     Finally, Jesus says this, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.  Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [will have] eternal life”


(Matthew 25:45-46).  


      


     As we sit here this morning listening to Jesus tell us what we are supposed to do to help those who are less fortunate than we are, it’s easy for us to say, “We agree.  We need to do something to help those less fortunate than we are!”  But the problem is…there isn’t a whole lot of “me” included in that “we.”  It’s a whole lot easier to let someone else do it…let the government or some non-profit organization or let the people that have all the money help.


     It’s like the two little kids that walked into a dentist’s office and the one little kid said, “I want a tooth taken out.  No gas.  No Novocain.  Just pull it because we’re in a hurry.”


     “You’re a pretty brave little guy,” the dentist said.  “Which tooth is it?”


     The boy turned to his friend and said, “Show him your tooth Sammy!”


 


     We talked last week about God giving the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai.  What I wanted to stress to you was this wasn’t just a one time affair.  He wasn’t just giving it to the people who were there that day.  He was giving it to all future generations as well.  And just as God was giving his Commandments to all people for all time, Jesus, in our scripture reading this morning is telling not only the people of first century Israel what needs to be done, but he’s also talking directly to you and me.


     “Whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me.”  But he also said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  He’s talking to you because it’s all about you.  It’s not about we…it’s about me.


 


     That’s where all of our problems begin.  The problems of church and society begin and end in the heart of the individual…in the heart of people like you and me.  That’s why The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount was so important, because everything within it focused on the emotions of the heart.  Our heart is at the center of everything that matters in God’s kingdom.  And if my heart is in tune with God’s kingdom, then everything I do for those who are less fortunate than I am will not only change the life of those that I am helping, but it will also change my life as well because it will draw me closer to being what Jesus wants me to be and doing what Jesus wants me to do. 


     The essence of the Gospel is to have a change of heart…meaning that it takes more than just belief to follow Jesus.  New Testament writer James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “What good is it, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  …faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.  (James 2:14-18).


     This is why we need to connect or become personally involved with the “least of these” because the least of these more often than not, turns out to be Jesus and Jesus is the only one who can change our heart.


    


       As I was writing this Thursday morning, I couldn’t help but think of some of the conversations Kristine Stark and I have had.   Kristine and Bob and Keith and the rest of The Fishers of Men band go out on the streets and play their music and evangelize…they try to bring people to Christ.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  In fact, considering all the people they come into contract with, they could very easily consider themselves failures because not a lot of the people they come into contact with actually change their lives.  And that upsets Kristine at times.


     She feels that they aren’t being very successful.  They are doing what God wants them to do.  They take people in off the streets and provide shelter for them at their home and feed them, but a very large majority of the people don’t want to cooperate.  I remember telling her you can’t break a horse that doesn’t want to be broken.  They want to do things their way…and pretty soon the people are gone…gone on their own or Bob has to ask them to leave because they won’t follow the rules. 


     I remember telling her that my theory is kind of like the little kid in the story about the star fish – “you can’t save them all” – but I do believe that you can make a difference for a few.  In fact, I know of two people right here in this church whose lives have been turned around by Bob and Kristine and Keith.  Two people who were out on the streets with an unknown future until by the grace of God they were taken in and got themselves straightened out. 


     Saving two people out of hundreds doesn’t seem like very many…but if you were to ask those two people, I’m sure they would tell you that it made a big, big difference to them.  And if the truth were known, I’m sure that Bob and Kristine and Keith would admit that their lives were changed for the better as well.


 


     It’s easy to be overcome with a sense of helplessness when we’re looking at a world filled with poverty and hunger and injustice.  It’s easy to say that I can’t fix it for everyone.  I’m just one person.  But know that it is important that you fix it for someone.  We all know someone who needs a little help.  We all know someone who is lonely or sick or poor or imprisoned in some way or another…but we don’t know what we can do to help them.


     Jesus and his disciples found themselves in the same situation.  Thousands of people were following them and it was getting late and the disciples said to Jesus, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging…”


     Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.”


     “But there are so many people and so many needs to fill” they said.


     Seeing that his friends were overwhelmed Jesus told them to “do what we can with what we have.  What do you have?”


     That’s a pretty good question – what do you have?  What do you have to make life better for someone else?  What do you have that can make life a little better for someone else?  You feed them.  You change their lives for the better.  Quit sitting on your hands and quit feeling like you have nothing to offer the world around you and go out and start providing some justice to those who are faced with injustice.  Go out and start being merciful to someone who desperately needs some mercy.  Go out and start being faithful to the God who has been so faithful to you.


 


     Our scripture reading this morning is the only scene in the New Testament with any details pertaining to our final judgment.  And it might be surprising to some people to find that our judgment is not based solely on our confession in Christ or grace or justification or the forgiveness of our sins.  What counts is whether or not one has acted with loving care and compassion for those in need.  What counts is whether or not we are willing to respond to human need.  What counts is whether or not we are willing to respond to Jesus.


    


     We’ll soon be faced with having to decide whether or not we want to provide presents to support one or two Salvation Army Christmas families again this year.  I can’t think of a better way to respond to the needs of the world around us and to respond to Jesus than to reach out and make a difference in someone else’s life.  And the neat thing about it is, that reaching out and making a difference in someone else’s life will end up making a difference in your own life as well. 


     Maybe “making a difference to that one” as the little boy said, was not so much about the life of a starfish as it is about your own life?  What if it’s about changing your heart and changing your relationship with those less fortunate than you are; what if it’s really about changing your relationship with Jesus?  What if it’s really about spending eternity with God? 


 


 


Sermon Series What Made Jesus Mad? based on the book What Made Jesus Mad? by Tim Harlow, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2019.      


Serving Where Service Is Needed

What Made Jesus Mad?

Keith McFarren

October 11, 2020

Matthew 25:41-45


 


 


 


 


     The old man who would go down to the ocean every morning and walk along the beach.  One morning following a big storm, he was walking along the shore and found the beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see. 


     Off in the distance, the old man noticed a little boy walking.  As the boy came closer to the man, the man noticed that the boy would stop, bend over, pick something up, and throw it into the sea.  The young boy got the best of the old man’s curiosity and as the boy came closer the old man called out, “Good morning!  What, may I ask, are you doing?” 


     The young boy stopped and looked at the man and replied, “I’m throwing starfish back into the ocean.  The waves and the high tide have washed them up onto the beach, and they can’t get back into the water by themselves.  The sun is going to get hot and they will all die, unless I throw them back into the water.”


     The old man looked around at all the starfish that lined the beach for as far as he could see and said, “There must be thousands of starfish on this beach.  I’m afraid you’re not going to be able to make much of a difference.”


     The little boy bent down, picked up a starfish and threw it as far as he could back out into the ocean.  Then he turned and looked at the old man and smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”


 


     As the church becomes more involved with relief and justice and various types of mission work, we need to be reminded that “making a difference to this one” is not going to solve all of the world’s problems.  As meaningful as this starfish story is the answers to many of the world’s problems lie in a bigger perspective.  It’s as though we throw this starfish and that starfish back out into the ocean without solving the problem of why they keep washing back up on shore again what seems to be a never ending cycle.


     Some of the reasons have to do with politics and some of it is due to corruption; and some of it has to do with the church and people like us who would rather just give things away because that’s the easiest way to do it. We’d rather just give people a bunch of fish, instead of teaching them “how to fish”  so that they can learn to take care of and provide for themselves and their families.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus made it very clear that we need to be personally involved in loving and saving and serving the people who are need.  In fact, he goes so far as to say that we’re not really even serving those who are the “least” when we do this, but we’re actually serving Jesus himself.  That’s why he said “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). 


 


     “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”    So, what does that exactly mean?  Every Sunday morning when we went to Faith UMC in South Bend, at the corner of Ironwood and Lincolnway, no matter what the weather, no matter what the temperature, there would always be two or three people standing on one of the four corners or in the median with signs that would say, “Need money for food!”  And as they stood there, they would be smoking cigarettes, talking on their cell phone and drinking a giant – sized Slurpee from 7-11.  Which makes one wonder – is that really Jesus?


     What’s more disturbing is that the South Bend Tribune checked these so called “needy” people out and found out that they were making more money standing on the side of the road holding a sign, begging for money, than a lot of people did who worked an honest job for forty hours a week…and they drove a better car as well.  So how are we, as Christians, to know what to do?  How are we to know when to roll down our window and give these people something?  Should we always do it, just to be safe and be on the right side of Jesus?  If the punishment for not doing it is being separated from God and then being sent to hell, then maybe we shouldn’t take any chances and err on the side of generosity.


     But then again, we have to remember that we’re not going to be judged solely on our “works” when the time comes.  So, I don’t think we need to worry about being banished from heaven just because we missed a homeless person here or there.  But at the same time, we do have to be aware of Jesus’ warning about totally ignoring justice and helping those in need (like the story of the Good Samaritan).  How do we reconcile what it means to care for those who are less fortunate than we are?


     How do we solve the problems of inequality?  What are we to do when four hundred million children around the world are living in extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than $1.25 per day?  21,000 children die every day as a result of poverty or poverty related diseases.  Every 4 seconds, a person dies of starvation, and most often it is a child under the age of five (Greg Nettle and Santiago Mellado, Small Matters: How Churches and Parents Can Raise Up World-Changing Children, Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 2016, 23-24).


 


     So what is our responsibility in the midst of all this?  The Bible is very clear about it.  The Bible is very easy to understand when it comes to telling us what to do, but as Soren Kierkegaard writes, “we pretend to be unable to fully understand it , because we know very well that the minute we do, we are obligated to act accordingly” (Soren Kierkegaard, Provisions: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, Walden, NY; Plough Publishing, 2014, 193).


     Here’s what the Bible tells us to do…and I’m going to read it from The New Living Testament because it makes it easier to understand:


     “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).


     “[Godly people] share freely and give generously to the poor” (2 Corinthians 9:9).


     “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.  Rescue the poor and helpless, deliver them from the grasp of evil people” (Psalm 82:3-4).


     Finally, Jesus says this, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.  Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [will have] eternal life”


(Matthew 25:45-46).  


      


     As we sit here this morning listening to Jesus tell us what we are supposed to do to help those who are less fortunate than we are, it’s easy for us to say, “We agree.  We need to do something to help those less fortunate than we are!”  But the problem is…there isn’t a whole lot of “me” included in that “we.”  It’s a whole lot easier to let someone else do it…let the government or some non-profit organization or let the people that have all the money help.


     It’s like the two little kids that walked into a dentist’s office and the one little kid said, “I want a tooth taken out.  No gas.  No Novocain.  Just pull it because we’re in a hurry.”


     “You’re a pretty brave little guy,” the dentist said.  “Which tooth is it?”


     The boy turned to his friend and said, “Show him your tooth Sammy!”


 


     We talked last week about God giving the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai.  What I wanted to stress to you was this wasn’t just a one time affair.  He wasn’t just giving it to the people who were there that day.  He was giving it to all future generations as well.  And just as God was giving his Commandments to all people for all time, Jesus, in our scripture reading this morning is telling not only the people of first century Israel what needs to be done, but he’s also talking directly to you and me.


     “Whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me.”  But he also said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  He’s talking to you because it’s all about you.  It’s not about we…it’s about me.


 


     That’s where all of our problems begin.  The problems of church and society begin and end in the heart of the individual…in the heart of people like you and me.  That’s why The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount was so important, because everything within it focused on the emotions of the heart.  Our heart is at the center of everything that matters in God’s kingdom.  And if my heart is in tune with God’s kingdom, then everything I do for those who are less fortunate than I am will not only change the life of those that I am helping, but it will also change my life as well because it will draw me closer to being what Jesus wants me to be and doing what Jesus wants me to do. 


     The essence of the Gospel is to have a change of heart…meaning that it takes more than just belief to follow Jesus.  New Testament writer James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “What good is it, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  …faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.  (James 2:14-18).


     This is why we need to connect or become personally involved with the “least of these” because the least of these more often than not, turns out to be Jesus and Jesus is the only one who can change our heart.


    


       As I was writing this Thursday morning, I couldn’t help but think of some of the conversations Kristine Stark and I have had.   Kristine and Bob and Keith and the rest of The Fishers of Men band go out on the streets and play their music and evangelize…they try to bring people to Christ.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  In fact, considering all the people they come into contract with, they could very easily consider themselves failures because not a lot of the people they come into contact with actually change their lives.  And that upsets Kristine at times.


     She feels that they aren’t being very successful.  They are doing what God wants them to do.  They take people in off the streets and provide shelter for them at their home and feed them, but a very large majority of the people don’t want to cooperate.  I remember telling her you can’t break a horse that doesn’t want to be broken.  They want to do things their way…and pretty soon the people are gone…gone on their own or Bob has to ask them to leave because they won’t follow the rules. 


     I remember telling her that my theory is kind of like the little kid in the story about the star fish – “you can’t save them all” – but I do believe that you can make a difference for a few.  In fact, I know of two people right here in this church whose lives have been turned around by Bob and Kristine and Keith.  Two people who were out on the streets with an unknown future until by the grace of God they were taken in and got themselves straightened out. 


     Saving two people out of hundreds doesn’t seem like very many…but if you were to ask those two people, I’m sure they would tell you that it made a big, big difference to them.  And if the truth were known, I’m sure that Bob and Kristine and Keith would admit that their lives were changed for the better as well.


 


     It’s easy to be overcome with a sense of helplessness when we’re looking at a world filled with poverty and hunger and injustice.  It’s easy to say that I can’t fix it for everyone.  I’m just one person.  But know that it is important that you fix it for someone.  We all know someone who needs a little help.  We all know someone who is lonely or sick or poor or imprisoned in some way or another…but we don’t know what we can do to help them.


     Jesus and his disciples found themselves in the same situation.  Thousands of people were following them and it was getting late and the disciples said to Jesus, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging…”


     Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.”


     “But there are so many people and so many needs to fill” they said.


     Seeing that his friends were overwhelmed Jesus told them to “do what we can with what we have.  What do you have?”


     That’s a pretty good question – what do you have?  What do you have to make life better for someone else?  What do you have that can make life a little better for someone else?  You feed them.  You change their lives for the better.  Quit sitting on your hands and quit feeling like you have nothing to offer the world around you and go out and start providing some justice to those who are faced with injustice.  Go out and start being merciful to someone who desperately needs some mercy.  Go out and start being faithful to the God who has been so faithful to you.


 


     Our scripture reading this morning is the only scene in the New Testament with any details pertaining to our final judgment.  And it might be surprising to some people to find that our judgment is not based solely on our confession in Christ or grace or justification or the forgiveness of our sins.  What counts is whether or not one has acted with loving care and compassion for those in need.  What counts is whether or not we are willing to respond to human need.  What counts is whether or not we are willing to respond to Jesus.


    


     We’ll soon be faced with having to decide whether or not we want to provide presents to support one or two Salvation Army Christmas families again this year.  I can’t think of a better way to respond to the needs of the world around us and to respond to Jesus than to reach out and make a difference in someone else’s life.  And the neat thing about it is, that reaching out and making a difference in someone else’s life will end up making a difference in your own life as well. 


     Maybe “making a difference to that one” as the little boy said, was not so much about the life of a starfish as it is about your own life?  What if it’s about changing your heart and changing your relationship with those less fortunate than you are; what if it’s really about changing your relationship with Jesus?  What if it’s really about spending eternity with God? 


 


 


Sermon Series What Made Jesus Mad? based on the book What Made Jesus Mad? by Tim Harlow, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2019.