In our reading today Jesus tells a parable in which he assumes the character of a king who is speaking to his subjects.
The story is familiar to many, so as you hear it, may it remind you of what it means to love Christ – from Matthew 25.
Jesus says, 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
GLEN: This parable of Jesus is filled with encouragement for every one of us to actually consider taking another step along our spiritual journey toward loving God by reaching out and respecting the dignity of the “least members of God’s family” … the strangers who are so often invisible and overlooked. This is so clearly Jesus’ intent; he gives six concrete situations – hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison – all with the hope that we might discover somewhere we can connect and respond. Such powerful images; such challenging possibilities – and Jesus trusting us enough to “ripple positively” with God’s love in our everyday responses.
Isn’t this a provocative painting? Ripple Positively. It was painted about 10 years ago by a teen at Trinity United where I was minister at the time, and has captured my imagination ever since. Because it reminds me that it doesn’t take a big boulder to create a ripple; a small pebble will do, when we’re trying to make a positive difference in this world. What’s important though is to find the right stone for you, however small or big, the appropriate response for you to reach out and care for a stranger’s need. One such ministry around OUC might seem like a smallish pebble to some, but it’s a stone that almost everybody here can toss into the pond … and every time you do, a positive ripple is set in motion.
JOAN: There are many ways that we at Orleans United, both personally and collectively, practise “Outreach” in our community. I am standing here this morning to mention my favourite outreach service that most of us here at OUC are well aware of – the Food Banks. The congregation at Orleans United has for many years been faithfully practising outreach by supporting the food banks in our area. As a reminder, “Reverse offering” slips are provided on the last Sunday of each month, with suggestions for contributions. Lately, we have been focusing on different specific needs for each month. This month, we are focusing on personal hygiene items, but any and all food items are always in demand. The choice is yours. Some of us even contribute cash to the food banks by designating a certain amount for Food Banks on our offering envelopes.
As much as we would all love to have a society where no one goes hungry, that is not the case. Yet every time anyone here brings in food to share, we take another step closer to caring for Jesus by caring for hungry strangers. Every month of the year, there is ongoing need for our continued outreach, so I am here to challenge you – food items can be dropped off at the church at any time all year around, not just the first Sunday of every month … even every time you come to church. And you may even consider volunteering at a food bank if you want to make a bigger ripple. I’m here to encourage you to take Jesus’ message seriously and respond enthusiastically. Because, whenever you give food to a stranger who is hungry, you love Jesus in ways that make a real difference.
GLEN: Making a positive difference in our world is such a profound way of appreciating how we love Christ and worship God more tangibly. Beyond Sunday mornings, getting involved in respectfully and humbly caring for a stranger’s need affirms the care giver as well as the care receiver. I’m always touched by the child-like naiveté of those on the king’s right side in Jesus’ story, how little influence they perceive their gestures of loving kindness possess. No big deal in their eyes (When Lord? When did we see you in need and help?); but from Christ’s perspective, those acts are the very essence of respecting God, a provocative way believers will actually realize what it means to be blessed. When we reach out and honour the lives of those with little influence, we respect and reverence God, so Jesus suggests.
PAT: Centre 507 started in 1983 when some members of McCleod-Stewarton United Church, in downtown Ottawa, noticed strangers lingering out front. Instead of asking them to move on, volunteers brought in a couple of couches, put the coffee pot on and joined the conversation. I love this story because it exemplifies the kind of drop-in Centre 507 is – a safe, friendly and supportive place where disadvantaged members of the community can hang out and get some encouragement. For many it’s like home – a place to go for friendship, where they can play games, eat a snack lunch, get cleaned up, find help with housing or work, fill the aching void of loneliness, and even have their pants mended by OUC’s smiling Pat Renaud!
Centre 507 has been an OUC outreach ministry for many years. We donate toiletries, clothes and money, provide leadership and share practical skills and friendship. At Christmas our White Gifts not only enable participants to wash up and shave at the Centre, but also offer the camaraderie of a joyous celebration – a gift of friendship and respect.
Two other OUC members, George Teather and Richard Slocum, have both served by helping to manage 507 finances. More than just meetings, this has meant becoming so familiar with costs to know that when peanut butter goes on sale, it’s worth buying all the jars for the Centre.
And Pat Renaud once told me that her husband Bob volunteers by talking to the participants. This puzzled me. How could “just talking” be volunteering? But I began to realize that by talking, we make connections, share information, learn about each other, our needs, abilities, and longings. It‘s the essence of our Christian call to compassion – to be there, in solidarity, with the stranger in our midst. That makes perfect sense.
GLEN: And it sounds like the kind of place where you just might recognize the face of Christ. What a compelling idea in this parable, that connects our love for God with our compassion for those outside our intimate circles – beyond our immediate families and closest friends. If you want to experience God’s loving presence in Christ, there is no better opportunity than being lovingly present with the outsider. This stretches our definition of family to include the stranger, and flips the Christian ideal of humbly serving others as Jesus serves us head over heels. Instead Jesus says when you humbly serve strangers in need it’s as if you’re showing how much you love me. Oh, and by the way, Jesus continues, they are members of my family and your family too.
HARI: A few years ago, I began hearing God’s call to get more actively involved in our church, so I stopped by a table in the Hall where they were looking for help moving some furniture for refugees every few weeks. Concerned about how it would fit into my busy schedule, the Outreach person at the table told me that it would only take a few hours – just show up and help as you can.
What I quickly discovered when I showed up is that God is looking to connect people by sharing things – people with good quality furniture and household articles that they no longer need with people who have virtually nothing as they arrive as refugees to the Ottawa area. Simple things like a surplus bed, sofa, kitchen table and chairs being picked up and transported into empty households. Helping With Furniture cares for the needs of new neighbours in our city and is gentle way of looking into the face of a stranger and saying “welcome, we care.”
Members of our church family participate in a common Outreach mission in many different ways, by volunteering time and showing compassion for others. If you would like to help in this Outreach ministry or in any one of many other opportunities, please take a moment after worship today, go to the hall for a bowl of soup, and chat with one of us at the Outreach table, like I did a few years ago. It’ll make all the difference in the world to a new neighbour in need, and to you as well. That’s Jesus’ promise, and we are living proof that Jesus keeps his promises.
GLEN: Friends, the size of the stone is really up to you. What we want to encourage though is for each of you to consider ‘rippling positively’ in some humble expression of outreach in the week ahead … to look for the face of Christ somewhere outside your normal orbit of family activities and friends … to experience this blessing prepared for you from the foundation of the world, as Jesus says Just last Friday I received an unsolicited email from Roger that has been on my mind ever since, another testimony of how a simple outreach ripple journeys across the water. He wrote,
Hello Glen: I feel compelled to share this story with you because there are a lot of people who don’t volunteer because they don’t think they can make a difference. Approximately 10 years ago I was sitting in my usual seat in the pew for Sunday worship. At the end of the service a priest came to speak to us about a new program that he needed help with called Mentoring After Prison. I signed up for the training and was part of a team of 3 volunteers who’s mandate was to meet with assigned clients and to try and help them change some habits so they did not end up back in prison or worse. We were assigned several clients and honestly we did not have a lot of success. Most would show for one or two meetings and then we would find out they were back in prison.
Then along came Mike, a young man who had spent the last year in prison, was addicted to meth, and had that ‘know everything” attitude. For several weeks we met with him and I couldn’t see any changes. He kept hanging around with his ‘using’ friends but swore he was clean. Mike was a night person, who went to bed at 3 or 4 in the morning and got up at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. It wasn’t until we asked him how many sun rises he had seen in his life, which was 0, that we challenged him to see at least one in the next week and he agreed. I never saw Mike after that meeting until 5 years later. I was in a restaurant when this clean cut young man came over and introduced himself. It was Mike. He shook my hand and thanked me for saving his life. He said he was struggling, however he had a part time job and he was clean. I told him I was proud of him and to keep up the good work. I gave him my number, however he was too proud to call.
Yesterday I was driving my bus and I got a tap on the shoulder. You guessed it, Mike. This time he looked amazing. He told me he had gone back to school, was now a certified personal trainer, and looked so alive. He thanked me again for saving him and asked if we could take a photo of us together. Needless to say I was 10 feet off the ground for the rest of the day and I’m sure a few more.
Glen, I think people need to hear these kind of stories so they will feel encouraged to step up to the plate and take a risk in helping.
And I agree, Roger. Thank God for you and for all whose stories make a positive difference in the choices we make.
Friends, the size of the stone is really up to you. So “Ripple Positively” this week, and experience the blessing of Christ, face to face.
Orleans United Church
April 22, 2012
Joan Brockelbank, Pat Ulrich,,Hari Gupta, Roger Morin, Glen Stoudt