If the church views helping the needy in our world as if they are caring for Jesus Himself, there’s no way we would sit idly by while they suffered.
This passage is based on Matthew 25:31-46. To read it now, click here.
I think it’s time to rethink the mission of the local church. It’s more than just attending a service. It’s more than just giving an offering. It’s about connecting with a community to pursue a common goal – Jesus. The church is meant to care for each other, to grow together, and to reach the world together.
That’s why we’ve been looking at this new series, Rethinking the Church. I hope you are thinking with me as we rethink the purposes of the church. To bring you up to speed, the first week we looked at the importance of Fellowship and Community, that church is as much about fellowship and community as it is worship. Worship is important, but worship done right flows out of our being together. One of the purposes of the church is to be part of the community of faith.
For the second week we built on that a little bit by looking at personal and spiritual growth, and dealing with conflict in our lives. And I hope we saw that the best ways to grow and to deal with conflict is in the context of active involvement in the church, and by sharing what we’re going through with others in our community of faith. We can grow and deal with conflict in a healthy way by sharing the troubles in our lives with each other. Because when we do, we’ll find someone who can help us through.
Last week we looked at a notion of Biblical accountability, and saw that it does not involve condemnation or judgment, even though that’s what our definition might include. It doesn’t involve confrontation, it involves moving gently and slowly, to bring about healing. We should say something if we see a fellow believer struggling with a sin, but the goal is healing, not confrontation.
This morning, as we finish out the series on Rethinking the Church, I want to look at the last purpose of the church, and that’s service. We are to serve each other. Last week in our Bible Studies we looked at Jesus and the disciples at the Passover Seder on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist, and proceeded to wash the feet of the disciples.
Now washing feet was a common occurrence before a meal. They walked around in sandals on dirt roads, their feet were always dirty and dusty. So the host would have a servant, the lowest of the servants, wash the guests feet. Jesus took the position of the lowest of the servants, and then told the disciples to do the same, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).
So we’re supposed to be servants, doing even the lowliest acts of service. That’s what I get out of Jesus’ words. But I think we struggle with that more than we want to admit. Part of that might be pride, I think we struggle with pride more than we want to admit, too. I remember reading Conspiracy of Kindness, by Steven Sjogren, and he suggests that we do mini mission projects in our own back yard, just random acts of kindness, a couple that remember included handing out water bottles at gas stations, or cleaning bathrooms at convenience stores or family owned restaurants, and I remember thinking when I read that one, that maybe I could stick with the water bottles.
And another question, when we serve somebody, how much are we going to do? How far are we willing to go? Fast Food has a bit of an image problem. They really build up the food really well in their advertising, but when you get to the restaurant, what you get rarely measures up. Here are some examples. (show pictures of examples…) In each case, a worker thought it was okay to serve something well below expectations. If a fast food worker prepared the food as if they were preparing their own food, would they handle it with more care? Probably, right?
How about the Church – big C – Universal Church. Do we have an image problem? Do we meet expectations? Do we serve others? And when we do, are we really doing our best? When we reach out to help somebody, are we doing our best? Or are we just trying to get rid of them? Or do we just want it to be over. Let me encourage you to put on your best, to do your best, at every opportunity. When you hear of a need, think with the person how you might help, and then do it – do it promptly, and do it well. And if you can’t, refer them to someone, and then follow up with them, to make sure they got what they needed.
James, who was Jesus’ brother, gave us this advice, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:14-16)
This is where the rubber meets the road. The age-old debate found in faith vs. works. And here’s my understanding of how it works out: Paul says it really simply, “It is by grace that you are saved, through faith… not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). James isn’t debating that, he’s explaining it – if your faith isn’t strong enough to motivate to you serve, to actually meet the needs of those around you, then it isn’t strong enough to save you. Helping others with their needs isn’t just a nice thing to do from time to time, it’s necessary to show that faith you have is real.
There was a time when Jesus was asked, how do we know if someone’s faith if genuine, or if it might be false? Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). Fruits are the actions that a person does. If a person has faith, you will know that because you will see them serving others, helping those in need.
Our passage talks about times when we fed the hungry, or gave a drink to the thirsty, or invited in the stranger, or clothed the naked, or visited the sick or the imprisoned. And when we do those things, we are doing it for Jesus. I want to suggest that means two things. When we feed the hungry, it’s like we are feeding Jesus. That’s the obvious message of Jesus’ story.
But if we are doing for Jesus, does that mean we’re doing it because Jesus isn’t here? Are we doing for Jesus because he can’t? We are the hands and feet of Jesus. Teresa of Avila wrote,
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
-Teresa of Ávila
Maybe when we do something for Jesus, we are doing it for the Jesus inside us. Because we are his hands and feet. Because we have become his body. That’s why we seek to help people, that’s why we serve – we are His servants.
Think about this with me, if Jesus were to walk into our church this morning, right now, in the middle of the sermon, everything would stop, wouldn’t it? You wouldn’t hear another word I had to say, and I wouldn’t expect you to listen anymore. If Jesus were here, you would need to hear what He said, not what I was saying about Him.
But furthermore, our plans, our schedules, our lunch dates after service, wouldn’t matter at all any more. You would drop everything. And if He needed anything at all, you would jump to help Him, to give Him everything he might need. Our passage this morning tells us that as we serve others, it’s the same as serving Him. Help those around us who need help, the same way we would help Jesus if He were here.
One more thought, Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” This actually reminds me of a story. An elderly lady was spending time in prayer one morning when she heard the Lord speak to her very clearly. She asked for clarification, and she heard, “I am Jesus, and I’m coming to your house for lunch today.” Well she got all excited and cleaned the house from top to bottom, then realized she didn’t have anything in the house to serve to a guest like Jesus, so she ran to the market to pick something up.
On her way home, she met a young homeless man who called out to her from an ally. She stopped and the man asked if she had anything to eat. She replied that if she followed him home, she would get him something, but she was visibly annoyed. She would have to get him in and out quickly so that he didn’t interfere with her lunch plans with Jesus. When they got home, she quickly made him a sandwich, put on a paper plate, and offered it to him. He thanked her, and she mentioned she had lunch plans, so he would have to leave. He did. She went back to her preparations for lunch with Jesus. She got the food prepared just right, the house was looking beautiful, everything was ready. But when the time came, Jesus didn’t show up. She was upset by this, but then got to thinking what a fool she was to think that Jesus would stop by for lunch. When she got her mail that afternoon, there was card. She opened it and read, thanks for the sandwich, it was signed, Jesus.
Which gets me to thinking. I made a comment earlier about what would happen if Jesus walked into our church in the middle of our message. But really, would we really know? Would we recognize Him? I don’t think so. I think the message of our reading is to help everybody. Serve everybody that needs help. For in doing that, you will be helping Jesus.
This week finishes the Rethinking the Church series. We talked about our being the church – it’s not a building, it’s a people. We talked about the primary purposes of the church are to provide fellowship and a sense of community, to be a place to grow and to deal with the issues of life together, to hold each other accountable by gently helping each other heal, and we talked about helping each other, truly serving others. If this isn’t your idea of what a church should be about, perhaps it’s time to rethink the church.