Lord, Do We See You?

Lord, Do We See You?

Look at the image above and try to read it.

It’s interesting that your brain can put this together into a phrase! Even though words are mispelled, you are still able to recognize the words.  For some of you it may take a moment to stop and think. For others, you barely have to think to read it. Sometimes it is easy to recognize a mispelled word, and other times it is more difficult.

The world is a lot like this. Things don’t seem right or normal to you. Sometimes things appear different….mispelled, if you will. And you may have to stop and pay attention. But make no mistake even when things look odd to you, Christ is right there in the think of it. Remember this story from Matthew 25? We looked at it back in November…

“Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.

“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’

“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”

In November, I suggested that this parable has something to say to us about the way we see others, particularly how we judge others. Basically, it tells us that how we see others has everything to do with how and where we see Christ. And Christ is in every person we meet, most especially the least. So when we see another person, we should see Christ in them.

We should love every person as though he or she is Christ. And if we do this, we will discover life in God’s Kingdom because – as I said in November – to love is to live.

To love is to live… To see another human, another life is to see Christ, even, as Dorothy Day has said, in his most distressing disguise.

Today, I’d like to invite you to hear a portion of this story from Matthew in a different way. It will include some numbers and statistics that may, for some, be familiar. For others, these numbers may be uncomfortable and distressing.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…

  • 1 in 9 people still go to bed hungry in our world
  • In the United States, 14.5% of households struggle to put food on the table
  • Over 40 million Americans did not have enough food to put on the table in 2016
  • Under-nutrition is responsible for nearly half of the total number of children’s deaths
  • Here in NC, we are worse than the national average of hunger by more than 2 percentage points

For I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…

  • 9% of the world’s population still doesn’t have access to consistently clean drinking water
  • More people in the world have access to a cell phone than to a toilet
  • Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war; the number is 30,000 people every week

For I was a stranger and you welcomed me…

  • As of June 2016, 65.3 million individuals have been forcibly displaced across the world – refugees, people fleeing a country because of war, violence, or persecution for things like race, religion, or nationality
  • 51% of the world’s refugees are children
  • Developing countries are host to 86% of the world’s refugees, with wealthy countries caring for 14%.

I was naked and you covered me…

  • A record 14 million (1 in 9) US homes are vacant, yet 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year and 39% of them are children.
  • 51.4% of Americans will live in poverty at some point before age 65.
  • 12.7% of Americans live below the federal poverty line
  • 26.8%of people with disabilities live below the poverty line
  • 1 in 3 veterans (30.2%) ages 18 to 24 are unemployed.

I was sick and you took care of me…

  • 62.1% of all bankruptcies in 2007 were due to medical debt and three‐quarters of them had health insurance
  • Among economically comparable countries, the US has one the highest rates of people dying from preventable diseases or complications, the highest healthcare cost per person, and one of the lowest percentages of people covered by health insurance
  • Among Health factors, such as obesity, excessive drinking, no insurance, access to clinics and mental health facilities, education, unemployment, pollution, low quality housing – Harnett County is worse that 3/4 of the other counties in North Carolina.

I was in prison and you visited me…

  • In the US, we have the highest incarceration rate in the entire world
  • 1 out of every 17 white men can expected to be incarcerated in their lifetime
  • 1 out of every 3 black men can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetime
  • And visits to these persons are the exception, not the rule; in a typical month only 31% of inmates receive a visit from someone – meaning that 2/3 of the people incarcerated do not receive one visit a month, 30 days
  • And yet research shows that visiting inmates is one of the best ways to reduce recidivism; visits reduced the risk of recidivism by 13% for felony reconvictions and by 25% for other violations

Jesus was on to something when he spoke about visiting him in prison!

There is no shortage of people who are struggling to simply live and exist in this world. We can see them everyday, if we just look, if we just open our eyes and ears and our hearts and minds and souls to uncomfortable truths such as those represented in these numbers.

Each of these numbers represents a life, one of God’s sons or daughters, which means each of these numbers is one of your brothers or sisters. Christ teaches us to see one another as family, as the family of God, as brothers of sisters IN Christ.

That phrase in Christ is a great one. Literally, Christ is IN each of us because we are born of God. God is our father and mothers and Christ is like our DNA.

So we should look for Christ in one another, especially those in need, those represented by the numbers I shared and numbers that I haven’t shared, but are nonetheless part of the truth and fabric of our society and world.

Jesus teaches us that to live in God’s kingdom is to see Christ in people and serve them as we would serve Christ.

So this Lent Pastor Joanie and I are asking you, our church family, to reflect on the ways we serve others, to look deeply into how you see Christ in others. Where in your life have you been a sheep….where have you seen Christ and given food or drink or clothes or shelter or visited?

And where in your life have you been a goat…where have you forgotten to see Jesus through your words or actions? How is Jesus saying to you now:

  • I was hungry and you gave me no food
  • I was thirsty and you gave me no drink
  • I was a stranger and you did not welcome me
  • I was naked and you did not cover me
  • I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me

And it is possible that you and I are both sitting before Jesus saying, Lord when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?

This is not something to beat ourselves up about. This is about an opportunity to see God everyday and begin to recognize god more truthfully, more clearly in those we see, God’s children, our brothers and sisters, and see them as we see Christ.

And this Lent we are creating opportunities here at Hood…

  • Last Wednesday, February 14th – Love Wins Kids Mission–preparing Chemo Care Kits–5 kids created 32 bags to be delivered this week to Duke Children’s Hospital (sick)
  • Saturday, February 24 – Preparing Ground for Community Garden (hunger)
  • Sunday, February 25th – Fellowship Lunch  (Soup & Salad)–Fundraiser for sending kids to camp
  • Tuesday, February 27th – DUMA Food Pantry (hunger)
  • Tuesday, March 13th – DUMA Food Pantry (hunger)
  • Wednesday, March 14th – Love Wins:  Backpack Buddies (Kids Misson Project); non-perishable food items (hunger)
  • Saturday, March 24th – Rise Against Hunger—childcare or packing food bags  (hunger, poverty)
  • Wednesday, April 11th – Love Wins: Kids Mission Project–visiting a nursing home; delivering cards the kids made (welcome)
  • And this is not all that we are working on!

Today, we are collecting gifts for Week of Compassion, an organization started by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to encourage us to see Christ in people around the world and to compassionately help and empower folks around the world. Let me give you an example…

On any given afternoon three years ago, you were most likely to find Luis Alfredo Palacio lounging in a chair watching television. Like many other young men just entering into adulthood, Luis was unsure about the direction of his life. As a soon-to-be father, though, he knew he needed to find work that was meaningful and would help provide for his family.

That is when Luis connected with a Week of Compassion partner working with Nicaraguan communities to improve agriculture and address challenges of their climate and land degradation. As part of the project, local farmers are learning and developing techniques for planting, seed selection, irrigation, and soil protection. These techniques multiply the yields of crops, providing additional food and income for families.

Through this work, Luis discovered a passion–teaching. As an agricultural promoter, Luis is teaching 5 other families skills to improve their farming. He has developed a demonstration plot at his home to use in sharing techniques like soil curbing to prevent erosion, drip irrigation for water conservation, and using manure to improve soil quality. His hope is to improve the quality of life for himself and his neighbors and to protect the land for generations to come.

Just a few years ago, Luis struggled to imagine his future, now he is helping his whole community imagine a future of abundance.

And you and I can be a part of helping these kinds of amazing life changes happen. We are going to be doing it all Lent long. But just in case you aren’t sure you can really make a difference this Lent, let me share an old African Proverb with you:

If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito.

Brothers and sister, be a mosquito and make a difference!