Barnyard Brawl

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 25:31-46

This past week I had the privilege to attend the Imprint Retreat that the Florida Annual Conference of The UMC hosts at one of our conference camp and retreat centers annually. This retreat experience is unique in that it focuses on social justice issues and engages middle schoolers and high schoolers in dialogue about these issues. This year’s theme was “Love is…” Together with 550+ students and adult leaders we learned that we accomplish more through conversation together than through tugging ourselves apart, that open mindedness helps foster community, and while physical, emotional, and mental borders scar our lands, God calls us to love and in so doing we tear down these borders, heal the scars, and build up people.

Following worship on Saturday evening each church (I was in attendance with Andrew’s youth group) was dismissed to our church meeting place to create an artistic reflection of the night’s message. Together our group constructed ribbon chandeliers. On one side of the ribbons we were invited to write a confession – a moment where we have failed at tearing down the borders, healing the scars, and building up people – and on the other side we were invited to write a hope or dream for the church.

The church I serve is in a suburban area. Weekly if not daily I drive through suburban and urban areas and the number of persons experiencing homelessness is on the rise. These persons ask for money on the corners of busy intersections, strolling through traffic, approaching people at gas stations or in parking lots. The need continues to grow.

I do not usually give money to these persons when I pass them because I do not have a practice of keeping cash on my person. I give to my church and I know that the money I give to my church is being stewarded to care for all of God’s people as God leads us. Knowing that I give to the church comforts me when I see these neighbors experiencing homelessness.

But…recently I have noticed that I am choosing not even to acknowledge these folks as I pass them. I look across the street. I gaze down at my lap. I close my eyes behind my sunglasses. I scroll through my phone. I do not acknowledge them. I choose not to acknowledge them. Is this because I am using my giving to the church as a crutch? “Oh I give to the church so I can just look at the church, which is comfortable for me and pleasant and known and not visibly in pain?” What in the world am I doing? Or more importantly and appropriately, what in the world am I not doing?

I made my confession. I confessed hiding behind the church and not looking into the sadness of the world. I confessed not seeing my Christ in the hurt of my neighbors. Gazing into the need gives the need a face – humanizes it – so that it is not so easily forgotten, not so easily overlooked. Forgive me, Lord.

I turned the ribbon over and wrote out my dream for the church…a dream that is wide enough to include all God’s people with positions to lead and serve and be seen and heard in the church. A way for this dream to come to fruition is by people looking into the eyes of others – all others – beholding Christ within them, and becoming a neighbor. This is the first step to tearing down borders, healing scars, and becoming the beloved community.

Jesus said, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for 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, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:34-36). Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world for you looked at me. You looked at me in the faces of my sisters and brothers in need. You looked at me.

Send me, Lord. To see. To serve.

Prayer: “Lead us forward into freedom; from despair your world release, that redeemed from war and hatred, all may come and go in peace. Show us how through care and goodness fear will die and hope increase, fear will die and hope increase.  You, Creator God, have written your great name on humankind; for our growing in your likeness bring the life of Christ to mind, that by our response and service earth its destiny may find, earth its destiny may find.”* Amen.

*”For the Healing of the Nations,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 428.