1313) Going Fishing With Jesus

By William Willimon (source lost)

     In Matthew 4:19 Jesus called some fishermen, ordinary folks like you and like me, to be his disciples.  He said to them, “Follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.”  Jesus has promised that those who follow him shall work with him in ‘catching people,’ that is, in leading others toward his kingdom.

     When was the last time you shared your faith with someone who is not a believer, not a member of the church?  Many people have never had that experience.  We are uncomfortable talking about religion with other people.  We Americans like to say, “Religion is a private affair,” something to keep to yourself.  Of course, we don’t want to be “pushy,” but fear of being too “pushy” leads most of us to say nothing at all about what we believe.

     Do you know the major reason given by people who don’t go to church when they are asked why they don’t go to church?  “Nobody ever asked me.”

     We’ve done a poor job of fishing with Jesus.  And yet Jesus has commanded us to share the gospel.  Think about the people with whom you work at the office the people you enjoy having lunch with at school, or your next-door neighbor.  Have you invited them to come to church with you?

     Maybe we still live with the old assumption that this is basically a “Christian country,” where being Christian comes with breathing the air and drinking the water.  We don’t have to tell people about the kingdom because they are already in it just by being lucky enough to be born in North America.  Not much need for fishing.

     If we were ever correct in those assumptions they are not correct today.  Increasing numbers of people are utterly befuddled by the church, have no knowledge of the Bible, and feel alone and disconnected from religious faith.  Rather than wringing our hands over the church’s decline, perhaps we ought to see this as a great opportunity for us again to enjoy fishing with Jesus, reaching out, and pointing others to God who has loved us and called us and calls and loves our neighbors as well.

     Thus, I shall tell you a story:

     When evangelical activist Dr. Tony Campolo was to speak at our chapel, a young man appeared at my office and asked to introduce Dr. Campolo before he spoke.  He told me that he would like to share something of what Dr. Campolo had meant to him.

     “Such as?” I asked.

     “Such as when I worked for him last summer, in Philadelphia,” he replied

    I asked him to tell me about it.

     “I got converted my senior year of high school.  I was a fresh, eager Christian, so when Dr. Campolo came to our town to speak, I went to hear him.  He was great.  After he spoke, he asked us to sign up for his program of inner-city ministry in Philadelphia.  So I did.

     “Well, in mid-June, about a hundred kids met in a Baptist church in Philadelphia.  We had about an hour of singing before Dr. Campolo arrived.  When he got to the church, we were really worked up, all enthusiastic and ready to go.  Dr. Campolo then preached for about an hour, and when he finished, people were shouting, standing on the pews clapping.  It was great.

     “’OK gang, are you ready to go out there and tell ’em about Jesus?’ he asked.  ‘Yeah, let’s go’ we shouted back.

     “‘Get on the bus!’ Tony shouted.  So we spilled out of the church and on to the bus.  We were singing clapping.  But then we began to drive deeper into the depths of the city.  We weren’t in a great neighborhood when we started riding, but it got worse.  Gradually, we stopped singing and all of us college kids was just staring out the windows.  We were scared.

     “Then the bus pulled up before one of the worst looking housing projects in Philadelphia.  Tony jumped on the bus opened the door and said, ‘Alright gang get out there and tell ’em about Jesus. I’ll be back at five o’clock.’

     “We made our hesitant way off the bus.  We stood there on the corner and had a prayer, and then we spread out.  I walked down the sidewalk and stopped before huge tenement house.  I gulped, said a prayer, and ventured inside.  There was a terrible odor.  Windows were out.  There were no lights in the hall.  I walked up one flight of stairs toward the door where I heard a baby crying.  I knocked on the door.

     “‘Who is it?’ said a loud voice inside.  Then the door was cracked open and a woman holding a naked baby, peered out at me.  ‘What you want?’ she asked in a harsh, mean voice.

     “I told her that I wanted to tell her about Jesus.

     “With that she swung the door open and began cursing me.  She cursed me all the way down the hall, down the flight of steps, out to the sidewalk.

Image result for tenement hallway images

     “I felt terrible.   ‘Look at me,’ I said to myself.  ‘Some Mr. Christian I am.  How in the world could somebody like me think that I could tell anyone about Jesus?’

     “I sat down on the curb and cried.  Then I looked up and noticed a store on the corner, windows all boarded up and bars were over the door.  I went to the store, walked in, and looked around.  Then I remembered the baby had no diapers.  The mother was smoking.  I bought a box of paper diapers and a pack of cigarettes.

     “I walked back to the tenement house, said a prayer, walked in, walked up the flight of stairs, gulped, stood before the door and knocked.

     “’Who is it?’ said the voice inside.  When she opened the door I slid that box of diapers and those cigarettes in.  She looked at them, looked at me and said, ‘Come in.’

     “I stepped in the dingy apartment.

     “Sit down,’ she commanded.

     “I sat down on the old sofa and began to play with the baby.  I put a diaper on the baby, even though I have never put one on before.  When the woman offered me a cigarette, I smoked it, even though I don’t smoke.  I stayed there all afternoon, talking, playing with the baby, listening to the woman.

     “About four o’clock, the woman looked at me and said, ‘Let me ask you something.  What’s a nice college boy like you doing in a place like this?’

     “So I told her everything I knew about Jesus.  It took me about five minutes.  Then she said, ‘Pray for me and my baby that we can make it out of here alive’

     “And I prayed.

     “That evening after we were all back on the bus, Tony asked, ‘Well gang, did any of you get to tell ’em about Jesus?’

     “And I said, ‘Ya, I got to tell ’em about Jesus.  I went out to save somebody, and I ended up getting saved.  I guess I became a disciple.’”

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The moral of the story is that a tangible expression of care and concern might open the door for a few words about Jesus.   Watch for such opportunities and be ready to respond.

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Matthew 4:18-22  —  As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew.  They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.  They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.  Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

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Lord, open my eyes so I may see the opportunities around me to tell others about you.  Amen.

1193) A Spontaneous Tribute

September 11, 2001

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By Brian Doyle, in First Things, August/September 2016, pages 21-22.  Brian Doyle is editor of Portland Magazine and author, most recently, of A Book of Uncommon Prayer.

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     By chance I was in New York City seven months after September 11, 2001, and I saw a moment that I still turn over and over in my mind…

     I had spent the day at a conference crammed with uninformed opinions and droning speeches and stern lectures, and by the evening I was weary of it all, weary of being sermonized by pompous authority, weary of the cocksure and the arrogant and the tin-eared…, and I slipped out and away from the prescribed state dinner, which promised only more speeches and lectures.

     I was way up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan Island, near the border of Harlem, and I was in the mood to walk off steam.  I walked far and wide— down to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, by the vast Hudson River, and up to Joan of Arc Park, and up to the Firemen’s Memorial on 100th Street.  I thought about wandering up to the great old castle church of Saint John the Divine on 112th Street, but by now I was footsore and yearning for beer and I stepped into a bar.

     It was that russet hour between evening and night and the bar was populous but not crowded.  Most of the people seemed to have stopped by for a beer after work.  One table of men in the corner wore the faded coveralls of telephone linemen or public utility workers.  Another table of mature women were in the bland dark uniforms of corporate staff.  Interestingly, there was a young ­Marine in glittering full dress uniform at the bar, with two older men I took to be his father and uncle, perhaps.  They were laughing and resting their hands affectionately on his shoulders and he was smiling…

     I got a beer and sat in the corner and watched as the bartender, who wore a lovely old-style long bow-tie, set a beer in front of the Marine and waved off the uncle’s offer to pay; and his little cheerful gesture made me happy.  I concluded that this would be the gentle, tender, respectful highlight of a day in which there had been very little respect and tenderness.  

     But then the door opened, and two young firemen walked in.  They were not in full dress uniform but they had their FDNY shirts on, and I noticed their sturdy work boots, and somehow you could tell that they were firemen and not just guys who happened to be wearing FDNY shirts.

     They took a few steps toward the bar, and then something happened that I will never forget.  Everyone in the bar stood up, silently.  The table of women stood up first, I noticed, and then everyone else stood up, including me.  I thought perhaps someone would start to applaud but no one made a sound.  The men standing at the bar turned and faced the firemen, and then the young Marine drew himself up straight as a tree and saluted the firemen, and then his father and uncle saluted too, and then everyone else in the bar saluted the firemen.  I tell you that there wasn’t a sound in the place, not the clink of a glass or the shuffle of feet or a cough or anything.

     After a few seconds one of the firemen nodded to everyone, and the other fireman made a slight gesture of acknowledgment with his right hand, and the bartender set two beers on the bar, and everyone sat down again, and everything went on as before; but not.

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ANOTHER SENSELESS TRAGEDY; ANOTHER TRIBUTE:

At the interfaith memorial service in the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center on July 12, 2016 in Dallas, Texas, honoring the five slain Dallas police officers. 

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I Thessalonians 5:11  —  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Philippians 1:3  —  I thank my God every time I remember you.

Galatians 5:13b  —  Serve one another humbly in love.

John 15:13  —   Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

I Corinthians 16:13  —  Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

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PRAYER FOR FIREFIGHTERS and POLICE OFFICERS:

Blessed are you, Lord, God of mercy,
who through your Son
gave us a marvelous example of charity
and the great commandment of love for one another.
Send down your blessings on these your servants,
who so generously devote themselves to helping others.
Grant them courage when they are afraid,
wisdom when they must make quick decisions,
strength when they are weary,
and compassion in all their work.
When the call comes
and they are sent to aid both friend and stranger,
let them faithfully serve you in their neighbor.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

adapted from The Book of Blessings, #587, by Diana Macalintal

1086) Visits From Jesus (part two of two)

     (…continued)  Leo Tolstoy wrote Martin the Cobbler in 1885.  In 1895 English author Henry Van Dyke wrote The Story of the Other Wise Man with the same objective in mind.  Artaban is the name van Dyke gives to his fictional character, a fourth Wise Man, who was planning to go with his three friends on the long journey to see the newborn king in Bethlehem.

       Artaban sold all his possessions to get enough money to pay for the journey, and, to buy three precious jewels which were to be his gift to the child.  But Artaban has nothing but trouble on his journey.  Right from the start he is constantly getting interrupted by people who desperately need help.  On his way to meet the other three Wise Men, he comes across a man beaten and bleeding by the side of the road.  Artaban stops to care for him and take him home, and misses the departure.  He then gets to Bethlehem too late to see the baby Jesus, but he uses some more of his money to help a poor mother save the life of her child.  Then, for the next 33 years, Artaban wanders all over looking for Jesus.  After many adventures, he finally arrives in Jerusalem, but it was just after Jesus was crucified.  Disappointed, Artaban begins the long journey home.  He has barely enough money left for the trip, and then sees a slave being terribly mistreated by his master.  Artaban has pity on the poor slave.  He uses the rest of his money to buy the slave and grant him his freedom.  Artaban is then all out of money.  Even the jewels that were meant to be his gift for Jesus were sold to cover the expenses of helping so many others along the way.

     In one last misfortune, Artaban has an accident and receives injuries that would prove fatal.  As he lay dying, he heard a voice saying to him, “Artaban, you are dying, and so you will soon see me.  I am Jesus your Lord, for whom you have been searching.  Come and inherit the kingdom prepared for you.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

     Artaban replied, “But Lord, if you know I have been searching for you, you also must know that I never found you.  So when could have I fed you, or clothed you, or given you something to drink, or invited you in?”

     Jesus replied to him, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these my children, you did it for me.”  Artaban then breathed his last, finally at peace, knowing that all of his gifts were, after all, given to his Lord.

     There, in the conclusion, we see where the idea for all the stories came from.  The internet story writer might have seen the movie The Fourth Wise Man, which was based on the story by Van Dyke, who may have been inspired Tolstoy, who got it from the parable of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46.  In this parable there is a powerful image of all the people who ever lived on earth, all standing before the throne of God to face his judgment.  To one group, Jesus says, “Come into my kingdom,” and to the other group, he says, “Depart from me forever.”  Both groups hear those words that Henry van Dyke had Jesus say to Artaban, “For I was hungry, and you did (or did not) feed me; I was thirsty, and you did (or did not) give me something to drink (and so forth),” adding “Whatever you did for the least of these my brethren, you did it for me.”

     These other stories put flesh and blood on the concept that Jesus put forth in the parable.  When you help the poor and needy, Jesus said, you are helping him.  This was one of Mother Teresa’s favorite passages.  In her old age, Mother Teresa became famous, flying all over the world, meeting presidents, kings, and many other important people.  But even then, she still spent most of her time doing what she had done throughout her life, picking up the sick and the dying and the orphans from the streets of Calcutta, India, and caring for them.  When asked how she was able to go on year after year with such difficult and unpleasant work, she would always say, “In every person I pick up, I see the face of Jesus; so in my work, I get to see Jesus every day.”  She always had in mind this parable from Matthew 25, even though, in her words, Jesus visits her in ‘such distressing disguises.’

     An interviewer once said to her, “I wouldn’t do what you do for a million dollars.”  Mother Teresa replied, “Neither would I.  I do it for Jesus.”

     We do not see people dying in the streets, as in Calcutta; nor do we have the opportunity to buy slaves their freedom, like Artaban in the story; and where I live, I am never approached by beggars in the street, like Ruth was in the story of the letter.  But with our offerings to the church’s mission work, to organizations like the Salvation Army, or to anyone we know who is in need, we are given the same opportunities.  We must take care that we give wisely and do not do more harm than good.  But there is a world of need and many good options for responsible sharing.

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Matthew 25:34-40  —  (Jesus said), “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

     “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

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Thou art never weary, O Lord, of doing us good. 

Let us never be weary of doing Thee service.  Amen.

–John Wesley  (1703-1791)

1085) Visits From Jesus (part one of two)

     Ruth kept looking at the envelope that had just arrived in a most unusual way.   She was having her morning coffee at the kitchen table.  Her husband had gone to work and the children were at school.  She had the day off from her job, so she would be home alone for a few hours.  She reached for her coffee cup to take another sip, and there was the envelope.  A moment ago it was not there, and now it was.  Where had it come from?  She looked around quickly.  There was no one else in the house, and she had been sitting right there all the while.  She had not heard anything.  But there was this envelope.

     Trembling, she opened the envelope, took out the enclosed letter, and read this short message:

Dear Ruth, I am going to be in your neighborhood this afternoon and I’d like to stop by for a visit.  Love always, Jesus

     Ruth stared at the bottom line.  Jesus.  She did not move for a long time.  All the possibilities went through her mind.  It was some elaborate trick, she was losing her mind, she was dreaming; or, it truly was a miracle, and Jesus would soon be there for a visit.  She did believe in Jesus, and did believe that Jesus could do miracles; but why one like this and why for her?  “Why would Jesus want to visit me?” she thought, “I’m not anyone special.”

     Whatever it was, Ruth decided she would respond as if it really were a letter from Jesus.  If she was losing her mind, at least no one was home to see it.  But just in case it was from Jesus, she would be prepared.  After all, the envelope did appear out of nowhere.

     With the decision made, Ruth’s mind shifted from miracles to practicalities.  If Jesus was coming for a visit, she would have to have something to serve him.  She needed to run to the corner store.  She grabbed her purse and was off down the street.  At the store, she couldn’t decide what to get.  What would Jesus like?  She decided she’d just get a little of everything, and have a whole variety of items on hand.  It took her longer than she thought it would, and by the time she left, she had two full bags and was in a hurry.

     As Ruth walked down the street with her arms full, she noticed two people approaching her from out of the alley.  They were shabbily dressed and even a little scary looking.  But when the man spoke he had a polite voice.  “Ma’am, can you help us out?” he said.  “I’ve been out of work, and my wife and I haven’t eaten for a while.  We had a long walk to get here and we’re cold and we’re hungry.  Anything you could give us, would be much appreciated.”

     “Look,” Ruth said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any time.  I have a very important guest coming, and I need what I have here and I’m in hurry.”

     The man was obviously disappointed, but looked at her kindly, said he understood, and they turned away.

     As she watched them leave, Ruth’s heart sank.  “Wait,” she called out to them, starting to pick out a couple items from her bag.  They returned as she tried to decide what to keep and what to give them.  Finally, she just gave them both bags, and said “Here, you need this more than I do.  I’ll figure something else out for my guest.”  They thanked her again and again.  As they walked away, Ruth noticed how much the lady was shivering.  Without a thought, she took off her coat and gave it to the lady.  “Here, you can have this too,” she said, “I have another one at home.”  Again, they thanked her.

     Ruth smiled and turned to walk the two blocks home.  Now she was cold and was returning with nothing to serve her guest.  That was bad enough, but it would be worse to miss the visit from Jesus, so she hurried home empty-handed to wait.

     Before long, she was back at her kitchen table.  Once again, there was a warm cup of coffee ahead of her.  A fresh pot of coffee was on the stove, so at least she would have that to offer Jesus.  As she sat there, she was wondering if there were any Bible verses about Jesus drinking coffee, but she could not think of any.  Deep in thought, she reached down for her cup, and her hand bumped an envelope.  Another envelope appeared out of nowhere.  She opened it quickly, and read the letter’s brief message:

Dear Ruth, It was so good to see you again.  Thank you for all the food.  And thank you also for the beautiful coat.  Love always, Jesus

     That story may sound familiar to you.  This concept of Jesus appearing under the guise of someone in need has been written about before.  The writer of this story (found on the internet) may have gotten the idea from a story by the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.  Tolstoy wrote a short story called Martin the Cobbler, in which Martin, like Ruth, is informed that Jesus would visit him the next day.  So Martin also makes all kinds of preparations for his special guest:  food to eat, gifts to give the Lord, and other signs of his devotion.  But it becomes a long and disappointing day.  Jesus never does appear, but instead a steady stream of needy people come into his shop.  Martin, being the good man he is, cannot refuse to help any of them.  Little by little, everything he had set aside for the visit by Jesus is given away to these desperate people.

     By the end of the day, Martin has nothing left, not even for his own supper.  But it hardly matters, he thinks, Jesus did not come to him anyway.  It must have been only a dream and nothing more.  But as he prepares for bed, Martin receives another vision.  Now it is indeed Jesus who is appearing to him.  In the vision, as in the letter to Ruth, Jesus thanks Martin for all the ways Martin was kind to him as he appeared to him throughout the day under the guise of the poor and the needy at his door.   (continued…)

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Luke 3:10-11  —  “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.  John (the Baptist) answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Proverbs 22:9  —  The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

Ezekiel 16:49  —  (The Lord says), “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

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Teach us to see, O Lord, that when we give to others, we give to you.  We ask this for the sake of Jesus, through whom you give all things.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Prayer, Concordia Publishing House, page 108.

1070) Just Do What Needs to Be Done

Civic responsibility means doing something, not complaining that something ought to be done, as in this story told by William Bennett in The Moral Compass, pages 613-614.

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     There is a story told of a king who lived long ago in a country across the sea.  He was a very wise king, and spared no effort to teach his people good habits.  Often he did things which seemed to them strange and useless; but all that he did, he did to teach his people to be industrious and careful.

     “Nothing good can come to a nation,” he said, “whose people complain and expect others to fix their problems for them.  God gives the good things of life to those who take matters into their own hands.”

     One night, while everyone else slept, he placed a large stone in the road that led past his palace.  Then he hid behind a hedge and waited to see what would happen.

     First came a farmer with his wagon heavily loaded with grain which he was taking to the mill to be ground.

     “Well, whoever saw such carelessness?” he said crossly, as he turned his team and drove around the stone.  “Why don’t these lazy people have that rock taken from the road?” And so he went on complaining of the uselessness of others, but not touching the stone himself.

     Soon afterward, a young soldier came singing along the road.  The long plume of his cap waved in the breeze and a bright sword hung at his side.  He was thinking of the wonderful bravery he would show in the war.

     The soldier did not see the stone, but struck his foot against it and went sprawling in the dust.  He rose to his feet, shook the dust from his clothes, picked up his sword, and stormed angrily about the lazy people who had no more sense than to leave such a huge rock in the road.  Then he, too, walked away, not once thinking that he might move it himself.

     So the day passed.  Everyone who came by complained and whined because the stone lay in the road, but no one touched it.

     At last, just at nightfall, the miller’s daughter came past.  She was a hard-working girl and was very tired because she had been busy since early morning at the mill.

     But she said to herself, “It is almost dark.  Somebody may fall over this stone in the night, and perhaps he could be badly hurt.  I will move it out of the way.”

     So she tugged at the heavy stone.  It was hard to move, but she pulled and pulled, and pushed, and lifted until at last she moved it from its place.  To her surprise, she found a box underneath.

     She lifted the box.  It was heavy, for It was filled with something.  Upon it was written: “This box belongs to the one who moves the stone.” .

     She opened the lid and found it was full of gold!

     The miller’s daughter went home with a happy heart.  When the farmer and the soldier and all the others heard what had happened, they gathered around the spot in the road where the stone had been.  They scratched at the dust with their feet, hoping to turn up a piece of gold.

     “My friends,” said the king, “we often find obstacles and burdens in our way.  We may complain out loud while we walk around them if we choose, or we can lift them and find out what they mean.  Disappointment is usually the price of laziness.”

     Then the wise king mounted his horse and, with a polite “Good evening,” rode away.

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Galatians 6:9  —  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Proverbs 14:23  —  In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.

Matthew 5:16  —  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

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Lord, I give you all that I am this day.
Take away my weariness, so that I may be inspired in my work.
Give me opportunities to reveal your love to all I meet.
Keep my mind clear and focused on all I need to achieve,
And give me the wisdom to overcome difficulties and find solutions.
I look to you and trust you are with me this day.  Amen.

–Anonymous

1012) Lending a Hand (b)

     (…continued)  Twenty centuries ago the Romans did not know what to make of the early Christians who were so odd as to have only one God, but they were impressed by how the Christians helped each other and everyone else.  In most the monasteries of the middle ages there were rules about hospitality, and guests were always welcome for a night’s lodging and a meal.  This was crucial for many who traveled on foot at a time when there wasn’t an abundance of hotels and motels in every major city.  Congregations worship in a room called a ‘sanctuary,’ and that word originally meant a place of ‘refuge;’ refuge from the spiritual and physical storms of life, and, a place where one could receive help.  And today, when one thinks of a refuge for the homeless in the big cities, it is the Salvation Army that comes to mind first, a Christian group supported by other Christians, that tries to make sure the neediest among us have a place where they can be fed and clothed and housed.

     This all goes back to the teachings of Jesus.  We have a long tradition of giving ‘the cup of cold water’ in Jesus name.  Not every culture or religion has this emphasis.  Even in Muslim and Hindu countries, after natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes, it is the Christian relief organizations that are on the scene doing the most work.

     There is a connection in all this between the physical and the spiritual.  The old saying is “The way to a man’s heart is through his belly.”  That can also be the way to a person’s soul.  When someone’s family is starving, and someone else comes and feeds them, that means something, and it means even more to hear that they were given that food in the name of Jesus.  It meant a lot to us just to get help when our car broke down.  Imagine what it means to those whose lives are saved by Christian relief organizations.  The Great Commission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth has always gone hand in hand with this command to hospitality and to service.

     Tony Campolo has done Christian relief work in the Dominican Republic.  He tells of a Christian doctor he knew there, a young Dominican named Elias.  Elias was educated in the United States and could have stayed here, earning a big salary in Chicago and living a comfortable life.  Instead, he returned to his native country to work among his people in the very worst slums.  He is seldom paid, but when he does get a little money he spends it on medicines for those who can not afford them.  Day after day he works with the poorest of the poor, giving them the medical help they could never have otherwise afforded.

     One day, Campolo traveled with Elias, riding his old beat up truck into the heart of the slums.  There, Elias spent the day seeing patients, diagnosing illnesses, giving medical advice, and handing out medicine.  At the end of the day, Elias climbed up onto his truck, hooked up a crude loudspeaker system, and began to preach the gospel.  All the people loved Elias, so they came out of their shacks and gathered around to listen.

     Campolo then saw in the crowd a young man he had previously met at the state university.  This young man was a member of the Communist student movement on the campus.  He would come out to the slums to talk to the people about Communism and revolution, but hardly anyone would listen to him.

     Tony walked over to this young communist agitator and said in a teasing, but also serious way, “Hey, Pedro!  Elias has the ear of the people.  You better watch out.  He is going to win them all to Christ and then there will be no one left to follow you.”

     The young man then turned to Campolo and without smiling said, “What am I supposed to say?  Elias has earned the right to be heard.”

     Jesus said, “He who receives you, receives me.”  This is how Christianity has spread around the world.

     The New York Times has become increasingly negative toward conservative Christian groups.  Not long ago they published some articles criticizing even those Christian relief organizations that have done so much to alleviate suffering around the world.  Therefore, I was surprised a while back to see this quote by a New York Times columnist.  He said: “I have lost my cynicism about evangelical groups partly because I have seen them at work abroad.”  Can you imagine that?  He took the time to look at all the good that these organizations were doing around the world, and he became less critical.

     Jesus told us to proclaim the gospel and take the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth.  Jesus also tells us to simply help those who are in need; feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.  The church, both locally and internationally, has been very effective doing both.

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Matthew 10:40  —  (Jesus said), “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

I John 3:17-18  —  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Philippians 2:4  —  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

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Lord God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the world.  Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.  Through us give hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the troubled, and rest to the weary; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978  (#141)

1011) Lending a Hand (a)

     Many years ago, my brother and I took our two high school age sons on a trip to the mountains of Colorado.  On the drive home, in the middle of Nebraska, our car started to choke and sputter.  We pulled off at the first exit, coasted in to a motel parking lot, and there it died.  We were lucky to have gotten off the highway and be at a place where we could stay.  We were unlucky in that the nearest town was about three miles away and it was early evening and nothing would be open anymore.  There wasn’t much to do but get a room in the motel and wait until morning; and then hope we found a good mechanic who had the time to look at our vehicle as soon as possible.  We had to find a repair shop and we were a bit apprehensive about how that would go.  On a previous vacation, we were in a similar situation and had a frustrating experience with an ornery and unreliable mechanic.  All day we waited while he kept saying he would be getting at it soon.  Then when he did get at it, he wasn’t much good, and my brother had to talk him into letting him do it himself with the guy’s tools.  We were hoping it would go better this time.

     Once we got settled into our room, I wondered if there were any Lutheran churches in the town we were near.  Perhaps there would be fellow Lutheran pastor who might be willing to help us out by sending us to a garage with a mechanic we could trust.  Maybe he would even put a good word in for us so we could get some prompt attention in the morning.  Maybe I would even know the pastor.  So I got out the phone book and found two Lutheran churches.  No pastors’ names or phone numbers were listed, but I thought I’d try the churches even though it was after hours.  A part-time secretary answered at the first church I called.  She had just stopped at the church office for a few minutes to pick something up.  I told her our problem and asked for the pastor’s phone number.  “He’s on vacation,” she said, “but perhaps my husband and I can help you.”  She asked what motel we were at and twenty minutes later they were there.  They were retired, they said, and would have time to help us out the next day.  They had already called a mechanic, a semi-retired friend who still did some work when he felt like it.  “He’ll help you in first thing in the morning,” they said, and the husband added, “I’ll bring my pickup and we’ll pull you into town.”  Things were looking better. 

     The next day they were there, right on time.  They pulled the car to their friend’s place.  The mechanic said he’d have us back on the road in no time.  We thanked the couple and thought they would be on their way, but then they said, “There’s no need for you to just sit around here; we want to take you out for breakfast.”  We were hungry and happy to agree to the idea, but we said we wanted to buy them their breakfasts.  They said “We’ll see about that.”  They took us all to a nice place for a big breakfast, and then insisted on paying for everything.  When we got back, the mechanic said that there would be a bit of a delay as he had to order a part and the truck would not be there with it for a couple hours.  So the couple said they would take us for a ride and show us the area.  As part of the tour they also showed us where they lived and where they hid their house-key saying, “We have to leave later today, but if there’s any trouble getting that part and you have to stay another night, just go on in and make yourself at home.”  Then we went back to the garage.  The part had come, the car was done, and we were on our way.  I am still amazed at the hospitality of those wonderful people.

     Jesus once said, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me;…  and if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”  This is just one of many places in the Bible where we are told in simple terms to lend a hand and help each other out.  In Matthew 25 Jesus describes the scene at the last judgment where he says to those on his right, “Come on in, for when I was hungry you fed me, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink…” and so on.  He then adds, “Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do it for me.”  

     In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to welcome the stranger and to do good to the alien in their land, because they themselves were once strangers and aliens in a strange land.  And the prophets were constantly telling the people to deal justly with each other and to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans.  This is a big theme in the Bible and you find something of it in every section of the Scriptures from beginning to end.  And this message has, for the last 2000 years, prompted and inspired Christians all over the world to have this heart of service and hospitality.

     Therefore, when we broke down with our car in a town where we don’t know anyone, I had good reason to think that by calling a church we might get some help.  There was no guarantee that anyone at the church would be willing, and there were probably other helpful people in that town, even if they don’t go to church.  But not everyone would help and I had an inkling that I would have my best chance with the church.  I am not the only one who thinks that way.  In fact, many times I have been on the other end of the phone for such requests.  I have had many calls at the church office for food, gas, lodging, or whatever, from strangers who, from past experience, knew that the church would help.  Most churches do.  It has been the heritage in the Christian church from the beginning, and it has been a powerful and positive witness.  (continued…)

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Matthew 10:40  —  (Jesus said), “ “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

Matthew 25:40  — (Jesus said), ““The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

James 2:15-16  —  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

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 O Lord Jesus Christ, who when on earth was always occupied by your Father’s business:  grant that we may not grow weary in well-doing, and give us the grace to do all in your name.  Amen.