MATTHEW 25 CHALLENGE
Jesus began this morning’s reading from Matthew 25 with these words: “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’” (Mt 25:34-36 NIV).
I have to admit that the Matthew 25 Challenge was an interesting experience. It certainly made me think about how people in other parts of the world live. On one hand it was a good exercise for us especially during Lent which is a time to reflect on our faith and get our lives more back in line with the way Jesus calls us to live. Along with that, on the other hand, goes a certain amount of self denial which is always helpful.
But I also have to admit that it didn’t all go quite as planned in our household. Skipping lunch on Monday as a fast was not really that difficult. And I actually like rice and beans a lot so that was okay for supper. So far, so good. But then Tuesday came along and all we could have to drink was water. Both Ruth and I woke up with what we think was a mild flu. Our stomachs were upset. We didn’t want to eat anything. That should have been my fasting day. About all I kept down all day was half a bowl of oatmeal and a few berries. But I did break my water rule by drinking some lemonade and chicken broth because I could keep those down too and I needed some nourishment. And the crazy thing is that on most days water is all I ever drink. Oh well, like I said last Sunday, sometimes you have to modify things to make them work. Sleeping on the floor was not exactly a treat. I was going to use my old black military air mattress but Rebekah was the last person to use it and I couldn’t find it so I actually slept on the floor. And so on and so forth through the rest of the week.
It didn’t quite go as planned but somehow that made it more realistic for me because one of the things that poor people also face every day is uncertainty. They don’t always know when the next meal will come or if they’ll even be able to find a safe place to sleep. That’s because security has a lot to do with wealth and when you’re poor there is little security for anything.
The other thing I thought about, however, is that it’s one thing to go without these things in our situation. It’s a very different thing to go without for people of the third world. It’s not nearly so hard to fast when you know you have a fridge full of food to in the kitchen. But what if you’re fasting because there is nothing in the fridge at all? In fact, you probably don’t even have a fridge. It’s one thing to just drink water when you have an entire municipal infastucture in place to assure that when you turn your tap on, clean drinkable water will pour out to your heart’s content. It’s quite another thing to drink whatever water you can get because that’s the best you’ve got and you’re not certain when you’ll be able to get more. That would add new meaning to the words, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…”
Something struck me on Friday as I was preparing this message. All of the challenges that we faced during the week were acts of self denial. On Day 1 we denied ourselves food. On Day 2 it was anything other than water. On Day 3 it was our comfy beds. On Day 4 we denied ourselves clean clothes. Day 5 was a bit different because it was a day when we were asked to reach out to others who were being denied something, be it health, happiness or relatioship. But what was Day 6? I tried to think about what I was giving up. The exercise was to take a thirty minute prayer walk around town. And in the midst of that, I realized that Day 6 was probably the biggest day of all because it was about giving up myself. It was about going around town and being aware of my neighbours so we could pray for them in their situations. And that’s why Day 6 for me was the most impactful.
I did my prayer walk yesterday morning when I took Ella out for her morning stroll. I started down Victoria Street and thought I’d say a prayer for each house as I walked past it. That was easier nearer my house because I know the people best who live closest to me. There’s Jim and Cheryl just across from our house. They’re great neighbours who just got home the other day after being south for a few months. And then behind them are new people who just moved in a year or so ago. Beside them are the Kershaws; they’re pretty new too, nice people though. Across the street from them are Karen and Mark and their children. And beside them is the house that was built by Habitat for Humanity a few years ago. I thought about what I knew about each of those families and where they might need prayer – for their children or their jobs or their health or their finances.
And then I went past Mad Science and the library and gave thanks that we still have those in our community. Beside that is the fire hall and I thanked God for all of the brave men and women who race to give us aid when we need it. And then I noticed what’s often known as the cat house on the corner of Fox St. and Hill St. I know an old lady lived there but I’d never seen her because she never came outside. But she looked after all the stray cats in the neighbourhood. There was a disposal bin in her driveway. In it were many of the woman’s possessions: a fridge, a bed, old furniture, a clothes washer or dryer. The reason for that is that she died a couple of weeks ago and her family is dealing with all of her stuff. It reminded me to thank God for her life and for the way she looked after all those cats for so many years. And I wondered who would look after the cats now that she’s gone. I was happy for her that she is at peace but I was sad for the cats.
And then I turned around and retraced my steps back down Fox St. I walked past the park and gave thanks for the soccer fields and baseball diamonds and the splash pad that are so great for our children in the nice weather. And I prayed for all the houses on the other side of the street. I know who lives in some of the houses down Fox St. but I don’t know them all. The ones I knew were easier. But when I didn’t know the family, I had to pay special attention to the house and the yard. Where were the clues that told me something about the people who lived there?
Some of the houses have basketball nets in the driveway. In fact, I was surprised at how many houses have basketball nets. Those families probably have children. Some houses have nice cars and other houses have rusty cars. That says something too not about the person so much but about the income. Some houses have high fences around them that you can’t see over and other ones have no fences or just small chain link fences that leave the neighbourhood. High fences and small fences also say something about the neighbourood and the families who live there. And I prayed for what came to mind when I saw those things.
And then I walked past the lot where Murchadha House is going to be built. That’s one of the local mission projects we’ve adopted. It’s a residential house for people with exception needs that is going to be built right here in Cottam. Ella and I paused in front of the vacant lot and gave thanks for Sandy Murphy and her team who are heading up this project. You’ll remember that Sandy spoke to us a few weeks back about her vision. And, by the way, don’t forget the Murchadha House fundraiser at A1 Chinese Restaurant tomorrow between 11 am and 9 pm. That was a good segue, wasn’t it.
I went down to the end of Fox. St and prayed for each of the house and at each of the house there were hints of what needed prayer. I was also amazed at how many houses contained families whose lives this congregation has touched over the years because of a funeral or a wedding or a baptism. Some of our active members live in those houses. And I said a special prayer for them. On the way back, I also ventured up Stockwell and Ellwood, streets I don’t normally walk. There’s a new house being built on Stockwell that I didn’t realize was there. I prayed for the new family that will soon be our neighbours. I walked past a house on Ellwood that doesn’t have any grass. The entire yard is covered in stone. I’d never noticed that before. What did that say about the people living there? Maybe they don’t like cutting grass. Maybe they’re smart.
I was surprised at how long my walk had taken. I had been walking with Ella for eighteen minutes and had only covered those few blocks. But I had noticed things that I had never noticed before. I was suddenly aware of how many things in my own neighbourhood I had passed by dozens of time and never bothered to notice. But I only had twelve minutes left because I had a meeting at 9:00 am at the church. Where was God leading me now.
Then I saw a woman raking her leaves. She hadn’t been there when I first passed the house. She had her back to me and so I called out, “It’s a nice day for yard work!” She turned around and looked at me and stopped raking. “Do you have a minute?’ she asked. “Sure I do, what’s up?”
And then she told me about her sister who has just been diagnosed with cancer and is starting that frightening journey. And she asked me if I’d pray for her sister and for her family. I said that of course I would. And then I told her what I was doing, that I was doing a prayer walk around the neighbourhood because of the Matthew 25 Challenge. and she said, “That’s amazing. I need prayer and you’re doing a prayer walk. God does things for a reason.” “Yes,” I said, “God does.” And we prayed for her sister.
That conversation and prayer, to which God had led me, had taken ten minutes but it was a good ten minutes because it was what I was supposed to do. But I only two minutes left and that was just about enough time to get home for my meeting. The last thing I prayed for yesterday was our church because, as most of you know, I just live across the street. And I thought about the power of prayer and how we’re planning to create a prayer garden for our community in our side yard. And I prayed that if we can get that done, that it will be place of healing, hope and peace for everyone in Cottam and even those who may be visiting.
Day 6 for me was a time to get in touch with my neighbours and make myself more aware of what’s going on in their lives. In some small ways, I think I accomplished that task yesterday. I was amazed at what I notice when I took the time to pay attention to the sights and signals that surround me. Maybe that’s God’s wake up call to put the Matthew 25 Challenge to work in places far away like El Salvador but also right here in our back yards and to do it every day. There are people in need all over the world. We can’t impact all of them but we can help to change the lives of a few and in the course of touching their lives, they can touch ours.
Jesus ended with these words “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’” (Mt 25:37-40).
Whatever you did for one of the
least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. That’s still true
today. Let’s reach out in Jesus’ name to those in need wherever they may be and
share the love of God in real and tangible ways.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, God of Grace, out of our desire for transformation in our lives and in our world. Once again, we need to embrace the hope of the Gospel. The world is full of tragedy. We see it on the evening news and read about it in our newspapers.
Turn our minds away from despair. Fill us with your hope. Remind us, once again, of the Good News of Christ. Remind us of his sacrifice to pay the price of our sinfulness. Remind us of his Resurrection which secured, for all humanity, the gift of eternal life and a place in your Kingdom. Remind us of the Holy Spirit whom you promised to leave with us to guide and counsel us as we try to life lives in Christ.
We offer our thanks for this place of worship. We are part of a long and spirited legacy of faith. You have blessed us with a burning flame of the Spirit which has the power to light up the darkest sky and break down the highest walls. As our ancestors were faithful, help us to be faithful in all that we do so that this community may hear and receive the Good News with which you have blessed us.
Father God, we ask for you Holy Touch to be upon those who suffer illnesses or debilitation conditions. Make them whole. Give them life. We remember especially this morning Sharon and Rick.
Move us, O God, to turn to you and
trust in you. Enable us to respond to your grace with all of our lives. Make us
faithful as those who walked before us were faithful. Transform our caring.
Enable us to honour your saving love with our whole lives. We pray in Jesus
precious and holy name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 7, 2019 / Lent 5
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; John 12:1-8; Philippians 3:4b-14
CALL TO WORSHIP
Restore our fortunes, O God.
Fill our mouths with laughter.
In Christ, our sorrows turn to dancing.
In Christ, our sadness is turned to shouts of joy.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Restore our fortunes, O Christ. Fill our mouths with shouts of joy and our hearts with songs of praise. Renew us by the power of your ever present love. Remind us that our only true gain is Christ. The great gift of eternal life is Jesus’ offering for Creation. Fuel our faith in this time of worship that we may experience your presence through hearts of faith. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Great Mercy, you have set a road before us. You have offered a path for us to walk. Forgive us for ignoring your guidance. Too often we are distracted by the lights of a pagan world. The lure is appealing. The colours are bright. The scents are seductive. We turn to the left. We turn to the right. We wander and become lost, forgetting the goal to which you have called us in Christ Jesus. Enable us to walk a straight path. Gently coax us back into your way.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Let us give thanks that, when we fail, God is faithful. We are guided and nurtured by One who loves us with a deeper love than we can imagine. Rejoice that when we confess our sins, God’s forgiving hand extends to us leading us, once again, back home.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
This world, O God, is your Creation. Our lives are your special gift to us. In all that we do, in all that we say, in all that we share, may our actions give you glory. As Mary offered Jesus her gift of sacred perfume, we present our gifts and tithes to you. Amen.
God’s grace is with us,
God’s Spirit within. Run the race which God has given us. May we run it well,
keeping our eyes on the goal to which God has called us heavenward in Jesus