Perhaps of all the teachings of Jesus, the “red letters” regarding how we are to serve are surely among the clearest — and the most challenging!
How are we to serve? As Jesus plainly tells us in Matthew 25, it’s quite simple: We should serve others as if we were serving Christ himself.
In this scripture Jesus paints a picture of the final judgment. With all the nations gathered in front of him, he separates them “as a shepherd separates sheep from goats” — sheep on the right, goats to the left.
And then Jesus says to the sheep: “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.”
Isn’t this a powerful image? It always makes me think of Tolstoy’s short story, “Where Love Is, God Is,” sometimes also referred to as “Martin the Cobbler.” In this story, a cobbler named Martin has a dream or vision that Christ is going to visit him the next day — so he excitedly spends the day getting everything ready. And, throughout the day as Martin is making his preparations, three different people in need of food, shoes, or clothing come to his door, and he stops to help each one. At the end of the day, Martin is distraught because the visit he was expecting never came. The punch line of Tolstoy’s story, of course, is that Christ actually came to see him three times that day — in the form of those people in need.
Now, if you don’t happen to be a reader of Tolstoy, it might interest you to note that you can also catch Johnny Cash’s version of this story, which he calls “The Christmas Guest” — or another one read by Hee Haw’s Grandpa Jones.
Regardless of your chosen version, the message of this timeless story is clear: the answer to the question, “As Red Letter Christians, how should we serve?” is that we are to serve all the people who come our way — and all the people to whom God sends us. When we meet the needs of others whenever and however they are presented to us, we are serving as Jesus taught us to do.
I look forward to exploring further with you this idea of “How We Should Serve” as Red Letter Christians, this Sunday in the Sanctuary.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
“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.’