Sermon: “Hungry, Naked, Sick, Imprisoned”

Hungry, Naked, Sick, Imprisoned
Matthew 25:31-46
RUMC November 26, 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

Aesop once wrote a fable about a Greek slave named Androcles, who escaped from his master and fled into the forest. While there, Androcles became hungry and depressed; then he heard the roar of a lion.  Because of his fear, he began to run and tripped over a tree root.  As he lay on the ground, the lion came towards him.  However the lion wasn’t attacking; the animal limped on three legs and held out his paw.
Androcles was so scared, he froze and expected to be eaten, but to his surprise he realized the animal was in pain with a large thorn in its bloody paw. Androcles mustered all the courage he could find, pulled out the thorn, and bandaged the wound.
Sometime later, Androcles was captured and taken prisoner. As an escaped slave he was sentenced to die; his punishment was to fight the lions in the Roman Coliseum.  When Androcles was brought to the middle of the arena, the lion that he helped in the forest met him.  The animal approached the frightened slave and gently stroked him with the paw that had been injured.
The Roman Emperor was surprised to see such odd behavior in a lion; he summoned Androcles and asked for an explanation. The slave told the story of the injured lion.  Satisfied with the explanation, Androcles was pardoned and the lion was taken back into the forest.

It has been said that kindness is a language that the blind see and the deaf can hear. My scripture text for today includes that personal quality of kindness which Jesus saw as a vital component for personal salvation.

We will read Matthew 25:31-46
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 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, 36 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.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Back in Biblical times, sheep and goats grazed together during the day. At night when they came in from the field, the shepherd would separate them.  And it was this nightly occurrence that Jesus turned this into a parable.

From a spiritual standpoint, our Lord tells us that everyone falls into one of two classes. The sheep represent the people of God; they are the righteous ones who will receive eternal life.  The goats are the ones who did not do the will of God who will be judged and punished.
It is not that our Lord loves sheep more than goats or considers one better than the other. This parable shows that sheep are examples of people who saw the need of others and responded.  The goats are the ones who saw the need but for whatever reason failed to act.  Those who showed kindness were rewarded; those who ignored the need were judged and punished.

Aesop also wrote another fable that illustrates the importance of kindness. One day the wind and the sun had an intense discussion about who was more powerful.  To solve this dispute, they waged a contest to see who could get an individual to remove most of his clothes.  Kind of an odd contest, but that was what they decided.
The wind went first. He blasted with all its might, but the person in question wrapped his cloak even tighter around his body.  Now it was the sun’s turn.  The sun then shone down with all its warmth and the individual who felt the pleasant rays began to remove garment after garment.  With just his undergarments on, the individual jumped into the nearby stream and the sun was declared the winner.

We can have the same effect as the sun with all its warmth when we show acts of kindness. Dr. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Just as the sun makes the ice melt; kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

When we see those in need we should not look at them as an inconvenience, but instead look with compassion as we give food or drink, show hospitality, or visit and care for those who do not feel well.

Most of the activities I mentioned do not require much money or gifted ability; they require a little kindness. Jesus does not tell us to fix all the world’s problems, but instead invites us to make a difference, one person at a time.

Though Jesus did not mention this, there is another aspect of kindness: the gift of time. Peggy Noonan, the former speechwriter for President Reagan once told a story of this very thing.  It involved an 83 year old Frances Green from San Francisco who survived on her small Social Security check.  Though she had very little money, Mrs. Green managed to send one dollar per year to the Republican National Committee for a decade.  One day Mrs. Green received an RNC fundraising letter that invited her to attend a White House dinner to meet President Reagan; however she did not see the small print which suggested a generous donation.
So Mrs. Green scraped together every last cent she had and took a four day train ride across the US. Unable to afford a sleeper, she was forced to sleep in the sitting position.  When she arrived at the White House, she reported to the guard at the gate, but her name was not on the invitation list and she wasn’t allowed in.  A Ford Motor Company executive happened to stand behind her and realized something was wrong, so he took her aside and listened to her story.  Then he asked her to return at the same gate the following morning at 9:00 am.
In the meantime, the auto executive was able to speak with a presidential aide who arranged a personal White House tour for Mrs. Green. He even worked out the possibility that Mrs. Green could shake President Reagan’s hand if all went well.
However, the next day turned out to be a difficult day in the Reagan presidency: the Attorney General had resigned in the morning, and there was an overseas military coup. During Mrs. Green’s tour of the White House an aide told her that due to the day’s events a meeting with the President was out of the question.  The most the aide could promise was that she might get a glimpse of him walking down the hall.
However as Reagan left a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he saw Mrs. Green in the hallway and said, “Frances, those darn computers have fouled up again. If I had known you were coming, I would have been there to greet you myself.”  He then invited her to sit down in the Oval office where they talked leisurely about California, her town, her family, and her life.

Now some people suggested that the President gave Francis more time than he should have, and the meeting was a needless waste. But the president gave her a little of his time and a little kindness.

Here is a list of things you will never regret

  1. When we show kindness to an aged person.
  2. When we destroy a letter written in anger.
  3. When we offer an apology that will save a friendship.
  4. When we stop a scandal that will ruin a reputation.
  5. When we help a young people find themselves.
  6. When we take time to show consideration to others.
  7. When we refrain from gossip while others might do it.
  8. When we take a stand to do the right thing.
  9. When we live according to our convictions.
  10. When we accept the will of God.

God has blessed us that we might be a blessing. We are Christ’s ambassadors. With our hands, we bless others. Don’t be afraid to say God bless you, God love you or Merry Christmas. If someone asks why you are doing this? You can say Jesus is in my heart and I want to share the love of God with you.

Let me close. John Wesley, the founder of the UMC challenged his followers when he said. “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”