Who is this Man? The Least of These

May 26, 2013

It was John Lennon who said, “Jesus was all right, but his
disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”  And from what I hear when I talk to
people and read what people have to say about Jesus that seems to be the common
opinion.  Jesus was all right but
Christians not so much.  People, even
unchurched people have this view of Jesus who was super compassionate and
loving, never judging and always forgiving. 
And they like that about Jesus, and they don’t feel that they see that
in those who call themselves by his name, by his church.  As a matter of fact the church as often seen
as just the opposite of Jesus.  The
church is often seen as uncaring and unloving, judgemental and
unforgiving. 
And too often when Christians hear people make disparaging
remarks about the church they find themselves nodding and apologizing.  In fact I’ve been guilty of that myself, of
talking about how the church is made up of imperfect people and quoting people
like Ghandi
who supposedly said “If Christians would really live according to the teachings
of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.” 
I remember reading and agreeing with the statement “The
church is like Noah’s Ark, if it wasn’t for the judgment on the outside you
would never be able to stand the smell on the inside.”  And I have had to repent of that
attitude.  It is a disservice to both the
church and to Christ. Over and over again the bible refers to the church as the
bride of Christ and it must grieve him when people say “I love you but I can’t
stand your wife.” 
Last week I mentioned that the life of Jesus shaped the
world as we know it today.   I would clarify and elaborate on that by
saying I truly believe that the life of Jesus has a shaped the world for the
better.  That the best parts of the world
as we know it today are a direct result of Jesus.  And that has happened not because a man named
Jesus lived and died 2000 years ago. 
Last week as we began this series we looked at what we as a church
believe about Jesus.  And that in our
statement of faith it says that our beliefs are in line with historic
Christianity.  And then we looked at what
that meant in our beliefs about Jesus. 
That he is the Son of God, that he was conceived of the Holy Spirit and
born of a virgin, that his death on the cross was in atonement for our sins and
that on the third day he rose from the dead. 
This we believe.  
But those aren’t the things that have  shaped the world for the better.  You see, Jesus’ greatest contribution to the
world wasn’t that he was the son of God, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit
and born of a virgin.  The greatest thing
that Jesus did wasn’t dying on a cross or being raised from the dead.  And it wasn’t how he lived; it wasn’t because
he was loving and kind and compassionate. Because if all that Jesus left for
the world was Jesus, he would simply be a foot note in history, if that. 
But Jesus didn’t just leave his teaching, Jesus didn’t just
leave his example, the most important thing that Jesus left was his
church.  You see Jesus’ greatest
contribution to the world was his Church. 
Last week we looked into
Matthew 16 where Jesus asked the apostles who they believed he was, and after
Peter had replied and said “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living
God”  Jesus responded and said  Matthew 16:18 Now
I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will
build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
The bedrock of the church, the
foundation of the church was to be that acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of
God, that Jesus is the Messiah.  And on
that foundation a bunch of people who had nothing going for them, other than
the one they followed, changed the world. 
Without Christ there would be
no Christ Followers, there would be no church. 
And for some people that wouldn’t be much of an issue because they
haven’t seen the church as a positive influence. 
It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said “I call Christianity
the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct
for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous, secret,
subterranean, petty — I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.”   
But then again this was the
same Nietzsche who was cared for as an orphan by his Christian Grand Parents,
who was educated in a university that was started by the church, who was
treated in a hospital founded by the church, who died in 1900 the Year of our
Lord and was buried in a Christian graveyard.
Without Christ there would be
no Christ Followers because they were the gift that Jesus gave to the world, he
told the world Luke 6:47 I will show you what it’s like
when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.
The impact that Jesus made, he
made though those who followed him.  If
there had been no Jesus there would have been no Jesus followers to make a
difference in the world.  But what was
the difference He made through them?
This morning I want to take you
back to the scripture that was read for us. Jesus is teaching the crowds about
the day of judgement.  And as part of
that teaching he talks about people being divided into two groups.  We aren’t always comfortable with that
thought but this is Jesus’ story so we will let him tell it his way  Matthew 25:34-36 “Then
the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my
Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.
For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was
a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me
clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited
me.’
Now if you know the story, the
righteous ones say “But when did we do that for you? We don’t remember ever
feeding you or giving you a drink, or visiting you in prison.”  And the response comes back in Matthew 25:40 “And the
King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of
these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
And I would suggest that it has
been the church’s response to “The least of these” that has changed the world.
Jesus Shaped How We Think of the Poor 
Even the church’s harshest critics seem to think the Salvation Army
is doing a good job.  For the past couple
of years I have volunteered for their Christmas kettle campaign and I stand in
the mall, wearing a Santa hat, ringing a bell and collect money for the less
fortunate for Christmas.  And that is
only a small part of what they do, they feed the poor, provide shelter for the
homeless, show up whenever there is an emergency or natural disaster.  But why is that?  The Salvation Army didn’t just magically appear
out of nowhere.  In 1865 a Jesus Follower
named William Booth thought the words of Jesus were important when he told
people to take care of the poor.  And the
Salvation Army has continued to do that for almost 150 years.
At Christmas time we collected
enough money to partner with World Hope to drill a well in a village in Sierra
Leone, why?  Because almost twenty years
ago a Wesleyan Pastor by the name of Joanne Lyon took the words of Jesus
serious when he said Matthew
25:35
For I was
hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a
stranger, and you invited me into your home.   And when his followers said “When did
this happen?”  Jesus told them Matthew 25:40 “. . . I tell you the truth, when
you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters; you were doing
it to me!”
 I’m
not saying that compassion is limited to Jesus and his followers but when
disasters happen it is the World Hopes and World Visions, and Samaritan Purses
and the Compassion Internationals that are there firstest with the
mostest.  Why?  Because two thousand years ago Jesus was born
and told his followers to care for the poor and the unfortunate.
Which is why in 1863 when an
international organization was founded in Geneva Switzerland to care for those
in need the symbol they chose was a Red Cross.  
It’s why the organization that was started to provide a safe refuge for
young men from the streets of London in 1844 was called the YMCA.   Young Men’s Christian Association. 
And because Jesus welcomed the
little children it was the church that established the first orphanages, and
because it was Jesus who had compassion on the lepers it was the church that
ministered to those who were considered unclean and undesirable by the rest of
the world. 
While the rest of the world
shunned those with leprosy there were Christ followers who remembered that
Jesus touched them and healed them so in his name they embraced those who were
untouchable to the rest of the world. 
Which leads us to the next
point. 
Jesus Shaped How We Think of the Sick How many people here were
born at the Grace Maternity Hospital here in Halifax.  Do you know why there is a Grace Maternity
Hospital?  Because in 1906 some followers
of Jesus decided that there should be a hospital in Halifax where “Fallen
women” could have their babies safely and with dignity.  Because they remembered how Jesus treated
“fallen women”.  And those Jesus
followers did the job so well that when the city of Halifax decided to start a dedicated
maternity institution they asked the Jesus Followers to start it and the
Salvation Army called it the Grace Maternity Hospital. 
And if you were born in
Halifax, and weren’t born at the Grace then there is a pretty good chance you
were born at the old Halifax Infirmary which was started by the Sisters of
Charity in 1886. 
In the second and third
centuries two plagues hit the known world and historical reports tell us that
up to 1/3 of large cities were dying.  
That the population was so overwhelmed that the dead were simply thrown
into the streets, and eventually not just the dead but the dying where thrown
into the street. 
Rodney Stark’s book, the Rise of
Christianity; How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant
Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries” argues
that one of the main reasons for the success of Early Christianity was the
Christian emphasis on caring for the sick. During the late Roman period there
were a number of devastating plagues.  It
was during this time that Christianity saw some of their most prolific growth.
Why?  Stark contends that Christian communities
would have had better survival rates during these plagues because of the
healthcare they provided for one another.  And not just for each other, Christians also
cared for the sick in non-Christian communities, which Stark says, would
increase the likelihood of their conversion, especially in times of death and
uncertainty.
Dionysius a Bishop of the
early church wrote this “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and
loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of
danger they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and
ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed life serenely happy; for
they were infected by others with the disease.” 
Why would they do that? 
Because they remembered the stories of Jesus who would touch those who
were considered untouchable.
It is why the first hospitals
were started by Jesus Followers in Monasteries and even today have names like
Saint Jude’s and St. Joseph’s and St. Elsewhere.  Because for two thousand years those who have
taken the name of Christ read the stories in the Gospels where Jesus saw the
sick and had compassion on them, saw the lepers and touched them, even when
others wouldn’t and they remembered how Jesus healed people. 
When the disciples of John came
to Jesus to ask if he was the messiah Jesus told them in Luke 7:22 Then he told
John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and
heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the
dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”   And the followers of Jesus still do it
today.  When I travel through Africa the
majority of hospitals and clinics have been built by Christian churches.  Not all of them but most of them.  And those that were started by other groups
were started because of the example set by the Christian Church and it’s always
been that way.
Remember how the early Christ
followers ministered during the Plagues in Rome?  Here is an excerpt from the Stark’s book “The
Rise of Christianity” “Thus, a century later, the emperor Julian launched a
campaign to institute pagan charities in an effort to match the
Christians.  Julian complained in a
letter to the high priest of Galatia in 362 that the pagans needed to equal the
virtues of Christians, for recent Christian growth was caused by their “moral
character, even if pretended,” and by their benevolence toward strangers and
care for the graves of the dead.”
And because a Jesus Follower by
the name of Tommy Douglas remembered how concerned Jesus was with the ill he
thought it was important for all Canadians to have access to medical care. 
But it wasn’t just for the poor
and the sick that Jesus makes a difference. 
Jesus Shaped How We
Think of Slaves. 
Slavery is one of
those issues that people often bring up when they are criticizing the
church.  Which really goes to prove their
ignorance of history?  The church did not
start the slave trade but it was instrumental in stopping it. 
In North America when we think about Slavery we think of a
two hundred year period in US history, we think of the Southern States,
plantations and cotton fields.  But slavery
has always existed and exists today. 
However Christianity is the one religion that went out of its way to
bring an end to slavery in the Western world. 
The Church that was built on the name of Jesus was the most
influential institution in the abolitionist   movement in the US. 
When you read the history of those who sought to end
slavery, people like John Brown, who fought and died in the battle against slavery,
Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” a novel that has often been
credited with energizing the anti-slavery emotions of the US prior to the civil
war and Abraham Lincoln who was willing to lead his country into war to end
Slavery, the one thing they have in common was their Christian upbringing. 
Men like John Newton who made his living from the slave
trade met Jesus and became a voice crying out for the end to slavery.  This was the same Newton who would go on to
write “Amazing Grace”.  It was the same
John Newton who met with a young politician by the name of William Wilberforce
who after becoming a follower of Jesus was thinking of leaving politics.  Instead Newton convinced him to stay in
Parliament and devote his career to the abolition of the slave trade in the
British Empire.   And Wilberforce fought
the good fight and finally in 1807 the slave traded was banned and in 1833
Parliament outlawed slavery.
John Wesley called Slavery the greatest evil of his day and
the Wesleyan church was born out of the anti-slavery movement of the early
1800’s through the efforts of men like Orange Scott and Adam Crook, who was
described as: a man who loved God and hated slavery. 
It was Jesus followers who were at the forefront of bringing
about the end to slavery.  And why?  There was no personal gain to be had; in fact
they often were at risk for their views and their preaching.  There was no financial incentive and yet they
embraced the truth of “for God so loved the world”. 
2000 years ago slavery was a
part of life, and had been for thousands of years before and so the teaching of
the early church was revolutionary when Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28 There
is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all
one in Christ Jesus.  And the
thoughts of Colossians 4:1 were a brand new
teaching, Colossians 4:1Masters,
be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master—in
heaven.  
But don’t think that slavery is simply a historical battle
that has been won.  It is estimated that
there are 27 million slaves in the world today. 
And Jesus followers are still in the forefront of that battle to end
slavery. 
Jesus Shaped How We
Think of Children
There have been abuses, there is no doubt about that bad
people did bad things to children in some church run orphanages.  But the reason those bad things happened in
church run orphanages is that if it hadn’t been for the church there wouldn’t
have been orphanages. And you may be thinking “That might have been a good
thing”.  But if you did away with
orphanages you wouldn’t be doing away with orphans. 
The church provided orphanages as a way to save the lives of
children who had been deserted by their parents or left parentless because of
illness or accident.  The church did it
because society wasn’t doing it.  And the
church knew the importance of loving and caring for children because that was
the way of Jesus.
If you Google “Jesus and children” You will see paintings and
pictures of Jesus with the children, you will find lists of scriptures where
Jesus spoke about children and interacted with children.  If you Google Mohammed and children you get
very different results. 
And because Jesus said things
like Matthew 19:14 But Jesus said, “Let
the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to
those who are like these children.”, the first orphanages were started
by the church in the first century by Jesus followers, and the first orphanage
in the US was started by a Roman Catholic order of sisters, the first
Orphanages in Halifax were the Protestant Orphanage and Saint Joseph’s
Orphanage. 

Were they perfect, nope?  And I’m sure
through the years there were bad people who worked there, but the reality is
when society was ignoring children in need the church of Jesus was doing
something to help them. 

So how do we change the
world?  The same way you eat an elephant,
one piece at a time.  You see Jesus
didn’t call us to change the world.  In
Matthew 25 he didn’t tell his followers to build hospitals and orphanages and
start international relief agencies. 
What he said was when you see someone hungry, feed them, when you see
someone who is thirsty give them a drink, when you see someone without clothes
help them out and when you see someone who is sick, give them care.  And that’s not too difficult, is it?
And it was because of Jesus’
words and his actions that Jesus followers have built hospitals and orphanages
and started international relief agencies. 
So this week take a look around
and see how you can touch the life of someone in need.  And who knows, you might meet Jesus at the
same time.