Sermon July 27 2014 Social Services Sunday
St Mary’s Whitby
Micah 6:8-12, James 2:14-17, Matt 25:31-45
Today is social services Sunday. This is a staid and somewhat self-righteous-sounding description of what is truly our duty every Sunday, every day of our lives, as Christians. What is social service? It must surely mean serving people. That can never be a dull thing to do. Serving others can led you to all sorts of places you may not have been – wonderful exotic locations like hospitals, mental health care facilities, hospices, rest homes – and these are some I have been in just this last week! You may even be fortunate enough to visit prisons, and private homes!
But hang on, you may be saying. Surely it’s not about the place, it’s about the people! Yes, exactly. We are called to love and serve people, no matter where they are. Whether they are in the most derelict accommodation, or in the swankiest hotel. We tend to focus on the former rather than the latter, but everyone is in need of Christ.
Our readings all make our job description as Christians really plain – The Micah reading exhorts us to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. This passage is actually the motto of Tawa college – interesting for a state school!
It doesn’t tell us to admire justice, or to promote it, or to write about it. It tells us to DO it! And that’s where we are challenged. It’s easy to go to conferences, write papers, get het up about child poverty, for example, and there is a conference coming up next week on this issue, where some of the political implications of child poverty are to be discussed. If you can contribute to fixing the mess the world is in with the Global Financial Crisis, take your ideas along and contribute! But it harder to actually do something about injustice when we see it. Have you ever noticed someone being yelled at by their partner in the mall, and just turned away, thinking, help, I don’t know what to say, it’s none of my business? You might get sworn at or hit yourself.
Many years ago, I was challenged by God’s command to do justice, when a teenage girl was yelling at another slightly younger girl all the way along the Main Rd shops in Tawa. Eventually, the older girl got the other one on the ground and started kicking her. I couldn’t help it, I crossed the road to them, and said, Hey! That’s not how you treat people! God loves her and you, and that’s not the right way to behave! Then I stood there shaking in my boots wondering what to do next, as the girl started in on me. A man came out of the nearby shop, and asked me if I wanted him to call the police, so I said yes. While we were waiting for the police, the girl stopped hurting the other one, who was sobbing on the ground. We got her some water, and just stayed there. People came out of other shops, and several said, they didn’t know what to say, they wished they had tried to stop them.
During this time, did I get sworn at? Yes I did. Well, if you ever raised teenagers, you kinda get used to that a bit. not looking at any of my kids…The police arrived and the whole story came out, and eventually was dealt with.
I tell you this story not to boast about what a wonderful person I am. That is not at all the case. I tell it to encourage you. It is scary, yes, you do put yourself in a place of vulnerability. But if you truly trust that God is in your actions, you will know that while you walk humbly beside your God, guess who’s walking beside you? Yes, God is.
Righting injustice is important. There’s a quote that was around after the second world war, that evil triumphs when good men do nothing.If something is rotten and unfair, speak up. Blow that whistle.
There’s another side to the Micah reading. As well as setting out to right injustice, we must DO justice. In all our dealings with others, we must be fair, act within the law, and if the law is unjust, – it sometimes is, -we must act according to God’s justice. We can instil this in our children when they are young. Get them to check their change at the dairy – if the man gave them too much change, give the extra back. Be accountable over little things as it gets to be a habit.
Some of you may be in influential positions in your work. You may hold the weights and measures. You may have people whom you manage, whose careers you have some responsibility for. Be just in all your doings. If there is a promotion to be considered, weigh your decision carefully. I often hear stories of people who have been promised promotions, but then find themselves overlooked. If you can’t in all conscience follow through on a promise, or you are not sure, don’t make that promise. I’ve learnt this the hard way with my kids – if I say yes to something they will hold me to it. And fair enough too, they need to be able to trust me. But if I say ‘we’ll see’, that takes into account contingencies such as the planned outing falling through. I don’t say an outright no either though, because that just leads to pleeeease! for the rest of the day.
We are also urged to love kindness. Well, that’s not hard. We can read heart-warming stories every day – someone gave a single mum a car the other day, after the story of her disaster with buying a dud was in the paper. Who doesn’t love kindness? You know what a good feeling you got reading about it – imagine how the person felt who actually gave the car. They would have the satisfaction of knowing that a single mum with a disabled child has had her life made easier, and not just once, but every day that she uses her new car!
Today’s readings work so well as a group that they really make God’s will clear for us. In the James reading we see that faith without works is dead. That’s a familiar saying, and it doesn’t need much unpacking. But do we actually do what it says? Have you ever said to anyone in need, ‘if there’s anything I can do, just let me know.’ I certainly have. And while that may give a feeling of comfort and support, it doesn’t say ‘I love you’ as clearly as turning up on the doorstep with a hot meal does, or giving a gift of money when it’s needed. Our reading from James urges us to give appropriately. Don’t give hard-to eat food to people with no teeth!
How can we know what is appropriate to give? We’re going to have to get to know folk aren’t we? Social service Sunday is about getting involved, not about charity at arms’ length. Giving away stuff we don’t need is fine, but if we are not able to give it to people who need, it, let others sort it out. Kiwi community assistance do a wonderful job of redistributing goods and food to those in need. They work with local charitable agencies, who let them know exactly what their needs are, and the volunteers at KCA get the goods to where they are needed. If you want to give time, this group is always looking for volunteers, and I can give you the contact details if you have a few spare hours a week.
There used to be a phrase about the ‘deserving poor’. There was a sense of judgement in Victorian charity, and reading NZ history tells us that if you had a character that was not considered deserving you could not expect much help, if any.
Today’s Gospel cuts through all that. We have no right to judge whether people are deserving or not. We are told to regard everyone who is in need as if they were Jesus. If we truly love Christ and see him in those we serve, helping them will be the same as serving our Lord! Wouldn’t you like to kneel at Jesus’ feet and wash them? Well, how about washing the feet of an elderly person, and then trimming their toenails, which saves them a $60 podiatrist bill? Wouldn’t you like to give Jesus a ride in your car? How about taking someone to the shops when they have no transport. Wouldn’t you like to bandage Jesus’ knees when he falls on the way to Calvary? How about helping the kid who spends all his time on the streets, and has just fallen off his skateboard?
As you start to see Jesus in those you serve, you will find yourself looking for more opportunities to do this. I’m sure many of you already do. Doesn’t it feel great? Yes, it’s tiring, yes, it wears us out and uses us up, but what are we here for? God placed us on this earth to love him, and to love each other. There’s no clause saying that we can only love if it doesn’t cost us anything. It comes back to Micah – walking humbly with our God. We don’t need to place our own needs ahead of others. God will provide for us, and we will feel a sense of joy and satisfaction in helping others.
You may be elderly and frail. You may not have any way you feel you can help other people. You may think your days of charity work are in the past, that you’ve done your dash, and it’s up to the younger ones. There is still a vital ministry you have, and that’s prayer. I urge you to keep your ears open for prayer needs. If you don’t know anyone in need, pray for people you don’t know. There are plenty of situations in the news that could do with some divine help. Pray for people you see out your window – if you watch the kids going to school each day, pray for them and ask God to help them. You may never see the fruits of your prayers. When we help people we may see no results either. but that’s not why we do it. We do it so serve, not to claim credit for sorting out the situation. That’s how we walk humbly with our God.
I’d like to finish with the prayer of St Ignatius Loyola.
Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.