“Feed the Hungry”

Matthew 25: 31-45, November 22nd, 2020

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter twenty-five, verses thirty-one thru forty-six.”

Matthew 25:31-45

31 “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.’”

“Having listen to this ancient writing attributed to the teachings, the very words of Jesus, how shall we apply their meaning to our current setting in our lives today, as we approach our annual Thanksgiving celebration!?”

“Feed the Hungry”

Typically, if you are anything like me, folks like us, we wake up in the morning, we get up out of our comfortable beds and many of us adults generally get a cup of coffee before getting dressed.  Eventually, most of us have some type of breakfast before we start our day.  Granted, some of us eat more balanced meals than others, however, that is a choice we make as individuals!  Yet, let us not forget about the, all too many families, women, men and children, who do not have a bed to sleep in, nor access to a shower in the morning, and a fresh clean set of cloths to put on!  That is because they are homeless.  This growing group of folks here in the United States of America… must forage or panhandle to get food, when the food banks and soup kitchens run out of supplies.  How many are we talking about?  Huff Post, according to an article they posted back in June of this year, they posted that 14 million children went hungry, up ten million from 2018.  I am not a statistician, nor do I have access to all the data on this subject.  Yet, if we take the lowest number they referenced, 14 million minus 10 million, that still leaves 4 million children going hungry every day here in our own country!  That by itself is staggering!  This is the basic reason our New Beginnings Committee has continued to strongly support our monthly food drive to supplement the food bank at our neighboring church, Peace Lutheran.  Let us pause for a moment to say ‘thank you’ to all who have supported this effort.  Please keep it up!

Hunger is normally attributed to the poor, the downcast and the homeless.  The National Alliance to End Homelessness, reported in their January 2019 statistics that over a half million families of various sizes go homeless every day.  This is a staggering number and that is just numbers of homelessness in the United States.  And that statistic is over a year and half old.  We must consider what the number is today.  Surely, it is much higher now, when we factor in the Covid-19 virus and the economic turmoil it has caused!  Consequently, the scope of those who are hungry for the basic food supplements we all need, dips deep into our population here within our own communities, throughout our county and the state of Florida and is raging throughout our country.  In the gospel according to John, chapter twelve, verse eight, Jesus is quoted as saying to his disciples, “The hungry… you will always have with you.”  In the context of that quote Jesus was also saying, he would only be with them a short time.  Jesus was right on both accounts.  The man Jesus was executed by his enemies, as they did not want to hear the truth.  Yet, we still have his words, his teachings, and his prophetic messages to guide us ever forward.  And yes, we do still have the hungry!  Clearly, from our lesson today, Jesus was teaching his followers, all of us, that how we treat others was and is very important.  And we shall one day be judged by God for our actions and our inactions!

What are you hungry for?  Is it steak, hamburger, and chicken or perhaps fish?  Discussing our personal preferences is one way to approach this conversation of hunger.  If we do so let us get more basic with our choices.  Hungry folks need a wide variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables and the like.  Physical hunger is indeed one of the areas of humanity that needs our attention.  Ultimately, this is only one of the obvious areas Jesus was referring to.  Let us examine that key sentence of our lesson more closely.  “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, 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.” /Matthew 25:35-36/ Hunger for food is only one of the items.  Then there is thirst.  Hunger and thirst for food and water are the basics of life, yet Jesus goes much deeper!  People hunger and thirst for more than the bare necessities of human existence!  This is Thanksgiving week!  We all want to have enough to be thankful for.  Many of us shall rejoice this week because we have an abundance of what we need!  Praise God!  And as we continue to journey forward let us seek to take time to reach out to those that do still hunger and thirst and need a helping hand!

Thanksgiving week will slip into next week in a blink of an eye.  Let us be sure we take time to acknowledge all it symbolizes, for us as a people!  Let us take time to consider the stranger, alone in a new place, a refugee in sorts.  Perhaps a migrant feeling oppression or simply looking for work to feed and cloth his or her family.  Surely, they hunger and thirst for a welcoming hand or a friendly smile that simple acknowledges them for who they are and gives them a chance to do better!  The tradition of our Thanksgiving holiday dates, back to the time of the early refugees from Europe.  Over time we have dressed up their journey here, but, ultimately, they would never have come if not for the oppression they felt back in their home country!  They knew what it felt like to live through tough times.  Many of the first died that first winter due to the harshness of it all.  It was the Native Americans that reached out to them in friendship trying to do exactly what Jesus was speaking of in our scripture lesson today.  American history is wrought with its ups and downs its struggles and its rights and wrongs.  However we read this, our country is populated with settlers, refugees from virtual all regions of the globe!  Most of our ancestors know what it feels like to be alone, in a new place or an old place; we all yearn for the fellowship of others.  Let us be sure we offer that to those who cross our paths!

There is a lot in this one sentence within our scripture today.  “I was naked, and you gave me clothing.”  Jesus covers it all, the naked need clothing, and they need refuge from all that ravages them, as they have been stripped of their dignity and self-respect!  One of my distant family, he was a young man in his mid-twenties living in New York city.  He was renting an apartment.  And he was making headway in establishing a life away from his home of origin.  The family was proud of how he was doing.  Unfortunately, a fire broke out in his building, he was fortunate to escape the building, yet, he had to crawl out the hard way.  He survived with only the clothing on his back.  The Red-Cross helped him a little and eventually he was able to get back to his family in Massachusetts, to regroup and start over.  Some of us took him shopping.  He needed everything.  The men’s store we frequented did their best to help-out as well.  There are countless men, women and children, families that have experienced the same and many have been helped, yet many more are still homeless and need the basics of life: food, clothing, and shelter!  Our donations to reliable charities and even inexpensive thrift shops that exist to assist the needy without taking from them their last piece of self-respect, self-respect which they need to cling to, these thrift shops, they are the helping hands that are needed!       

A majority, of Americans, take health care for granted.  However, there are millions who have no insurance whatsoever.  What about them?  Who is responsible for them?  Jesus says to us, “I was sick, and you took care of me.”  Do we?  Have we?  And most importantly, shall we work to make health care affordable and available to all Americans as we move forward in history!?  That is a glimpse of the American picture which the whole world is watching, seeking to see how the largest economy in the world will respond to the needs of their own.  God is also watching, and the words of Jesus foreshadow our responses to the real needs of our neighbors!  As individuals we can not fix the system, yet we can help others – where we can.  How do we, reach out to people we know are sick or in the hospital?  As a church we do what we can.  Our ministry of care is striving to reach out where it can, the restrictions of this Covid-19 have made it difficult.  Even those who do have health care – they still need the outreach of their church.  The need our compassion and kindness, our presence and our love are needed, even more so during this ‘pandemic time’ in history.  With our continued efforts – we can make a difference.  We can and we are, and we shall need to continue to be the church, the hands, and the feet of Jesus, as we seek to be there for others.

Systemic racism is a term that millions of us did not even know the meaning of, until recently.  The year 2020 has brought out a lot of things that we as a people do not even want to talk about – let alone deal with and make corrections.  Jesus’ words speak to our willingness to reach out to those that do find themselves on the wrong side of social laws.  “I was in prison and you visited me.”  The leadership of The United Church of Christ, is striving to educate itself and the pastoral leaders of our national church, including myself; as we seek to equip local pastors, pastors like me who are serving local congregations, to be knowledgeable of how we can effectively make a difference, in this place and time – as we seek to root out this stain on our nation!  This process will ultimately help us as a community learn what is needed and how and where as-well-as when we can begin to make a difference.  Our denomination has ordained a great many Chaplains that do work in the prison system reaching out to those who are incarcerated.  Some of us, on occasion have opportunities to directly reach out to those who are imprisoned.  Many are working hard to rehabilitate themselves and others are begging for mercy as they are innocent of the crimes that they were convicted of.  Our responsibilities as Christians is to seek out and support reforms which will ensure equal rights for all!  So that every level of our society will ultimately prevail and feel a shift in how we look and see each other – no matter the color of our skin or the accent of our voices!

As we begin our ‘Thanksgiving’ holiday this week, let us bear in mind all that Jesus has said to us through the words of scripture which prayerfully have reached our hearts today.  Our God wants us to care enough to work to “help” “all our neighbors”, enjoy the abundance of life! 

Happy Thanksgiving, one all! 

Amen.

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