Lord, When Did We See You?
To connect to the themes of poverty and immigration. To recognize and become part of the mission that Jesus commanded. To know the differences and consequences between two types of people: those who are negligent as to what God expects and those who faithfully obey. To recognize what John Wesley stated regarding social and personal holiness. To know that as United Methodist Women we can be agents of change, transforming the world around us.
Matthew 25:31-40; Ephesians 2:10; 1st John 3:14-17; Proverbs 3:27-29; Isaiah 58:5-8
Planning ahead, encourage the entire church community, including the children, youth and men, to participate and to bring canned food items, vegetables, fruit, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and toiletries.
Have several members of the group become familiar with the program and reflect and pray for the Holy Spirit to prepare hearts to see what God wants us to see.
On the day of the program, decorate a table with a colorful tablecloth and arrange the fruit, vegetables, water and canned food items, explaining the bountiful ways in which God provides and how we can share what we have been given with those who are in need. The Bible, card, program and cross should be placed at the end of the table.
Cut pieces of solid and dark-colored cloth to make blindfolds, one for each person in attendance.
Encourage attendees to take a piece of cloth and to take a seat.
We will begin our gathering with a hymn of praise to God!Hymn: To God Be the Glory (Methodist Hymnal #98)
Give a warm welcome to those present and state the purpose of the program. In a few words, express what a blessing it is to have the gift of sight which enables us to see all that surrounds us and reminds us to whom we owe such a wonderful gift.
Leader: Those who possess the gift of sight are ready to serve when they see a need (Proverbs 3:28). They do not say, “Wait until tomorrow or when I can make time in my busy schedule".
We are living in very difficult times when words like faithfulness and commitment are rare. In church and charitable organizations, adjustments often must be made when volunteers fail to show up or who come unprepared. They easily break their commitments. However, we also recognize that there are many other faithful servants who never fail to give of their time and talents. We give thanks to God for these individuals.
Let us listen to and reflect on the words in Matthew 25:31-40. I encourage you to read it silently in your Bibles. (Allow a few minutes for reading and reflection.)
This parable describes the consequences of two different attitudes:
First, we see that the believer who carefully prepares for the coming of the Lord, investing time and talents, will be rewarded.
Second, we see that the believer who does not set his or her heart on working to glorify the kingdom of God will not be rewarded. God always rewards the faithful. We cannot expect that he will reward the unfaithful as well.
In other words, the most compelling evidence we have to show that we are Christians is in how we act, how we treat those we encounter on an everyday basis and whether we see Jesus in them. What we do for others demonstrates whether we are truly children of God, obeying what God has commanded. As we reflect on the scripture, do you see a difference between your actions and those of the unbelievers?
Rick Warren, pastor of a church in California, said, “In some churches in China, congregations greet new believers by saying, ‘The Lord Jesus now has a new pair of eyes to see, new ears to listen, new hands to help others and a new heart to love.’" Can you imagine the impact believers would have on the world if each of us used everything in our power and at our disposal to serve those around us?
Hymn: Open My Eyes, That I May See (Methodist Hymnal #454)
Reader 1: In Ephesians 2:10, I read the following, “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." This means that salvation is not just for our personal gain but rather for the glory of Christ and the edification of God's Kin-dom. There is no excuse for neglecting those in great need, nor can we leave that responsibility solely to the pastors, the church or the government. We are the body of Christ and he demands our active participation in meeting the needs of the poor. Let us take a look at the words of the prophet Isaiah. We see that faith lacks sincerity if it does not reach out to others. We see that scripture tells us that fasting builds us up spiritually, but God wants us to move beyond personal growth and to produce works such as goodness, love, justice and generosity (Isaiah 58:5-8).
Notice that the prophet clearly states that the fasting God has chosen is, toloose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter? When you see the naked, is it not to clothe them? And is it not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear. Then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard." The blessing in verse 9 says, "Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and the Lord will say: Here am I." Verse 10 further states, "Then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."
We all want to be blessed in this way, do we not?
Reader 2: You are right. What we see in the scripture through the parable in Matthew 25:31-40 is that we ought to love all people and serve as many and as often as we can. This is the kind of love that glorifies God because it is a reflection of our love for God. The prophet Isaiah is clear on this point.
According to the United States Census Bureau, in 1995 there were 36.5 million people living in poverty here in the U.S. At that time, someone was considered to be living in poverty if they lived below the poverty line, an annual income of $13,000 for a family of four. This represented approximately 13.8 percent of the total population. This percentage is sobering, especially when we consider that this number continues to rise at an exponential pace. We live in a society where the divide between the rich and poor and the differences between incomes earned continues to widen due to the politics of a global economy.
The lack of employment and education are primary causes of poverty. The poverty level within the Hispanic and African-American communities is highest, hovering at 23.2 percent and 24.7 percent respectively. We must also consider that between 15.4 percent and 16.7 percent of the population, or approximately 50 million people, have no health insurance. This is both sad and unacceptable! What can we do in light of these statistics?
Reader 3: Our best guide is the Bible. First John 3:14 and 17 says: "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death." "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?" What can we do when the scripture tells us in Proverbs 3:27-28, "Donot withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, 'Come back tomorrow and I'll give it to you' when you already have it with you"? The apostle John taught, and John Wesley confirmed, that we were saved in order to serve. If we do not love, we have no desire to serve. If I am only concerned about my needs and those of my family and my possessions, then I must ask myself if Christ truly lives in me.
Someone once asked what the word ministry really means. Don't we typically think of ministers, clergy, deacons and priests? God, however, tells us that we are all ministers.
Serving and ministering are synonymous. If you are a Christian, you are a minister. Do you remember Peter's mother-in-law? In Matthew 8:15 we see that after Jesus healed her, she got up and began to serve him. We have all been healed and therefore saved and in gratitude, we too should serve. We are blessed in order to be blessings, using the talents and abilities that God has given us.
Leader: How much time do you devote to serve others, and therefore, to serve Christ? To serve and to give are both verbs and verbs signify action. As children of God, serving is not optional. It is our duty and responsibility while here on earth. Mother Theresa once said, “Tolive in holiness is to do the work of the Lord with a smile". At the end of our journey, as we stand before the presence of God, God will judge what we did for others throughout our lives.
Ask if someone is willing to share their experience in losing a job, being an undocumented immigrant or enduring another crisis and how God has helped by using others. Please encourage people to share at this time.
After the sharing, ask everyone to take the pieces of cloth distributed at the beginning of the service and to use them to cover their eyes.
Leader: When we are indifferent to the needs of the poor, the marginalized, the homeless, when we fail to visit the sick, the widow, the orphan, those in prison or the immigrant, we are in spiritual blindness. We walk through this world with blinders over our eyes because we do not see the pain, loneliness, suffering, violence, abuse, hunger and despair that are endured by others in our midst.
When we stand in the presence of God, and God asks about our negligence, what will we say? "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothed you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" "God will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'”
What will our excuse be? I was too busy? I had my own goals and agendas? I only thought about my job, my family, my welfare, my pleasure?
Pray silently for a few minutes.
Hymn: Jesu, Jesu (Methodist Hymnal # 432)
Prayer of Commitment
Prayer of Ignatius of Loyola (Methodist Hymnal # 570)
Suggestions for Action
- Take food to needy families year-round, not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Any food collected for this program will be donated to those who are in need: widows, orphans, families who are grieving.
- Visit local organizations, such as the women's shelter, children's shelter, or hospitals for cancer patients, and as a women's group offer to volunteer or collect money and supplies they may need.
- We see the homeless all around us on street corners and under bridges. Offer a smile, a meal, water or warm clothing. Collect items such as shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, hair brushes, toothpaste, etc. These items are always needed.
- In schools, we often encounter children who are suffering due to a parent who has been deported. Take gifts or toys to help brighten a child’s day.