I ate breakfast this morning with a new friend. We were talking about adult Sunday school classes. For those who remember Sunday school as a kids thing, there are still many churches that have something for adults as well. In many churches, groups of adults, often with age or family stage in common, meet for a hour once a week. Some of this time is spent on eating and chatting, some of this time is spent talking about personal needs and asking other people to pray, and some of this time is spent in teaching. The latter is usually about the Bible or about a book that talks about how Christians ought to live.
For many people, particularly those in churches with more than a couple hundred in attendance, these times act as a church within the church. It is a place for getting to know other people in a setting other than the combined worship time. There usually is some tension between time teaching and time praying and time talking, since there is only an hour, but many people in these classes or groups identify as much with this group as with the larger worship gathering.
Sometimes these groups are together for decades. While this can be helpful, it also becomes a challenge to stay fresh and supportive as people move through life changes (no nest, full nest, empty nest, care for children AND parents, job changes, retirement, illnesses, death). Some groups meet the challenge, some groups struggle.
In my conversation this morning, my friend said that sometimes people mention to him that people get overlooked in illness. We both acknowledged that part of the problem is that people don’t always tell others when they are sick. People don’t always know how much to expect from others. People don’t want to be a burden to others.
Then I realized that what he said sounded really familiar.
Jesus, in celebrating some people, said, “I was sick and you looked after me.” And here are people saying, “I was sick and you didn’t look after me.”
At the time, Jesus was talking about a sorting process, a time of deciding who followed Him and who didn’t. He said he would take care of the people who took care of him. And then he listed the ways that people took care of him: they clothed him and fed him and visited him in prison and took care of him when he was sick.
These people were clueless. They had never seen him. Some of them, I’m sure, had spent their whole lives looking for him. More than anything, these seekers, these followers, wanted to actually see Jesus. That would have removed all doubt from their hearts. They would have been absolutely convinced that they were doing something that mattered, that they were doing the right thing.
In the meantime, of course, these people had been active. When they heard a knock on the door, they answered it with expectation of seeing Jesus (because he talked about knocking on the door). When they opened it, it was just Eddie, asking for a sandwich. So they gave him a sandwich and told him about thinking it might be Jesus. Eddie looked at them oddly, but ate the sandwich.
They got a phone call about someone being ill. They went, hoping that maybe Jesus (or maybe a preacher at least) would show up and do a miracle. When they got there, there wasn’t a miracle, just aunt Helen, unable to get out of bed, and cousin Mable who couldn’t lift Helen on account of a bad hip. So, while they were waiting for Jesus, they went ahead and helped Mable changed the sheets and talked about how sometimes he heals bodies and sometimes hearts.
They went down to the lockup to tell people how awful crime was, because they figured that Christians should protest. But they discovered that they knew the kid being taken to lockup and realized how scared he looked, so they laid down their sign and picked up the phone and called the kid’s mom to offer support and then helped.
And all these people who figured that they had missed Jesus discovered that they were being His hands and feet and arms AND discovered that helping Eddie and Helen and Mable and the kid counted.
So my friend and I talked about how Jesus said that whatever was done for the least was done for Him.
And I realized that, forget the least, we at times ignore the most. We overlook the people that are closest to us as well as the least. We struggle to simply send a card, let alone call, let alone visit, let alone care for.
Or, more accurately, I overlook.
It is no wonder that there are bunches of people who have brushed up against “church” and have decided that it is irrelevant. After all, if a pastor, who is paid to care, struggles with getting around to caring for the least (or even the most)… and if the rules against running in church are more enforced that the calling to care…and if we pour energy into entertainment more than into serving…then maybe
church is irrelevant you’ll accept my apology and let me try again.
It is the least….
On another note…
A couple weeks ago I showed some pictures of people and situations from my life. One of those people was Marcos Botas, a former Marine, a volunteer chaplain, a shoe repair guy, a friend. Marcos spent time talking to us about vets, and talking to vets about Jesus. He died today in his sleep.