Jesus’ description of the Last Judgment has a bunch of clueless people standing before the throne of God asking what happened. Some of them are being led by the angels into paradise and some of them are being herded in the opposite direction, and all of them – those who are blessed and those who are condemned – all say the same thing: “When did we see you, Lord?”
Neither group ever realized the deeper connection that underlies all human interactions. None of them ever seems to have stopped to wonder whether when they dealt with someone bearing God’s image they might not also be dealing directly with God. All the same, he was there, whether they knew it or not. Some of them never realized it because they were too busy caring about themselves, so that they never had the time (or probably even the inclination) to look into anyone else’s eyes and see Jesus looking back. Some of them never realized it because they were too busy trying to help the person in front of them – but for those people there is hope.
Of course, best of all is to be doing good because we do know that Christ is above all and in all and through all. As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote,
“…Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
Yet we learn that in the ugliest moments of human life. We learn it where there is hunger and loneliness and fear and sickness.
Central Africa and West Africa have been through terrible times in the past few decades. Ethnic feuds have turned into civil wars and civil wars have sent refugees in all directions, destabilizing otherwise calm nations. Criminals have taken advantage of the chaos, and the chaos has led normally law-abiding people to become criminals. Add the occasional outbreak of ebola into the mix, and the friction between Christianity and Islam, and you have serious turmoil.
In the midst of that, among all the horror stories, we keep hearing accounts of people who are doing things like building orphanages and schools, simply because there are children around who need to be taken care of. No, not everyone reacts this way. But some do. We hear about doctors and nurses and ambulance drivers who cared for people desperately and dangerously sick, simply because the sick cannot take care of themselves. We hear about people sharing their food and their houses with strangers on the run from war, just because they can see on their faces and in their eyes that there is a need that only time will change and they want to buy them the time if they can. That is time for God to do the real work.
It is a gift that the Christians of the Congo are able to focus on the needs of the people around them, needs both physical and spiritual. It is a gift that they have been teaching specifically to us, and by “us” I mean United Methodist Christians in Eastern Pennsylvania, specifically those of us right here today.
Every quarter, we take half the loose offering that is in the plate on Sunday morning and designate it for a mission project, local or national or global. This quarter our giving, and all of the giving on Ash Wednesday, will go to help the eye clinic in Mpasa, Congo, and we are joined in that giving by the other churches in Delaware and Montgomery and Chester Counties that make up our South District.
We’re going to watch a video that was put together to promote support for that work, but I don’t want anybody to watch it in that spirit this morning. I want to watch it, instead, simply as a witness to what the Lord has done and what the Lord is doing at this very moment, in and through his people.
“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 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.” [Matthew 25:37-40]