“When Did We See You?” by Rene Meyers
Southminster Presbyterian Church, Sept. 27, 2020
Gospel Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Sermon: “When did we see you?”
At the 220th General Assembly of our church in Portland in 2016, the body voted to declare the Presbyterian Church (USA) a “Matthew 25 Church” approving an overture brought by the Presbytery of the Cascades. The decision was reaffirmed at the 221st General Assembly in St. Louis in 2018. This means that we will take upon ourselves the challenge Jesus places before us in that chapter of the gospel.
The passage read this morning is most often titled “The Judgement of the Nations”. That perspective challenges me to engage this admonition in a new way. Jesus says not, “When I was hungry, you gave me nothing to eat”, but rather, “…YOU gave me nothing to eat.” It tells us faith is found in the public square. Jesus was addressing political and social systems that trapped people in lives of need and desperation. What have we done to not just give a charitable handout; what have we done to break the bonds of oppression and poverty that leave people hungry and vulnerable? I want to share with you how we – collectively as our church – are answering the gospel’s call.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency – the mission arm of our national church – has taken this challenge and identified 3 focal areas for our work: Building Congregational Vitality – not measured by the number of members or the size of the budget, but by how actively we are engaged in the communities in which we reside; Eradicating Systemic Poverty – addressing the root causes of trapping people and families in the inability to feed, clothe, and house themselves; and Dismantling Structural Racism – changing systems and structures that oppress and discriminate.
When did we see you hungry? Countless congregations across the country are engaged with food banks or have their own food pantries, yours among them. This is wonderful work, and it is necessary to meet the immediate needs of our siblings in God’s family. However, if we stop there, our work will never be done. We need to change the systemic policies and their affects that trap people in poverty that leave them unable to feed themselves or their families?
Our Presbyterian Hunger Program has been engaged in a long-term partnership with the Coalition of Immolakee Workers calling for boycotts of specific fast-food chains resulting in migrant workers receiving increased wages and improved working conditions, disrupting systems of poverty and abuse within that industry, and we are continuing that work with more and more businesses. We are working with others throughout the world to change systems and to empower God’s people to live God’s intended life of abundance. We have several mission co-workers are serving as partners with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan building up the education system and challenging the government to engage in peace – recognizing that education is the single best weapon in the fight against poverty, and that educating children is difficult, at best, and impossible, at worst, where there is conflict and violence.
When did we see you thirsty? [SLIDE 2] Remember Flint, Michigan? PDA provided filters for people to be able to use in their homes as the crisis unfolded, but countless people still do not have access to clean drinking water because of decisions made by persons in positions of authority. … How long can we allow oil pipelines to pollute the lands and water supplies of Native American and other vulnerable populations? Our Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC advocates with elected officials to change policies that allow this abuse.
In partnership with the Joining Hands Network in Peru, members are advocating for justice for the children of La Orroyo – a community which is home to an American smelting company that is poisoning their water. Over 97% of the children of La Orroyo have tested positive for lead poisoning. Joining Hands has been successful in encouraging the Peruvian government to enforce environmental laws and has shut down the plant until the emissions stop and the water is cleaned. However, the free trade agreements with South American governments allow the company to sue the Peruvian government for lost income due to the sanctions. We need to advocate – and insist upon – FAIR trade agreements, not free trade agreements, that would not allow this abuse.
When did we see you in prison? [SLIDE 3] This country – arguably the wealthiest country in the world – incarcerates more people per capita than ANY country in the world. The General Assembly in St. Louis in 2018, commissioners and other marched from the Assembly convention center to the Justice Center to protest the discriminatory system of cash bail. Nearly $50,000 from the opening worship offering was presented to an organization which offers the bail to those who are unable to do so, thus endangering loss of job, which could lead to homelessness for them and their families. Our church is calling for the end to the cash bail system throughout our country.
When did we see you a stranger? [SLIDE 4] When did we take children from their parents because you did not belong here? New mission co-worker position approved by our last General Assembly, but thwarted by the pandemic, will reside in San Salvador and work with churches, governments, and other organizations to address the root causes of violence and famine in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – reasons that are forcing people to migrate from their homes seeking not just a better life, but survival in America.
Our church, your church is doing much, but there is so much yet to do. We must first make ourselves aware of the plight of God’s people, our sisters and brothers – who are ALL God’s beloved. Our faith is lived out in the public square. The church is called to be political – NOT PARTISAN, but political just as Jesus was. We are called to be political, working to change systems and policies that oppress the “least” of US, those who society has left behind, those who cannot within the system ever break their yoke. And we need to acknowledge and testify that by including others in systems of privilege will not cause those of us who already participate to lose anything. We believe in a God of abundance – and it will be experienced when we answer Christ’s call. Christ is calling us to ACTION.
I encourage us to engage the message in Isaiah 58: “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” How can we fast from the systems that favor some over others? How can we recognize the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the stranger, the imprisoned, and act in a way that will break every yoke of oppression? Continue the work of your congregation: the hands-on assistance for urgent needs; discern your call to advocate for policy and systems change. This work is not easy, nor will it be quick, but God calls us to do the work that will be long lasting and will bring life, and bring it abundantly – for ALL God’s people. May it be so…
And now, may the Lord keep before you the faces of the hungry, the lonely, the rejected and the despised.
May the Lord afflict you with pain for the hurt, the wounded, the oppressed, the abused, the victims of violence.
May God Grace you with a burning thirst for justice and righteousness.
May the Lord give you courage and strength and compassion to make ours a better world, to make your community a better community, to make our church a better church.
- How do you recognize and acknowledge white supremacy in yourself? …in your congregation?
In a predominantly white community, imbalance and injustice in systems and structures is difficult to see…
Defining white supremacy as the bias of systems and structures, not the behavior of individuals or groups.
- Understanding that neither the “sheep” nor the “goats” in the Gospel story recognized Jesus, as a congregation, which are we? (collective/systemic perspective)
- How are we critiquing our own structures with an eye towards inclusion and equity?
Our leadership structures?; Our worship style and format?; Our work in the community?
- How are we using our collective voice to affect change in the social and economic systems of our city? … of our state? … of our nation?