"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? 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)
The Vestry (board of directors) and staff of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Boulder, where I serve as priest, have spent a good chunk of 2018 discussing these questions: What is the “why” of St. Ambrose? Who are we and why has God called us together? What difference do we make in the world?
The words we landed on back in February, and which we are now using to guide us as we move forward, are these: Be welcomed. Connect. Be restored. Serve. These are all done “in Christ”. That is, Christ has called us together, Christ is the one we are following, and Christ is the one who empowers us to do the work of welcoming, connecting, restoring, and serving.
And it seems that these four words tie in quite nicely with Jesus’ little story about the judgment of the nations, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory...” (Matthew 25:31) We want to feed the hungry - whether those folks are physically or spiritually or relationally hungry. We want to give the thirsty a drink, in the same way. We want to welcome the stranger AND the long-term friend, and we want to welcome all, no matter what our differences might be. We want to connect with and help restore those who are sick or in prison, no matter what the sickness (body, mind, or spirit) or what the prison might be. We want to clothe the naked, and offer comfort to anyone who feels vulnerable, isolated, or alone. We especially want to be on the lookout for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40), for we know that God has a special fondness for the least, the last, and the lost, and we know that we could be among the least with any sudden turn of events.
We know that when we “lose ourselves” by connecting with others, that is when we tend to find ourselves. We know that when we allow ourselves to be instruments of God’s light, love, and healing, we experience our own healing. And we experience God’s deep love for us.
I know of a children’s home and school in La Libertad, El Salvador. It is called REMAR. The staff of REMAR live with the children in various dorms that have been built. They have welcomed in children who have been abused or neglected, or who have been living on the street. They feed these children, love them, laugh with them, cry with them, counsel them. A school has been built on these grounds, and the students - from both the children’s home and the surrounding community - have found a place where they can learn in a safe, respectful, loving environment.
When I joined some of the members of St. Ambrose on our first trip to REMAR in 2015, we met the Director or REMAR, Mary Gonzalez, the very small staff at the home, and many of the children. We worked with them on a building project, taught a few classes, played with the children, went to church with them on Sunday morning, and were treated to a paella feast on the last night that we were there. I bought a REMAR mug before I left, and when I got home, below the REMAR logo, I noticed a scripture citation on the mug. It read “Matthew 25:31-46.”
The staff and teachers of REMAR are living out the parable that Jesus told. We, the staff and members of St. Ambrose, aspire to do the same thing.
How will you welcome Christ into your life today? How will you welcome others, whomever they might be? What will you do to make a connection with someone, to love and listen to him or her? How might God be using you to restore someone else and bring them to wholeness? Whom can you serve on this day?
When you serve one of the least of these in any of these ways... for that matter, when another person serves you... then Christ is being served. Ponder that for a few minutes!
Yes, God gets very excited over such deeds of love! (See what Jesus says in Matthew 25:34)