‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 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 25:31-40 (NRSV)
This may sound strange, but our scripture reading today always makes me think of high school. No, I didn’t go to parochial school or a Christian school, but one year in high school, our theater group did a presentation of “Godspell.” Now I was usually in the orchestra pit for the musicals, but for “Godspell,” I finally made it on stage! I didn’t have a solo, but I sang as a part of the chorus, and I had one speaking part, that said: “When was it you were hungry and I gave you food, and thirsty and I gave you something to drink?” That was my big debut! And believe me, I was so nervous that there was no way in a million years that I would ever imagine that someday I would be preaching and sharing scripture on a weekly basis!
I remember thinking at the time that it was a strange statement to make. “When was it you were hungry and I gave you food, and thirsty and I gave you something to drink?” How would you not know if you helped someone? How would you not remember if you fed someone that was hungry or gave a drink to someone who was thirsty? How would you not remember welcoming a stranger, or giving clothes to someone that was naked, or visiting someone who was sick or in prison?
This morning, the children shared with us ways that they have helped others and ways that they, too, have been helped. And hopefully, many of us have had similar experiences of helping and being helped by others. But the truth is, my friends, we don’t always know what is happening in the lives of the people around us, even if we think we do. We don’t always know who is hungry or who is hurting, who is grieving or who is dealing with family issues, who has personal conflicts or who is struggling to make ends meet. Because, for the most part, when we are very young, society teaches us that it’s important to look strong and in control, and that you shouldn’t let people see your weaknesses, and that you should cover up your flaws. But the problem is when we do that, we end up hurting ourselves; we try to be someone that we aren’t, and then we begin to struggle with who we are. And that causes a whole host of issues in our mind, our body, and our spirit.
That’s why it’s always best to be kind and compassionate, to listen first, and to show unconditional love to the people you meet. Because though they may look like they have it all together on the outside, they may have an uncontrollable storm raging on the inside.
I don’t know how many of you saw what was on our sign out front when you came into church today, but it says #2069. Now you may have already heard about the #2069 campaign, and to be honest, I hope you have because that means that the word is getting out and that it’s working. #2069 is an awareness project that was started by the Trinity Episcopal Church in Wrentham after one of their young parishioners died as a result of opioid abuse. Instead of hiding the news out of embarrassment, guilt, or shame, the church decided to start a campaign to get people talking about it. Because last year, in 2016, 2,069 people in Massachusetts died of opioid abuse and or addiction.
Rev. Ron Tibbetts, a deacon at Trinity Church, said the #2069 signs are not intended simply as a memorial to those who have lost their battle against opioid addiction, but also as “a call for deeper awareness of this epidemic in our midst.” He went on to say, “It is an invitation for us all to unite as a common voice of concern and of support for those who live with or confront this epidemic every day, and a voice working to erase the stigma that surrounds those caught in the storms of addiction.”
Folks, opioid addiction is at an all-time high right now, and it touches the lives of so many families. But everyone is afraid to talk about it. Of the forty-six funerals that I have officiated so far this year, sixteen of them that I know of were a result of opioid abuse and addiction, and most of the sixteen who had passed were under the age of forty. Families everywhere are silently struggling, not knowing where to turn, because they are afraid and embarrassed about what other people might think. I personally know how painful and debilitating it is for families, as my brother-in-law has struggled with opioid addiction for several years now. But hiding behind the fear of judgment doesn’t help our friends or loved ones; and if we are the ones struggling with an addiction, it doesn’t help us either.
It doesn’t matter what your addiction is. It could be a food addiction or an alcohol addiction, a prescription drug addiction or gambling addiction. Maybe you struggle with guilt from something in your past, or you’re overwhelmed with things that you think you should be able to handle by yourself but you can’t. If any of those things sound familiar, it’s time to talk about it, my friends. It’s time to look for support and understanding. It’s time to allow someone else in, to help you carry the weight, even if only for a little while!
Friends, we have no idea what the people around us are facing. But in opening that door, that’s where we begin to find Hope. In inviting conversation, that’s where we begin to help. And in offering a safe place to be honest and open about who we are and what we struggle with, that is where we begin to find wholeness and healing.
I believe that one of the true gifts of this church is its ability to welcome all. As we always say, “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, and whatever you may be facing, you are welcome here!” Now we don’t promise to have all the answers, or the ability to fix the world problems, but we offer a safe space to come to when you are afraid or overwhelmed, when you’re grieving or trying to figure out how and where you fit in the world, when you are struggling with addictions or facing tough diagnoses, or when you just need a place to call home and to be surrounded by other people who are trying their best to navigate this crazy world in which we all live.
Friends, you don’t need to wear a fancy suit to come to worship here, or to know any special words, or to give all your money. You just need to come as you are, and to trust in God and in this community to hold you and to share with you an unconditional love that has no end. So that whatever it is you are facing, whatever stresses are weighing you down, and whatever struggles you are wrestling with, you might be able to take a deep breath, take a moment to center yourself and to quiet your soul and stop the world from spinning so fast for just a few moments, that you might be able to listen for God’s still speaking voice in your life. Because, friends, whatever you are facing, you are not alone! Look around! There are friends here who can feed you when you are hungry and give you a drink when you’re thirsty. And the true gift is that sometimes they’ll ask you to do the same for them because that is how Jesus shines through in each of us!
If we look through the eyes of faith, that is how we truly experience God in our midst, because, as Jesus said in today’s scripture reading, “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.” So, friends, remember that in all that we say and in all that we do, Jesus truly is here in our midst, calling us to follow him that we might find wholeness and healing, and when we do, that we might share it with the world around us.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, know that you are not alone. And if you are struggling, find someone to talk to. Don’t be ashamed of your shortcomings and your weaknesses, because we’ve all got them! Instead, surround yourself with love and support that you might truly learn to celebrate the amazing creation that is you.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!