Summary: A sermon about "being" Christian.
"Lord, When Did We See You Hungry?"
One day a student asked anthropologist Margaret Mead for the earliest sign of civilization in a given culture.
He expected the answer to be a clay pot or perhaps a fish hook or grinding stone.
Her answer was "a healed femur [bone]."
Mead explained that no healed femurs are found where the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, reigns.
A healed femur shows that someone cared.
Someone had to do that injured person's hunting and gathering until the leg healed.
The evidence of compassion is the first sign of civilization.
In a similar sense, I think that what our Gospel Lesson is stressing this morning is that "compassion is the sign of being a Christian" or "a follower of Christ."
And sadly, we are not always known for our compassion.
Sometimes we get known for our unbending rules, that screams "I desire sacrifice over mercy!!!!"
Which is, exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught.
Jesus told the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day...
...the one's who would eventually get the Romans to Crucify Him...
...Jesus told them, go learn what this means: "I want mercy not sacrifice."
That was when they were condemning Jesus' disciples for "breaking the Sabbath law" because they were hungry and thus were "picking heads of wheat and eating them" on the Sabbath.
They were putting the law and moralistic ideals above mercy, grace and love.
And because of that Jesus said that they were "condemning the innocent."
The Scribes and Pharisees were fundamentalists when it came to the Law.
And Jesus said that "they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them."
He said to them, "You shut people out of the kingdom of heaven. You don't enter yourselves, and you won't allow those who want to enter to do so."
He said, "you forgot about the more important matters of the Law: justice, peace, and faith."
One of my favorite Scripture passages comes from Matthew Chapter 9:35-38.
It reads: "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'"
Jesus had compassion on the people, and then He turned to those Who were His followers and told them that "the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."
Compassion expressed through works of mercy are the signs of God's love flowing through us to others.
"They will know we are Christians by our love."
"I was hungry and you gave me food to eat.
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
I was in prison and you visited me."
In the Scripture Reading from earlier in the service, the one Teresa read from 1 Corinthians 13, Paul was talking to a church that had seemingly forgotten what following Christ was really about.
They thought that the signs that one truly was a follower of Christ were all about whether or not someone spoke in tongues, could prophesy or had the "gift of knowledge."
And so, they were fighting with one another over who was The best Christian or God's favorite.
One might say, "I'm the best because I speak in tongues the most."
Another might say, "I'm the best because I can get up and talk about all kinds of stuff when we meet together."
But Paul says none of you are correct.
That's why he writes, "If I speak in tongues of human beings or of angels but I don't have love," I'm just making a whole bunch of useless noise.
He says, "If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but don't have love, I'm nothing..."
Then he goes on to describe love: "Love is patient, love is kind, it isn't jealous, it doesn't brag, it isn't arrogant, it isn't rude, it isn't happy with injustice, but is happy with the truth.
Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails...
...Now faith, hope and love remain...and the greatest of these is love."
It's easy for us human Christians to "get off track."
That's one of the many reasons that Scripture passages such as these should always be in our minds.