Summary: When we use our gifts to meet the needs of the "least of these" we are doing it as unto the Lord.

Iliff and Saltillo UM Churches

September 7, 2003

“The Least of These”

Matthew 25:31-46

INTRODUCTION: In today’s parable the people are divided up at judgment day as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep were on the right and the goats on the left. He speaks to those on his right and says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

Then he goes on to say, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” The sheep, representing the people who were in right standing with God, were puzzled by this. They said, “When did we ever see you hungry and feed you? When did we ever visit you in prison, when did we ever...” And the Lord answered, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

On the other hand to those on the left, he said, “You didn’t bother to feed me when I was hungry, you didn’t invite me in, you didn’t look after me when I was sick...” They said, “When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or any of these other things?”

He answered, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

I don’t think we are always aware of what our role is in the PRACTICAL things toward helping other around us. There are acts of mercy that we all can do every day.

Story of the Deacon: An old deacon was leading in prayer using one of his same old phrases which was, “Oh, Lord, touch the needy with Thy Finger.” All of a sudden as he was praying, he stopped. The silence caused people to rush over to him and ask if he were ill.

“No, “ he said, “but something seemed to say to me, “Thou art the finger.”

So often we pray and ask God to TOUCH people--to do this and that for them--to meet a variety of needs that WE could assist with.

Let’s see what we can get out of this scripture that will help us to be used of God in a greater way this week.

1. The Least of These: We might wonder who he is referring to when he says, “the least of these brothers of mine.” Who do you think would be “the least”? You might say it’s the poor, the homeless person who is living on the street or under a bridge, it might be the person who is living on the fringe of society, or the person who is ostracized from society because of crimes they have done, people who can’t take care of themselves because of drug problems. It could be the little child who is abused. It could be anyone who is DIFFERENT FROM ME.

One definition of “the least of these” that I thought was good is “anyone who is IGNORED or OVERLOOKED.” This could be anyone at one time or another. Another one was--the least--in the ESTIMATION OF MEN.” People may be quick to say, “that person doesn’t amount to very much, not worth helping, of no value, write that person off.”

The “least of them” is not necessarily a “believer” but could be someone who doesn’t even know the Lord yet. It’s like “who is my neighbor?”

In the “estimation of man” we may have a picture in our mind of who is the “least” but we may not be entirely accurate. There are times when we ALL fall into this category. Think of a time when you have been hurting or in need and someone reached out to you or maybe they DIDN’T reach out to you. You might think of a time when you needed someone to talk to and someone was there for you, when you were worried about something and someone prayed for you or helped you in some practical way. When you moved to a new town and needed some friendship, for example.

STORY: A pastor received a letter one day from some people who had moved there from another town. It read:

“When my wife and I moved here three years ago, we felt the need to make contact with a local church. We hoped to make new friends. When we went to church we heard good sermons but our hope that we would make REAL CONTACT with our fellow Christians in the same pew came to nothing. We often left church as lonely as when we came in.”

“I was a stranger and you took me in--or didn’t take me in.” Anyone can be the “least of these” sooner or later.

When have you been hungry, thirsty, a stranger in need of hospitality, in need of clothes, sick and in need of a caregiver, in prison and somebody reached out to you?

ILLUSTRATION: I remember when I was in the hospital and needed blood after I had surgery and a man from the church said, “I’ll go and give blood for her.” I felt like “would he do that for me?” Another time when there were some problems at school one of the teachers said, “I’ll go to the school board in her behalf and I’ll take some other people with me. I thought, “would she do that for me?” And I didn’t even like this woman. It was a humbling experience when people are willing to do this.

These six categories pretty well take in the basic areas of our lives. The importance of service when and where service is needed is not overlooked by the Lord. Matthew 10:42 says, “if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Such love for others glorifies God by reflecting our love for Him.

2. Do Unto Me: Hebrews 6:10 says, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

The people acted surprised when Jesus said, “you fed me, you did this for me.” They asked, “When did we ever do that?” He said, “when you did it for the least of these you were really doing it for me.”

The Cobbler Story: Conrad was a cobbler who had a shoe shop in a tiny village in Europe. He dreamed that the Master (Jesus) would visit him at his little shoe shop. So early in the morning, Conrad got up early and swept, dusted, and got his little shop ready for the visit. He baked some bread and cakes, and he waited with great anticipation for the Master to show up. As the day went by, Conrad saw an old man outside his shop window that had no shoes on his feet, out in the cold. Moved with compassion, he brought the elderly man inside to warm up and gave him shoes for his feet.

As Conrad continued to wait for the Master to come, he heard a knock at the door. With great excitement he ran to the door only to see a little old lady. She had a bundle of sticks and had not eaten in some time. At first, Conrad was mad because it was not the Master. But then he was moved with compassion to bring her into the little shop and gave her something to eat, including the cakes and bread he had made for the Master. After she had finished eating, he carried her sticks for her to the edge of the village and hurried back in fear he’d miss the Master, but as he returned, the Master still was not there.

As the afternoon passed, Conrad waited. Still no Master appeared. And then there was another soft rap at the door. He thought surely this must be the master. It was a little boy. He asked Conrad to help him find his way home. Conrad didn’t want to leave, but his compassion led him to help the little boy find his way home. As fast as he could, he rushed back to the shop only to find it undisturbed. No Master to be found. Conrad cried in his heart, “Why is it, Lord, Your feet delay? Did You forget this was the day?” Then in the soft stillness of the little shop, Conrad heard a voice, “Lift up your heart, For I have kept My word. Three times I came to your friendly door, three times My shadow was on your floor.”

The Master came as the old man with no shoes, the hungry old lady, and the little lost boy.

Jesus comes to us in those who do need help, are hurting, hungry, thirsty, lost, sick, or locked up in prison. The Body of Christ is to reach out and help just like Conrad did.(author unknown)

Ephesians 6:7 says, “serve WHOLEHEARTEDLY as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does...”

Sometimes we think if we do something for somebody else we will run short ourselves.

Proverbs 28:27 says, “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing.”

3. Opening Your Door to God: When you invite God into your life, you may be in for some surprises. Anything you do for people, you are REALLY doing for Him. He will bring people across your pathway and opportunities to help--opportunities that may cost you some time and money.

I have a challenge for you. In the next 90 days find someone who is in more need than you are. It doesn’t matter which scale of need you use. It may be someone who is hungry, someone thirsty, someone who has been stripped bare of outward appearances, who is standing very much alone right now. It could be someone who is in prison right now or someone who is living in a prison of their own making bound up by spiritual or emotional chains that are even stronger than metal prison bars.

Find someone who is in more need than you are. It may be a stranger. Welcome that person into your life. It may be someone very different from you. It could be someone in your own family who you are just not connecting with. Ask the Lord to bring someone across your pathway, and in the next 90 days, do something to meet that person’s need for 90 minutes.

Think about areas of service where you find yourself serving the most naturally.

Think about areas in which you have the most trouble reaching out.

In living a thankful life, we will simply offer deeds of kindness to someone who has been overlooked or ignored or someone who is considered “least” in man’s estimation but not in God’s.

How many will begin to allow your gifts to emerge and begin to use them within the next 90 days to touch someone’s life for 90 minutes? I would like to close with this story:

Finders Keepers

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for the rest of his life. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious: Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.” (Author Unknown).

Let us pray: