I was hungry and you gave me foodBy imironchuk • Nov 7th, 2010 • Category: Pastor's Message
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.’
By Rev. Scott Summerville
 “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 thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?  And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’
 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
A letter came to our house last week, a long handwritten letter, many pages. It was written by someone we know well who is in prison – not a half way house or one of those so-called country club prisons but the real deal, maximum security prison. I am not able to say anything more about the person involved, but the voice in this letter has haunted me in the days since it arrived.
I am aware intellectually that there are millions of people in our country in prison. The United States has one of the highest percentages of people in prison of any country in the world. And I am aware that many of those people are imprisoned in crowded, dangerous, and dehumanizing conditions, but it is easy to dismiss things that were aware of only intellectually.
This letter has trouble my peace of mind. The words on the pages flowed out with raw eloquence. It was an utterly honest and searing cry from the heart, pouring out what it means to be confined in a small space day after day with troubled and wounded human beings whose lives and scared by abuse and violence and neglect and bad decisions, most of whom suffer alcohol or drug addiction for which they are not treated, being subjected to constant search both of their belongings and their bodies, fearful for their lives and safety, self-esteem and pride utterly gone.
And when those in prison are women who have children they are separated from, the chasm of pain widens such that only those who have been there can really fathom it.
Our minds reduce other human beings to statistics, until the statistic is you or someone you know and care about.
The first Methodists were people who took very seriously the words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew:
“… 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.’
Before there was a Methodist church, there was a group of young men, including John Wesley, the founder of our church, who were trying to live out the gospel — they were ridiculed by some of their fellow students, who called them “Methodists.” One of the things these first Methodists did was to visit in the prisons and to offer assistance, both spiritual and material support, to men and women who were incarcerated. The Methodists in our own area have active connections with Bedford Prison, and the United Methodist Church was instrumental in establishing WAM – Women’s Advocate Ministry, offering support and advocacy for women imprisoned in the New York region. The church is engaged in prison ministry through tutoring programs, counseling, bible study and other ways.
This letter that Mary Ellen and I received this week has prompted me to explore prison ministry in some personal way and perhaps through our congregation.
“‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’”
It is a strange passage that passage in Matthew chapter 25, where Jesus talks about the final judgment of humanity. Notice that in this judgment scene Jesus makes no reference to religion. He makes no reference to having the right beliefs or doctrines. The judgment he described in that amazing parable in Matthew 25 is a judgment based solely upon compassion. Solely upon compassion.
In this harvest and Thanksgiving season and in this time when we are thinking about our stewardship in relation to our life together as a congregation, we are also focusing on the painful reality of hunger in our region. The research that was done by our outreach team couple years helped us to see that the most effective way to address hunger at the local level is through supporting regional food banks. In this way food is purchased in the most cost-effective way and distributed in the most cost-effective way to the maximum number of people. At the same time our congregation encourages the donation of actual food items, because there is something about that very tangible expression of compassion that is important symbolically as well as materially. We also participate in the soup kitchen at the Sharing Community in downtown Yonkers, because seeing the actual human face of hunger challenges us in ways that nothing else can.
In this time in which so many middle-class people are struggling with economic hardship and anxiety about jobs and houses and their way of life, it is easy to forget the poor. It is not politically popular to even speak of the poor, but the church has a special responsibility to remember the poor, to remember that Christ is present in the hungry among us, and to sacrifice some of our own comfort for the sake of those in greater need and in greater pain.
“…. 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 want to tell you about one more thing today. I mentioned in the time of announcements that we are going to be welcoming strangers to our church, starting next Sunday. This is an opportunity for us to welcome strangers in the spirit of Christ. Is also an opportunity for new friendships and for us to learn about another tradition, and I have to say this in all honesty, this is an opportunity for me to eat more Indian food.
There is a congregation serving people in our area with the rather long name of St. John the Baptist Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church. This is a truly ancient branch of the Christian church, originating in India, which traces its roots to the apostle Thomas in the first century.I hope we will learn more about that tradition in the future. For the moment I simply want you to know that another congregation was without a place to worship; they were faced with either terminating their worship services or worshiping in a facility that was unheated. They came with request to be permitted to hold their mass on Sunday mornings here in our facilities. It was determined that the only area that could be used simultaneously with our worship service would be the large room in the education building, room 205. Our own Sunday school programs will soon be moving to the newly lower Weyand Hall, so in the near future our congregation will not be making any use of the classrooms in the other part of the building, and the trustees determined that we could work out a feasible sharing of space on an emergency basis, so this congregation will have a place to hold its worship services.
We proclaim on our banners and in our weekly bulletins and newsletters that we are a welcoming congregation; the leaders of our church feel that this gesture is part and parcel of what it means to be a welcoming congregation. In addition to me being able to eat more Indian food, I hope that this group of strangers will become friends and that out of this friendship interesting blessings will come to both of our congregations. Please greet them warmly. Please extend to them the welcome and hospitality that is in the nature of this congregation.
There is one other thing about this new arrangement that I want to share with you. I have been involved in congregations where there is sharing of space, and I know of many instances where congregations are sharing church facilities. Often one or both of the congregations has a distinct ethnic identity. In this instance all of the people of St. John the Baptist Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church are ethnically Indian. When congregations are sharing facilities it is common to identify congregations by their ethnic characteristics. So people in a host church may refer to “the Korean congregation,” or ‘the Hispanic congregation,” and it would be natural that people might refer to St. John Church the Baptist as “the Indian congregation.” I’m going to ask that we not do that. I suggest that we refer to this congregation as the “Orthodox congregation,” or “the Orthodox Church,” or “St. John the Baptist Church,” or perhaps in time we may be able to say “our sister church.” When we focus on ethnicity, it tends to create an image of a mass of similar people; and that in no way the case with our congregation of this guest congregation, or any congregation of highly varied human beings.
“…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 sick and in prison and you visited me…”
These words are woven deeply into the core of the Methodist church and its history. They are the fundamental challenge of the gospel in our times.
Jesus said: blessed are those who hear these words of mine and do them.
Grace and peace to you