(This is an edited version of Sunday’s sermon)
We all know the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover” but how many of us are guilty of doing just that?
There is a wee story doing the rounds at the moment which is a hoax but a challenging story nonetheless.
Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured below) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For 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.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?”
He then dismissed service until next week.
A powerful story I’m sure you will agree but I don’t think you would appreciate it if I did that to you. And it wouldn’t be fair if I did because I don’t think it is a kind way to get a message across even if it is dramatic. And yet this story highlights something that we have mentioned before that people out with the church automatically expect us to judge them.
Judging a book by its cover has long been in existence. The story we heard from Matthew’s Gospel today highlights that –
18 John came and did not eat or drink like other people. So people say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and people say, ‘Look at him! He eats too much and drinks too much wine, and he is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved to be right by what she does.”
Jesus was known as a drunkard – found too often in the pub and hanging out with the wrong sort of people. Not an image we think of when we think of Jesus – meek and mild, with blue eyes and long flowing hair.
Yet what about that little phrase at the end –
But wisdom is proved right by what she does.
The best way to challenge the prejudice that the cover of the book plants is to tell the story.
Our challenge today is to persuade people that God’s story is worth knowing. It is a huge challenge because there is much that competes for our attention. How then do we, as God’s people, start engaging with the spiritual chasm that has opened up? John’s followers wanted to know if Jesus was the one and this was his response:-
Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: 5 The blind can see, the crippled can walk, and people with skin diseases are healed. The deaf can hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor.6 Those who do not stumble in their faith because of me are blessed.”
Notice that Jesus doesn’t talk about how many people are following him or who comes to listen to his sermons or listens to his podcasts or likes him on Facebook or whether attendance at the Synagogue is up – he talks about physical, practical change.
And the passage from Peter gives us the building blocks so that we too can change the perspective of those around us.
5 Because you have these blessings, do your best to add these things to your lives: to your faith, add goodness; and to your goodness, add knowledge; 6 and to your knowledge, add self-control; and to your self-control, add patience; and to your patience, add service for God; 7 and to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love.
This isn’t an overnight transformation although that can be a part of the process. We are called to strive for moral growth. We develop and grow, maturing in our ability to love others. We start with faith, even faith as small as a mustard seed and add to it. Like a baby starts with milk and then is weaned onto slushy food, before adding chunks and before you know they are eating you out of house and home. Interesting that we start with faith and end with love.
Now these three things remain – faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.
If we want to change the perspective, the prejudice, the stereotype – call it what you will then we must move from a perceived story of judgement to a story of love.
Faith the size of a mustard seed can grow the biggest tree but only if we continue to nurture it and look after it.
This isn’t about supermodel faith – hey everyone look at me – how perfect am I? But it is about being disciples of Christ and that means being willing to lay down everything including reputation and riches to follow in his footsteps.
Let’s start with faith, end up with love and show that wisdom is proved right by what she does.