Monday, March 22, 2010

Why we help those in need

As most of you know our congregation this year is making an intentional effort to reach out to the poor and homeless in Concord and around the world.
This year we are involved in what we are calling the Heart for the Homeless campaign.
So far we have done some pretty wonderful things.
We have given clothes away to about 200 people.
We have collected and given away 100 mittens, hats, and socks.
We have collected and given away over 100 blankets.
We have collected and given away about 150 coats.
Right now we are collecting health kits for church world service we have already collected over 40 kits.
On April 6th we are going to have an orientation to see if there is enough interest in helping a refuge family.
In May we are going to start collecting kitchen items for people put into temporary housing.
We are going to walk this year (as we do every year) in the Concord Crop Walk.
Once a month we go to cook a meal at the Friendly Kitchen.
Every week we collect food for our local food pantry.
All of this is great.
It is important work.
But this morning I want us to think about the reason why we do this work.
What is it that motivates us as a church to reach out and help those in need?

We might be tempted to think that all of this is merely for the sake of helping others.
And surely that is a piece of why we are doing our Hear for the Homeless campaign.
But the most important reason why our church does it is because of Jesus Christ.
In fact, I would argue that every good deed we do weather we know it or not is because of God.
That without God there is no charity.
We help others because in Jesus Christ we are given the most extraordinary extravagant gift.
Jesus Christ died on a cross so that you and I might know God’s love.
It seems extreme does it not?
But that is what Jesus did for us, and in return we live not for ourselves but for others.
We live to serve and love Jesus.

This morning’s Gospel story is a foreshadowing of that extraordinary extravagant gift that Jesus gives us.
Mary takes an expensive perfume and uses it to anoint Jesus feet.
The perfume she uses was worth about one year’s worth of salary for an ordinary worker of that time.
Think about it.
Mary basically gives away a year’s worth of wages.
For what?
Well, for her savior.
She does it for Jesus who has given her everything in her life.
She is sitting at that table eating a meal with her brother who was dead but is now alive because of Jesus.
She knows how much Jesus means to her and therefore her heart is filled with his grace and love.
Everything she has she gives to Jesus from her heart and soul.
More than this she then uses her hair to clean Jesus feet.
I can imagine that being there was a bit odd for the others at the table.
This was simply not done by single women at the table.
But Mary does not care she wants to show Jesus her love for him.
So she gives him all of herself in an extravagant way.

That is what we are doing in our Heart for the Homeless campaign we are stretching ourselves as a congregation for Jesus.
We have these conversations on the Outreach committee about not overdoing it.
We do not want to overwhelm people with request for things.
We understand that it is somewhat difficult for us to always be bringing in coats, clothes, or whatever we ask for at that time.
But…on the other hand what is our limit to what we give to Jesus.
What is it that you will not do to serve your Lord and Savior and show him that love.
Are we asking too much?
But when put in the context of what Jesus gave for us there is nothing that we can give that is too much.

I think about this with my parents.
My parents gave me everything that I have in my life.
They fed and clothed me for more than twenty years of my life.
Even now that I am adult they still would do anything they can for me.
Whenever I do something to help my mom I always think this is nothing compared to all that she did and does for me.
Therefore, it is never an inconvenience because I know what she went through to raise me and give me the best possible life.
The same is true with Jesus there is nothing we can give to Jesus that is more than the extravagant gift he gave us on the cross in Jerusalem.

So we give and we share extravagantly because that is what God did for us in Jesus Christ.
When we give we do not give merely to give, but as a Church we give in the name of Jesus Christ.
There are many organizations out there who are doing really good work to help others.
But our focus is not just on the physical needs of people, but their spiritual needs as well.
When we give someone a coat we also give them the hope that comes with having faith in Jesus Christ.
This is why when we are helping others we must remember that the relationship is just as important as the giving of the item.
When we were doing the coat drive I told the people that came to volunteer that it is really sad that we live in a world were some people do not have a coat, and others of us have too many.
This is a really horrible injustice.
But that our faith gives us hope that our God of justice will someday make it right.
That we believe in a world were all people have what they need to live.
We believe in a world were no child goes to bed starving to death.
And we believe that Jesus has sent us to give hope and faith to the world.

What Mary reminds us in the Gospel this morning is that Jesus is central to all that we do in this world.
Everything that we do for someone else is about Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus has filled our lives are with his grace and compassion.
That is why we feed the poor.
It is why we reach out to the homeless.
It is why we give of ourselves, our time, our money with extravagant generosity, because Jesus Christ gave us grace to fill our souls, and hope to share with the world.

I want to share one final thought this morning.
And that is that there is not always a happy ending at the end of our help.
We might give everything we have to helping the poor and well they might still be poor.
What I have decided is that it is worth it anyway.
Certainly Jesus gave everything he had to the world while he was here.
And well they killed him for it.
Judas betrayed him, his disciples fled from him, and the world spat on him and mocked him.
But Jesus thought the world was worth it anyway.
That the journey of giving and forming relationships with people like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus was still worth it.
I would say the same thing for us.
It is worth to do everything we can for those in need even if at the end there is no reward or payoff that we can see.
It is worth it, because in the giving we are changed.
In the giving we grow to be closer to Christ as Paul says, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
This is why Mary gives Jesus such an extravagant gift, because the perfume meant nothing to her in relationship to what Jesus meant to her.
This is why our church is stretching itself to give more to others, because we know the extravagant gift Jesus gave us.

What we give the world is more than help, more than coats and blankets.
We give them the extravagant gift of Jesus Christ.
Who is love, hope, and faith for the world.
We give extravagantly because Jesus gave extravagantly to us on the cross.

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