We’ve been covering new ground this summer as we have studied Jesus’ word in Matthew 25, the corporal works of mercy. We have learned that Mercy is: God’s willingness to enter into our chaos and the chaos of the world. We have been challenged to judge our own understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus through this text. We have considered “the least of these” and our response to them. We have recognized places in our own souls that need God’s merciful touch. We have heard the promise of Jesus, “Truly…as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”
Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food.
· Jan shared about Meals on Wheels. We each have our own stories of responding to hunger in our world. Hunger may be a part of our own story. We learned that to demonstrate mercy requires something of one’s self. It may be when we’re less certain that we know what to do that we are further opened to God’s mercy.
I was thirsty and you gave me drink.
· Jesus identifies himself with the least, the marginalized and vulnerable. Jesus identifies himself with the thirsty. We learned that leading with mercy takes us to suffering in the world. Who are the thirsty? And why are they thirsty? Perhaps, “It is in our unknowing that our hearts have the opportunity to expand and grow.” We wonder, “What does God’s mercy look like here?”
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
· “A harbor to the harborless.” Jan shared how she had a house but no home after her mom died. If we aren’t aware of our own longing for home, our homeless hearts may check out before we begin to help another. ‘I was a stranger’—the one outside, this is who Jesus indentifies himself with, ‘the strange.’ We are challenged to reach out beyond the familiar, and as we learn to see Jesus in the stranger, there needs to be a willingness to embrace, to move towards.
I was naked and you clothed me.
· What would Jesus say to us about the experience of nakedness? All parts of the body are necessary, and on the ignoble parts, we bestow more honor. Jan preached that “to clothe the naked or to receive it, we need courage to humbly make peace with our own vulnerability, our own nakedness.” A fear of our own vulnerability keeps us from God and one another. God’s mercy comes to our own places of shame that need God’s healing and redemption. And we are then implored to move toward nakedness with compassion to clothe, humbly recognizing the value of human life, giving reverence and honor.
I was sick and you visited me.
· Mercy looks like showing up. Embodied mercy looks like showing up to the sick. In the chaos of sickness, Jesus compels us to show up. We humbly submit ourselves to God and to one another as we do this work of showing up to visit the sick. Our world is in need of more showing up people bearing mercy. “I was sick and you came…” Jesus said.
I was in prison and you came to me.
· “Release to the captives” –this is one of the primary works of Jesus as proclaimed in his Isaiah 61 mission. To release the captives, those in bondage of all sorts, this is why Jesus came. What are the captive places in our own hearts? In our family? In our world? Here we were challenged: Don’t discount what you have to offer, don’t discount God’s mercy in and through you because imprisonment comes in many forms. And Jesus mission to bring release is ours as well.
Bury the dead.
· The final act of mercy is burying the dead, honoring them to their final resting place. Jesus’ own body was affectionately cared for when he was buried. We honor people’s bodies by burying the dead, for we believe in the resurrection of the dead—bodies included—that this is important in the last things. We heard the story of Bellen and her family who stayed to see her laid to rest, standing until the last goodbye was complete. God’s willingness to enter into death through Jesus that we might have the hope of life –that is God’s mercy.
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when…?’
And the king will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”
What has stood out to you over these summer months in the corporal works of mercy? What has connected to your own story?
How has one of the corporal works of mercy connected with your own story?
Kids: When did you help someone else this summer? Share the story.
Choose one. Give an example.For me, clothing the naked was one that stood out. I was with someone I love this summer whose soul was oh-so vulnerable, naked, pained. It reminded me of a vulnerable time that I went through. I noticed some fear still around my own vulnerability but I also noticed a deeper compassion in myself for this person and a desire to honor her, to extend to her the same mercy God showed me.
May your mercy be embodied in us, Lord Jesus. Amen.
-Pastor Laura Van Norman