Jesus says that whatever you do to the "least of these" you do to me (Matthew 25:40). That is the key verse for tomorrow's message and it is a challenge since most of us tend to shy away from the least of these. We are naturally drawn to beauty and so to see Christ in those our society rejects is a necessary part of our growth process. I have been challenged by this text. The challenge is not so much trying to figure out if I am a "good person" or "in". Rather, it gives me pause to ask about my own growth in love. Am I growing in love for my neighbor? Am I making choices that benefit those who have less power than I do? Can I see Christ in more places now than I could before.
Those of you who know me know that I have often said that we shouldn't take our spiritual temperature all the time. Yet at times it makes sense to pause and ask some hard questions. Self reflection is a good thing, conviction from the Holy Spirit helps us grow. If we aren't growing then we become stagnant and our capacity for life seems to diminish. Following Christ should increase our capacity for life, love and forgiveness. We should be people who are generative, that is people God uses to generate life in others. Sometimes it means that we put ourselves aside in order to serve others, trusting that Christ will meet our needs.
The need to be selfless and generative is true not only for individuals but for congregations as well. A congregation can get so caught up in making ends meet and taking care of those inside it's walls that it can forget who it exists for. A congregation fundamentally exists for those outside of itself. It is the only community that exists to give itself away. The congregation gives away the gospel each and every Sunday. It forms people who can grow in love for the neighbor who isn't part of the congregation. It offers healing and wholeness for the downcast and broken hearted. All of this is for free, no charge. A congregation makes ends meet when it is faithful to it's calling and gifting. Christ has a way of opening people's hearts and wallets in support of a generative community.
When a congregation becomes about itself there is never enough. There is never enough money, people, space or time. People stop coming and the panic increases about paying the bills. At this point the community must ask the question: are we growing in love? They must ask if they are helping people grow as disciples? They must contemplate whether they are holding all that Christ has given them to tightly and not willing to give it away? The answers to these questions will tell much about the future health and life of the community and those who are part of it.
To be a person who ministers to the least of these takes great fidelity to a life that is rooted in prayer, study and community. It takes a willingness to be available to Christ and to one's neighbor. It takes vulnerability to treat people as people and not projects. It takes the ability to take a risk and dare to grow in love.