He was a simple shoemaker with a heart of gold. But even he was taken back when a letter arrived telling him that the Lord would be visiting his humble shop a week from Monday. He busily began preparations cleaning and straightening and fixing food for his special guest. The day arrived. The note had not said when Jesus would come, so he arose early and he put on his best clothes and did a final check on his shop to make sure it was properly prepared for such an important guest. With food laid out and preparations complete, he sat by the window and watched and waited. The morning went by with no visitor, though a young orphan boy walked by without shoes, and the cobbler could not stand the thought, so he called to the boy to come in and he fitted him with shoes, and because he had fixed so much food, he sent him on his way with something to eat as well. Lunch came and went – no Jesus. But mid-afternoon a widow with her two children happened by. He could see that they had outgrown their old shoes, so he called to them to come in, and he fitted them with new shoes. And there was still much food, so he sent them on their way with enough for dinner. The evening came and just as he was giving up hope a figure walked across the square toward his shop. Surely this was the Lord! But as he came into the light, he saw that it was just a traveling beggar. His clothes were tattered and his shoes were falling apart. With a disappointed sigh the kindly cobbler invited the man in. And while the beggar ate the last of the food, he made the man a new pair of shoes. By now it was late and the shoemaker closed his shop and headed for home. As he slept the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and the cobbler asked “Why didn’t you come to my shop today? I had so looked forward to meeting you.” And Jesus answered, “I did. Three times I came to your shop, and three times you welcomed me. And as you have done for the least of these, so you have done for me.”
What if Jesus showed up at the Glenwood church this morning? Would we recognize him? Would we do things differently? Make special preparations? Treat him differently?
What if Jesus showed up at Glenwood church this morning? Because he did, you know. He walked through our doors, into our auditorium and sat down right in the middle of us. He was that man who sat in the back. Or maybe the woman who sat there in the middle. Might even have been that child down in children’s church. He was Hispanic, or was he white? He was dressed nicely – on second thought, he was dressed casually. But make no mistake, Jesus showed up today, and last Sunday, and the Sunday before. And when he shows up, it’s with an expectation and anticipation of how we will respond to him.
And you’ll never know that you’ve spoken to him, or whether you brushed past him to get to your seat, wishing you had stopped and paid attention.
I spend a lot of our time together talking about the importance of our relationships with each other as they impact our relationship with God. How we can’t separate me and God from me and you. This is especially true with how we treat people around us – people whom God puts in our way to be served – and in this passage in Matthew 25 we listen to Jesus personalize the way we treat people - Matt. 25:34-45:
“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, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
Here were two groups of people – one group treated others with caring and compassion, selflessly serving and sacrificing – never realizing the significance of what they were doing. The other group treated others with neglect and disinterest, ignoring needs and centered on self – never realizing the significance of what they were not doing.
When their compassion and selflessness is revealed to the first group, they are surprised that their actions meant so much, but the implication is that they did what they did without expecting to be praised or rewarded.
When their neglect and selfishness is confronted, the second group indignantly objects that if they had only known how important it was they would certainly have done it.
And he uses the same phrase for each of these groups – “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Jesus is not speaking hypothetically, he is speaking in practical, daily, real opportunities. Every visitor who comes through our doors is an opportunity to welcome Jesus, because Jesus says, in reality, the way you treat others is the way you would treat me.
Which all kind of begs the question: How would you treat Jesus? If every visitor is an opportunity to treat someone as you would treat Jesus, what would you do?
Number one, you’d pay attention. You know how it is when you’re meeting with someone, and especially someone you don’t know in person? You’re meeting them for lunch at a restaurant and they tell you, “I’ll be the one with a red scarf,” or “I’ll be carrying a briefcase.” You’re especially attentive, looking for them, paying attention to details. You sit in the lobby, watching each person coming in, making eye contact, smiling, anticipating meeting the one you’re waiting for.
When our visitors come in, do you even notice them? Does it register with you that you have an opportunity to reach out to someone and make them feel welcome? Or are you so wrapped up in yourself that it never dawns on you that Jesus just walked in the room?
Second, you’d do everything you could to make him feel welcome. Jesus, here? He’d get the best seat, everybody would want to sit by him, we’d ask if there was anything we could do for him. If he asked where a classroom was, we wouldn’t just point down the hall, we’d walk him there and make sure we introduced him to the teacher and everyone in the class. We wouldn’t leave him to fend for himself.
Our visitors come in, not knowing anyone, wondering about where to sit, or how to find their kid’s Bible classes. You’ve been there when you’ve visited a different church. What if, when you walked through the door, someone approached you like they were hoping you’d show up and greeted you and asked about you and helped you find a seat or a classroom and asked if you had any questions or needed anything. I know how I’d feel.
Third, you’d go the extra mile for Jesus. If it was Jesus who was visiting, we’d want to spend time with him, we’d want to take him out to lunch, get to know him, get to be friends – if it was Jesus. And Jesus asks, “Why would you treat anybody with less than that?”
And you’re thinking, “Isn’t all that a little too much?” Wouldn’t it be a wonderful problem if people went away thinking, “That church is just too friendly for me.”
We’ve said frequently that our guests are not here by accident, but by divine appointment. We believe that God sends visitors through our doors -- #1 to have their very real needs met; #2 to see if we’re really serious about what we’re trying to do.
It’s the difference between mission and maintenance. If we are in the world to change lives and seek and save the lost, then every person who walks through our doors is someone God has sent our way. If we are here to keep the doors open and the building comfortable and clean, then our visitors are a drain on our resources and only occasionally will we let one into our tight little fellowship. It’s a decision we’ve got to make – are we involved in God’s work, or are we running a social club?
If this is God’s work, and we are here to help our guests experience the love of God, then we have work to do, and attitudes to change. But as long as this remains a human endeavor, and our guests are here by accident, then we’ll continue to connect sporadically with one here and one there, while most will come and go without notice.
Who is the most important person here today? Is it me because I preach? Not by a long shot. Is it the elders because they lead us, or maybe Joe because he runs the slides or Justin because he leads the singing? It’s none of us. It is Jesus. And how did he show up today? Who is here representing him? Is he sitting down the row from you? Did you shake his hand and make him feel welcome? Did you go the extra mile and make him want to come back? What will you do now?
What I guess I keep coming back to in my mind is that this isn’t about me, or you, or what we get out of it. That is maintenance – keeping me happy, meeting my needs, gauging everything by what I like, or think, or want. But it’s not about me, it’s about Jesus and about his mission – or should I say commission. We are in mission together with Jesus to accomplish his will and his purposes. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 6 that we are “God’s fellow workers.”
And if we come to church, not for what we get out of it, but for what we bring to God, it changes everything. I start looking at things through a different set of lenses. I am more concerned with reaching out to others, than I am about having my needs met. I want to be used by God to make a difference in the lives of others, and to bring him honor and glory.
And it’s funny – ironic really. When I am more focused on getting my needs met, and having things done the way I like, I am the least happy with church. I start finding fault, and being critical and being dissatisfied and my spiritual life starts to plummet. But when I get out of myself, and focus on others, and serve others, and seek God’s glory, I am the most happy and satisfied and fulfilled.
In his book, In the Eye of the Storm, Max Lucado tells of his family’s annual spring break fishing trip – just him, his dad and his best friend Mark: We arrived at the lake late at night, unfolded the camper, and went to bed—dreaming of tomorrow’s day in the sun. But during the night, an unseasonably strong norther blew in. It got cold fast! The wind was so strong that we could barely open the camper door the next morning. The sky was gray. The lake was a mountain range of white-topped waves. There was no way we could fish in that weather.
“No problem,” we said. “We’ll spend the day in the camper. After all, we have Monopoly. We have Reader’s Digest. We all know a few jokes. It’s not what we came to do, but we’ll make the best of it and fish tomorrow.”
So, huddled in the camper with a Coleman stove and a Monopoly board, we three fishermen passed the day—indoors. The hours passed slowly, but they did pass. Night finally came, and we crawled into the sleeping bags dreaming of angling.
Were we in for a surprise. The next morning it wasn’t the wind that made the door hard to open, it was the ice!
We tried to be cheerful. “No problem,” we mumbled. “We can play Monopoly … again. We can reread the stories in Reader’s Digest. And surely we know another joke or two.” But as courageous as we tried to be, it was obvious that some of the gray had left the sky and entered our camper.
I began to notice a few things I hadn’t seen before. Mark was opinionated, irritable, edgy, couldn’t take constructive criticism – and his socks stunk.
My Dad was grumpy and sensitive about criticism about his cooking.
It was a long day. It was a long, cold night.
When we awoke the next morning to the sound of sleet slapping the canvas, we didn’t even pretend to be cheerful. We were flat-out grumpy. Mark became more of a jerk with each passing moment; I wondered what spell of ignorance I must have been in when I invited him. Dad couldn’t do anything right; I wondered how someone so irritable could have such an even-tempered son. We sat in misery the whole day, our fishing equipment still unpacked.
The next day was even colder. “We’re going home” were my father’s first words. No one objected.
I learned a hard lesson that week. Not about fishing, but about people.
When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight. Instead of casting nets, we cast stones. Instead of extending helping hands, we point accusing fingers. Instead of being fishers of the lost, we become critics of the saved. Rather than helping the hurting, we hurt the helpers.