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Seeing Jesus' Face


It was one of times when life was so busy I didn’t have time to fill the car with gas.

I’d been driving around on fumes for a week, when my husband Jonathan loaded it up

with musical instruments to take to a synod worship event in Hartford

When he was on the highway, he noticed the gas light.

So he pulled off into a gas station, only to find he didn’t have his wallet.

He got back into the van and hoped he’d make it to the service so that he could bum some money to get home.

Well, he did make it, and sure enough, a pastor he knew at the event loaned him $10.

After the service, as Jonathan drove to the nearest gas station,

he reflected on how easy it had been to get the money.

What better place to run out of gas than a church service full of people who know you?

What would it have been like, though, if he hadn’t been in a place where he was known?

What would it have been like if he wasn’t an educated, middle class guy with a good reputation?

Would it have been so easy to get the money that he clearly needed?

Amid these thoughts, Jonathan was just about ready to put the nozzle in the tank

When suddenly a man appeared.

He was young, dressed in dirty jeans, carrying a gas can.

“Hey man, can you spare me $10 for gas? “

Jonathan had $10, but he had already bought ice cream our son Joel,

who had helped out at the worship service, and gas was $4 a gallon.

Home wasn’t far, though, so Jonathan said:

“Sure. One gallon for you, one gallon for me.”

It’s stories like these that make me wonder if Jesus travels in disguise.

How is it that just as Jonathan’s having these thoughts about his privilege

when suddenly a stranger in need appears?

Seems a little too coincidental to me.

It reminds me of what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson today:

“When the Son of Man come in his glory, and all the angels with him

He will sit on the throne… and separate people from one another

as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Then the King will say: Come, you that are blessed by the Father,

Inherit the kingdom prepared for you;

For I was hungry and you gave me food

I was thirsty and you gave me drink

I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was naked and you gave me clothing,

I was sick and you took care of me,

I was in prison and you visited me.”

But the people who did all these things didn’t realize they were serving Jesus.

When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food?

When did we see you thirsty or a stranger, naked or in prison?

Then Jesus delivers the clincher: “Truly I tell you,

Whenever you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Jesus travels incognito.

There is a classic children’s story that picks up on this theme.

about a beggar going door to door on Christmas eve.

House after house, the beggar is rejected.

But then someone gives a kindness to this poor beggar, and invites him in.

After the meal the beggar and he reveals himself as the Christ child, and disappears from their sight.

Stories like these make me question whether I’ve done the right thing

When I have walked by the panhandler or turned the other way when I don’t have time to talk

to that person who just goes on a bit too long.

Jesus doesn’t say that sometimes he is in least and lost,

He says, Whenever you serve the least, it is me!

To me this is a radical statement of the doctrine of the incarnation.

Incarnation means that the divine takes on human flesh.

Usually we think about this in terms of Jesus being born as a baby and living as our brother,

Like in the gospel of John,

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”

But here Jesus is making the bold statement

that he dwells not just in the temple of his body during his lifetime

But in anyone who is need.

Jesus is in the homeless and the hungry.

Jesus is in the homebound widow, and the loner teenager.

Jesus is in the hardened criminal and the tender child.

Jesus is incognito.

Jesus’ words in our gospel lesson challenge to see Jesus in every person.

If Jesus travels in disguise, then he could be anywhere—in fact, he IS EVERY WHERE—

And so our compassion can’t just be turned on when we feel like it.

As Christians it is our job description to “serve all people”—that’s what it says in our baptism vows.

Therefore we need to be cultivating a life of generosity and caring all the time.

The Body of Christ is all around us—especially in those who have less.

I see examples of folks here at St Matthew cultivating generosity and care.

Just in the last two weeks, we collected nearly 40 pints of blood in a blood drive

And 50 bags of food for Thanksgiving meals for our neighbors in the valley.

A crew of 8 made dinner for hungry folks at the community meal at Grace in Hartford,

and on Friday the Allen and Burns families went and served it.

Today Confirmation class is headed to Luther Ridge, an assisted living facility,

to lead worship, sing carols, share a plate of cookies with the residents.

On top of that, 95 households stating an intention to give financially to support the ministries of St M

Because they know that the faces they see in the residents of LR, the guests at the meal,

the patients receiving blood, are the face of Jesus.

It happens on an individual level, too.

A parishioner with health concerns was able to show compassion to another patient in the waiting room,

To present to another person in a time of bad news.

There are members of this church who when running into they haven’t seen for a while at church

In the neighborhood or at the gym are saying simple words of care, like

“I have missed you at church… how have you been?” and invited them to an event.

Members visited with Ril, one of our long time members, in the hospital, the tenderness with which

They cared for her like family.

These stories remind us that sometimes we are serving Christ in the face of others,

And other times we are the ones in need,

we are the face of Christ when we feel lost and least.

It may seem paradoxical, but the times when we feel the farthest from God

Can actually be the times when we show his face to others most clearly.

Then the King will say: Come, you that are blessed by the Father,

Inherit the kingdom prepared for you;

For I was hungry and you gave me food

I was thirsty and you gave me drink

I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was naked and you gave me clothing,

I was sick and you took care of me,

I was in prison and you visited me.”

In our need, and in the needs of others, we find Christ.

That’s the gift of the incarnation.

That’s the gift we celebrate on this Sunday of Christ the King.

#christtheking

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St. Matthew Lutheran Church

224 Lovely Street

Avon, CT 06001

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