I was listening to a sermon.
Shocking, I know, if you watch church services on TV you would assume that sermons are the dull bit of a church service where most people doze or daydream. (Maybe I watch The Simpsons too much).
Anyway the passage being preached was Matthew 25:43, the verse that was being preached to was the bit where Jesus says (in the ESV):
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.
This is a challenge.
We live in a world where political dialogue is about the “other” – the limitations needed on immigration, who is worthy of state support. Actually accepting a stranger into your household would be a risk deemed foolhardy- murder, rape or robbery would surely follow.
And with headlines about crises in the prison service, and prison guards having to get hep jabs just in case, who would visit unless they had to?
And as with hospital visiting unless it is friends or relatives who has the time?
I know myself – I’m not a spiritual hero.
So the sermon got me thinking and I recognised that while I clothe the needy (usually donating clothes via charities), and donate to our food bank (with some unease- I heard the CEO say he wanted a food bank in every town but I would prefer that our brilliant welfare state be properly funded to support those in need rather than a return to the pre-20th century approach that the church and civil society should provide), this sermon was a challenge to me.
What if it was Jesus sitting at the roadside? He of course says it is him (Matthew 25 again):
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
So how can I do nothing with this clear message in front of me?
I can argue I don’t do nothing- I worked for a homelessness charity and would always donate money to them rather than hand over cash because of the risk of fuelling self-destructive drink and drugs.
I can think about the charity donations and the churchgiving, and maybe I can feel I do my bit and be thankful for the life I have that means I can do the giving.
But that’s Pharisee thinking.
Jesus as always makes things a bit less comfortable.
So with this sermon still ringing in my ears, I got off the bus to walk to work. There was a man there in a battered old leather jacket: “spare any change for a cup of tea?”
I walked on. But I felt awful.
He was there the next day too. I walked past.
And the next- I took a different route.
Then I considered what I was doing.
I was so bothered by what a sermon at church asked me to think about that a specific situation was calling on me to act.
So what to do?
The next morning I stopped at a coffee shop and got two cups of tea.
“Oh, yeah, I guess.”
I took a handful and a stirrer and got on my bus.
On the way I started to wonder if I was doing the right thing.
What should I do, hand it over and walk off?
Stay for a chat?
What if he refused it? Maybe he doesn’t actually want tea?
Would it just be massively embarrassing for both of us?
What if I got mugged for my bag/ phone etc. through showing I was a soft touch?
What if once I had done this once he expected a cup of tea every day?
He wasn’t there.
So I did the same the next day.
And the next.
But he hasn’t been back.
I can reflect that God gave me a chance to see how I react to a specific challenge from a specific sermon.
Or I can think, I hope that man is ok. I hope he has a good reason for not being at the bus stop asking for change for a cup of tea and that his life has changed for the better. I hope his story has a happy ending.
And if I see him again I will buy him that cup of tea.