“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.’…’When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Matthew 25:35-40 New International Version (NIV)
Some of my favorite conversations are with people who say they aren’t religious. I met such a woman this week at the Poor People’s Campaign at our state capital where a multiracial mix of men and women shared moving stories. They wanted us to better understand their struggle to put food on the table for their kids and to keep shelter over their heads. And they wanted us to care about the fact that in each of our communities there are families like theirs who are food insecure and half a paycheck away from homelessness.
Unfortunately their impassioned stories were not news. We serve such families here in our town, working cooperatively among our churches and with our community services organization to support people who have no safety net when something happens as something does. I suspect it would surprise many in our church to know how often we support emergency rent, buy prescription drugs, provide a warm change of clothes, equip local school children to feed themselves over the weekend, and work cooperatively with neighboring churches to keep the lights on and the fuel oil flowing during our coldest months.
The goal of the Poor People’s Campaign first started by Martin Luther King Jr. just before he was killed 50 years ago is simple: a national moral revival of compassion and care for the poor. Inspiring music punctuated their stories this week as Christian, Unitarian, Buddhist, Moslem, Catholic, Jew and a smattering of self-proclaimed humanists and atheists gathered for a common cause. It turned out to be a day of prayer, pausing at turns to bless the food, bless the speakers, bless the music, and bless the courage of the poor who bravely spoke about their struggles to survive. And so it was that I spent the better part of an afternoon answering questions about church from a young woman who didn’t attend one and couldn’t at first imagine why she would.
She asked, “So are you one of those Jesus died for your sins kind of people?” Well, there’s that, but I suspected she was actually asking something very different. I responded to the question she didn’t ask instead. “We’re a ‘follow the way of Jesus’ kind of people: people who practice forgiveness and exercise compassion, and struggle with how to welcome and include everybody in the community even when it makes us uncomfortable.”
I must have gotten her unspoken question right when she gasped, surprised: “Wow! Where can I find such a church as that?” I wonder that everyday. I wake up in the night thinking about what else we might do to quench the thirst and satisfy the hunger, and clothe, and look after, and visit the least of these, no matter where they are on their life journey. I pray to God that whatever we do within our circle of care, people just like her will know they are welcome here.
God’s grace, mercy and peace,
Pastor Anna V. Copeland
Support Justice, Mercy and Peace for All.