The world can quickly and easily overwhelm us with the immense need of others. There is…Extreme weather in North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma—to name just a few— and most recently in California where they have been in a drought for over a decade but are now facing flooding issues due to heavy rains and, of all things, infrastructure that is failing—showing us the all too familiar image of overwhelming immense need.
There is…an earthquake in Nepal…in Italy…in Ecuador—showing us again, the images of broken lives in need. There is… a fire in Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Israel/Palestine. There is… an extreme heat wave in Pakistan. There is… a water crisis in Michigan and Cambodia. There is… a food and orphanage emergency in Zimbabwe. There is… the refugee, fleeing their home and country because of violence, war and the significant chance they will be killed.
On and on the list of overwhelming needs go—from near and far away, there are people who are, as Jesus reminds us: hungry, thirsty, a stranger in a strange land, naked, sick, imprisoned, hurting—all in need. The immensity is overwhelming, and sometimes the way we deal with the overwhelming immensity is to turn the channel, put down the newspaper, click away from the headlines—all in an effort to put the need out of sight and thus out of mind.
It’s normal. It is. The world is a big place and the needs of the world are heart breaking. But dang it all if that’s not when Jesus shows up, again, and says to us, again, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
The theme for this year’s Week of Compassion offering is, “You are here” and provides multiple possible avenues to explore the connection between human need, our faith, and this shared offering. Through the lens of Matthew’s parable, “You are here” answers the question: “Where do we find Christ in the world?” He is here, in those who hunger and thirst, in those who are with those who are devastated by disaster, with those who are caught in the midst of crisis. The answer, “You are here”, assures us that we are always doing what is needed…for others…for Christ.
The parable of the sheep and the goats begins with something of a mixed metaphor— the Son of Man is seated as king on a throne, but acting as a shepherd— separating sheep from goats. This shepherd king divides people based on their response to basic human needs. Both groups are taken by surprise, and ask “When was it, Lord…?”
Now the needs described are anything but metaphorical, and are so basic that we can easily imagine them 2,000 years later. Food, water, clothing, welcome, care when sick, presence when in prison or imprisoned—these needs are so basic that we can easily relate to them because they are our needs, too.
At the core of this passage is the claim that Christ is present in the human needs of this world. Meaning that feeding the hungry is feeding Christ himself. Giving drink to the thirsty is giving drink to Christ. Welcoming the stranger, the refugee, is welcoming Christ. Bringing healing to the broken and sick is healing Christ. This is a more dramatic claim than the idea that Christians can show Christ’s love through our deeds of kindness and work for justice because it’s more than just showing Christ; it is doing for, and to, Christ.
Now, the images of the throne, the king, and the kingdom may be harder to grasp, but in this parable Jesus is using them to show the kind of glory that is worthy of God’s kingdom. The glory of God is shown when hungry people are fed; strangers are welcomed; the sick and imprisoned are met with care and love. The glory of God’s kingdom is wherever human need is met.
Jesus knows the world is a much bigger place than ever before, and he knows the immensity of the task when it comes to meeting the needs of others. And he further knows that no one person can meet the need of the world, alone. Which is why he never asks any of us to do it alone. Rather we are called to join together, partner together, because together the immense need can be met.
And when we partner with organizations like Week of Compassion, those immense needs are met. Permit me to tell you just two stories about how.
Think of all of the ways that you have used water already today. Did you take a shower this morning? Did you flush your toilet? Wash your hands? When you made breakfast, did you use water? How about when you cleaned up from breakfast? How much coffee have we drunk this morning?
So imagine then having to walk miles each morning to gather water for your family. Then imagine knowing the water you were collecting was unclean and could make you and your family sick. Further imagine that for several months a year you wouldn’t have access to any water because it was the dry season and your water source had dried up. How would you get by? What parts of your daily routine would you have to abandon? How would you provide for your family? For many people around the world they don’t have to imagine because it’s a reality.
In a rural community in Cambodia, the only water available was from a shallow, hand-dug well. Each day during the rainy season, a grandmother named Som Bee would walk to the well to collect the water for her family. But the water was unclean, often leading to diarrhea and other sickness. But thanks to Week of Compassion the community was able to address the unclean water problem by installing a ring well. The members of the community also received training from Week of Compassion on how to filter the water, keeping it clean for daily use. Because of Week of Compassion the members of the community now have access to clean water year round.
But the impact goes further. Som Bee uses the clean water for her garden to grow tomatoes, spinach, gourds, and cucumbers. Her family not only has a healthier diet, but Som’s garden is so bountiful, she is able to sell her vegetables in her community, earning money to support her family’s other needs.
Week of Compassion has assisted sixteen villages in central Cambodia with clean, safe water. You were here with Som Bee and her neighbors as they gathered to build their well with your support. Now, you are with Som Bee each time she leaves her home and walks only a matter of yards to the well. You are here when she waters her gardens and prepares nutritious meals. You are here as her granddaughter grows healthy and strong. You are here. And the future is bright.
For as long as he can remember, William H. has loved listening to the sound of rain on the roof of his rural South Carolina mobile home. “It’s peaceful,” he says. But that love was sorely tested when, in October 2015, it rained hard for more than a week straight. The 50-year-old homeowner said, “The rain was so heavy that water leaked in through all the edges of my home. I had towels all around to try to soak up the water.” He duct-taped cardboard everywhere to keep the water-saturated, mold-infested, warping, drooping walls and ceilings from falling in, explaining, “They say you can fix anything with duct tape, but after a certain point, there was nothing left to stick the duct tape to.”
Once the rain stopped, William faced the daunting challenge of recovering with only modest means. He was working as a forklift operator but had to go on medical disability when health complications developed. His wife is also on medical disability, and they have a growing teenaged son.
William and his family were without insurance but were declared ineligible for federal disaster assistance. The situation for William and his family was hopeless. That is until someone told him about the Disaster Recovery Support Initiative—a joint, on-the-ground program of Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering, in partnership with the United Church of Christ and Church of the Brethren.
By the beginning of the summer volunteer work crews were arriving at William’s home, which caused him to be overwhelmed by the unselfishness of the volunteers who came from other states, all to spend a week at a time helping him and his family. William said, “One lady from Virginia works a full-time job yet took a week’s vacation to come help. I said, ‘Ma’am, you are on vacation?’ And she said, ‘Yes, I want to help people.’ When the woman told me that, a tear came to my eye. She spent her vacation doing hot, sweaty, dirty work and had never met me in her life. She left Friday and was back to her full-time job on Monday.”
Volunteers repaired the roof, soggy ceilings were replaced, as were the kitchen floor and sections of walls. William said, “They came to help someone they didn’t even know. I feel blessed that people gave their time to help me. I could not do this on my own. We would have ended up homeless.”
“You are here” addresses the question: “Where do we find Christ in the world?” “You are here” gives us the response we are to give when Christ calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink the thirsty, heal the sick, be present to those in prisoned and imprisoned..
When God’s love abides in us, and we are moved to respond with faithful generosity to the needs of other members of the human family, then we are in fact responding to Christ himself.
When we collectively, as members in the body of Christ, “are here”, we are able to reach and extend farther into the world than any one person, to be there sooner and stay for the long haul, responding in all the ways Christ calls us to respond.
We worship God in sanctuaries, in beautiful, holy spaces. But Christ has told us that if we want to find him in this world, we will seek out the lost, the least of his children—those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, broken and imprisoned.
So may we go forth this day aware of the immense need of others. May we love, not just in word and speech, but in truth and action. And may we partner together, so that when we turn on the news, pick up the paper, or click on a headline and see immense need, we can say, “I am here.” Amen.