One of the challenges of being the new pastor is determining where the congregation is in their spiritual life as well as where they are regarding contemporary social issues. I do not know you or where you are, and you don’t know me or where I am, but I did give you a glimpse of my theology and spirituality in my first sermon. During the first few weeks and months of a new ministry, the new pastor tries different things to help them figure it all out and see how far they might be able to go with specific topics.
If memory serves, I told you in my first sermon, that I believe it is the role of the preacher to move the audience from where they are to where the preacher thinks God is calling them to be. Over a period, a relationship and an understanding develop between the preacher and the congregation. With all that said I believe one of the issues we face as people today is that we do not recognize the image of God in the other.
All through history, it has been the practice of one group of people to dehumanize another group of people to justify their treatment of them. If we stay strictly with Scripture, which is not a history book but it will work for our purpose today, we see the ancient Israelites being conquered on a variety of occasions ending with the Roman occupation during the time of Jesus. The Romans and the other conquerors made the Israelites less human, and that justified their treatment.
In our history, the history of the United States, this has happened on several occasions. The Native American population was treated as less than human; the African Slave trade was able to continue as long as it did because the white man felt the black man was less than human. So ingrained was this thought that it was enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. The role of women was considered less by men until the 20th century, so we have a history of this as humanity.
I am not taking issue with how people of the past felt about other people or situations. The times were different, and the thought process was different. What I take issue with is when people still think like it is the 18th and 19th century towards other people and value them less as human beings.
For many of us in the room, segregation is not a distant memory. For many of us we can remember white’s only bathrooms and school for black children and white children, so in essence, this is a contemporary issue. The ability of one group of people to feel that another group of people is less than human makes it easy to treat them differently.
My point is this, as a Christian I have no other choice than to look at another human being as having been created in the image and likeness of God. They have within them the Imago Dei, the Image of God the Divine Spark of you will, and that makes that person holy and as we heard in the Scripture this morning, how we treat them is how we treat God!
Also, as a Christian, It is not part of the plan for me to determine who is and who is not worthy of my help. At one point in time in our lives we have all been “the least of these,” and maybe, just maybe someone was that one thing we needed to get us through the day. Perhaps it was a kind word, maybe it was a smile, and maybe it was a cup of coffee on a cold day or a warm meal when we have not had one. We might be the one kind person that is the difference between a person deciding to take their own life or not.
I am not sure where I heard this, but the saying goes, “you may be the only Bible someone ever reads.” You, and me, whether we like it or not, as the spokespeople for all of Christianity and our words and our actions might be the deciding factor in the trajectory in someone’s life.
I want to share a little story. One of the good parts of coming to a new place is you have not heard any of my stories. Anyway, I am a mason, and I am proud to be one. The motto of the Masons is we make good men better. We take the rough stone and smooth out the harsh edges. My particular lodge meets one Thursday night a month. We typically have dinner before the meal served to us by the young men of DeMolay. If you do not know what DeMolay is that is the Masons for young men under 18 years of age.
One Thursday night I was going through the line, and one of the young men thanked me for wearing the pin that I had on the lapel of my jacket. It was the UCC coma in the rainbow design. He thanked me for the public stance I was taking on equality, and he shared a quick story with me about how he had been treated by his schoolmates and some of the young men in DeMolay. He thanked me for the giving his the assurance that it would be okay. The funny thing is I did not even realize I was wearing the pin on my lapel but that one thing, that one silly little pin, gave the young man hope. He knew I was a person that would not judge him and that I would accept him for who he was where he was, that is my job as a Christian. I do not have to agree with him on anything, but I do have to accept him as a fellow human being, created in the image of God.
Now, before I start to sound all self-righteous here, none of us are perfect, we all have times in our lives when we have fallen short in this area of seeing Christ in the other. I will admit it is difficult sometimes to see that but, that does not give us an excuse. We have to strive to see Christ in others and not make excuses to make us feel better when we don’t want to help.
When we see the homeless person on the street and we say “they are lazy,” when we say “they need to get a job,” when we say, “they will only use the money for drugs or booze,” we are making a judgement, and we are dehumanizing them to make us feel better about not helping them. We have all done it, I have crossed the street to avoid it, and I think we would all be dishonest if we feel that we have not.
We have an obligation as Christians and as human beings to help those less fortunate then we are, and that help does not always have to be money. Sometimes, as I mentioned before, that help can be as merely seeing them as fellow human beings and accept them. Listening to their story and understanding them. Having empathy for their position and doing all we can to try and make their lives better. Thinking of the other as less than a human might make us feel better, but it does nothing to change the situation for the other.
We cannot solve all of the problems of the world, but we might be able to help address the issues that are the whole world for one person. When the fire department arrives at a house on fire they are not interested in how it started, the see the problem right in front of them, the fire, and they put the fire out. Once the fire is out, and everyone is safe, then they turn towards the cause of the problem. We need to take care of the immediate issues of the “least of these” and see to their basic needs, food, clothing, shelter, medical, safety, and then, and only then, can we begin to ask the broader question of how did they get there.
The point of all of this is that no matter where people are from, no matter the color of their skin, no matter their religion, no matter their sexual orientation, no matter their legal status each human being has been created in the image and likeness of God and as people who claim to follow Jesus we have no other option then to look at them as human beings and take compassion on them. Again, we do not have to agree with them, as you don’t have to agree with me, but we do have to treat the other with the dignity that they deserve as a fellow human being, and I will remind you of the words from today’s Scripture reading;
“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 clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'”