A donut walks into a church, approaches the pastor and explains “Excuse me, reverend, I don’t mean to trouble you, but I’m very interested in becoming righteous.”
The pastor, after taking a moment to accept the fact that she’s speaking with a pastry, offers a warm smile in response.
“That is truly a noble calling.” she says. And she tells the donut about ways to seek God and grow in grace and righteousness.
“If you don’t mind me asking…” she continues, “What made you want to become righteous?”
“Well…” the donut answers, “it’s because I’m holey.”
What do you think the pastor told the donut to do?
How do we seek God in our everyday lives?
We commonly prescribe daily seeking God in prayer and Bible reading. Today’s scripture reading points us to another way to encounter God – through charity.
“Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40 MSG)
I’ll confess that I have not liked this passage of scripture in the past and so had tended to skip over it in my reading because it seemed to say that it is not by faith alone that we are saved but by our works. But I think I was missing the point.
In chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus knows the end of his time on earth is near and he is preparing his followers to continue on after he’s gone by telling them this parable about the end of time. When the king comes he will divide the people of the world into two groups – not by race or religion, not by wealth or success, but by whether they fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, took care of the sick and imprisoned, and clothed the naked.
One commentator points out that in Matthew 25, Jesus is not saying to the sheep, “Go do this.” Jesus is saying, “You did this already.” The sheep didn’t need to be told to feed the hungry and take care of the sick. They just did it.
Matthew is writing this gospel to a Jewish audience, people who would have heard the rabbis teach what the Torah says about charity. When Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself, he’s quoting from Leviticus 19, where “love your neighbor” sums up a series of instructions about leaving the edges of a field unharvested so that the poor can come and gather food, and leaving the grapes that fall from the vine there on the ground for the poor and travelers to eat. That same section of Leviticus says to treat the poor and the rich equally, and to pay workers fairly and promptly.
Deuteronomy 15 says, “7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. 8 You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be… 10 Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.”
Being generous with the poor was part of God’s economy. This was God’s guidance to ancient Israel, and continued to be an important part of Jewish teaching in Jesus’ time. The writings in the Talmud, a collection of rabbinic teaching, place a high value on giving to the poor, a practice called almsgiving. The Talmud says:
“Three things are said respecting the children of men:—He who gives alms brings a blessing on himself; he who lends does better; he who gives away half of what he hath to spare does best of all.”
The Talmud also says, “Four things cancel the decrees of Heaven:—Alms, prayer, change of name, and reformation of conduct.”
As proof that alms cancel the decrees of heaven, the Talmud includes Proverbs 10:2 which says: “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.”
In Hebrew, alms and righteousness are the same word.
What do you think of when you see the word “righteousness”? We probably think simply of having faith and being right with God. But it is more than right belief. It is also right action. Doing all that God says through the Torah. Including loving your neighbor as yourself, whether rich or poor. And so the Talmud says that righteousness is synonymous with charity, and therefore charity is on par with prayer and repentance as a way to seek God.
So, when Jesus says in Matthew 25 that giving food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty was the same as feeding Jesus, he is not teaching something new. He is carrying on the teaching of the Torah and the Jewish tradition.
But for us this may be a paradigm shift, an expansion of our understanding of what it means to be righteous and to seek God. I would argue that maybe it’s just something that’s gotten lost in translation over time.
Take, for example, 1 Corinthians 13:13: “So now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” The older translations of this verse use the word “charity” instead of love. “Now abideth faith, hope, and charity, but the greatest of these is charity.”
We would probably agree that the church still places a high value on charity, but that we often struggle with knowing how to put that into action. So in our prayers over the past year since we decided to commit to being a Matthew 25 church we have been asking God to help us see how to take action.
I’m excited to tell you some ways that God has answered that prayer.
Two years ago, Bella Brownlee built us the Little Free Pantry that is by the sidewalk between the sanctuary and the power plant. Megan Giorgetti painted the words on the front that tell how to use it: “Take what you need, give what you can.” It has worked pretty well. A variety of people put food in, and a variety of people take food out. But we recently received a gift from Andy Spotts in memory of Ed Jones to be used for stocking the pantry. So now we have set up a schedule to sign up to shop for the pantry. We’ll have the link to that sign-up page in our newsletter this week. Even if you don’t sign up to shop, please keep on using the pantry to take what you need and leave what you can.
With whatever you leave, you are feeding Jesus.
Over the past two weeks, the Sterling Ministerial Alliance has been talking with the director of the Sterling Food Bank, and in doing so we have learned that they would like to give out more than they do. They have to limit what they give out based on what they have, and they would serve our community better if they had more. Here’s how we can help them do that:
- Bring food here and put it in the bin in the entryway.
- Bring food to Walton Plumbing and Heating which is right next to the food bank.
- Give money to the food bank by following the instructions on their Facebook page.
- Give money in addition to your offerings to the church and specify food bank in the comments.
- Those of you who are not in Sterling, give to your local food bank.
And whenever you do, you are feeding Jesus.
The reason that the Sterling Ministerial Alliance has been talking with the director of the food bank is that we are working on setting up a food pantry just for kids that will be in the basement of the Sterling Library. We’re still working on firming up the details, but I do know that we’ll have food specifically for kids, and they’ll be able to come once a week to get a certain number of items. We’re going to be asking for volunteers to help staff that room, and as soon as we have that signup sheet set up, we’ll get it out to you so that you can sign up to help us feed our kids.
And when you do, you are feeding Jesus.
One of the reasons that the ministerial alliance is setting up that food pantry for kids is that our community has been used to having free lunch for kids at the school over the summer, but our school didn’t qualify for that funding this year. So one way the alliance has decided to help keep food going over the summer is to keep the Wednesday night dinners going that the Methodist church offers during the school year. They usually take a break over the summer, so we’re asking each of our churches to sign up to provide dinner at the Methodist church two times. Two Wednesday nights sometime in June, July, or the beginning of August. Ryan Corwin and Christian Dashiell will be heading that up and we’ll need your help.
As we help feed our community on those Wednesday nights, we’ll be feeding Jesus.
There are, of course, lots of other ways.
- Many of you host students from the college and I’m sure that often includes food.
- Many of you contributed to the food drive that Crosspoint did recently when all we had to do was put a bag of food on our front porch and they picked it up.
- Many of you already double buy your groceries so that you can give half to the food bank, or you regularly send money to the food bank and other organizations that are feeding the hungry.
- Many of you gave to One Great Hour of Sharing which helps support the worldwide food programs of the PCUSA, our denomination.
- Some of you already make a practice of paying the bill of the person behind you in line at a fast food drive-thru, or Starbuck or Scooters or some other coffee place.
And whenever you do, you are feeding Jesus.
There are lots of ways to see God through charity, freely giving food and drink, and I am thankful to have these opportunities that I have talked about today. As we go, I hope we’ll continue to keep our eyes and ears open for ways to love our neighbors by feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty.
I also hope we’ll go away from today with a new perspective on what it means to be righteous, and that we’ll consider how that might change our understanding as we read God’s word, so that more and more we will know the blessing of being the people of God, being a Matthew 25 church, and seeing Jesus in the hungry and thirsty.
Thanks be to God.
 Various. Hebraic Literature; Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala . Kindle Edition. (Loc 933)
 Ibid., Loc. 1024.
 Kaufmann Kohler, Ph.D. https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1295-alms
 By Adolf Behrman (1876 – 1942) – Zbiory ŻIH (Żydowski Instytut Historyczny), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20753920