Come, You That are Blessed
a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the Stewardship Theme:
Changing the World: Who Else Has the Privilege to do that?
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
November 8, 2020
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘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.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
We just passed Election Day. Some would thought that day might change the world, but the truth is a lot won’t change. If we closed our eyes and never listened to the news we might not notice much difference. There will still be racism, there will still be poverty, there will still be glorious sunrises and sunsets and Thanksgiving will still come.
Now, COVID has changed the world. We can sit and wish the election would turn time back to something we thought was better, but even if that were so, COVID has changed habits, work situations, ways of doing and being we haven’t yet fully processed. The truth is what was “normal” in many ways will never come back and in a lot of cases that may not be a bad thing. Some things needed to change, and some things still need to change. When we believe that in being blessed we are called to be a blessing things will change for the better.
I suggested the theme for this year’s Stewardship Growth campaign be “Changing the World – who else has the privilege?” I suggested it because of several reasons. First because I believe that is truly what Christians who actually follow Christ with their lives are called to do. Those first followers of Jesus changed the world. They, in part, ended the Roman Empire’s domination of the Mediterranean world. They proclaimed a Savior who spoke about loving one’s enemies, and about God’s love for people who were poor, powerless, for women, for foreigners, for people of other religions, for all people. And in what I believe is the central mission of the Christian life and of the church, he said, what we read today in our Scripture. He set a challenge. He challenged us to realize the goal of the Christian life isn’t to be blessed. The goal is to realize we ARE blessed and therefore our calling is to bless others. He says to us, “Come, you that are blessed, and be a blessing!”
One of the things I believe that needs to change is the church. Too many churches and Christians – in my “humble” opinion – don’t worship Christ with their actions and attitudes. They say they are Christian but they worship their own blessings. They worship power, privilege, and personal wealth. They say they are the only church, but they do little to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, free the prisoner, or help the powerless - in short they do little to change the world to fit the values of Jesus Christ that are stated in our Scriptures. In the Scripture this morning, heads up those of you who claim to take the Bible literally, Jesus says, “as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” I believe too many churches are committed to spending loads of money on great technology, great rock bands, great light shows and bells and whistles to attract great crowds and entertain them and at the end of an hour or so on a Sunday morning they send those folks back out into the world to maintain the status quo that benefits them, to increase power for their own privileges, to ignore or hate those who are different, who are hurting, who are in need and sit and smugly claim they are the only true Christians. And while they may have lots of people and lots of money in those churches I will say this: I thank God for you folks and for Arlington Congregational Church. You have been steadily doing what Christ called us to do and to be. You have answered the call, “Come you that are blessed – and be a blessing!”
You have fed literally tens of thousands of hungry brothers and sisters through giving food, time, and money to Arlington Community Services. Every day dozens of hungry children, families, and individuals come to Rogero Road and go away with bags of food because you see them as just like Jesus Christ. So you bring in nonperishable food and other things to change their world, even if it is only for a few meals at the moment. Through Micah’s Backpack over 200 school children who might not see a real meal on weekends when school lunch and breakfast isn’t available will eat this year because you know and care that they are just like Jesus Christ. You knew they were hungry and so you bring food in. You go and pack bags to be delivered to these 5, 6, 7 year old children who otherwise would spend the weekend miserable and hungry, wondering if anyone cares, because even though mom or grandma works two part-time jobs they can’t make enough money to pay rent and buy food, or pay rent and buy medicines that the child needs to live and still buy food. That is their real world friends. It isn’t because mom is lazy or daddy is on welfare. It’s because they can’t get enough work to buy the basics they need.
Over the past twenty years we’ve done some things and moved on to do new things: we offered Stephen Ministry – one to one care for those who were lonely, grieving, dealing with a difficult life situation and many of you did hours and hours of training and serving to bring a listening ear to them so they knew they mattered and their lives and problems mattered and you changed their world. That ministry was truly a blessing to those who were part of it, as Stephen Ministers, and as Care Receivers!
You saw that there were people in our community who couldn’t pay rent and feed the kids – some because of medical bills that overwhelmed them and they had no insurance, others because a promised job didn’t come through and they were left with no work. They became homeless and some couch surfed with friends and others slept in their cars or simply didn’t sleep. So we helped start and we have helped sustain Family Promise and we still give time, and money, and love to let those families know they are just like Jesus to us. Some of you have slept overnight here so we can be good hosts to those who were here. Some of you cooked and served meals and many of you gave so that we could minister to this critical, world-changing effort. We have literally given thousands of dollars as a church to this effort.
When we were larger and had more money and people, even then we were committed to mission and ministry in Jesus’ name. In the past we gave over 10% - tithe – of your giving to Our Church’s Wider Mission. This is what we call everything we do through the United Church of Christ. We aren’t a huge denomination. We don’t go around beating our chest and telling everyone we are the only real Christians. We just go around the world digging wells where people have no water, teaching better farming techniques so people can feed themselves, offering medical care to those who were sick and dying and advocating for justice for those imprisoned unjustly around the world, and doing it in the name of Jesus Christ because we believe that is what he does and what he calls us to do. We don’t give quite as much now, but we still give. And we are still changing the world to show the love of Jesus Christ. We heard the call and answered, “Come you that are blessed!”
In 2011 over 900 children and youth in Duval County were being arrested, spending time in jail and having records that would make getting a job or going into the military or getting into college difficult or impossible. Because we believed that Christ called us to free the prisoner, we began working with ICARE to change the system, to change the world. The State Attorney at the time refused to consider giving civil citations because the narrative is these were dangerous children. The narrative was we needed to “teach them a lesson.” What lesson was that? That they were worthless? But we found out that civil citations and using a process called a Neighborhood Accountability Board those children could admit their error, make restitution to a victim if needed, and learn a different lesson – how not to make the same mistake again, rather than how to be a worse criminal in jail. They learned how to manage their anger, change their situation – change their world – and become positive, productive citizens in our community! You have literally changed the world by turning out at Nehemiah Assemblies and giving to the work of ICARE. The past year barely 100 youth were arrested who could have been given a civil citation. You have saved literally thousands of lives from being destroyed before they every began, and in the process you have saved the city in literally millions of dollars in unspent costs for arresting, prosecuting and jailing 11-year olds, 13 – year olds, 16 year old children. You have been changing the world.
There’s more. Much more. That is just a FEW of the ways you are changing the world! I couldn’t fit it all in in one sermon. I will talk about more in the coming weeks to remind you of why I am so honored to be your pastor and how proud you should be of your church. We have been through tough times as a church and as a community and as a world. We have lost families and our giving is down. I believe every one of you is giving everything you can to help continue our work in the name of Jesus Christ, work that is changing the world. I believe in you. I pray you will continue to believe in Jesus Christ, in this church, and in the way – the privilege you have – of changing the world in His name. As we come together over the next two weeks we ask you to complete a commitment letter to help us plan what missions and ministries we will do in the year to come in the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of Arlington Congregational Church, in your name as a follower of Christ. Copies of those letters for you to complete are available in the narthex and have been mailed to as many of you as we have addresses for. I thank you in advance on behalf of the literally tens of thousands of people whose world you have changed by your giving.
What a privilege to be called to change the world. Thank you for being part of that work. Thank you for hearing the call of Christ to “come you that are blessed, and bless others” as if they were Christ himself. And may the Glory of God, the love of Jesus Christ, and the truth of the Holy Spirit shine forth because of it. AMEN.