When Did We See You?
A few years ago, I was working in West Virginia, helping to lead youth mission trips. During the day we would go out and serve – paint people’s homes, lead a VBS, visit and serve those in the community. And in the evening we would worship and have devotions. The days were packed, ad everything we did was set to start and end strictly on schedule.
One of my friends led our music for worship each evening. And with the tight schedule, he kept feeling like we did not have enough time for worship. And so he said, “I think we should have more time for worship. We shouldn’t be keeping that to a schedule. Even if we are more tired the next day, maybe we just do less work. After all, worship is what everyone is here for – to get a closer walk with God. And we only have 45 minutes each night. This service work is great and all, but worship is what is most important. Worship is why we are here.”
A female friend of mine was there at the same time. She has a great heart for justice and service, and actually didn’t like to sing all that much. But in response she said, “You know, I agree with you. Worship is the most important part of this week. But I disagree with you about what worship is. Worship isn’t only when we are singing and hearing a message. Worship is also when we are out here painting homes and teaching kids, and listening to the stories of our neighbors. Those moments during the day when we are really loving our neighbors and seeing the image of God in them, that is definitely worship too.
Before that moment, I had never thought of acts of service, love, and kindness as worship. I always had put worship and mission into two separate categories. But that day, I realized my friend is right. Some of the times when I see God the most, when I learn from God the most, when I feel the closest to God is when I am loving and serving and giving my time to one of my neighbors. Those are times when I connect to what is holy, as I think many of us do.
But there’s another reason that loving our neighbor is worship. It is because when we love our neighbors, we delight God. Partly because it we are living into how God wants us to live. But also because God cares deeply about what happens to our neighbors. When they smile, God smiles. When they cry, God cries. God sees our joy and our pain, and as a Father to his children, God feels our joy and pain right alongside of us.
That is what struck me the most about Jesus’ message for us today. Many of us have heard this passage multiple times. And we remember how we are called to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the cold, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. But often we don’t hear the earth-shattering message that follows:
“And 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.’”
God’s love for humanity is that strong that God feels the totality of our hunger, our pain, our sickness, our cold, our imprisonment. God’s love for even the least of us, even you and me, who say, “Who am I that God should notice me?”, God’s love for us is so great that whatever we go through, whatever we experience, God goes through that with us.
In the ancient world, this was the opposite of what people thought of God. They believed the gods were self-interested and cared for us only to the point that we could do something for them. Then the philosophers believed that the ultimate truth, holiness, and good – the real God of heaven and earth – was more like an abstract force who guided things but would never know our joy or pain.
But here is Jesus saying, the one who created all of this for us, the one who sent his only Son into the world, the one who breathed us into life – doesn’t stay at a distance, doesn’t stay immune and safe from the messiness and troubles of this life. God enters completely into it, with us, alongside of us. God becomes vulnerable for us. God feels pain for us. God feels joy for us. All because God loves us.
That should radically change the way we think of ourselves. I am not a nobody. I am worth all of God’s pain, because my joy and love brings God joy and love. And it should change the way that we view our neighbors. Especially the ones we find easiest to look down upon. They are not God. But they are dearly loved by God. When we hurt them, we are hurting the one we come here to worship When we heal them, feed them, serve them, visit them, then we are serving and loving God too.
I love our time for worship each Sunday morning. I need it to be filled and taught and centered for the week ahead. But worship is far more than singing. It is far more than preaching. It is even more than praying. We worship God each and every time we help our neighbor. We worship God each time we make our world a little bit brighter. We worship God each time we see our neighbors as more than the world sees them. We worship God when we know just how much God loves this world.
So right now I want to invite you to find 2-3 other people close by to you. And together I want you to answer these three questions.
1. Who is someone you know who needs to know they are loved by God?
2. How can you show love to them?
3. What difference would that act of love make to God?