Parson to Person: Brothers and sisters
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” — Matthew 25:40
On July 1, eight youth and two youth sponsors met at Wayland Mennonite in the early morning hours to travel to Phoenix, Ariz. for the Mennonite Church USA Youth Convention. Our convention theme was “Citizens of God’s Kingdom: Healed in Hope.”
What does it mean to belong to God’s Kingdom? Where is healing and hope discovered in the midst of God’s people?
According to the Gospels, Jesus told many special stories — parables — in which he used a story to teach a lesson.
One of my favorite stories, “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats,” clearly depicts several valuable realities about God’s Kingdom.
First, every person has the opportunity to belong to God’s Kingdom. Second, every person who is a part of God’s Kingdom is a brother or sister of Christ. Third, every brother and sister of Christ has numerous opportunities to share Christ’s love with all people. Fourth, healing and hope can be found through the generous hands, feet, hearts and minds of those who belong to God’s Kingdom.
On Tuesday at noon, we encouraged our youth to reach out to others and give any extra meal money away in creative ways.
On Tuesday at 5 p.m., I realized that I had not eaten lunch that day. My stomach grumbled loudly as I walked towards the food court. Only a few steps away from the convention center entrance, I saw a man holding a plastic cup with a little change and a cardboard sign with one word. His sign said, “FOOD.”
Honestly, at first, I wanted to look the other way, maybe even cross the street so that I would not have to be asked for money. Then, the challenge that we had given to our youth only hours earlier rang out in my mind.
Instead, I looked at this man and asked him, “Are you hungry?” He said, “Yes,” and gave his cup a little shake. I explained, “I am going for dinner. Would you like to come with me?” We walked a couple of blocks to the food court.
Several people stared at us. We probably did look quite odd together — my bleached white skin and his tanned dark skin from hours in the Arizona sun; my recently showered hands and hair and his dirt-caked fingernails and greasy dreadlocks, my brand new clothes and his tattered shorts.
This list could probably go on and on. Nonetheless, as we walked, we found something that we definitely had in common. I asked, “Where would you like to eat?” Without hesitation he replied, “Cold Stone Creamery.” We both loved ice cream on a dry heat day!
This man who enjoyed doing any kind of work with his hands but lived in the projects had not eaten at this famous ice cream shop for over a decade. Joyously, he ordered a “Gotta Have It” (the largest size) cup of coffee ice cream and marshmallow cream topping.
With the dish in one hand and the spoon already to his mouth, he left to meet up with another friend who had been begging on the streets that day. As he walked out the door, I said, “Have a blessed day!” He turned for just a second and exclaimed, “Have a blessed life!”
Our interaction lasted less than thirty minutes, but I know that I will never forget this new friend. Who was “the least of these brothers or sisters of mine” on that day? Many people would probably say the man on the street, but my reply is me.
I may have had the money to buy the ice cream. I may have offered to give him a special treat on a hot day. But ultimately, his acceptance of this invitation allowed me to listen to his story, understand a different perspective than my own, and receive one of the most heart-felt blessings I may have ever been told.
What happened on that Tuesday was not only a shared bowl of ice cream, but more importantly, a shared moment between two people who belong to God’s Kingdom. In that moment, both of us experienced the healing and hope that only God can give to His children.
So, what about today? How are we joining in the service that Jesus leads us to do for each other? How will we touch the lives of a brother or sister of Christ? How will experience God’s healing and hope through another person’s act of kindness?
Be ready! This life-changing moment may happen when we least expect it!