In the 16th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples are traveling through the area of Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks them who people are saying the Son of Man is.
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:14-16)
We get the impression that Peter’s answer was given without hesitation. He had been with Jesus long enough that he saw the definition of the “Messiah” lived out through the actions of Jesus. These were not actions put on for a special event or for a specific audience. These were the day to day actions of the living Christ – just interacting with anyone he came in contact with.
My point in highlighting this revelation that Peter had is this: there are a great many people we know in our everyday lives who, if asked, would tell you they are a Christian. I would readily say the same thing myself. But regardless of what we say about ourselves, would others easily and quickly identify us as who we claim to be by our day to day actions? I fear that all too often many churches are used more as a Sunday morning social club where we know people will recognize us as Christians simply because we are there on Sunday morning.
Matthew 25: 31-46 is a well-known scripture passage about the judgement of the nations. Here Jesus makes statements about those who will be judged as righteous for their actions towards others when he says that he was hungry, thirsty, sick, or in need of help in various ways and those judged as righteous offered the help that was needed while those judged as unrighteous, didn’t. Both groups respond to Jesus by asking when they did this offering of help (or didn’t) because they don’t remember personally interacting with Jesus in any way. His response should be the driving force in the life of a Christian. Jesus tells them that whenever they helped another in any way, they were, in effect, helping him, and conversely when they had an opportunity to help another who was in need and didn’t, it was the same as if denying help to Jesus.
Our world is too full of people – from politicians to pastors – who are all too ready to tell you how great they are and take credit for how much good they have done in the world. Jesus’ example to us is to show, by example, who we are. For all he accomplished, Jesus always gave glory to God. Even when he raised Lazarus from the dead, the gospel of John records in chapter 11 verses 41-42, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me,”
I have been blessed the past four years to witness this pure Christianity from the people in the two churches I have the privilege of shepherding. I could list the names of those who have been the driving force behind what we call the “Love 1 More” campaign (based on John 13:34 – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”), but none of them do this for personal recognition.
The churches look for someone in need and over a four-day period, work to meet that need – Matthew 25 in action! The sign we place in the yard says it all, “Methodist Outreach Project.” The sign does not say which church. That is not important. What is important is that people who walk or drive by see “the church” is alive and in action – being Christ!
Let me be clear. I don’t highlight this project to say, “Look at us. Look at what we’re doing.” It wasn’t me, as the pastor, who started this. It was people in the church who simply asked, “What if the whole church (in our case, two churches) got together and reached out in the community to meet a need? What could we get accomplished?” It has been made very real to me over the last four years what can be accomplished with people of all ages doing what they can to get every single person in the congregations involved – from roofing to painting to yard work to delivering materials to making meals for workers to (and most importantly) lifting the project in prayer. I can hear Jesus saying, “Well done good and faithful servants, for I was in need and you ministered to me.”
This is the church beingthe church! Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The church is her true self only when she exists for humanity.
The writer is the pastor of the Anna and Botkins United Methodist churches.