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Christianity – a participatory sport

Dr. RB McFee

Yea, a man may say, ‘Thou has faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.’ James 2: 18 KJV

The other day I was driving around a small town and noticed a building with various posters on the front wall. One caught my attention…. “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Having a degree in political science I thought that was a valid point, and one on which the Founding Parents would agree.

That said, it dawned on me, Christianity is not a spectator sport either. A recent homily drove that point home suggesting Jesus didn’t teach Mary so she could lead a contemplative life. He taught her so she could do something with the knowledge of Him, His Kingdom, the Good News of Christ bringing reconciliation between God and humanity.

It is at the highest ideals of Jesus when we treat our faith as a participatory sport. James had it right – faith and good deeds go hand in hand, but then he was following Jesus’ teachings, and actions.

In fact, one could argue deeds, i.e. ‘action’ is a central theme in Christ’s teachings. As people of faith we are called upon to do something good for others. Whether Jesus was sending His Disciples out to preach the Good News, or help Him feed the multitudes, or help others, it was about putting what they were learning into action.

Consider one of the ultimate “to do” action assignments Jesus has given His Disciples, and by extension, you and me….

31 When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the Holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: 32 And before Him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave ME drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.” 37 then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, “Lord, when saw we Thee an hungred, and fed Thee? Or thirsty, and gave Thee drink? 38 When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee? 39 or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?” 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”

Matthew 25: 31 – 40 KJV

The needs on earth are great; this has been true for millennia. And that’s where Jesus and His followers come in – to help meet those needs.

Consider the hospital systems created by people of faith – you would have a difficult time visiting any major city in the United States and not see a Methodist Hospital, or Baptist Hospital, or Catholic Hospital or Jewish Hospital or, well you get the idea. The Christians who helped start these could have passed by the sick, ignoring them, or relegating the ill to fend for themselves. Instead they created clinics and outreach programs, many of which became large university affiliated hospitals. In essence they participated in other peoples’ suffering and tried to make a difference.

Salvation Army – a global force for good that has helped feed, clothe and house people for over a century, has a faith based foundation. In fact many shelters around the country, such as Coventry House, are inspired by the teachings of Christ, and/or founded by, staffed with or funded through religious organizations.

Of course we don’t need to build a clinic, endow a hospital wing, or do huge things to make a difference, although if you can do those things that would be great. But “just” offering bottled water or a protein bar with a kind word and smile to the homeless person at the street corner, or knitting mittens or hats for veterans before the winter cold sets in is what allows Matthew 25 to come alive in the world.

It is participating in the needs of Jesus’ people, our people.

Put differently –

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Hebrews 13:2 KJV

Abraham discovered that truth, and I wonder how many of us have in fact been touched by an angel?

Have you ever had the experience of helping someone apparently down on his or her luck, only to look back, now feeling a powerful sense of inner warmth that could only come from Above, and realizing that person is not anywhere to be seen? Were we being tested? Was our sense of compassion being given an opportunity for action?

I’ve had that experience, and it makes me think of the song by Joan Osborne – “One of us”

“What if God was one of us?

Just a stranger on the bus

Trying to make His way home?”

Kind of reminds us of Hebrews 13:2.

When we look at other people do we think of someone who is as loved by God as you or me? Do we think maybe He is one of us, one of them, come to check you and me out? Come to check on our willingness to live as Christ instructed and inspired, to be people of action?

No one was beneath our Savior. No one was out of His scope of concern. He knew God’s work was a participatory sport.

Thankfully at CCUMC most of our church family know being a Christian is a participatory sport.

And God forbid we come with a dozen reasons why we shouldn’t get involved, or act as Christ would want us to when we have the chance to help someone else. We are the God Squad, His EMS (earthly miracle servants) called to action.

To be sure Matthew 25 Jesus gave us a buffet full of choices. Not all choices will resonate. Some may feel moved to work in prison ministry, and having known fellow congregants who did, the blessings were manifest for all involved. Others preferred to be respite caregivers, or after school tutors, or driving shut-ins to doctor visits, or using professional skills in the adoption, foster care arena, or trying to stem the scourge of human trafficking (contemporary slavery).

Even praying is doing something. Anyone who thinks prayer is some passive endeavor has been doing a religious Rip Van Winkle. Praying is a central theme in Jesus’ teachings, and actions for a reason. It is powerful, and when done for others can be a blessing for the one praying as well as the one prayed for.

Whichever we chose, we can never forget that action without the heart of Jesus is meaningless. If we cannot serve each other with kindness, we have missed the memo.

That said, there is no shortage of calls to the spiritual 911 network where we can respond in one way or another in Christ’s Name.

The needs are great, and the number of workers available could use some additional volunteers – but I suspect this is the same description of life for Christians in the first century charged with being the Body of Christ then, as we are in the twenty first century.

But there’s a reason Christians went from being tabby treats for the lions in Rome, to curiosities described as ‘those people who rescue abandoned babies and care for the penniless widow,’ to a movement that became a global religion; not by politics but by inspired people who created clinics, and places where the lost and lonely would be sheltered and welcomed, all in the Name of the Risen Christ.

Christianity – a participatory sport. What ‘action’ or participatory endeavor will you select to do in Jesus’ Name?


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