Jesus said to the one who had invited Him to dinner:
"When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is teaching about the difference between Kingdom of God rules and our earthly rules. He is talking to a leader of the Pharisees and his other guests. This was a gathering of the rich and powerful in Jerusalem. It would be like going to the Governor’s mansion or the White House for a prayer breakfast. There would have been politically powerful people, wealthy people and people with great religious stature there. These were people who understood how the world works. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” And, “One hand washes the other.” They understood that to get ahead in the world – to accumulate wealth and power – you have to make powerful friends, friends for whom you do favors and then expect them to return those favors. But rather than trying to curry favor with these people, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them how different the Kingdom of God is from the kingdom they had built for themselves.
Jesus’ message to his audience at the meal that day was that they should turn away from looking out for their own needs, and the needs of those who could be beneficial to them, and turn their attention toward people who needed help and had no hope of repaying them for that assistance. He was teaching them an important lesson: in the Kingdom of God we must seek not to advance ourselves, but instead align our wills with the will of God, so that we might do God’s will in helping the helpless, thereby securing God’s blessing. But He let them know that they should not help people BECAUSE they wanted to secure a blessing. Instead, they should help people just to help people – because it is God’s will that we help those who are in need. They should do good because we are supposed to do good, not for a reward. They should bless other people because they were blessed, not to receive a greater blessing.
All of those lessons are just as applicable to us as they were to the Pharisee and his guests that day. Jesus said that we should: feed the poor, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, comfort the sick, and visit the shut-in and the prisoners – not because we would gain something economically, increase our power, or be glorified by others – but because it is what Jesus did. … It is how the Kingdom of God works. But here is the amazing part. When we do these things that Jesus commanded, we DO receive blessings. When we help people who need help, without any sense of entitlement to repayment, we receive the wonderful blessing of a heart filled with joy and a peaceful sense of having done what the God who created us has asked us to do. That is a blessing indeed.
Over the last couple of weeks, in the face of an incredible number of people suddenly and unexpectedly finding themselves in need, people have been reaching out to help – without any thought of receiving repayment. And through our reaching out to those in need, Lafayette, and St. Barnabas, have become what are known as “thin places,” those places where the Kingdom of God is so close that you can feel its presence.
Since the waters started to recede, members of our congregation, along with hundreds of others around town, have literally jumped in to the muck and helped people clean out and tear out the flood damage in their homes. Those who are in great need after the flood, have been receiving the help that they could not do without, from a bunch of people who are expecting absolutely nothing in return. There is not much in the world that more closely epitomizes what Jesus was talking about, then getting sore and dirty on someone else’s behalf, and expecting no payment for that work.
And over the last week, we began to distribute needed supplies to people of Lafayette and the surrounding communities. In four days, we helped over 1,000 people with the: bottled water, diapers, baby formula, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and when FoodNet has sufficient donations, bags of non-perishable groceries, and other items that they desperately needed. Members of St. Barnabas have given up four or eight hours at a time – some coming back day after day – in order to haul supplies inside the EYC building, sort them, then take them right back outside to peoples’ cars. And none of these wonderful volunteers expected anything in return for any of the blessings they bestowed on people. But we have all received blessings in the last couple of weeks.
Sometimes we are blessed by people’s gratitude. When you’ve worked all afternoon and into the evening, helping to tear out someone’s floors and sheetrock, and they hug you and tell you how thankful they are for the help, that is a blessing that is beyond belief. And when we have billed someone’s trunk with the barest of necessities, and they share their story of loss with us – ending that story with a ray of hope, that is better than any payment we could possibly receive.
I have personally had the opportunity to visit with many of our own parishioners who have suffered losses in the flood. This congregation has been able to give them some level of financial help – through the generous gifts we have received from our own Outreach Committee (who changed their monthly project and gave our flood relief the money instead), as well as from other congregations (specifically St. George’s in Bossier, and Grace in Monroe), and our Diocese as well as Episcopal Relief and Development. While we have certainly not been able to erase people’s financial losses, we have certainly been able to be helpful. And the stories I have been honored to hear, along with people’s open gratitude for your generosity, have been incredibly inspiring to me … and remarkable blessing.
Jesus’ lesson is clear – God’s Kingdom values should be our values. And when our values align with Kingdom values, God blesses us. In other words, when we think about doing God’s will before we think about our own agendas, we find blessings that beyond belief.
So, if you can squeeze something else into your schedule, contact the church office or email email@example.com and get involved. It will do wonders for the people you help. And amazingly, it will do more good for you.