His face betrayed knowledge of the streets that only comes from experience living on them. His name was Sam and he was running the homeless shelter that my wife and I happened onto one Saturday morning as young seminarians. We were looking for people to help. We had no experience with this kind of thing, but we wanted to change the world and it was going to start today at the St. Vincent De Paul soup kitchen in Louisville, KY. As I approached Sam, he looked at us with discerning eyes. We told him we were seminarians and wondered if we might help serve the noon meal. He quickly directed us to the food line and showed us where to find the plastic gloves to cover our hands. Almost immediately the room began to fill with homeless people from downtown Louisville. Sam’s raspy voice boomed through the bull horn telling people where to line up. He then said, “We have a preacher here today that is going to say the blessing for the food.” He handed the bull horn to me. Meal time prayers become rhythmic over time because we say them so often. My normal prayer went something like this: Thank you for this food and our home and our family. In Jesus name. Amen.
That prayer, however, was not going to work. I grasped for words. I stuttered something like this, “Thank you Lord for a warm place to eat a hot meal on a cold day.” It’s all I could think of. Amen. Grunts of “Amen” could be heard through the room and then the line began. I was working the bread basket and I watched person after person filling their coat pockets with bread for a snack later on that evening. It dawned on me that this was their only scheduled meal of the day.
I was holding back tears as I handed out bread to people. Melanie and I sensed the Presence of God in the room and this became a defining moment in our spiritual formation. Melanie went on from there to work in a homeless shelter and today Christ Community Church is partnering with Pastor Doug Cherry and Victory Dream Center of Carbondale to provide bread for people’s stomaches as well as the bread of life to feed their souls.
The reading in Matthew was haunting. It describes two groups of surprised people. One group was surprised because they were in heaven. The king tells them that they have dressed him and fed him, clothed him, and visited him. They were confused. He was the king. He never needed food, clothing, and shelter. I’m sure they were wishing at that moment that they had gone to visit the king. The king, however, assures them they were ministering to him when they were feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.
Those on his left banished from his presence were equally astonished. They were some of the kings groupies. They always wanted to be near the king and it was important that they be seen by him. He tells them, however, that they have completely ignored him when he was in need. He lets them know that they ignored him when they ignored the cries of those in need.
This story is shocking on several levels. On the surface, it seems like it goes against the teaching of salvation by grace and not by works. The Scripture is clear that we can do nothing to earn our salvation. On the other hand, the parable makes it clear that the tell-tale sign of those who are saved, is that they care for those in need.
The gifts of the holy spirit have little to do with our character. I Corinthians warns that we can do all kinds of spiritual gymnastics and not have love. We learned in our small group this week that it is even dangerous to read and study the Word and not practice it. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” God is looking for the fruit of the spirit from each of us, the gifts are given to build up the body of Christ, but on inspection day, God will be looking for fruit.