Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Ps 90, 1 + 12.
We have come to the end of our pilgrimage with the children of Israel, having seen how God delivered, protected, and provided for them until they were safely gathered in the promised place, where all they needed was provided. Today, we turn our attention to the church and the role of the church must play during and after this pandemic. If these are hard times for humanity, and if humanity is suffering, how is the church responding to the needs of the suffering? Someone sang a calypso heard ever so often on WSTA, “Sufferers don’t care who from country, sufferers don’t care who from town, sufferers only want to hear where the next food coming from”.
Throughout the year we have heard enough stories of suffering from the sacred text and the providence of God responding to such suffering to open our eyes to the suffering of our present time and the need for the instrument, the church of God in the world, to respond as God responded in ancient time and now calls the church to respond. God not only responded to the physical and spiritual needs of the people, but God also raised up leaders among them to assist in the administration of God’s providential care and justice. During this present pandemic many are looking for a response to their present dilemma. Only the church of the living God is able to provide what is needed to sustain the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, the aged, all sorts and conditions of humanity. Now is the time for the church to prove that God is alive and active in the community, moving among us, and providing all that is needed.
Today’s reading from Matthew 25:31-46 confronts us with what is expected of us, the church. Followers of the Jesus movement cannot hide from the responsibility to take the lead in giving hope to so many who are suffering in one way or the other. Just last week we read in scripture of the talents given to be used as God gave us the ability. How interesting this is, that God knows what each one of us is capable of doing and therefore God gave us just what we need to accomplish the mission at hand. There is an implication that if our resources are exhausted, God will also supply all that we need to accomplish the task. That is the test to see how we would respond with what we have, be it little or much. This week we hear the results of our test.
The church today must seriously consider how effective we have been in fulfilling this God appointed responsibility. In many communities throughout the world and in many ways, the church is finding the resources to respond favorably to the needs of our time. From food banks, to kitchen gardens, to laundromats, to feeding kitchens, and thrift shops, you name it, many communities of faith are finding ways to make the Love of God tangible, thus pointing hurting humanity towards a loving God who cares so much for the human family that God came and dwelt among them.
If we have learned anything from history, it must be that this pandemic will one day end. Each time a pandemic occurred in history, beginning with the sacred text, it ended, and lives were spared. Therefore, there is coming a day when this will end, and we will have a story to tell and/or an account to give of how we responded to the most vulnerable among us. The church will be the most responsible agency in giving an account of her mission and ministry during the pandemic. You see, sufferers will want to know what the church did to make life a little better for the community. How did the church make a difference during the pilgrimage to the promised place of health and wholeness? What did the church do to give hope to those who were walking in darkness, not knowing their way through the wilderness? How did the light of hope shine through the darkness and illumine the way for the pilgrims?
Matthew’s gospel reminds the church of her responsibility to humanity at all times. As the church serves the needs of others, the church fulfills her calling. The reward for such service will be what Jesus said to those who had been faithful with the resources they possessed. In the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25: Jesus said to those faithful servants, I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you gave me something to wear, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was sick and infirmed and you visited me. Such simple statements baffled the hearers. Maybe they thought they needed to do something spectacular, something great, something more worthy of recognition. But they learned that the little things meant much to God.
This should remind us of the talents that were shared according to the receiver’s ability. We will notice that it did not matter the amount given; what mattered was what was done with what was given. Those who used their talents to the honor and glory of the Giver received the same reward: “Well done thou good and faithful servant, you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”
As we come to the end of the church’s year, may we look on the time past and examine ourselves and our ministries, to determine honestly how faithful we have been with all that God has given us. To do so will fulfill, Psalm 90:12: so, teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
— The Right Rev. Edward Ambrose Gumbs is the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of the Virgin Islands, which encompasses the Episcopal churches on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John and the Anglican churches in Tortola and Virgin Gorda.