Christ Incarnate in All of Our Stories

Matthew 25:31-46
Arrangement and Comments by Scott Elliott for service August 6 2017 in Mt Vernon Ohio * 08

-MATTHEW 25: 31-40-mj

Preacher A: “When the Son of man comes in all his glory . . . all nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people . . . and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.”
Preacher B: “[He] will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ ”
Preacher A: “Then righteous answered him: ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’”
Preacher B: “And the king will answer them: ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.’”

-OBASAN EXCERPT-

Preacher A: In 1942 the world was at war. It’s not discussed much, but, during that war American and Canadian citizens – citizens– were incarcerated in internment and POW camps throughout . . . North America. We are starting off with an excerpt from “Obasan” a story by a Canadian citizen and Christian writer, Joy Kogawa. It appears in an anthology called Short Fiction on Faith under the heading of ‘Evil,’ but we suggest to you, that this excerpt speaks about the incarnation of Christ in the least of those who are Christ’s family. Hear this story:
Preacher B: We are leaving the BC coast –rain, cloud mist– an air overladen with weeping. Behind us lays a salty sea within which swim our drowning specks of memory –our water logged eulogies.
Preacher A: We are going down to the middle of the earth with pick-axe eyes, tunneling by train to the Interior, carried along by the momentum of the expulsion into the waiting wilderness.
Preacher B: We are hammers and chisels in the hands of would be sculptors, battering the spirit of the sleeping mountain.
Preacher A: We are the chips and sand, the fragments that fly like arrows from the heart of the rock.
Preacher B: We are the silences that speak from stone.
Preacher A: We are the despised rendered voiceless, stripped of car, radio, camera and every means of communication, a trainload of eyes covered with mud and spittle.
Preacher B: We are the man in the Gospel of John, born into the world for the sake of the light.
Preacher A: We are Sent to Siloam, the [prison] called “Sent”
Preacher B: We are sent to the sending, that we may bring sight.
Preacher A: We are the scholarly and the illiterate,
Preacher B: the envied and the ugly,
Preacher A: the fierce and the docile.
Preacher B: We are those pioneers who cleared brush and forest with our hands,
Preacher A: the gardeners tending and attending the soil with our tenderness,
Preacher B: the fishermen who are flung from the sea to flounder in the dust of the prairies.

(The next line is said simultaneous with Preacher A)

Preachers A & B We are the Issei and the Nisei and the Sansei, the Japanese Canadians. We are the [First] and the [Second] and the [Third generation of] Japanese Canadians.
Preacher A: We disappear into the future undemanding as dew.
Preacher B: (After Preacher A says “undemanding as dew,” make a transitional pause then begin with:) It is . . . decades ago and I am a small child resting my head in Obasan’s (oh-bah-san’s) lap . . .
The train is full of strangers. But even strangers are addressed as “ojisan”(oh-ja-san) or “obasan”(oh-ba-san) meaning uncle or aunt. Not one uncle or aunt, grandfather or grandmother, brother or sister returns home again . . .
A few seats in front, one young woman is sitting with her narrow shoulders hunched over a tiny red-faced baby. Her short black hair falls into her bird-like face. She is so young I would call her “onesan, “(oh-nee-san) older sister.
Preacher A: The woman in the aisle seat opposite . . . leans over and whispers to Obasan with a solemn nodding of her head and a flicker of her eyes indicating the young woman. Obasan moves her head slowly and gravely in a nod and she listens. “Kawaiso” (Kah-why-ah-so: meaning “oh poor thing’) she says under her breath. The word is used whenever there is hurt and a need for tenderness.
The young women Kuniko-san, came from Saltspring Island, the woman says. Kuniko-san was rushed onto the train from Hastings Park, a few days after giving birth prematurely to her baby. “She has nothing,” the woman whispers, “Not even diapers.”
Preacher B: Aya Obasan does not respond as she looks steadily at the dirt covered floor. I lean out into the aisle and I can see the baby’s tiny fist curled tight against its wrinkled face. Its eyes are closed and its mouth is squinched small as a button. Kuniko-san does not lift her eyes at all.
“Kawai” I whisper to Obasan, meaning the baby is cute.
Obasan hands me an orange from a whicker basket and gestures toward Kuniko-san, indicating that I should take her the gift. But I pull back.
“For the baby”Obasan . . . urg[es] me. I withdraw further from my seat. She shakes open a furoshiki – a square cloth that is used to carry things by tying the cloths together – and places a towel and some apples and oranges in it. I watch her lurching from side to side as she walks toward Kuniko-san.
Preacher A: Clutching the top of Kuniko-san’s seat with one hand, Obasan bows and holds the furoshiki out to her. Kuniko-san clutches the baby against her breast and bows forward twice while accepting Obasan’s gift without looking up.
Preacher B: As Obasan returns towards us, the old woman in the seat diagonal to ours beckons to me. Nodding her head, urging me to come to her, her hand gestures downwards in a digging waving motion. I lean towards her.
Preacher A: “A baby was born, . . . is this not so?”
Preacher B: I nod.
Preacher A: The old woman bumps herself forward and off the seat. Her back is as round as a church bell. She is so short that when she is standing, she is lower than she was sitting. She braces herself against the seat and bends forward.
“There is nothing to offer” she says as Obasan reaches her. She lifts her skirt and begins to remove a flannel underskirt, her hand gathering the undergarments in pleats.
Preacher B: “Ah, no, no Grandmother,” Obasan says.
Preacher A: “Last night it was washed. It is nothing, but it is clean.”
Obasan supports her in the rock, rock of the train and they sway together in back and forth. The old woman steps out of the garment, being careful not to let it touch the floor.
“Please – if it is acceptable. For a diaper. There is nothing to offer,” the old woman says as she hoists herself on to the seat again. She folds the undergarment into a neat square, the fingers of her hand stiff and curled as driftwood.

-MATTHEW 25:41-46-

Preacher A: (A transitional pause before reading this, which is meant to apply more to the next story.)“[H]e will say to those at his left hand, ‘You are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devils and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
Preacher B: “Then they . . . will answer: ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’”
Preacher A: “Then he will answer them: ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’”

-ON THE ROOF-

Preacher B: In 2005 hurricane Katrina struck a number of American communities in the gulf Coast region, and our nation’s leaders and administrators did not act quickly to lessen the horrors of that storm, and were slow to respond to the needs of those left behind. Newsweek reported that then Senator Barack Obama, “the only African-American in the U.S. Senate, [at the time said] that ‘the ineptitude was color blind.’ But he argue[d] while . . . there was no ‘active malice,’ the federal response to Katrina represented ‘a continuation of passive indifference’ on the part of the government. It reflected the unthinking assumption that every American ‘has the capacity to load up their family in an SUV, fill it with $100 worth of gasoline, stick some bottled water in the trunk and use a credit card to check into a hotel on safe ground.’”
What follows is an excerpt from “On the Roof” a story in The New Yorker magazine by Dan Blum we suggest to you, that this excerpt also speaks about incarnation of Christ in the least of those who are in Christ’s family.
Preacher A: The two families shared a one-story house on South Prieur Street with one good job among them. Thirteen-year-old Timesha Johnson and twelve-year-old Irelle Guidry might have been sisters, with their identically red-tipped cornrows and denim miniskirts. When the city of New Orleans ordered them to evacuate, they gladly would have gone.
Preacher B: “I’m poor, but I’m not stupid,” said Timesha’s stepfather, Charles Covington, a roofer, who wears his own hair in short, blond-tipped dreadlocks.
Preacher A: But none of them own a car, and their friends who do had no room for extra passengers. There was a rumor of buses, but none appeared.
Preacher B: “We even called cabs, but they was all getting out themselves,” Charles said.
Preacher A: So they bought what food and water they could, and the eight of them, from Irelle’s grandmother, Janet, down to Timesha’’s eleven-month-old sister, Alleiah, huddled up together in the living room.
Preacher B: The house, in which Janet was born, creaked and banged and sighed as the winds blew, but it held together as it always had. Then it was over.
Preacher A: That wasn’t so bad, they said. Not as bad as [hurricane] Camille. Not as bad as Betsy. It was only when they pried off the plywood that they realized that their ordeal had just begun.
Preacher B: The water rose so fast that they barely had time to snatch up some food and clothing before it got soaked. First they sat on tables. Then they sat on dressers. Then they pushed Janet and her obese thirty-three-year-old son, Mario, up through the hatch to the stifling attic and climbed in. Luckily, Charles thought to grab a heavy hammer from his tool belt, because it wasn’t long before the water was bubbling through the cracks in the attic floor. They sat on boxes, then stood, and still it rose, pushing them against the exposed points of roofing nails. Charles began banging at the ceiling with the hammer and finally bashed a hole big enough for them to squeeze through.
Preacher A: Then they were sitting, exposed, on the sloping, sticky, hot tar roof, expecting to be rescued. That was Tuesday morning.
Preacher B: They sat like that, in the hot sun, eating Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, and two-foot-long Slim Jims.
Preacher A: They gave most of the water to Tasha Johnson, so she could nurse Alleiah. They took turns holding up shirts as sunshades to protect the baby and Janet, who cannot walk, from heatstroke.
Preacher B: Helicopters buzzed in the distance.
Preacher A: The sun went down.
Preacher B: They heard shooting and mayhem, but none of it came near.
Preacher A: Night, though scary, was at least a reprieve from the sun, which returned on Wednesday with malice.
Preacher B: Every now and then, a boat crossed a nearby intersection, and they’d shout, but they couldn’t make themselves heard. At around midday, a passing helicopter swerved toward them and hovered, its rotor wash making a frightening maelstrom of loosened pieces of roof. A basket dangled from the helicopter, but a tangle of power lines kept it from getting low enough. Finally, the great whining machine veered away, the crewman at the door gesturing as if to say they’d come back.
Preacher A: Wednesday went by in a blur.
Preacher B: Thursday brought some clouds, and a little cooling rain, but no more helicopters.
Preacher A: At last, on Friday, a friend paddled by in a small aluminum boat, and they all piled wobblingly aboard. By noon they were sitting amid a vast field of trash at the once stylish corner of Napoleon and St. Charles, waiting for buses out that had been promised by the police. They all had rashes on their arms and legs, from the hot tar.
Preacher B: Janet, who is fifty-two but looks seventy-two, slumped in a wheelchair they’d found in the water. “I had a wineglass I really liked,” she moaned through a mouth sagging with few teeth. “Even that’s gone.”
Preacher A: Behind her stood Mario, so exhausted his heavy face seemed to be melting. “We’re O.K., we’re O.K.,” he kept whispering to himself, eyes closed. “We’re O.K. We’re O.K.”

-MATTHEW 25-

Preacher B: (Without pause transition into the following verse which is meant to especially resonate with the story just read) “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
Preacher A: “And the king will answer them: ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.”
Preacher B: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?”
Preacher A: “Then he will answer them: ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
(There should be a transitional pause before starting the reading below)
-The Hands of God-
Preacher A: One of the amazing things about the verse from Matthew 25 that we have been reading is that all nations are gathered before Christ and Christ is not only incarnate in all who are poor and thirsty and naked and sick and imprisoned regardless of nationality, creed, race or religion, but those whom Christ sets on his right hand and gives eternal life to are the righteous– the righteous from all nationalities, creeds, races and religions.
The story that we will end this message on is an abridged version of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner’s “The Hand’s of God.” As you listen to this story you will no doubt hear that it speaks about the incarnation of Christ in all who give and receive gifts meant for the least of those who are in God’s family.
Preacher B: The richest man in town was sleeping, as usual, through Shabbat morning services . . . he awoke just long enough to hear the chanting of the Torah verses from Leviticus 24:5-6 in which God instructs the children of Israel to place twelve loaves of chalah (hal-lah) on a table . . . in the tabernacle.

When services ended, the wealthy man woke up not realizing that all he heard was the Torah reading about how God wanted twelve loaves of chalah. He thought that God had come to him in his sleep and had asked him to personally to bring twelve loaves of chalah to God. The rich man felt honored that God should single him out, but he also felt a little foolish. Of all things God could want from a person, twelve loaves of chalah did not seem very important. But who was he to argue with God. He went home and baked the bread.
Upon returning to the synagogue, he decided the only proper place for his holy gift was along side the Torah scrolls in the ark. He carefully arranged the loaves and said to God, “Thank You for telling me what You want of me. Pleasing You makes me very happy.” Then he left.

Preacher A: No sooner had he gone than the poorest Jew in the town, the synagogue janitor, entered the sanctuary. All alone he spoke to God. “O Lord, I am so poor. My family is starving; we have nothing to eat. Unless you perform a miracle for us, we will surely perish.” Then . . . he walked around the room to tidy it up. When he . . . opened the ark, there before him were twelve loves of chalah! “A miracle!” exclaimed the poor man, “I had no idea You worked so quickly! Blessed are You, O God, who answers our prayers.” Then he ran home to share the bread with his family.
Preacher B: Minutes later the rich man returned to the sanctuary, curious to know whether or not God ate the chalah. Slowly he . . . opened the ark, and saw that the chalah was gone. “Oh, my God!” he shouted “You really ate my chalah! I thought You were teasing. This is wonderful. You can be sure that I’ll bring another twelve loaves –with raisins in them too!” . . .
Preacher A: The chalah exchange became a weekly ritual that continued for many years. And, like most rituals that become routine, neither man gave it much thought. Then, one day, the rabbi, detained in the sanctuary longer than usual, watched the rich man place the dozen loaves in the ark and the poor man redeem them.
The rabbi called the two men together and told them what they had been doing.
Preacher B: “I see,” said the rich man sadly, “‘God doesn’t really eat chalah.”
Preacher A: “I understand,’ said the poor man, “God hasn’t been baking chalah for me after all.”
Preacher B: They both feared that now God no longer would be present in their lives.
Preacher A: The rabbi asked them to look at their hands. “Your hands” he said to the rich man, “are the hands of God giving food to the poor.”
Preacher B: “And your hands” said the rabbi to the poor man are the hands of God, receiving gifts from the rich. ”
Preacher A: “So you see, God can still be present in your lives.”
Preacher B: “Continue baking and continue taking.”
Preachers A & B: (To the congregation) “Your hands are the hands of God.’” . . . AMEN