“On the 15th of May, in the Jungle of Nool, In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool, He was splashing… enjoying the jungle’s great joys… When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.”
These are the classic opening lines of the Dr. Seuss classic Horton Hears a Who, which is a tremendous story about an elephant named Horton who one day discovers and hears this small community of creatures living on a speck of dust called “Whos”. And Horton is convinced of their existence and he hears them. And the story tells of him persevering and promising and vowing to care for and protect these small creatures called Whos amidst persecution and harassment from Sour Kangaroos and a gang of monkeys and a vulture named Vlad.
And he does. He protects them. One of the driving motivations, one of the driving sayings, one of the driving truths that motivates and pushes Horton is this: “A person’s a person no matter how small.” “A person’s a person no matter how small.”
You know this phrase seems to be a truth that comes out of the very heart of Father in heaven, doesn’t it? Perhaps our Father might say, “A person is worthy of love…no matter how small.” Or maybe A person is worthy of love…no matter how large; no matter how poor. No matter how smelly. No matter how ugly or mean. No matter how promiscuous. No matter how loud. No matter how manipulative.
This is so captured in the artwork of Chris Arnade. Chris Arnade was a Wall Street banker who left it all to pursue photography connected with social justice. And he went to South Bronx which is the poorest congressional district in the United States and he took pictures; photographs of the poorest of the poor. But he didn’t just take their pictures, he told their stories as well.
This is Vanessa. Vanessa is 35 years old. She had 3 children with an abusive husband which spiraled her into drug addiction. In her own words, Vanessa tries every day to do whatever it takes to survive. When asked how Vanessa would want to be described a friend of hers chimed in and said, “She is the sweetest person I know. She would give you the shirt off her back.”
This is a woman named Egypt. Egypt is 38 years old. At the age of 14 she was kicked out of her house on to the streets by her mother who was addicted to drugs. While Chris was interviewing Egypt, this old beat up alley cat walked by. And Egypt pointed to that cat and said, “You see that cat? That’s me. All he wants is a hug. And when you say, ‘Don’t touch that, or stay away from that cat’ you’re saying stay away from me. Don’t touch me.”
This is Chris, Chris Bishop. Chris Bishop is homeless and has a drinking problem. At the age of 13 Chris killed his father after a childhood of horrible abuse. And he’s been drinking ever sense. When he was asked to describe himself, Chris with tears in his eyes said, “I am human just like everybody else.”
A person’s a person no matter how small. You know we know that this phrase resonates in the heart of our Father because we open up the gospels and we read the life of Jesus. Because Jesus came to reveal His Father’s heart. Everything that Jesus did He saw the Father doing. He saw, he heard the Father saying.
The scandalous thing about Jesus, the thing that drew people to Jesus, the thing that repelled people from Jesus was that Jesus loved everybody. He loved the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. He healed the highest Roman official and He healed the dirtiest beggar. He gave attention and spoke truth to those both who were esteemed in the eyes of society and those that were unesteemed in the eyes of society.
We see such a clear picture of Jesus demonstrating the Father’s heart in this passage from Luke’s gospel. Where Jesus performs an action. The gospel reading greets us when the disciples are having a conversation amongst themselves. The conversation that I’ve had with myself and I'm willing to guess that you have too about greatness, and credit, and prestige and fame and power. And Jesus knowing their thoughts knew that those were dangerous thoughts to have; that those were thoughts opposed to His purposes. And so He sought to counter those thoughts by performing an action. This wasn’t just any action. It was an action of profound significance. This in that day made a statement. When He brought a child and placed them at His side.
What made this action incredible is that you have to understand that to bring someone to your side was a profound act of hospitality. To bring someone to your side was to give them worth and value; to proclaim that they were your social equal.
This is why for instance the New Testament writers after Jesus was resurrected will say that Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, right beside the Father. But what made this action even more profound was the recipient of Jesus’ action. Jesus brought a child to His side.
Some of you may know that children in this ancient culture were not highly esteemed. They were considered the bottom rung of the social ladder. They were neglected and ignored. If they were called upon at a gathering it would either be to wash someone’s feet or to serve.
Jesus places the one who is lowest, lowliest esteemed to a place of honor and worth and value. You see Jesus is saying that this kingdom that the disciples were talking about, about greatness and prestige, that, “My Father’s kingdom is different than that,” Jesus says. And He turns that kingdom on its head by welcoming this child.
And then He says those famous words, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf, in my name, welcomes me. And anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”
You see friends to welcome, to love, to give value to, to notice, to be attentive to, to those deemed of less esteem by our society brings us to the very heart of our Father. There seems to be this running thread throughout Scripture that while God loves everyone He has a special place for love for the poor; the low esteemed, the downtrodden, the oppressed, doesn’t He?
I was reading this week from Isaiah 58. And in it the prophet speaking the words of God speaks about the kind of life that God desires and that’s this: “to free those who are wrongly imprisoned, to lighten the burden of those who work for you, to let the oppressed go free and remove the chains that bind people. To share your food with the hungry, to give shelter to the homeless, to give clothes to those who need them and not hide from relatives who need your help.” The Father believes a person’s a person no matter how small.
Friends this is why from the dawn of the church, the church has sought to make it a priority to love the poor, the downtrodden, those in the lowest leg of the social ladder. And the Roman world noticed this. Emperor Julian who was an Emperor kind of bitterly noticed this about this early church. And he said this, “Atheism (which is ironically enough what the Romans called Christianity – because they didn’t worship the emperor) Atheism has been specially advanced through the living service rendered to strangers and through their burial of the dead. The godless Galileans care not only for their own poor, but for ours as well, while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”
See the church from the very beginning has made it priority to love the lost, the broken, the hurting, the downtrodden, the needy, the abused whether it be materially, emotionally, physically. The early church knew that our Father knows that a person’s a person no matter how small.
Friends this is why we at Sterling United Methodist Church have sought to make it a priority to love the poor, those in need. Whether it be our Backpack Buddies Ministry, whether it be our support of LINK and the Coat Drive and the Food Drive. Local missions, national missions, international missions. Our mission trips to build homes through Habitat, or through Community Development. Reaching out to the impoverished children of Jamaica or the youth of the Czech Republic. Or here at home our Senior Citizens Dinner every May and October, or our new GRACE Ministries where this past month we able to provide food and clothing to a record 53 families.
Friends I don’t have to do a lot of praying to know that our Father in heaven deeply cares about these things. And has called and invited the church to serve these populations of people. So in these ways and many others we are seeking to do it; to jump out there and meet those needs because we believe that a person’s a person no matter how small.
But you know friends just like the disciples we can so easily miss this call to love the least. We can so easily neglect and forget.
For the disciples it was thinking ahead about their greatness and their prestige and their fame, that other kingdom, the kingdom of this world. We have things in our lives that can kind of distract us from loving and caring for the poorest in our society. Sometimes its prejudice. I’ve struggled with it, a lot of people struggle with it.
You know in that day, in Jesus’ day to bring a child was something bold and scandalous. It’s not so bold and scandalous in our day, but who might Jesus set beside him in front of you? Is it a homeless man? Is it someone who suffers from mental illness? Is it someone struggling with addiction? Is it a deadbeat dad?
Sometimes what keeps us from loving and serving the poor is time and busyness and the perception that we’re too busy. Because it takes time to love. I confess friends that there have been times when there is someone who is hungry comes into our doors and it’s a busy day and I treat them just like a job; just like an obligation. I try to rush them in and rush them out so that I can get back to my day not realizing that this is a person God has placed in my life to love, to care for, to welcome as Jesus called us to.
Friends I wonder whatever’s keeping us from serving and loving the least of these, if we would just trust in God and surrender whatever needs to be surrendered because loving the least of these brings us to the heart of our Father. And it brings His kingdom into this world, brothers and sisters.
Just this week I was talking with a man named Paul. Paul is homeless and he happened to be walking past our church on a cold and windy day. He came into the office. He didn’t come looking for a handout. He told me he saw the church and he just needed somebody to talk to, somebody to take time to listen. And Paul shared a little of his story with me.
Paul has an advanced degree in Biology. He had a good job until circumstances landed him in the streets 3 years ago. He goes from shelter to shelter, spending time in the public libraries during the day, and if he’s lucky a shelter at night.
He told me that the shelters are hard and sometimes violent. Drug and alcohol abuse are common and he said to me, “It sucks the life out of your soul.” He told me he tries to talk to God and to keep the faith. He said I need to be around people just to give me a boost, to lift my spirit, just to give me a little hope to keep going another day.” He said he wants to get out of the deep hole he is in. He wants to get a job, but he has no fixed address. He has no means of transportation. He has no clothes for an interview; all he had was the multiple layers of clothes on his back. We spent about 45 minutes together and he very appreciative of the conversation we shared. He said often when he has gone into churches he is greeted rudely or sometimes even asked to leave.
And then he said something that was really challenging. He said, “I don’t see how people who are saved by God, people who have been pulled together by God and rescued can be so suspicious and judgmental of someone who looks so rough as me.”
Friends maybe that’s the first part of welcoming the least of these, is to realize and to recognize and remember that we were the least of these. That we were the outcast.
If you’re like me you’ve never gone a day where you’ve been hungry. You’ve never gone a day where you couldn’t get food. But I think a lot of us know what it’s like to be spiritually hungry. You’ve never had to spend a night without a roof over your head or without some place to call home. But I think alot of us know what it’s like to feel isolated, alone in the universe. A lot of us know what it’s like to be without hope and lost without love in our lives.
That God sent His Son Jesus to die and rise again that we might have new life; abundant life. And He invites us into His table to fellowship with Him at His banquet table.
Friends, may we be a church that welcomes the unloved and the neglected.
You know one of the most moving parts of the Who’s story at the end of the book, and so nicely depicted by our cast here in Seussical is when the Whos are in danger by the other animals and their trying to make noise and they scream over and over again, “We are here! We are here! We are here!” May we be a church that hears them, that sees those who are not seen, that our society ignores. Because a person’s a person no matter how small.
Sermon Topics: welcoming the unloved and neglected