A very powerful and dynamic preacher was invited to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ at a very large, urban, Episcopal church.
Almost everyone entered the church by climbing the few warn marble steps, walking by a few "street people" who were sitting on the stairs, not just to rest, but to ask for donations. Most ignored them, and walked by very quickly, wishing the ushers would remove the men.
Once inside, the congregation enjoyed the organ prelude. Then all stood for the opening hymn. The procession was long, with choir, acolytes, clergy and the bishop. The singing was bold and beautiful.
However, as the procession moved forward, there was commotion in the rear. One of the street beggars had joined the line, right behind the bishop. He danced up the aisle as he waved to the congregation. Two ushers met him at the front, and escorted him out.
The opening remarks by the celebrant assured the congregation that this was not an unusual occurrence in this downtown church, and the "problem" had been handled. The liturgy continued without a hitch, until the Gospel reading. The dirty, poorly dressed man had re-entered the church, and was stumbling up the main aisle.
Ushers were following him, and seemed prepared to catch him. The man approached the front, and just as the Gospel reading finished, He climbed up into the pulpit. He said, in a very clear voice, "Let us pray!" It then became obvious he was not a street person, but the featured preacher.
He quoted the words of Jesus from the Holy Gospel of the evening (Matthew 25:31-46 NRSV). "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 me, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it we saw you sick or in prison and visited you . Truly 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."
There was a hush in the church and those listening made a resolve to change, for the sermon reminded them that their baptismal vows called them to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as yourself and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
May we all make a new resolve -- love one another.
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