"I was sick and you took care of me"

Matthew 25:31-46

Preached on Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2017

Our Gospel lesson today is….no surprise…Matthew 25, in which Jesus describes the last judgment, at which he will say to some people, “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you, 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.”  Then the righteous will answer 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 and took care of you or in prison and visited you?”  And he 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.”

 

Today we are focusing on “I was sick and you took care of me.”

What does it mean to be sick?  Sickness is when our health is compromised. 

Sickness can affect our bodies.  From the common cold to Stage 4 Cancer, when we are sick, we do not feel well, our bodies ache and we long to be cared for.

Sickness can affect our minds.  From anxiety or depression to bipolar, when we are sick, we do not feel well, our minds ache and we long to be cared for.

Sickness can affect our spirits.  From doubts or despair to hopelessness, when we are sick, we do not feel well, our spirits ache and long to be cared for.

When we are sick, in body, mind or spirit, we do not feel well, we ache and long to be cared for.

Think for a minute about a time when you were sick and someone took care of you.  I remember last summer, when I had surgery.  Doctors and nurses, family and friends, and church members all took care of me.  And I was grateful for being cared for.

Sickness affects everyone.  When people are sick in body, mind and spirit, they do not feel well, they ache and long to be cared for.     

 

Jesus said, “I was sick and you took care of me.”  He taught his disciples that one of the most important ways for us to practice our Christian faith is to take care of the sick.

“Take care of” is the translation of the Greek word epi-skep’tomai

Which means “to visit, to look out for one’s good, to relieve suffering of another.”  It involves visiting sick persons, giving good advice, or speaking words of comfort, waiting on them, doing things that they are not capable of doing for themselves. 

We started Lent with the hungry and thirsty, and the stranger and naked.  Now we are at the sick and next week the prisoner.  We see that the deeper degrees of misery demand higher degrees of charity.  The word epi-skep’tomai is used in the Bible to mark a gracious visitation on the part of God.  And so taking care of is actually being the hands and heart of God.

Jesus calls us to epi-skep’tomai, which involves taking care of people fully—with our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.  

 

We care for people with our bodies when we are present with them, to visit with them, touch them, take a meal, or bring medicine, do things they are not capable of doing, take them to the doctor or the hospital.

Allison Duvall writes about the time she was sick in Morocco, far from home, and was cared for:      Intermittently hot and then shaking with chills, aching throughout my body, I was more than sick; I was scared.  My command of Arabic was weak; I had only been staying with my host family in Rabat, Morocco, for a few weeks.  On top of that, it was the holy month of Ramadan, a sacred time. The daily fasts had my host parents and siblings tired and very hungry at the end of the day.  The scent of lentil soup wafted from the tiny kitchen as all of Morocco prepared for the call to prayer announcing sundown and the end of the day's fast--the ftour.

My elder sister Fatima sat next to me, dabbing my forehead with a cool cloth, just as the calls began to ring our across the city.  "You will be better," she said.  My host father came in the room, and he and Fatima spoke rapidly in Arabic. "We will take you to the doctor," Fati said.  "Oui, doctor," said my father.

Their ftour would have to wait.  They supported me as we slowly walked out of the apartment and into the street to hail a taxi.  For many hours into the night, long after the breaking of the fast, they stayed with me.  Fati held my hand as I cried softly, and she continued to cool my flushed skin with washcloths.  My father, in French, assured me that all would be well.  He and Fati mediated between me and the doctor; I was too tired and bewildered to stumble through my mess of Arabic and French.

By the time we made it home and Fati helped me into bed, making sure I was comfortable, only a few hours remained before the sun would rise and the fast would begin again.  My father came to the door of the salon where I slept, looked in, and offered a sweet "Good night" in broken English.  Fati placed a cool cloth on my forehead and joined him for a simple meal.  

This memory has been my guiding light, my offering when I heard someone spek of Muslims with suspicion and mistrust, or prejudice.  I tell them of the time I was very very sick and how my loving Muslim family cared for me. (Meeting Jesus on the Margins, p. 93) 

That’s epi-skep’tomai.  Jesus said, I was sick and you took care of me.  Just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me. 

Jesus calls us to epi-skep’tomai, which involves taking care of people fully—with our bodies, minds, and spirits.  

We care for people with our minds when we look out for them, act as the other person’s ears in the doctor’s office to hear and ask questions, research treatments, give good advice, organize medicines and meals, speak up on behalf of those who can’t, ensure that they have health care.

In The Christian Century, I read about a woman named Jesse Bohon.  She is a French teacher who lives in Cookeville, TN.  She has never been political, but she is concerned about health care coverage and wants to ensure that whatever replaces the Affordable Care Act is sufficient to take care of the elderly and poor people on Medicaid and sick people with chronic illnesses and pre-existing conditions.  At a town hall meeting with her representative in Congress she offered an appeal in explicitly religious terms.

 “As a Christian, my whole philosophy in life is to pull up the unfortunate. So the individual mandate, that’s what it does. The healthy people pull up the sick.” Bohon’s comments amounted to the kind of moral argument for universal health care. These comments inspired much of the room to all but explode with applause. As a result, the video clip went viral. 

In a newspaper article, reporter Helaine Olen wrote:  Bohon is insured through her work and has never needed to access the Affordable Care Act insurance markets, nor has anyone she is close with. So what motivated Bohon to drive an hour and a half and speak as personally and powerfully as she did?  Bohon told me about her childhood, growing up as one of three children of a single mom in rural Grundy, Virginia, a small Appalachian coal-mining town near the border with Kentucky. “We were the poorest of the poor,” she says. “We had no car, we were on welfare.” When children at school made fun of her because she wore clothes from Walmart and had chipped teeth, she says, “My mom made me feel special because she would tell me it didn’t matter, because Jesus loves me.”  Bohon said, “my mother raised me with the belief that Jesus loves poor people, he loves the oppressed, he loves the most vulnerable and I will tell you that’s a lesson that stuck with me.  I believe in the central message of Jesus, which was to pull up the people.”  “To me the central message of Jesus Christ is pulling up the oppressed, the vulnerable, and the poor. You could apply that to a lot of things today. Black Lives Matter, people with disabilities, the LGBT community, the refugees, or health insurance. The central principle remains the same.”  (Helaine Olen, Feb. 10, 2017) 

That’s epi-skep’tomai. Jesus said, “I was sick and you took care of me.  Just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 

Jesus calls us to epi-skep’tomai, which involves taking care of people fully—with our bodies, minds, and spirits.  

We care for people with our spirits when we relieve their suffering, speak words of comfort, send a card, knit a prayer shawl, pray for them, lift their spirits, be the way they are visited by God.

One of our church members Patti Timpani is sick. She was in the hospital for a long time and now is at a Rehabilitation Center.  The Deacons of our church have faithfully gone to visit her, took flowers to her, sat with her, talked with her, and prayed with her.  She is so encouraged to know that her church is with her, helping to lift her spirits during this difficult time.  One day, I went to visit her in the hospital.  I greeted Patti and sat down to visit.  Just as we began talking, the nurse came in with medicine to give her.  Patti introduced me as her pastor.  I thanked him for taking care of her and giving her the medicine to help her heal.  The nurse said, “I will tell you what is the most powerful in helping her heal—and it’s not this medicine.  It’s your prayers.”  After he left, I told Patti I brought her a present: a prayer shawl.  I told her that a member of our church knit it, and as she knit it, she prayed.  So that this prayer shawl is knit together with healing prayers and infused with love.  She was thrilled.  As I put it on her, she asked me to pull it up, all the way to her chin, so she could be covered with the warmth and the comfort and the prayers of her church family.  I prayed for her, adding my prayers to the prayers of all of the others, for God to take care of Patti.     

That’s epi-skep’tomai.  Jesus said, “I was sick and you took care of me.  Just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Thanks be to God.  Amen.