Friday, December 10, 2010

A Living Epistle

This past week I was listening to a preacher speak about the love of God and he began detailing the life of Mother Teresa, who was an Albanian Catholic nun and founder of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. She ministered for more than 45 years to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity's expansion, first throughout India and then in other countries. At the time of her death in 1997, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had more than 4,000 sisters, and an associated brotherhood of 300 members, operating 610 missions in 123 countries. These included hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counseling programs, personal helpers, orphanages, and schools.

The preacher went on to share a quote of hers that has remained lodged in my head all week because of its incredible poignancy and truth. An interviewer years ago had asked Mother Teresa how she was able to accomplish such great works in her life given her humble beginnings as an Albanian nun. She responded that she had not accomplished great works, but had rather performed simple acts toward others in need with great love.

As I pondered this statement, I thought to myself that she perfectly summed up the crux of the gospel and the Christian faith. It is not the acts themselves but acts performed in the love of Christ that minister to the body and soul.

Mother Teresa said many times throughout her life that being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat. She acutely understood and lived the message of Christ as he told His followers to love their neighbor as themselves. In fact, all of Christ’s miracles were not performed simply to wow people but to showcase His love. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, visited the lonely, and raised the dead because of His great love. He told us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that love is the greatest virtue of all because it encapsulates all of the others.

So, it is no wonder that in Matthew chapter 25, as Jesus speaks about the judgment of God when the believers will be separated from the unbelievers, He tells us that the litmus test of our faith in Him would be practically demonstrated in our lives as we minister to the needs of others. He never mentions what a devout Christian we were in terms of how often we attended church, Bible studies, or revival meetings, but instead focuses on how we loved and met the needs of others, in particular other believers, as he says to those on His right, “Come, you blessed of 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 drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”

Did you notice that the acts that are commended are not earth shattering in nature, are they? Christ speaks of giving water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, shelter to a stranger, and visiting the sick, lonely, or imprisoned. These are acts we all can do regularly in the normal course of life no matter our status, education, or geographical location. Christ did not say, “When you founded a church, surrendered to the missionary field, or built a school, you did these things to me.” He said a cup of water given to someone in need was given to Him.

What an amazing thought - a cup of water, some food, a bag of clothes, shelter for a stranger, time spent with the sick or lonely. These are the demonstrable acts of a life that is completely lost in Christ and these were the very acts that Mother Teresa performed over and over again for 45 years. This is why she said that she performed small acts with great love because she understood the Person she was truly ministering to – Jesus Christ. What a wonderful thought to allow to captivate our life and shape our walk.

So, this brings us to the most important question. What are we doing to minister to others? What am I doing? I recently listened to a sermon where the preacher said that your neighbor is anyone that has a need that you can meet. How many people around you and me have needs that we can meet? Let’s dedicate ourselves this Christmas season and throughout 2011 to becoming living epistles to others.

"Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus." - Mother Teresa

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