This post is part of my “stories” series. In this series, I share stories of how people live their lives in response to the gospel and as a demonstration of God’s love in order to teach us and to provide an example to provoke us to love and good works. (See “stories: A New Series” for more information about this series.)
In the fall of 2007, some good friends of ours decided to start spending time in a local nursing home. This wasn’t a “church program” or a “ministry”, but a desire on their part to spend time with “the least” in order to demonstrate God’s love. They talked to the administration at the nursing home, completed the forms and classes and tests necessary to spend time with the residents, and started going to the nursing home one morning each week. They all went – the husband, wife, and their children, even their 3 year old.
They invited me to go with them, and I wanted to go. But, I couldn’t go because of scheduling – work, teaching, and school scheduling. However, last summer, when I was only working, I was able to adjust my work schedule to spend time with them in the nursing home.
I arrived at the same time my friends arrived, and I walked into a common room with them. There were already fifteen or so residents sitting in a circle – some in wheelchairs, some in chairs, some on sofas – waiting for them to arrive. My friends started greeting the residents, and I could tell right away that this was more than a “program” to them. They genuinely love these elderly men and women. Some of the residents greeted them with smiles and hugs and words expressing their gratitude for coming. Other residents nodded or moaned, but were unable to communicate more than that. Some residents seemed completely unresponsive. But, my friends made their way around to each person, holding their hand, speaking a kind word to them, showing them the love of Christ, even if the person could not respond.
Eventually, a few of my friends headed down the halls of the nursing home to the rooms of some of the residents that they knew well. A few minutes later they returned walking with or pushing someone who had forgotten that they were coming, or had been unable to come on their own. Soon, there were twenty or more residents chatting with my friends.
My friend reminded the residents that they had been reading through the Gospel of Matthew together. He opened his Bible and, he and his children started reading from chapter 25 – each one taking turns. They read two chapters, not just a few verses. I knew that some of the residents could not hear what was being read. I knew that some of the residents could hear but could not process or remember what was being read. But, they knew that my friends were there because they cared for them deeply.
Call it coincidence – or call it divine providence – but the chapters that my friends read that morning included this passage:
Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who 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 drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:32-40 ESV)
I couldn’t help but noticed that I was seeing this passage lived out in front of me at that very moment. My friends were loving “the least” – people who could not return their love except in a touch or a hug or a kind word, if that. But, my friends love them any. They were not looking for a response from this sweet men and women. My friends were the ones responding – they were responding to the awesome grace and love and mercy and forgiveness that God had poured out on them.
After they read two chapters from the Gospel of Matthew, my friends asked the men and women if they would like to sing. Several of them called out the names of popular hymns and we all sang. After we sang, my friends once again made their way around to each person, greeting them again and speaking to them individually.
My friends do not read my blog. They probably do not know about the term “missional”. They probably do not know about the discussion that surrounds the meaning of the word “missional” today. But, they don’t care. They do not lavish their love on these precious people so that they can claim the label “missional”. Instead, they love because they were first loved. They love because God’s Spirit is producing love within them.