Sunday 22nd November

Matthew 25: 31 -40

How much can you pack into a shoe box? It is amazing how many things it is possible to squeeze in; toys for children and books and games and gloves and hats and sweeties. Chocolates for old ladies and stockings and pink soap and a pretty brooch and scarves and gloves. Many years ago now – before I became a minister, and when the poor state of orphanages in Romania was discovered I led worship in my own church and told the story that I had read on teletext about collecting shoeboxes of toys for the children tied for so long in their cots. Three weeks later Pam, one of the church members came to me after the service and said “You know the story of the shoe boxes? Well where do you send them because I told everyone at work about them and now my spare bedroom is full of them.” She had been given 50, filled by her colleagues!

Whenever I read that story Jesus told about the sheep and the goats I remember that it isn’t the big things in life that make a difference; it is the small acts of kindness that go almost un-noticed that are important. It is too easy to feel overwhelmed by all the poverty and injustice in the world today. We are truly a global village through our ability to connect far and wide, so we know so much more. Yet a good friend of mine is fond of saying “God doesn’t ask us to do anything we cannot handle – only to do all we can wherever and whenever we can” So we cannot feed all the hungry children of the world – but we can feed a few; we cannot give water or life to the thirsty – but we may give a cup of coffee to the homeless person in the precinct; we may not be able to right all the wrongs of the world – but we can act justly towards our neighbours and those around us.

It is by being kind to people we may not know very well that are in need that we become part of that wonderful story that Jesus told the people around him. They understood so little. “Lord” they said “when did we see you hungry and failed to feed you, or thirsty and gave you nothing to drink; when did we see you naked and give you clothes, or sick and in need of visiting?” And Jesus then gave them a blueprint for right living “Just as you do anything for anyone, you are doing it to me”

So this year, when so many have been isolated and afraid strangers have visited, have brought food and medication, and have broadened their smiles so that their eyes reflected the love with which the help was given. This year local businesses, themselves struggling because of closures forced by the pandemic, have fed the children of Exmouth by donating food parcels to parents at their wits end trying to manage on less income. Two years ago one wonderful Exmouth lady – Claire Austin – discovered through her work that there were families in this beautiful seaside town who were struggling with waiting for benefit payments and not able to feed and clothe their children. She organised Friends in Need – an internet based swap shop where people who had too much materially, or who were buying new, could offer what their children had outgrown in equipment and clothes or in household goods and people made donations in return that enabled Claire to feed families. In twelve months there were four thousand regular users of her site. She had to give up her own work because there were not enough hours to do what needed doing for her families. In the last twelve moths she has given hope where there was none and has just been awarded a Pride of Devon award for her compassion. But she will tell you she wants no awards, no recognition. Just justice and love for all the families and the homeless and the elderly whom we support. No doubt some of you are part of this remarkable charity that is right here on our doorstep.

This is what Jesus was talking about – that the care and consideration and kindness we show to each other is recognising that Christ is within every woman, child and man that we come across every day. Their stories, their sorrows, their needs are part of the humanity of Jesus and in serving them we are serving him. At the end of that story Jesus says that those who act with compassion towards others will surely see God.

If we had been together today we would have blessed the shoeboxes that you have lovingly filled. Sadly we could not do that – but those boxes are already blessed; they have been filled with blessings and love as each one has been filled with the gifts chosen so very carefully and packed so beautifully. If you want God’s blessing on them as they journey towards their recipients then you could say

“Bless Gracious God, these boxes. Bless those who give and those who receive, and help us all to see Jesus in everyone we meet”

And remember always what Jesus has said. “Whatever you do for anyone, even the least of my children, you are doing for me”

Barbara Bennett