“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I don’t know about you but every time I attend a funeral I end up asking myself the same question somewhere during the service, “I wonder what people will be saying about me at my funeral?” It’s an unavoidable question whenever we are forced to consider our mortality. The way we celebrate the end of life tells us a great deal about what we ultimately, truly value in the course of life. I have yet to attend a funeral where family and friends spoke primarily about stock portfolios, strategic plan goals, material possessions or even the greatest of life’s accomplishments. If you listen carefully the theme at nearly every funeral is the quality of the relationships that were left behind. In fact, the entire setting of any given funeral will tell you a lot about the way the deceased lived their life. I have been to the funeral of very humble people with little means and no great life accomplishments, and seen large churches with standing room only. And I have attended funerals of some wealthy and powerful people whose mourners could scarcely fill five pews. The reason for both was the value of the relationships they left behind.
Jesus’ description of the final judgment from Matthew 25 always unnerves me. He places the greatest value on activities that, in my life, are too often afforded the least amount of time and priority. If you ever wondered how seriously Jesus took relationships look no further than Matthew 25. It is a stunning reminder that the way we truly love our neighbor, give ourselves to serve those around us in need, and value our relationships as ends and not means all have eternal consequences.
So let me ask you, what kinds of relationships surround you? How would your peers describe your relationships with them? How would your kids describe your relationships with them? How would your closest friend describe your relationship with him/her? How would you most want people in your life to describe your relationships with them?
Take this last question, “How would you most want people in your life to describe your relationships with them?” and write down an answer to it. Come up with at least five one-word descriptions of the real substance of the relationships for which you would most like to be remembered. Here are a few of mine: trustworthy, caring, honest, encouraging, and fun. Now here’s the tough part, find three of your closest friends or relatives and ask them to write down five words that best describe their relationship with you, that is, how they experience you in relationship. Then compare their lists to yours. If you can, discuss the two sets of lists and listen to them as they talk about how they encounter you in relationship and also how they react to your own list. Finally, read the text from Matthew again, look at your own list and ask for God’s guidance in answering the question, “Lord, help me create the relationships around me that breathe life into these words and result in a life of service to others like you talked about in Matthew 25.”
Dear God, you are Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and your entire being is defined by intimate relationship. Forgive me for the ways I have used relationships to get where I want instead of seeing in them the true meaning of the abundant life. You created us for relationship and too often I have missed that in my drive to fulfill my own agenda and secure my own happiness. In doing so I have left many people hungry, unclothed and uncared for. Lord I am not totally happy with how others might see me right now, and if you took me home I will have left a lot of work undone. Give me a heart to love my neighbor, to serve them in your name and to love them for your sake. Help me, Lord, to place the highest possible value on the relationships around me, for in doing so I know that I will bear your image in this world and demonstrate your love wherever I go. In Jesus’ name. Amen.