Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:27

It seems to me that the Church is much better at emphasizing the latter point than the first one – when was the last time you heard a sermon encouraging you to look after orphans and widows? When was the last time you were given the opportunity to participate in ministry to orphans and widows? Does your church budget reflect this priority of God’s or is it more heavily weighted toward helping you become/remain unpolluted by the world? I can’t think of a single church I’ve belonged to where there would be anything close to a balance in the church budget between looking after orphans/widows and pursuing holiness. Now you might say that there are fewer orphans and widows than there are healthy people who need help pursuing holiness. OK, I’ll buy that, and I would also agree with you that the percentage of a church budget associated with a specific ministry isn’t a final determination of the church’s support of or involvement in that ministry. For example, nursing home ministry is relatively inexpensive. Still, the point is valid that the Church as a whole does very little to serve “the least of these.” Which means individually, most of us are probably doing little to serve “the least of these.” Jesus said:

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34“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. 35For 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, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25:31-46

There are 16,000 nursing homes in the United States, and another 35,000 assisted living facilities. 1.6 million people live in those nursing homes, and 800,000 people die in them each year. The statistic that hit me the hardest, though, is that about one third of all the people who die in the US will have lived in a nursing home for three months or longer before their death. One third. Another statistic that got to me was that eighty percent of people who live in nursing homes receive less than one visitor each week. These people are among the sick Jesus talked about. I would argue that they are also among the strangers because they have been moved to a place that was not their home, and the prisoners because they cannot leave (in most cases). Yet they are the people who built the world we live, who taught in schools, who worked in factories, who cooked and served in restaurants, and who taught in Sunday Schools. They are people who are lonely, confused and disappointed. Some are feeling defeated.

For just a moment I want you to remember and think about the most difficult trial you have ever gone through. Now multiply your suffering, confusion and stress by some large number. That’s the kind of trial that our nursing home friends are going through. What did you need when you were going through your trial? You needed Jesus to comfort, heal, protect, provide and love you. And when He seemed far away, you needed a friend to come alongside you, put their arm around your shoulder and walk you over to their Friend, Jesus. You needed your earthly friend to be a sort of conduit between you and the Lord because your circuits seemed to be closed at the time you most needed to hear from God. Your friend did that by reminding you of God’s faithfulness and His promises, by praying with you, and simply by being there.

We have the awesome opportunity to become friends with people who desperately need someone who can introduce them to Jesus and/or be their conduit during times when He seems far away. They need someone to take their hand and lead them to the feet of Jesus with their pains and their cares. They need someone to give them the cold cup of living water that comes from Christ.

Those who live in nursing homes, have been moved from their home into a strange place where people who are as young as their grandchildren now tell them when and what to eat, when to wake up and go to bed, when it’s time to take a shower and when it’s time to take their medicine. Much of their privacy is lost as they share rooms with people they don’t know and the doors are kept open most or all of the time. Their world has become quite small and they have no control over it. They are probably in pain most of the time. Everyone has authority over the residents and many people treat them as if they were invisible. Most will struggle wondering if their life has any purpose or ever will have purpose again.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

This verse is God’s commission to you and me. We are saved by grace through faith, but we are commanded to do good works. The verse is also God’s commission to those who are in nursing homes. Those in our nursing homes who know Christ need refreshing and encouragement that God still has purpose for them. God still has works that He has prepared in advance for them to do. From personal experience, I can tell you that some of those works are to minister to the people who befriend and serve them. Nursing home residents have been such a blessing to me as I’ve ministered to them.

You are all familiar with Jesus’ final commandment to the church:

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.
Mark 16:15

A significant percentage of those in our world live in nursing homes. They are most likely at the time in their lives when they are in more need than they have ever been – socially and spiritually. The fields are ripe for harvest and the saints are in need of encouragement. Will you consider going?

I introduced a new series of posts a little more than a week ago – Let’s be PC – Practicing Christians! I never intended for the first post to about serving in nursing homes, but it seems God did. I was just about to hit the publish button on this post when I realized it’s all about practicing what God commands and should be the first in this series. I had planned on blogging about a subject that will have to wait for the future. I guess God wanted to draw our attention to religion that He accepts as pure and faultless. I won’t argue with that call!

Resources: To become involved in nursing home ministries, contact God Cares Ministry if you live in northeast Ohio – they offer training, resources and teams you can join if your church doesn’t have one; the Sonshine Society for large-print resources and to find ministries in other areas of the country, or a local nursing home to ask the Activities Director if they have a church service for the residents and if you might visit residents one-on-one. Be the catalyst that begins a ministry at your church that reaches into the lives of men and women who helped create the community in which you live.

2 Responses to “Let’s Be PC: Ministering to the Least of These”
  1. Kelly Dotson says:

    Thank you for these words. I am begininng an independent ministry called Father’s Eyes ministries. The nursing home population is one of my target populations. Your blog was very interesting. The statistics were astounding.

  2. Sandy says:

    Oh, Kelly – I pray many blessings as you pursue such a ministry. Be sure to check out God Cares Ministries. Keep in touch!

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