One bright morning a boy rushed to get up and get out to the beach. There had been a terrible storm the night before and he could just imagine all the treasures which had washed ashore during the night. When the boy got to the beach he was amazed to see the beach covered with thousands of starfish. They had been washed way up onto the sand and were starting to dry out. The boy knowing that they would die began to pick them up and throw them back into the water. A man who was strolling on the beach watched the boy frantically rushing to throw the starfish back into the ocean. The man approached the boy and said, “You know you can never throw all of these starfish back into the ocean. There are too many and they are already dying. Your throwing them back won’t make any difference.” The little boy carrying another starfish in his hands, stopped and looked into the man’s eye thoughtfully….then tossing the starfish into the waves he replied, “It makes a difference to that one!” and he rushed off to try and save more of the dying starfish.
Many people are familiar with this story. Perhaps you have heard it before. Perhaps you’ve even heard me tell it before. In my estimation, it very fittingly illustrates what we are faced with from day-to-day. There are so many storms raging around us, storms every sort, too. We are bombarded with reports of these storms in the media; but, if we never watched the news, we would still be aware so much suffering, heartache, injustice—so many storm-wrecked lives—that it would be reasonable for us to conclude, “There are so many needs. I am just one person amidst all of these desperate and dieing souls. How can I make a difference? What can I do?
The parable which was read to us from Matthew 25 points us to the answer. We sometimes read this as though Jesus is providing us with a check list of things to do to assure entrance into heaven when we die.
 Feed the hungry
 Give water to the thirsty
 Shelter the homeless
 Clothe those who have no clothes
 Visit the sick
 Care for those who are in prison
But, it seems to me that Jesus’ real intention is to teach us what kind of people he wants us to be while we live, instead of enumerating a list of things to do in order to receive a ticket entitling us to pass through heaven’s gate. Just think of how many things would have to be on that list. There are numerous examples:
(1) James 1:27 states that “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” Clearly, coming to the aid of the elderly and their many needs which transcend the basics is a God-given responsibility.
(2) John 8:1ff and the “woman caught in adultery” brings to mind the idea of treating with dignity and respect, instead of using them to advance personal agendas, those who are suffering from social injustice.
(3) Mark 5:1ff and “the demon-possessed man” from the region of the Gerasenes suggests that we should do what we can to help those who are tormented emotionally.
There are many such examples. The point is: We who are members of the body of Christ can make a difference—should make a difference—in the lives of people who are in need, because we are here to serve. Galatians 6:10 states, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” This works itself out in very practical terms in Proverbs 3:27-28. Here we read: “ 27Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’— when you already have it with you.”
In the greater Christian community there is a great deal of conversation going on about the need for Christ’s followers to become more proactive in responding to the needs in our world. For many this is a new idea, because our focus has been on form, rather than function. While form is important it is of little or no value at all if functioning appropriately is not emphasized equally. If I’m reading the Gospels correctly, it seems as though Jesus subscribes to the idea that form follows function. Therefore His teaching is very heavily weighted in favor doing rather than thinking. This is seen as follows:
In general terms Jesus identifies two attitudes of heart which should be ours with respect to our interaction with others:
(1) Jesus states in Mark 12:28-31 that loving others as ourselves is the second most important command, being second only to loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength.
(2) Jesus emphasizes that our treatment of others is to be governed by a rule that is as good as gold. It is: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) I really like the way Peterson paraphrases this in “The Message”. Here we read: “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!”
We will wrap this up by reading a familiar parable. In it we will see three essential characteristics which those who would make a difference can and should possess. The reading is from Luke 10:25-37. The three characteristics are these:
(1) Eyes that see (when he saw him)
(2) Hearts that care (he took pity on him)
(3) Hands that serve (he went to him and bandaged his wounds)
Truly, one person can make a difference. Just as the Samaritan made a difference in this traveler’s life, we can make a difference in the lives of others! Just put a smile on your face and say to the world, “How may serve you today?”
© Bill Williams
August 20, 2006