And You Visited Me (Matt 25:34-40, Eph 4:1-7)

By | January 24, 2010

Life Is Messy #4


     We are in very Good Company. To me, the most incredible thing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what Jesus did for us on the cross by taking our sins upon himself is that he gave a chance to start over.

     You have no idea the burden of guilt I carried for things I had down and the life style I had lead. You have no idea the burden of guilt and anger I carried because of the things my stepfather accused and convicted me of, that I had never done. Had the world looked at my life at the age of 22 it the world would have said, “It’s All Over.” But Jesus said, “Do Over.”

     The world would have said, “Never again.” Jesus said, “Mulligan.”

     The world would have said, I was a “Write Off.” Jesus said, “Wipe the slate clean.”

     The would have said “No Chance.” But Jesus said, “Second Chance.”

     Because of what Jesus did for me on the cross, I was forgiven. That load of guilt that I had carried was taken from me and I was not only given a Second Chance, I was given a new life as a child of God, as an heir of the Kingdom. And because of that, I began my journey to become a Disciple. It’s a journey which will take a lifetime to complete but one I can live every day.

     That’s what the Church is all about. I give thanks for all those people who made the word Church a verb. They answered the call to be Disciples who make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And they made a difference in my life. Through their lives, the words in the Bible and the stories of Jesus became real. We all need a second chance, a do-over, a new start,

     We all need a second chance, a do-over, a new start because none of us are perfect. We’ve all made mistakes. Scripture says, “we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That’s why Jesus came. That’s what John and Charles Wesley realized. That was the impetus behind much of their ministry and preaching. Their walk with Christ became more than an intellectual exercise and they wanted others to experience the love of God they had experienced.

     And they realized that one of the places which needed the Good News of Jesus Christ the most was the prison system. The Prison system in England was barbaric, especially Debtors prison. But the Wesley’s went methodically to the prisons to witness and bring hope. Countless times they stood with the condemned as they gallows lever was pulled, still praying, still preaching, still attempting to lead the hopeless and the lost into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

     They took to heart and put into practice what Jesus said in Matt 25:34-40 (NRSV)

[34] Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

[35] for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

[36] I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

[37] Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

[38] And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
[39] And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

[40] And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

     One of the early church’s greatest evangelists of all times did much of his most important work and writings from prison. I’m talking about the Apostle Paul. He considered himself a “prisoner for Christ.”
     Paul wrote these words to the church in Ephesus from a prison cell.

Eph 4:1-7 (NRSV)

[1] I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

[2] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
[3] making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

[4] There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,
[5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

[6] one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
[7] But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

     Before it was ever a movement or a denomination, when the word Methodist was used as a term of derision because of what we did and how we made Church a verb and lived out our faith in our daily lives, we were involved in prison ministry. And today is no different. Watch this:


     A. As United Methodists, reaching out to those in the prisons has always been a part of our ministry. The ministry in that video is just one way in which we minister to those who have been incarcerated. We have Chaplains, we offer education programs. In Ft. Worth we care the families of those who are in prison by offering low cost weekend shelter for those who need it when the come to visit one of the area prisons. That’s PACT House. They also offer meals and counseling.

     Penny Yaites, one of the Deacons in our Conference works with Restorative Justice, the purpose of which is to help congregations establish ways to help Ex-Felons reintegrate into society.

     And then there is KAIROS ministry. KAIROS is the Greek word for “God’s Time” but it’s also the name of one of the most important prison ministries in the state of Texas. How many of you have been on the Walk to Emmaus or know about the Walk to Emmaus? KAIROS is a prison version of the Walk to Emmaus. And it has a powerful impact on the life of the inmates and the prisons.


     This morning it’s my privilege and honor to introduce to you a close friend and brother in Christ.  His name is Victor Hernandez but he goes by the name “Piano.” It’s hard to be brief when talking about Paino because he has such an incredible story. I started hearing about him in 1999 when I first went to the church in Joshua but didn’t actually meet him until August of 2005. You see, Piano was what we might call a “three striker” and was never supposed to see the free world again. Yet, last year at Annual Conference he received the Newgate Award for Prison ministry.

     It’s an honor and a privilege to call him my friend and he truly is my brother in Christ. I’ve asked him to come and share his testimony of the miracle God worked in his life.

     Briefly, here’s Piano’s story.

     Justice ministry involves people in all sorts of places and stations of life but rarely do we get the opportunity to honor someone who has been both the recipient of Justice Ministry like Kairos as well as being an active participant in serving in Justice Ministry.

     It is very difficult to be brief in talking about Victor Hernandez or Piano as he is better known. Briefly, Piano was a “three striker” who was never supposed to see the free world. He was living the prison lifestyle to the fullest. Then in March of 1998, Piano experienced a Kairos ministry weekend. His life was profoundly changed by the unconditional love of God in Christ shared by the Kairos team. That weekend, he truly became God’s man.

     Still in prison, with little or no hope of parole, the chains fell off and Piano experienced the freedom only Christ can bring. Everything about his life and his lifestyle reflected that freedom.

     In 2005, Piano met with the Parole Board for a routine hearing. If nothing happened it would be another eight years before his next Parole hearing. Normally these interviews one and a half to two hours and are extensive. They asked him one question, “If you got out today, where would you go live?”

     Piano’s answer was, “Joshua, Texas.” When asked “Why?” Piano explained, “Because there is a United Methodist Church there that supports and loves me.” (One of the Kairos team members was a member at FUMC Joshua and maintained a relationship with Piano which grew into the Local Church’s involvement.) That was all they asked. They said, “Thank you,” and left.

     The prison system saw such a profound change in Piano’s life over the years from that Kairos that on August 19, 2005, Piano was paroled. True to his word, he moved to Joshua.

     Since coming to Joshua he has gotten a job, bought a car and a house and gotten married. He and his wife Nancy are active and respected members of the congregation who are deeply loved.

     Piano has helped open the door to our deeper involvement in Justice Ministry through helping establish Overcomers, a Christian based 12 Step program which our county and district courts support. Piano was the first inmate ever invited back to the prison from which he was paroled to tell his story to his former inmates. He continues to serve in the Kairos ministry and now sits on the State Kairos Board.

     Piano’s nickname is another story for another day but suffice it to say, Piano Hernandez is a fine tuned instrument who God is using to play a symphony of grace and witness. If you ask, he will share his story. I am proud and honored to call him my friend and my brother in Christ.


     Thank you, Piano. Piano and I are going hang out between services but I’m sure if you’d like to ask him some questions, he’d be willing to answer.

     The truth is the world is a Messy Place. Some of the worst messes we bring on ourselves, that’s the one thing prisoners, addicts of all kinds and other have to admit to begin the process of recovery. Sometimes, we are the victims of the messes gone messier in someone else’s life. And sometimes we are the victims of natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti.

     But know this. No matter, we have a God who loves us, who offers us that second chance and new life through His Son. We know that, that’s why we are here. We’ve heard the Good News. But how are they supposed to know it, how is the world going to hear that message, if we don’t tell them? If we don’t show them? If we don’t take the message to them? How many more men and women like Piano does God want to use?

     Pray for our Prison Chaplains. Pray for all the men and women who are incarcerated and trying to live like Christ. Pray for their families and friends. Then pray for KAIROS and all the Restorative Justice Ministries we have as United Methodists. Who knows what God will do with those prayers.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.