Monday, December 15, 2008

Where Heaven and Earth Overlap

Recently a lady confided to my wife that she's behind on her rent and needs help. "But", she said, "I really have no idea how to ask my church for help. I've never even heard this kind of thing mentioned before at church."

What...?? That struck me hard. Because when she wanted to volunteer for the choir there was no was obvious. And when she volunteered for the nursery, there was no doubt where to go; heck, they came looking for her! But when her life hit the fan...well, then she had no clue. As it turns out, there is no banner in the foyer advertising for people who need help paying rent. Go figure.

People need help sometimes. Sometimes they need a LOT of help. A thirty second Yahoo search tells me that, statistically, her church should expect to have about 38 adults and 28 children living at poverty level at any given moment. That's not so many. Beds, food, clothes, safety, a few bucks...a fresh start. Material need is inconvenient, but it's sure not complicated.

Take Jesus, for instance. Jesus was faced with a food shortage: thousands of people had followed him far out into the countryside without bringing any food to eat. The disciples pressed him about it, but he replies in his usual, annoying way: "Okay then, YOU feed them." I imagine they're pretty stumped at first. But then some kid, one too stupid to understand the math, offers to share his lunch...with everybody! So he passes his lunchbox around, and around and around and around until somehow, miraculously, everyone has eaten their fill. And the disciples went on their way, each with his own lunchbox filled with leftovers.

In the family of Jesus, all it takes is for somebody to have a little, and soon everyone will have enough. Welcome to the kingdom of God! Here, where Heaven and Earth overlap, there is plenty for everybody. All that's necessary is that our faith is stronger than our mathematics.

Where are you living?

And hey, what are you going to do with all those leftovers?


icatsyelnats` said...

So true... I wish that we could get back to that. In God's economy, there's always enough, and we are the vessels that He chooses to use!

darin said...

i didn't know this blog existed until now JOE! what up? i kept checking in on webstie and found nothing -
"God isn't short of cash mister..." - Bono

Sean said...

So, my question. In your message, there was definitely a disapproving overtone to the church's paid lay ministry staff. With this particular person, what did you do? Whose responsibilty is it to care for the poor, the weak, the hungry, the homeless, etc? Is it the church's elders, deacons, or staff to solely do this? It is easy to sit back to criticize, theorize, and complain about things not getting done to serve others and to point out how Jesus who have handled it, but it is our individual calling and responsibility to serve and provide these services to the poor, homeless, needy, dying.

Joe B said...

Yo, Sean. Glad to hear from you! I’m about to go “beady-eyed prophet” in my comment, but it’s not personal here. It’s just about teaching a biblical perspective that’s outside the institutional norm of church. Thus, the unChurch.

So…I have a definite tone of disapproving something that I did not even mention? You may think the situation I described reflects badly on someone. Or that everything must be blamed on somebody. But count me out of that game. I never mentioned it, and it does not even interest me. I'm talking about a broad issue of faith, not a narrow issue of blame. So you'll have to crawl outside that dark box of church management and staff and volunteers getting things done and embarassment and blame.

Then curl up with a Bible and read the "sharing" passages in Ac. 2:44-45 & Ac 4:32. Or the “bread distribution” story in Acts 6. Or the detailed "widows list" ordered in 1 Tim 5:3-16. Or the vast OT foundation of the sharing ethic in the Law and Prophets. Now, in that same New Testament look for all the places where money is pooled for hiring staffs to run programs and teach and pray (hint: they ain’t none!) Man, we could operate like that, there’s more than enough money. But churches don’t do it because they’d rather do something else instead. You gotta look at this stuff and shake your head and wonder if we’re even talking about the same religion at all.

It’s fair enough if you ask what I did about this lady’s predicament, so it's fair enough if I answer. We paid her rent, and I don’t even know what she looks like. We felt really lucky to have a bunch of money on hand. Then we looked her up later to see if he was making it through. And I talked to the good folks at her church, ‘cause I figured they'd want to know and maybe help out. I’m sure they tried. And I'll bet that at this very moment they are busy hanging that banner in the foyer. Right?

But let’s suppose that I’d had no money to help her with. What then? Does that mean that I have to shut up? That I cannot hold up the Word as a standard? Is the Bible less authoritative when read by a poor man than by a rich one? Hmmm...what planet are we on, here?

(In Acts 6 and 1 Ti 5, and as far back as Deuteronomy it is clear that providing for the poor among us is a collective function. In fact it appears to be the primary New Testament era purpose for collecting money. That doesn’t mean that individuals are exempt, but heck, why would a follower of Jesus even want to be exempt from giving?)