Jared Witt l March 30, 2017
For followers of Jesus Christ, serving those who are poor or on the margins is not something we might choose to do because we have a particular passion for it as individuals. It’s not something for us to do on the side when we feel like “giving back.” It’s not something Paul lists alongside personal charisms like the gift of prophecy or of speaking in tongues, which some might possess but not others.
If we don't live to serve the outcast, it becomes very cloudy what exactly we mean when we call ourselves Christian. In fact, we can light candles, and start a prayer group at work, and sing songs at church, and read our Bibles at a coffee shops, and join a small group, and wear crosses over our hearts, and teach kids about Daniel in the lion’s den, and hang a cross stitch of the “Serenity Prayer” over our beds, and make spiritual pilgrimages, and sit through (bleckk!) church regional gatherings, and any number of other things that are conventionally recognized as “Christian” and, as far as we know, still have not done a single thing that Jesus ever did.
But he was constantly serving the marginalized.
It’s wacky that so much of American Christianity talks so much about evangelism and so little about serving the outcast, because if we’re not doing the latter in some way, it becomes very cloudy what exactly we’re trying to share with the world when we try to “evangelize.”
Jesus, as far as we know, focused on just about everything but the family. He didn’t support “Christian” radio. He would apparently choose wine over piety every time. He was neither meek nor mild, and there were a lot of people to whom he wasn’t even particularly pleasant. And Ricky Bobby’s preferences notwithstanding, the gospels are notably short on stories of Jesus as a child beyond the two mentions in Matthew and Luke that don’t go much beyond suggesting that he was one once. Jesus, as far as we know, was silent on contraception, masturbation, and homosexuality, despite the fact that these were all hot button issues in the holy book of his religious upbringing. He seemed to hate adultery on principle, and yet, we only have stories of him forgiving and standing up for adulterers, not a peep about him condemning one.
What we do know, beyond any doubt whatsoever, though, is that adult Jesus had a huge heart and a tireless endurance for serving those who are poor and on the margins.
So why is it that in church councils and annual meetings everywhere, when an idea comes along for how to serve the ones whom Jesus specifically calls blessed, the burden of proof is always on the idea person to show why that would be an appropriate thing for a church to do? Shouldn’t the burden of proof always be on the naysayers to show why serving them wouldn’t be an appropriate thing for a church to do?
Instead you hear this predictable litany of objections. Since, they're all fear based, any counterargument will be wasted. Leaders just need to push through them.
1) “We need to take care of our own first.”
The person who raises this objection seems to have no interest in Jesus’ way of doing things.
2) “Why are we helping out [name of a social or geographical group that is not one’s own] when there are people to help here in our own backyard?”
I’ve met many people who have raised this objection. Never has one of them ever been caught serving the people “in our own backyard.” This is not unexpected. People who actually extend themselves to serve anyone beyond their own inner circle in significant ways are operating out of a worldview of grace. And people with a worldview of grace don’t draw geographical either/ors.
3) “We would love to give to [x] but someone has to pay the bills.”
The average Christian in North American gives away about 2.2% of their income. I’m sure it wouldn’t workout quite this neatly, but the mathematical fact is that if every Christian worldwide gave 10% (which isn’t Jesus’ ideal for us but is just a somewhat arbitrary biblical benchmark), hunger, water insecurity, and lack of education would be solved across the globe overnight. That we would sit there in a council meeting and mince words about how to divide up 2.2% of the pie to balance the budget rather than asking why anyone in the world is still hungry while we all sit here with hearts of stone, is a disgrace to the Gospel. Sure we will always fall short of the radical self-sacrifice to which the Gospel calls us, but at least repent for that and trust in God’s grace for crying out loud, don’t try to justify it with sensible sounding words about the electricity bill. You feed them!
4) “Well we would love to open up our campus to [euphemism for poor people], but then wouldn’t we have them you know…loitering around?”
Firstly, people don’t usually just want to hangout around your church property for no reason. Just trust me, they don’t. But if they should happen to, hypothetically, congratulations! They’re people. And you’re a church.
5) “But won’t somebody please think of the children!”
Suburban, middle class churches habitually use concern for their kids as a front to avoid that which actually makes the adults uncomfortable. It’s much easier to say, “I’m worried about the kids,” than “I don’t want to be like Jesus.” The logical conclusion for this cult of safety is for all of us to sit in individual padded cells and not move a muscle. Our lives will all be perfectly safe if we just stop living. Or we could just be smart. Take common sense precautions. And then risk letting our kids see us being like Jesus.
Cheers and Peace,
Jared Witt (Twitter: @realjaredwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.
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