In the constant, nearly obsessive conversations my husband and I have about how to serve the people here, not just at Holy Cross, but also in our Valley, a very simple truth dawned on us: where are the acts of mercy?
Think about it. Why do churches stand out these days? They have the excellent, dynamic preacher who writes books (or a blog.. hehe) and an incredible worship band or choir or Sunday School program or incredible elementary school, or a singles ministry, or a GORGEOUS sanctuary, or they host conferences or concerts, or rent out their space to different organizations (boy scouts, girl scouts, german school, another smaller church, etc.), or they have uber cool graphics and power point presentations during worship... you get the point.
But what is generally, across the board, across all denominations, missing from what a congregation is known for? In my opinion it's acts of mercy.
Lots of churches feed the homeless occasionally or regularly like us, but how many can say they know these people by name, see them around town and give them rides, or share their own homes with them? We do that here. That's really neat. I'm not saying, "Oh, yeah! We're freaking awesome!" But I think our experience with our homeless community has opened my own eyes to a greater gift and mission missing from our and the church: acts of mercy.
Okay, I'm about to get a little controversial here, but everyone stay calm and hear me out. You're totally allowed to disagree, just hear me out and don't be too nasty in the comments section.
This past Lent there was a forty days of life campaign arranged by a politically active woman in our community. Basically, they stood outside of Planned Parenthood for 40 days and tried to save the lives of unborn infants. Stop right here: Of course I am for saving unborn baby's lives. OF COURSE I AM.
Beginning again: they managed to save over 100 unborn babies (I'm not sure if that was total in the 40 days of life movement or just in our community. It seems a little excessive to be only in our community, but what do I know, right?) Praise God for 100 more babies being born!!!
Here's my issue: where are we when those babies are actually born? We fight so intentionally and aggressively to allow them to live, but when they're born, where are we? Everyone has seen those befuddled faces in a congregation when a visitor shows up with a baby without a ring on her finger. People become bum-fuzzled and don't know what to do (it gets even worse when people think they may be in the presence of a gay man). Well, friends, that child is the one you saved by standing outside of planned parenthood - welcome he or she into the fold! Why don't we take it upon ourselves to make sure they have a safe living environment, health care, child care if necessary, education, a secure church home? We want them so badly to live, but then we don't follow through with their quality of life. And by the way, none of this has to be political. No matter who is in the White House, there's only one Man on the Throne and he taught compassion, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and loving your neighbor as yourself. So then, where are these things? Where are our acts of mercy?
How many churches support orphans or unwed mothers in their own communities, not just those on the other side of the world? If you can't love the neighbors you have seen and touched, how can you love those you've never met? (Check out I John) How many churches have prison ministries? How many churches reach out to the gay community without an agenda? How many churches have ministries to aides victims? How many churches decide to learn a different language so they can communicate with their community instead of complaining about how their community can't communicate with them? How many churches spend countless hours brainstorming about how their five year strategic plan needs to include joining the global fight against human trafficking? (Seriously, you who sit on church leadership boards, have you had that conversation yet?) Some do, absolutely! They are out there! But, in general, is the church, or your church, or my church known for these things? Are we known for our acts of mercy? If not, shouldn't we be?
I truly believe that any group of people are not judged by how they treat the "normal people" among them, but how they treat the least of those among them. It was said of the early church, "Oh, how they love!" We should definitely bring that statement back into legitimacy. And it's not a "we have to" kind of ministry. It's a "we get to" kind of ministry.
If I have any future agenda at my own church, it's to constantly be looking for opportunities to show mercy to those around us. I would be so very, very glad if Holy Cross became known as "the little church who loves." But I'd be even more glad if The Church regained that reputation as well.
I know we're sinners and the good we want to do, we don't do and the bad we don't want to do we keep on doing. (Romans 7) I know that. But that same author also said we have been set free from sin as well and have been freed to become slaves to Christ (All over Romans and many of the epistles). Simultaneously sinner and saint, as it were. So often when we fail, or worse yet, don't even try, we fall back on the "we're sinners" part. Anybody out there want to start giving equal wait to the "saint" part with me? We are both of them after all, right? I know as Lutherans we are scared to death of preaching a type of "works righteousness." I am, too. Acts of mercy don't earn our salvation, but they do tell our neighbor about who our Daddy is. Remember, we're "pushing our lawn mowers" because that's what our Daddy does and we just think He's so dang cool that we want to be just like Him. (If this reference confuses you, check out my very first post.)
Alright, I'll stop blabbering. You get my point. :-)
Enjoy the three day weekend.