The Prophetic Hope of the Church: Our Neighbor
How many times the question must be asked? “Who is my neighbor?” We seek to justify ourselves by accomplishing “loving” acts only to those who are like us. We think love finds her fullest expression with those who think, eat, believe and agree with us. Yet is this the highest expression of love that has been displayed for us? Does our human experience really confirm the power of love when it is held only inside the hands of those who are our allies?
How many times the question must be asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
We do not love our neighbors who are poor. We pay lip service to the weak of our city through service projects and activities that are impersonal and distant. We do not love our neighbor, as we increase the distance between us and them through large one-time seasonal events that are built to glorify our activity and use them as a means to our own ministry idolatry. We refuse to let go of our finances for fear of it being misused. (You would think only the poor misuse their money.) So we concoct all types of excuses about systems, policies and providing for the children of our enormous staffs as the reason to hold on to our dollars. At the end of the day we refuse to develop long lasting relationships of solidarity with the poor because they do not meet our standards of economic and social acceptability.
We do not love our neighbor and God has been watching the whole time.
We judge our Republicans neighbors who push people towards personal responsibility, who value the life of the unborn and place a premium on the defense of this country. You would think that those with conservative values are the plaque of the nation; outdated, women oppressing, voting suppressing Republicans. We cast aspersions on our brothers and sisters who are Democrats because they remind us to remember the poor and the hard Romans 13 type truth that government does have a role in our society. They are those American destroying, marriage corrupting, and prophylactic distributing socialist Democrats. We continue to exchange opportunities of peace and civility for chaos and vitriol. We believe, if we were honest, that whatever our political view; the opposing views will lead to the destruction of our nation.
We do not love our neighbor and God has been watching the whole time.
And what shall we say about racism? Partiality has become our weapon of choice as we judge the image bearer of God in the diminished light of our ethnic distinctions. While we should be exemplifying deeds that should be joyfully brought into the greater light; we have determined to display grace only to those who are ethnically like us. We have bludgeoned one another with the blunt instruments of stereotypes, suspicion and ignorance. Most of us need to be honest that whether black or white, we maintain a level of hostility in the South against a brother or sister of the other ethnicity. God forbid if my daughter brought home “one of those people.” None of us want to be viewed as owning our grandparents white sheets and burned crosses. None us want to claim we are descendants of black fists in the air and join the chorus of "Black Power!" So we do this in the dark. We utter our words on Facebook, design clever memes and 120 characters. We hide behind these impersonal constructs because to say such things in the presence of the “other,” would be socially unacceptable.
We do not love our neighbor and God has been listening the whole time.
We do not love our neighbor and if it was not for Christ who determined to love his neighbor, the other, us; we would not know what sacrifice, peace and acceptability is regarding the holy President of Heaven and Earth. When we could have been left unknown in our poverty with no one to understand the depth of our despair; God appeared. When we could have remained with a worldview that centered on us; God declared to us his view of all things. Finally, in extreme grace by which none of us could ever measure, God welcomed those who are not like him.
What is my hope for the Church in the South? My hope for the local Church is that she would recover in a fresh way, love for her neighbor. My hope is that she would shower God’s grace upon those who are image bearers of Christ through prayer, forgiveness and acceptance. My hope is that her heart would become inflamed with extending her healing hand in the form of new hospitals, schools, aid agencies and communities that welcomes the weakest of our nation.
My prophetic hope for the Church in the South is that she would show mercy to our neighbor.
I have been asked by several persons to provide a follow up to my last post-The Prophetic Hope of the Church: Giving. If you have not read that post, please take time to read it before continuing on.
In summary I stated the following:
The people of God that gather in the many congregations across Conway need to consider with all thoughtfulness the stewardship and distribution of their financial offerings. With an excess of one-hundred and fifty churches throughout the city of Conway, there is no reason as to why the needs of the poor cannot be addressed in a loving and systematic manner. Our current economy in my estimation is requiring local churches to seriously reconsider the manner in which they are using their finances. If we continue to elevate the message of Christ sacrifice and are not willing to sacrifice our finances; we are in danger of blaspheming the God we claim to so passionately pursue.
In the above summary there is a call to “thoughtful consideration, loving execution and the warning of hypocrisy. I am not ignorant of the fact that there are a few local churches in our city that have set aside funds to assist persons on a periodic basis. I am able to make this assertion pretty confidently because my office maintains a list of those churches and organizations that distribute; clothing, food, and some utility assistance.
What I will not relent on and what I believe is the failure of the majority of our local churches in our city is the apparent low priority given to the commitment and distribution of actual dollars to assist the poor in our city on a continual basis. Let me be clear; the burden rests on these local congregations to demonstrate in a very real manner their financial commitment to the poor in our city. The level of commitment to send millions of dollars to Africa, Haiti and other countries in the form of short term mission trips does not excuse the neglect in our greatest sphere of influence. The level of commitment to build new facilities, expand old ones or improve technology when persons are out of work and fighting to stay in their homes; is an indictment on what we truly believe about the Gospel.
The days and the decades of church leadership and lay people continuing to use the tired mantras of “they are not members,” “they will misuse our money,” and “there is government aid to assist them,” are periods of darkness that must give away to the light of Christ incarnation in our historical reality. The darkness that is characterized by selfishness, self-preservation and revelry in allurements must give way to the eternal day of the people of God characterized by sacrifice and revolutionary love.
So what does this day practically look like? Well here are just a few recommendations:
Brothers and sisters do not think that the warnings given to the seven churches in Revelation cannot be applied to us as well. If we continue to ignore the weaknesses and frailties of the men and women in our city, as we adorn ourselves in all types of earthly apparel, then there may just come a day in which our Lord will systematically remove lamp stands from our congregations.
My hope though is that this will not be the case. My hope is that the people of God would be awake from her slumber and put on clothing that is equal to the day of Christ. My hope is that the people of God in the city of Conway will reaffirm her identity as God’s elect, selling her earthly allurements for the consolation of others and the praise of God.
This is the ongoing prophetic hope of the church in her giving.