The Anchor Mission: Part Two
James 1:27 (TNIV)
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
This verse doesn't incapsulate everything that a local gathering of Jesus-followers are to be about, but it brings to the forefront a major theme. Jesus fed orphans, placed them on his knee and blessed them. Jesus loved widows, bringing their dead sons back to life and honoring their sacrificial giving. Jesus loved the poor in spirit, those who mourned, those who hungered and thirsted/for righteousness. Does our church love who Jesus loved? Do we look after who Jesus looked after? Jesus didn't look after himself or his own family or even his own disciples. Not that Jesus didn't love his family, his disciples, or himself. But his love was generous enough that it didn't stop with the people that were always around him, he sought out people who had no one around them to give them generous love.
One does not have to be wealthy to look after orphans or widows. It's not a matter of how much money you have, but what kind of love do you profess to have been forgiven by? Jesus tells a story that makes this point: those who have been forgiven much give much, those who have been forgiven little give little. I think of Micah 6:8, which I am sure James has in mind when he makes this point: God does not want our fat tithe checks as a substitute for our big hearts towards him; God does not want our missionary service as a replacement for our merciful love in His Name. God wants us to Love Mercy, to Act Justly, to Walk Humbly with God...or as James puts it: to look after orphans and widows...who need mercy, justice, and humble Jesus-followers.
A book I worked through this week by Shane Claiborne called "The Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical", unnerved me, challenged me, provoked me, inspired me in regard to this theme of Jesuswork: looking after those on the margin of society as a true example of belonging to our Father in Heaven.
Here are some quotes (I typed out five pages worth, I won't paste them all here...though you don't know how hard it was for me to restrain myself...) from Claiborne's book; I highly recommend you go to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy.
As Mother Teresa would say, “We are called not to be successful but to be faithful.” That sounds good, but it was the beginning of my years of struggling with the tension between efficiency and faithfulness. I remembered Gandhi’s saying that what we are doing may seem insignificant, but it is most important that we do it. Pg 78
While the temptation to do great things is always before us, in Khalighat I learned the discipline of doing small things with great deliberation. Mother Teresa used to say, “We can do no great things, just small things with great love. It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it.” Pg 78
But what had lasting significance were not the miracles themselves but Jesus’ love. And the incredible thing about that love is that it now lives inside of us. Pg 85
Mother Teresa always said, “Calcuttas are everywhere if only we have eyes to see. Find your Calcutta.” I was ready to come home. I knew that my Calcutta was the United States, for I knew that we could not end poverty until we took a careful look at wealth. I was to battle the beast from within the belly. I learned from the lepers that leprosy is a disease of numbness. The contagion numbs the skin, and the nerves can no longer feel as the body wastes away. In fact, the way it was detected was by rubbing a feather across the skin, and if the person could not feel it, they were diagnosed with the illness. To treat it, we would dig out or dissect the scarred tissue until the person could feel again. As I left Calcutta, it occurred to me that I was returning to a land of lepers, a land of people who had forgotten how to feel, to laugh, to cry, and land haunted by numbness. Could we learn to feel again? Pg 89
According to Mother Teresa, it is among the wealthy that we can find the most terrible poverty of all – loneliness. Pg 93
I once heard the saying, “God comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.” In my suburban comfort, I increasingly felt disturbed by God. I became very uncomfortable in the comfortable suburbs. The beautiful thing was my discomfort aronse not from a cynical judgmentalism but from a longing for something more. I did not want to settle for comfort. I did not want to settle for a life detached from the groaning of the slums or the beauty of playing in open fire hydrants and having block parties in the inner city. I wanted to see the community of Willow Creek shared with the lonely suffering masses that needed it so badly but would never make it to Barrington. The more I read the Bible, the more I felt my comfortable life interrupted. Pg 107
We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore the cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor. Pg 113
It is no wonder that the footsteps of Jesus lead from the tax collectors to the lepers. I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end. Pg 114
If you ask most people what Christians believe, they can tell you, “Christians believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that Jesus rose from the dead.” But if you ask the average person how Christians live, they are struck silent. We have not shown the world another way of doing life. Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus in along the way. And doctrine is not very attractive, even if it is true. Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death. Pg 117
In fact, if our lives are easy, we must be doing something wrong. Momma T used to say, “Following Jesus is simple, but not easy. Love until it hurts, and then love more.” Dorothy Day of the Catholic worker movement understood this well. She said, “Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer.” This love is not sentimental but heart-wrenching, the most difficult and the most beautiful thing in the world. Pg 136
Vocation comes from the same root as voice, denoting the hearing of a divine call. Beyond knowing that God has a purpose for our lives, most of us spend little energy seeking our vocation, especially in light of how the needs and sufferings of our neighbors might inform how we use our gifts for divine purposes. There are plenty of people who are miserable in their jobs, for they have not listened to God’s call. And I would add there are many Christians who are not fulfilled in their spiritual lives because they have no sense of their gifts or purpose, and they just run to the mission field to save souls rather than transform lives and communities using their gifts and those of the people they live among. Both lead to emptiness and burnout. Pg 138
Some may leave their jobs. Others will redefine them. When we truly encounter Jesus and the poor, we may still be a tax collector, but we will be a different kind of tax-collector. We may still be a doctor, but we will be a different kind of doctor. Pg 140
So not everyone responds in the same way, but we must respond. We must seek our vocation listening to the voice of God and the voices of our suffering neighbors. Pg 142
What the world really needs is not more churches but a Church. Pg 146