“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” – Hebrews 13:16
Did you know that, as the Great Depression was beginning in the early 1930’s Christians put more in the offering plate rather than less? As the economy was constricting, rather than keep what they had for themselves, Christians gave more away than before. I found this remarkable statistic on a chart in a book called Passing the Plate (Oxford Press, 2008, p. 49). Our forebears in the faith dug deeper, became more generous, made bigger sacrifices, in the face of growing need among their neighbors. They gave more to their churches so that the churches could do a better job of helping to alleviate the increasing difficulties; or, to put it in a positive way, so that the churches could bless the people they were called to serve.
Like many of you, I had hoped that the partial federal government shutdown would have ended by now. But it has not. The longer it continues, the more ripple effect it has, and the more difficult it becomes for people who are caught in those ripples to make ends meet. For some, the ripples are feeling more like rip tides that are pulling them down or tidal waves that are overwhelming them. Of course, it is difficult for persons caught in such circumstances to give more to the church. Nobody would expect them to.
But not all of us are caught in those ripples. Some of us are standing on solid ground and we can see what is happening. Will we rise to the occasion, as our forebears did, and dig deeper during this difficult time, so that we can be a blessing to our neighbors? Already, many churches are mobilizing. Our bi-district website has been compiling a list of what churches are doing in response to the shutdown; you can see it here. I want to invite every church to seize this moment and find a way that will meaningfully bless our neighbors who are effected by this acute hardship. That means those of us who can, will dig deeper to help fund these efforts. We will count it a joy to do so. Even those who have been living without income, or with drastically reduced income, can possibly participate with the giving of their time. And, leveraging our United Methodist connection, we could multiply the blessings by working together with one another in neighboring churches.
There are many possibilities for how we can respond. For example, what if three neighboring churches each decided that they would host one free meal a week for their community for the duration of the shutdown, and they coordinated with one another so that their meals would not coincide but rather would complement one another? One church could take Monday, another Wednesday, another Friday. All three churches would publicize all three meals in their communications network so that the larger community could be invited to all three meals. Not only would it be a blessing for those neighbors by saving money on food, but it would also be a blessing by coming together with people who are going through what you are going through, and by finding the support of your neighbors in a time of need. Plus, it could be a way for furloughed workers to pitch in and help with the preparations, serving, and clean-up, which could itself be a blessing for them.
We are well-positioned to step out boldly and bless our neighbors in this moment. Hopefully, it will not last much longer. In the meantime, God is putting it in my heart to encourage all of us to do something more than just observing and bemoaning. We have been blessed by the abundant grace of Jesus Christ, so that we may be a blessing in this world. Let us not let this opportunity slip by without a focused response of faithful action.
Grace and Peace,