November 18, 2014
Sometime back in the late 1980’s I took a group of mostly middle schoolers on a short term mission trip to New York City and then to southern New Jersey. We were from a community in the North Hills of Pittsburgh not unlike where I live now. We were very suburban and very white. The 12 kids who went with me were pretty typical of white middle to upper middle class kids of the day… and frankly of this day. They were up on the current trends for kids. They wore the right clothes, liked the right music, played the right video games, wanted to have the right friends… And of course the converse of that. They didn’t wear the wrong (uncool) clothes or listen to the wrong music… you get the idea. Truth be told, as much as they might have wanted to think of themselves as cool and street wise… uh they were fairly protected. Again, not unlike the community I live in right now.
I remember three things in particular from that trip. First, we worked at a soup kitchen in Manhattan. I recall the tears on the faces of my kids at the end of the day when they talked about seeing entire homeless families come to eat – parents, teenagers and babies. Or the shock on their faces as we literally stepped over men sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk. It wasn’t always clear if they were alive. And last on a 98 degree day in July the bus I borrowed from a friend for this trip blew an engine on the N.J. Turnpike. I left my 12 kids on the bus with the other adult and hitch hiked to the next exit. No one had cell phones back then so like Superman I looked frantically for a phone booth. Found the booth and scanned the yellow pages looking for the closest Presbyterian Church. It was a Saturday afternoon. What hope did I have of finding anyone?! But God is pretty cool. The church was in the midst of a Session retreat and all of their Elders were there. When I told them my predicament they said, “Hang on. We’ll be right there.” They picked me up and then it was down the turnpike to a distant exit so we could turn around… you get the idea. By the time I got my crew to the church they were tired, cranky and HOT. We were greeted by a banner hastily produced and hung across the front of the building by someone at the retreat, “WELCOME BILL AND KIDS!” That was 25 years ago. All of those kids are now young adults. I can assure you however that they remember. In particular they remember the Christian people from a church who never heard of us opening their doors and giving us free reign to their (mercifully air conditioned) building.
Truthfully? Living in a comfortable, fairly safe, relatively uneventful community is… well… safe and uneventful. And it is so easy to fall into a life that cares little for those outside of our… well… safe, uneventful place. As a matter of fact we might even go out of our way to deliberately avoid those places that are not so pleasant. From a human perspective that makes all the sense in the world. But from a Christian perspective, it’s probably just downright sinful.
As I read the words of Jesus there is little there about seeking comfort. There is a whole lot about sacrifice. There are many words about caring for the poor, elderly, widowed, orphans, but little about comfort. What do you make of that? Or better put, how do we ignore that? And how do we call ourselves “followers” of Jesus if we choose to simply discount His very clear commands? Seriously? Don’t just fuss at me because I am raising threatening, uncomfortable questions. Have some courage and answer them.
Here is my hope for you. I hope some evening you can’t sleep. Not because you drank too much caffeine or because of stress at work or in your family. I hope that you lay awake at the same time I do with the Holy Spirit bugging you about your faith. Asking what you’re about that is anywhere close to what Jesus desires. Reminding you that we are called to be radical in the way we live out our faith. I really hope you can’t sleep. And when you finally stumble out of bed you have this prayer on your lips, “Okay God, I’m ready for whatever you have for me.” I don’t know about you, but that prayer frightens me.