I was writing to a friend recently encouraging her in her distress by stating that the Church needs the needy like the oil that lubricates the machine. Without someone to serve the Church dries up. She would rather not be at the mercy of others’ largesse at this point in her life but that’s where God has her. It’s humbling to be the one the Good Samaritan has to rescue. But she is as vital to the work of the Church in her situation as those who are stepping in to meet her needs.
My children are really interested in the natural world. From worms foolish enough to cross their paths to the baby birds hatched outside our kitchen, it all utterly fascinates them. In their studies, they are learning how all of nature is connected beautifully. The bees need the flowers to make the honey, the bears need the bees to make the honey. The soil needs the worms to wriggle, the robins need the worms to come to the surface occasionally. It’s an amazing cycle of life and death where each creature or bit of creation has a vital role both in life and in death.
The Kingdom of God is a lot like that. Not a bit is wasted. But, like the wicked who abuse the natural world, interrupting God’s designed flow of things does great harm in disrupting the people world. One of the ways the Church has messed up God’s Kingdom is by outsourcing the alleviation of pain and suffering to the government. Not only is the horribly detrimental to the receiver of such charity, it thwarts the Church’s calling in these matters.
The thwarting comes from both direction. The person in need—history has shown us—would rather be anonymous and receive a check without emotion or condition than receive the same help from a friend or local church body. The latter (as it should) comes with conditions in an attempt to keep the person from becoming permanently dependent. Their loved ones know that to work is good, to be a contributor is a calling and to be a perpetual receiver (if you have the ability to not be at some point) is terribly destructive.
The other thwarting is the Church’s own financial limitations. When our money is being taken from us, sifted through government agencies and then given at their direction, we have much less to work with than originally. That’s the practical side. The other side is that the needs are really met on one level—the distressed now have food and clothing and shelter. There is no emergency forcing us to action. And we lose both our opportunity to serve and shortly thereafter we lose our interest in serving.
Of course there are lots of examples of how we don’t allow this to affect us and so the Church marches on. But certainly we are not intertwined as we once were. The images of the Amish barn raisings come to mind as a world that has long passed for most Christians. With material prosperity has come poverty in our souls. Without work to do, muscles shrink and atrophy.
There are lots of needs within the body if we have the eyes to see them. If our thoughts aren’t on our personal advancement or we have our children amusing themselves to death. If we’ve been awake, we can see that the Church in America is in a state of crisis. We need to daily love and serve each other. When we don’t, God’s system gets out of balance and the Church starves.