He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, NRSV)
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you... (1 Peter 3:15, NRSV)
My cousin works for Big Sisters in Boston. One of her co-workers posted an entry on their blog site (view it here) about how it is very popular to build girls' schools in Africa. The blog asks an interesting question: why not here?
It's a valid point. We'll send our money halfway around the world to help people (who have legitimate needs) while ignoring the needs of people we likely see when we go to the mall, or have a cup of coffee downtown. It's fashionable to be interested in "making a difference" in the lives of those who live in third world countries, while ignoring those who live across town.
This is why I'm so glad that my congregation participates at Highland Park Elementary School, impacting the lives of children right here in Roanoke. We tutor children, provide food for those who are hungry, and give moral support to a great faculty and staff. We've learned that there are mission needs less than 5 minutes away from where we worship.
But, fasten your seatbelt, because we're about to go a different direction!
One of the potential pitfalls that Christ-followers need to watch out for is the idea that if we have helped our neighbor, then we have fulfilled the mandates of a relationship with God. Just serve the poor, feed the hungry, tutor a child, and you've done enough.
Trouble is, you don't need a church to do that. You don't even need to acknowledge God to do that. Anyone can do that.
It's the peril of serving in ways that are culturally popular. We can do our acts of service to those who have legitmate needs, yet never give witness that we do these things because we follow Jesus Christ. And, we do even more because we follow Jesus Christ. We delight in worship. We are committed to prayer. We believe that the Holy Spirit is working through us, transforming our sinful nature, making us "saints," holy in God's sight.
The bottom line is that authentic Christianity seeks to get both pieces right. We are in relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord and in relationship with the world around us. We seek to spread the Kingdom of God outside the walls of the church into the neighborhood around us, testifying in word and in deed the character of the God we serve, and God's invitation to a relationship with Him.
O Jesus, save us for heaven's sake. And for earth's sake, make us worth saving. Amen.