Monday, December 19, 2011

Filling The Gap

Hurting people are so needy, aren’t they?  The ideal is being with people who have been through some struggle and arrived on the other side already.  We love to hear their stories of overcoming obstacles and we listen intently.  But bring in someone who is needy – they drain all the joy, they take the energy away, and they ultimately remind us of our own weaknesses.  Who needs or wants them?
I heard of a church who was building an addition on to their current building. They were doubling the size and one of the projects was a kitchen. This kitchen would be state-of-the-art and would be run by a small group of professional cooks and chefs, most of whom donated a majority of the funds to outfit the kitchen with the latest gadgets and appliances.  The price tag was pretty steep. The kitchen and the adjoining hall were large spaces.  It was truly a unique ministry opportunity.  Or so one person thought.  He rejoiced one Sunday morning that once the kitchen and hall were finished they could open their doors to the homeless and hungry.  “Imagine how many hungry people we could feed!” he proclaimed.
The people who donated money were appalled.  One woman actually said, “This kitchen is ours - no bums allowed”.  The man later learned of the paperwork, procedures and approvals that a group in the church would be required to go through in order to use the kitchen with the clear understanding that it is to be used for the church family only.  No feeding of the homeless and hungry – no food pantry – no ministry to outsiders – just a perk for members only.
I do not believe that Christ would belong to anything that stated ‘for members only’.  I always had an appreciation for the United Methodist approach to the communion table.  Come, ALL who are in need of Christ’s love and grace.  The Methodist church practiced what is called an open table.  Everyone is welcome.  Christ embraced the needy and the weak and the celebration of the Christmas truth should embrace the same.  In Matthew 12:20 it says, “He (Christ) will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.”  You see, the needy and the weak would love nothing more than to wake up one day with tons of energy and a renewed sense of hope for the future…but it’s just not going to happen like that.  They would love to suddenly make the decision to be well, no longer needy, no longer hungry, no longer plagued by the demons of their past.  But the truth is, that is a very hard place from which to escape. 
This Christmas season, like the ones of our past, we are called to enter into an attitude of celebration.  We celebrate the gift that God gave us – the gift of HIS Son and in the realization of everything that was wrapped up in those swaddling clothes – the gift for humanity.  But what if we just do not feel like celebrating? Sure it is a great time of year but all we see is waste and want and people are still pushing aside the hungry.  Feeding the hungry one or two times a year doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice.  And Christ says that when you do feed the hungry it is akin to feeding Him.  You offer the hungry some food and you have just offered food to Christ.  You bring water to the thirsty man and you have answered the call of Christ when he says I am thirsty. 
Christmas time is one of the most depressing times of the year because among the running around, the shopping, the traffic, the trees, the spending of money, the building up of debt, the lights, plastic snowmen and even the light-up plastic Jesus in the front yard – none of that feeds the hungry, or gives water to the thirsty, or offers a warm blanket to the cold and dying.  None of that brings comfort to those who cry every day as they try to run from their demons.  As you turn the lights on for your tree the very light in a young man’s heart has all but extinguished.  As you gaze in wonder at the decorations the widow’s eyes only see darkness where there was once great light.  In all that is Christmas today the lost and lonely, scared, sad, and hurt people are forgotten.  Swept under the tree to be hidden from view.  There is no room for them at the inn because we are too busy having a party. The problem is – we do not know what it is we are celebrating. 
I dare you this season to stretch out from your comfort zone and do something crazy.  Reach across the table and offer someone food and drink.  Give the cold man a blanket and the homeless woman shelter.  Bring the reason for the partying to the feet of those for whom the Christ child came.  You need no proclamation – no Twitter or Facebook CheckIn – no announcement or smart phone photos uploaded in a flash to show everyone what you are doing.   Do it because it is the right thing to do.  As millions begin to celebrate the birth of a poor baby, may we commit to reaching out to the poor babies in our wealthy nation.  May they find a full table at which to sit.  When the gap between the rich and poor seems to be at its widest may we find opportunities to reach across, no matter what our status, and not only bridge the gap – but fill it. 

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