As we close out a three-week focus this Sunday on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (when was the last time you spent 3 weeks thinking about one parable?) I want to offer a related thought today that comes from history. The social activist, Julia Ward Howe, once asked Senator Charles Sumner if he would use his influence to intercede on behalf of a constituent who was in need of help. Overworked and short on time, the Senator responded, "Julia, these days I've become so busy and involved in so many different things that I no longer have time to direct my attention to the concerns of individuals." Julia replied, "Senator, that is quite remarkable! Even God hasn't reached that stage yet!"
An ongoing debate among leaders of charitable organizations is whether we do harm by focusing on the needs of the individual versus the systemic problems that put individuals in need. As one book addressed a few years back, our charity can actually become toxic by creating dependence on resources and services rather than reducing barriers that help people be independent.
But what if it's a both/and? The Parable of the Good Samaritan clearly shows Jesus' care for individuals. "Who proved to be neighbor? The one showed mercy." Jesus wants us to be good neighbors. But at the same time, we want to reduce dependence on food pantries, rent assistance, and diaper drives. The combination of personal relationships and removal of barriers that create poverty is what FAST (Families Accelerating, Sustaining and Thriving) is all about.
I described this upcoming program two Sundays ago. It will involve volunteers who go through extensive training to be in partnership with families seeking to climb out of poverty. It is sort of a "good neighbor" approach missional outreach. We have a list of around 25 people who have expressed interest in learning more about FAST when the time comes to go public with this program. Shelly Clasen, St. Luke's Director of Outreach, is taking names and would love to add you to the list. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes worship services fill the hour on Sunday and hopefully provide a spiritual uplift for the day. But other times, services and series go far beyond. God uses them to spark something inside of us that takes our lives in unexpected directions and leads to positive impact on others. I pray these three Sundays in May are the latter. God is still in the business of caring about individual needs, but changed individuals also lead to a changed world!
See you Sunday,