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Charity and God’s Grace

People have been hurt by the church, by its rules, by its assumption that we’ve got it right, we’re the righteous, and if only the rest of the world could be like us.  Of course, the church would say we’re all about hospitality; that is, if the other is actually not the other, but just like us.  There are people who are hurting in this world, who have yet to truly know and experience the love and grace of God.  And we the church are called to be instruments of God’s grace.

So how do we do that?  Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 tells us just this:

 “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ…When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.  I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.”

We become the other:  instead of judging, instead of ridiculing, instead of rebuking, we become the other.  So let’s talk about Cindy.  Cindy has walked the streets and highways of south side of town for years.  In the heat, in the snow, in the rain, in the daylight, in the nightfall.  Sometimes she’s covered with clothes and warm, other times not.  She carries her bags – all her belongings with her wherever she goes.  That’s Cindy.  And many of us have seen her along our path.  Out there.  But when she beckons our door and walks through it with her bags, something changes.  It’s okay for her to be out there where we can drive by and not encounter her, but when she walks in here, it’s like she’s invaded our intimate space.  But what did Jesus do with all the diseased and demonized people he encountered along his path?  He touched them and became intimate with them.  He became one of them so that the power of God, the healing power of God, the grace of God could be extended to even the weakest of the kingdom.

Cindy is part of the fabric of the faith community in which I belong.  She comes here often.  And do you know why?  Because she can. She comes often during the week and we give her soup that she warms up in the café and yes, she often freshens herself up in our facilities. It’s a safe place, a warm and dry place, a place of respite for her; it’s a place of healing.  That’s all she often asks for.  Sure she asks for funds from time to time, but she tries to help herself.  In her mental illness – the demons that possess her – this is the life she has chosen.  And when we try to keep her at bay – wishing she wasn’t here, looking the other way, or trying to move her on, judging the lifestyle she lives, we deny her God’s grace. She is a part of the fabric of this community that God has woven together.  And we are called to embrace her.  We are called to be instruments of God’s grace.

Now some of you may not agree with me.  I too struggle with a sense of charitable giving that does not empower others to help themselves.  But don’t mix up charity with God’s grace.  Charity is something that we can choose to offer or not, my friends, yes, but sharing God’s grace is not optional for us.  I heard during my travels in Chicago last month from a community organizer who heads up the Coalition for Homelessness.  He said, “We are not called to do for others what they can do for themselves – that’s charity.  We are called to help people help themselves.”  Our baptism calls us to be the body of Christ in the world for the sake of the world.  So when we become weak as Paul writes, we are only then able to share the grace of Jesus Christ with the other, who is not the other now, for we are all one – not judging, not ridiculing, not rebuking, but serving and sharing God’s grace.

God bless the Cindy’s in our world.

3 responses to “Charity and God’s Grace

  1. “He said, “We are not called to do for others what they can do for themselves – that’s charity.” I agree with the premise, but this appears to be an attempt to either define or redefine charity. I find the statement confusing and an odd way of defining something by using a negative. I should think that charity is the opposite of that statement by changing the quote: “We are called to do for others what they cannot do for themselves – that’s charity.” Surely, God’s grace is at work in charity, too. What am I missing?

  2. I don’t think you’re missing a thing Al. Charity is, I believe, one manifestation of God’s grace. And charity is necessary. But charity is also a choice on our part – to be charitable or not. Through our baptism, and because of our baptism, we do not have a choice to share God’s grace. In our baptism God comes to us and we become a member of the Body of Christ. As a member of the body of Christ I am called to “be and do” Jesus in the world, sharing God’s love and grace with those who have yet to know God’s love. The point the community organizer was trying to make was that charity is necessary, but in and of itself it does not help the one in need for the long haul. Our focus, he said, should be on empowering others to help themselves to get to a better place. And that means walking along side of them, as Paul writes, becoming weak if you will, in order to meet the other where they are at. And when we do that, no longer are we in a place of judgment. Instead we become agents of God’s grace.

  3. I am torn every time I encounter Cindy, as I did two Sundays ago. I try to talk to her and then she seems to ask for money which we have given her a couple times, but I know that is not helping her in the long run. So, how do we show her God’s grace without helping her out? It seems like there must be a place for her to live (like a group home), but of course, I am looking at her situation from my perception. What to do?

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