Towards the end of every month I observe that our weekly soup kitchen serves an increasing number of people, and our church office receives an increasing number of folks asking for assistance. Like most churches, we do not have gobs of cash lying around just waiting for the needy to emerge with their requests. Indeed, within our own congregation there are several who struggle heroically to make ends meet. When they have surplus they give, and when they are in need, they receive. But then the stranger appears with a story that may or may not be true. Given limited resources, does one give first to the stranger or to the friend?
Not knowing the one in need is the crucial factor. Let's face it; if the one showing up in need were a member of the congregation it would be almost impossible to turn them away with a prayer, a wish of good luck, and a sheet of paper with resources written on it -- resources that we both know are futile. If the one showing up in need participated in the weekly Bible study that shapes moral character, or prepared last week's Soup Kitchen lunch for others, or handed out bulletins on Sunday, if the one in need had a name that was known, a face that was recognized, and a shared memory of good deeds done together, then that person would be exceedingly difficult to turn away empty. After all, it is not for nothing that the Bible recalls story after story of God showing up in the middle of the night to disturb our dreams. Most of us want to sleep well at night. Most of us want to like the face in the mirror that greets us every morning. Basic decency insists, at a minimum, that you take care of your own.
Which brings me to my point. Economic times are not good. Even the up-and-coming well-paid Seattle professional is a bit nervous these days about whether or not their job will be around come September. It's not just the homeless who are in need, it's not just the retail clerk, or the grocer, or the taxi driver. We're all in need these days. The occasional sunshine does not take away the dread that more showers are forecast for tomorrow.
Who and where is your community of care? Who or where do you go in order to know that someone actually gives a rip about your life? Who and where do you go to experience affection and the knowledge that your back is protected, that folks stand on each side of you? Who and where is your community of mutual aid? Not to have sanctuary in times like these is like, well, like trusting your 401K to save you.
To those with ears to hear, let them listen.