Caring for the Welfare of Others
Bernie told me the other day that there are two kinds of people in this world and they are divided by their driving habits. For example there are the kind of drivers who, while driving through the Fred Meyer car park, stop and wait for shoppers to cross the road and those that don’t. At first I thought he was being flippant, which is a trait that runs through our family, but the more I thought about it he is right. As a runner I can tell you that there are the kind of people who stop at intersections and let you cross the road and those that don’t. There are kind of people who see you and look right at you and pass on by with a look of “Make me stop, I dare you.” And then there are the drivers that see you, come to a stop, and make the oncoming traffic stop too. First, I had to ask why? Why do people stop and why don’t people stop?
Ironically, I have found that men are more likely to stop than women. Women drivers, not all women drivers, but a majority, seem to be on a mission to get from point A to point B and nothing is going to get in their way. I mean they have kids to drop off or pick-up, groceries to purchase, places to be and a schedule to keep and they don’t have five seconds for some middle aged runner standing on the corner of Del Rio and Waverly to cross the street. Men, on the other hand tend to stop. Maybe it’s because their wives are doing all the running around, I don’t know, but that his just my experience.
So, where am I going with this line of thought? Over the last few weeks we have been focusing on Jesus’ instructions for the mission of his apostles into the world. The first directions Jesus gave was for the disciples to go into the cites of Israel and proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near. The apostles were to go from village to village and household to household healing the sick and bringing good news to the poor. While the 12 are out they are to rely on the hospitality of others and live day to day. This week Jesus explains how the good news is to manifest itself in the lives of the apostles, The apostles are to give and receive hospitality, to care about the health and welfare of others, and show both compassion and empathy for the lost sheep of Israel.
One of the key elements of being a disciple of Christ is to really care about the welfare of others without expecting anything in return. Rather, as Christians we are to reach out and help the sick, hungry, naked, vulnerable and powerless because they need our help. We don’t work for God’s kingdom because it will look good on our spiritual resume and God will build up rewards for us, rather we do it because we care about the welfare of others because it is the right thing to do. Granted, Jesus says that when we “give a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” The reward is the intrinsic feeling of doing the right thing for someone else no strings attached.
It is like this, go back to the parking lot idea because it all comes down to motivation. Do those that stop for pedestrians do it because they want others to stop for them? If we are honest that is part of the equation. However, if one stops just because they want others to do the same then your reward is really a coin toss of a chance. Drivers may or may not stop and our actions are not going to sway a person’s decisions while they are driving with no thought of others. The only true reward is the knowledge that you did the right thing as a free gift to the other with no strings attached. We stop because it is the legal thing to do, but also because it is the right thing to do for the other person. We stop because we actually care about the welfare and safety of the other person even if it means we are 10 seconds late getting to where we are going.
Now, this gets me to the bigger picture. Jesus commands us to care about the welfare of others for the sake of the other. This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but I think the divide between people is deeper that driving habits. There seems to be two kinds of Christians in the world today. There is the Christianity that is worried about personal salvation and maintaining a personal relationship with Jesus so that at the end of their life they will receive their promised reward. Then there is the other form of Christianity that takes salvation and relationship seriously, but also the call to discipleship and the command to care for others. All are brothers and sisters in Christ, but see their function in God’s family quite differently.
When we look at the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it is quite obvious where Jesus places the most emphasis during his earthly ministry and that is in helping others. Jesus heals the sick, feeds the hungry, preaches good news to the poor, and demonstrates how to live as children of God in a world dominated by self will. To those that only look inward and worry about their righteousness without looking around themselves, well they are missing the mark by a long shot. The whole point of Jesus is that he takes care of our salvation and empowers us so we can focus on the welfare of others.
Let me tell you, this way of being a Christian is so liberating because it empowers us to be gracious and caring without worrying that we may be taken advantage of. Just this last week we held Vacation Bible School and very few of the 30 kids who attended attend our church. We had people who saw our sign and saw the words “Free Dinner” and they came in. We also have people who jump from Vacation Bible School to Vacation Bible School because it can be free daycare for a few hours. We had people attend that really wanted to have a loving and affirming experience. The truth is we may never see any of these kids again until next year, but that is okay because we didn’t do it for us. Rather, more than 20 volunteers came every night and worked their tushes off so that 30 kids could experience the love of Jesus. No strings attached just the desire to share the gospel. Our hope is that they will walk away knowing the love of Christ through our hard work and even if they never come back we shared the gospel of Jesus with them. We do this work because we want others to benefit from the gospel just like we have.
One of the big worries people have about caring for the welfare of others is that others will take advantage of our good works. Yes they have and they will continue to do so. The deal is that Jesus understood this better than we do, which is why I remind you again that he instructed his disciples, and us, to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. We aren’t called to be idiots, but we are called to be gracious. So, where is that line? It is on a case by case basis, but it doesn’t stop the overall purpose and direction of our ministry.
For example, we have a gentleman that calls for money, funds, gas vouchers, you name it, about four or five times a month. This man is in and out of jail, has scammed his way into more problems than we will ever know. Have we put our foot down? Yes. Why? Because there is a line between being a good disciple and being a sucker. However, do I want this guy to have food, shelter, clothing, and work? Yes. And, I will help him in whatever way is healthy, but not his way. Where’s the line? You’ll know it when you see it and maybe someday this guy will figure it out. What we have never quit doing is hoping something positive will happen in his life and he’ll get his stuff together. Furthermore, even this guy will be offered a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.
So, is their a line that Christians can’t cross when it comes to caring for the welfare of others? Does it mean that we advocate for the health and welfare of all people? Does it mean that we work towards the betterment of our community, culture, country, world? I would say the line is the one drawn by the cross of Jesus Christ. Christ gave his life for the welfare of others and the world. Over and over Jesus tells us that if we want to be his disciple we are to pick up our cross and follow him. What is the limit of the cross? There is no limit. As our Creed tells us, even hell wasn’t a line Jesus was afraid to cross. So is there a line? No, as long as we adhere to the principles and teachings of Jesus and stay true to his methods there is no line.
However, once we swerve off course and decide that we know a better way to achieve God’s goals and they veer away from the teaching of Jesus then we become like the drivers who are more focused on their agenda and less focused on Jesus’ ministry. The church needs drivers who work for and care about the welfare of others because only when we care fore and love all is God’s mission in full swing. Let us be the courteous and loving drivers of Jesus’ message that we are called to be for the sake of others because we were lucky enough to be called and sent, which is reward enough.