The following in an essay that was read by the Skyline congregation in connection with our recent emphasis on compassioante social justice. You may pourchase the book by following the link at the bottom. The book contains a number of essays that will bless you.
“She’s sixty-six, mildly retarded, dangerously overweight, twice a great-grandmother and a devoted member of our church. She lives with four generations of extended family in an overcrowded, dilapidated house, but her buoyant spirit is undaunted. Since losing her youngest son in a senseless murder last Christmas Eve (he was shot while riding with his uncle in a taxi cab), she has redirected much of her affection to me.
‘You’re my buddy,’ she says with a broad, snaggle-toothed grin. ‘I pray for you every day.’ Then she gives me a long bear hug. She wants to sit close beside me in every church service, and although the smell of stale sweat and excrement is often nauseating, she makes me feel a little special. Her internal plumbing doesn’t work as well as it used to, and she leaves tobacco smears when she kisses my cheek. But I am pleased to have Mrs. Smith by my side. She often hints, sometimes blatantly, that she would like to come home with us for a visit. Nothing would delight her more than to have Sunday dinner with my family.
But there is a conflict. It has to do with values that Peggy and I learned from childhood. We believe that good stewardship means taking care of our belongings, treating them with respect, and getting long service from them. Our boys know that they are not to track in mud on the carpet or sit on the furniture with dirty clothes. To invite Mrs. Smith into our home means we will have filth and stench soil our couch. There will be stubborn offensive odors in our living room.
My greatest fear is that she will want to sit in my new corduroy recliner. I wouldn’t want to be rude and cover it with plastic to protect it from urine stains. But I know it would never be the same again. Unknowingly, Mrs. Smith is forcing a conflict, a clashing of values, upon me.
Preserve and maintain. Conserve and protect. They are the words of an ethic that has served us well. Over time these values have subtly filtered into our theology. It is increasingly difficult to separate the values of capitalism from the values of the kingdom. Stewardship has become confused with insurance coverage, with certificates of deposit, and protective coverings for our stained glass. It is an offering, a tithe dropped into a plate to be used on ourselves and our buildings. Somewhere on the way to becoming rich we picked up the idea that preserving our property is preferable to expending it for people.
Why should it be so difficult to decide which is wiser: to open the church for the homeless to rest or to install an electronic alarm system to preserve its beauty?
Why should it be such a struggle to decide which is more godly: to welcome Mrs. Smith into my home and my corduroy recliner or to preserve the “homey aroma” of my sanctuary and get extra years of service from my furniture?
Is this not precisely the issue of serving mammon or God? How ingenious of our American version of Christianity to make them both one and the same.
We did finally invite Mrs. Smith to have Sunday dinner in our home. And she did just as I feared she would. She went straight for my corduroy recliner. And it never has been the same. In fact Mrs. Smith even joined a Bible study in our home the next week. Every Wednesday evening she headed right to my chair. She even referred to it as her chair!
I thank God for Mrs. Smith and the conflict she brings me. In her more clearly than in Sunday School lessons or sermons, I encounter the Christ of scripture saying, Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”
Excerpted from Theirs Is The Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert D. Lupton