Earlier this morning I read an article about a collaborative ministry between churches in London helping to love and restore the massive homeless population of the city by providing shelter, food, and rehabilitation services.
I have a friend who, a few years back, challenged by the words of Christ, literally sold everything he had and moved to Ethiopia to try and make a tangible difference in the lives of the destitute and downtrodden. This eventually led him to launch his own non-profit.
I have another friend in San Francisco who runs the largest food pantry in the city out of an Episcopalian church where she ministers. Without prejudice or pre-requisites, they simply feed the hungry of the city week after week after week.
I once saw a video of a young woman not much older than me named Jessica Jackley talking about how she found inspiration in Christ’s command to love one’s neighbor, as well as the economic brilliance of Muhammad Yunus, and launched a non-profit called kiva.org, which is now the largest person2person micro-lending organization in the world.
Whenever I am exposed to stories like these, I tend to experience a mix of inspiration and depression. I am inspired because there are people in the world making a real difference, risking something for the betterment of others. I am depressed because I don’t think I’m one of them.
Or am I?
I’ve never run a collaborative ministry between churches, making a significant difference with an entire demographic of a city. Nor have I ever sold my belongings and moved to Africa or run a food pantry, feeding thousands of poor people week after week. And certainly I have never started anything as dynamic as kiva.org.
I live in the Silicon Valley, one of the most affluent parts of the world. I have never experienced the desperation of physical need. Not once can I remember being concerned about where my next meal would come from or whether I had clean drinking water. I’ve always had a roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in. The reality of my blessed existence often works against me. I feel like I live too well and am failing to really do my part.
But the beauty of the Biblical concept that the first shall be last and the last shall be first is that we find ourselves all over the wide spectrum of these categories. We are all first and we are all last at various points and places in our stories. This is the disruptive nature of God’s kingdom. No one fits systematically and statically into just one point on the spectrum. We are all needy and we are all wealthy. I once heard a pastor from Rwanda, living in poverty himself, working diligently to make a difference in his war-torn homeland, say to a gathering of thousands of affluent young Americans, “I am praying that God may rescue you from your poverty – the poverty of having so much that you miss the riches of God himself.” We are filthy rich and we are simultaneously covered in the filthy rags of our own great poverty. We are all in need and we all have so much to give.
When we begin with this understanding, what we find is that giving to one another and making a difference in our world is not about the privileged few rescuing the impoverished masses. Rather, making a difference in the lives of others is the very act by which we all, both the benefactor and the blessed, are reshaped into the people of God, called to live selflessly and sacrificially, invited to participate in the restorative work of his kingdom.
So whether you run a global micro-lending organization or cook a simple meal for your needy neighbor, know that the difference you are making is seismic and significant. It is of utmost value because it is kingdom work and nothing of God’s kingdom is without great worth. And may we always remember the words of Jesus found in Matthew 25:40: Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. What we do for one another, we do for Christ himself. We do not do what we do for one another and for Christ because he needs us but because we need him. It is in serving, loving, and giving to another that we find ourselves rescued from our own poverty and brought into the riches of his kingdom. So serve, love, and give. We all need it.