Monday, December 15, 2008

A painful, and embarrassing, confession

I sent this to my church's email-devotional list today. It may well be the last devotional I'm asked to send to this group of church folks.

Frankly, I'm not sure that I care. I need to share this sense of being convicted that I got, courtesy of Waving or Drowning? Several of his recent posts have hit home with me, but this one just nailed me. Hence, this confession today:

"Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me." (Matthew 25:34b-36, NIV)


I've been pretty loud-mouthed, over the last several years, that the church is spending an awful lot of time and an incredible amount of money dealing with topics which are very, very distant from that to which the Gospel calls us to attend. I bring this particular passage up now - despite the fact that this is the season of Advent - because there are some things being done in the name of the Child we are waiting for, and they aren't pretty. And it's interesting, because the passage above is what Jesus himself said would define us - that how we addressed this passage would "separate the sheep from the goats," Matthew tells us.

I've been asking myself how to make the point - when an anonymous writer was quoted in Burundi saying what I've wanted to say all along. Read those two verses above (aw, go on, read the whole of Matthew 25:31-41), and then see how they were heard by a man in one of the ten poorest nations in the world:


I was hungry,
And you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned,
And you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked,
And in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick,
And you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless,
And you preached a sermon on the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely,
And you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so holy, so close to God –
But I am still very hungry – and lonely – and cold.

For the last four years, my family has forgone Christmas presents, because we just couldn't afford them. Now that my sister's home is gone, we are not spending money to keep that thing alive. And a person I work with recently said, "So now you can go back to giving Christmas presents, right?"

But reading the passage above, I just can't. Others are in need much more desperately than I, or my family do, right now. Reading that passage above, I really don't care whether the economy recovers or not. My spending won't save the country, but that same amount of cash might make a difference between starving and not starving to someone.

So I've told my family - all of them - that there won't be any presents coming from me to them this year, either. I'm not doing this (or sharing it with you all) because I think I'm some sort of goody-two-shoes; anything but, in fact. I'm simply doing this because of the guilt and shame I feel over my past actions. I have never, ever felt the conviction-of-the-Spirit in the way I felt it, reading these words tonight - not about any sin I have committed, ever (and trust me, there's a good long list of those).

So a good part of that money is going to the local food bank, downtown. Another part is going to organizations that are working to help the poorest people in the world. And my voice is going to be raised against all the people - everywhere - who still say "we can't afford to do this."

Because let's face it - we can. We have been able to do something about it, too - for a while. We, as The Church and as a nation, have simply chosen not to. Those who profess to follow Christ have spent an awful lot of money as The Church - especially in the last six months. And yes, before you say it - others have spent just as much money on those same topics. But to put it simply, they aren't the church. We are.

We have a calling. We are called to act with justice and love. But our man in Burundi is still hungry, and lonely, and cold.

In my Catholic youth (it's OK, for my Lutheran friends - Martin Luther grew up Catholic, too...), there was a phrase that we repeated during the Mass: "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa." The English translation of the phrase said that the faithful acknowledged that they have sinned “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

This is my confession to you all - that I have lived a life of excess, while others have starved. And this is my first step at redemption. I don't know that I will ever live long enough to make amends - but it starts now.

If you are convicted by this passage, as I was, perhaps this can be your moment of truth, too.

Mea maxima culpa.


Michael said...

I decided this year that every time I get upset about other people doing things that seem way unChristian to me, I will donate an item to a local food pantry. Otherwise, I wind up in the "thinking about how awful the world is, tsk, tsk and doing nothing about it" category myself. I even wrote a letter to a couple of local papers suggesting that folks who were unahppy about the elections (pick your issue!) might want to help out the food pantries instead of stewing in their own juices.

I doubt that my letter had much impact, but I have sure donated a bunch of bags of food myself!

Speaking of which ... I need to make a shopping trip.

Black Pete said...

Steve man, before you beat yourself up too literally, consider that the phrase beginning with "mea" ought alternatively to read "sumus" without the "mea". As in "we are" collectively guilty. It's a societal thing, and with all respect, I suggest put your personal portion of guilt into perspective.

Im A Foto Nut said...

Dear Brother, if the "Your Church" you reffered to is also my church. Then fear not, for the very same thing has been being said from the pulpit every Sunday now for some time. We even have a new program called Beyond the Walls, for doing just as you spoke of. Also, it may not have been a mistake but a "God Thing" and that someone who read your words needed to hear them. Steve I have said it many times but it bears repeating. God uses you mightily as his instrument. All things happen for a reason. It happend and you can't take it back, so let God do his thing, man!

BTW, I got your card. Thank you and Merry Christmas to you as well.


Ed G. said...

keep repeating this one... you will be heard.