Tuesday, December 30, 2008

what we have left undone

"Episcopal priest makes a name for himself in New York City nightclubs"

What... the hell?

Initially this article left me totally at a loss.

When interviewed, the priest said that "I work hard. I make good money. How I spend it - that is my business." He went on to add "I haven't done anything inappropriate."
The news article itself seems to agree with him on the latter: "There's no suggestion that [he]... has done anything wrong on his visits to the city."

I assume that, as an Episcopal priest, this man has led parishioners in the confession before the Eucharist: Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone...

I spent the week before Christmas this year working at a homeless shelter in New York City--perhaps this priest was in the city some nights while we were--where hundreds of meals are served a day, and where over a hundred people might be found sleeping at night... especially these nights, with the cold. These guys don't have to miss meals; there are enough places to get handouts in the city to avoid that. But they have no homes. Many of them need job training and opportunities, help with battling addiction, the gospel.
There are so many needs in that city, and this man decides to use his abundance to show his love of God and neighbor by giving $10,000 tips in clubs.
And that's just in New York, in America. What about other places where the needs are greater and the stakes are different and higher? Where food and medical attention are needed? Or Bibles?

And this man decides to use his abundance to show his love of God and neighbor by giving $10,000 tips in clubs.

John Chrysostom once preached: "It is foolishness and a public madness to fill the cupboards with clothing, and allow men who are created in God's image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with the cold so that they can hardly hold themselves upright." The saint said this because he understood the call of God on our lives. "Fool! This night your soul is required of you..."
This Episcopal priest isn't here 'laying up treasures' for himself--at least not the sort you can touch or see--and perhaps that makes us think better of him. Maybe that's why the NY Daily News seems to.
However the point is not simply that we not store up an abundance of possessions, but also that when we sell what we have, we give to the poor: that we love our neighbors as ourselves. This is something that the New Testament cannot stop bringing up--the gospels, Romans, Galatians, James, 1 John. How ever you want to understand "as yourself", I think it wholly precludes any gratuitous spending when there are people dying of hunger.

But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3:17-18

So far I've really only been reflecting on the one story of the one man. His financial situation is privileged. His story seems more reprehensible for that privilege and, of course, for the fact that he has been ordained as a minister in the church of our Lord. What of the rest of us, though? We who have not those funds, who are not ourselves in the priesthood?

Well, Jesus' call on us is the same: "love your neighbor as yourself."
This idea of taking up our cross, of being crucified with Christ... did we really think it meant something other than death all along? As the people of God--ordained or otherwise--we have a calling to love and the Holy Spirit leading us to love. Let us then love.
When we ignore these commands and these urgings, when we 'die to things other than ourselves', we are disregarding the reality of the work of God in Christ. God has not fashioned new creations out of us so that we might continue in the 'futility of our minds', but that so we might reflect Christ in life--the man who emptied himself in Incarnation, emptied himself in loving service, and finally emptied himself in death; the man who through resurrection offers us victory over sin, death, and Sheol.

In his words, Christ has given us various reasons, in case we were skeptical of his command: we cannot serve God and mammon; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses; we are called to love our neighbors and to give help to the 'least of these.' Can we really ignore all of these different teachings of our Lord as they all ultimately call us to the same thing? And that thing is of course no more than to count others more significant than ourselves and to love.
The church must not, as Chesterton put it, assume "the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean," and instead we must offer to Him whom we call "Lord" obedient service.
In short, we must go about the business of being the Body of Christ.

We cannot all afford to build a school in some unschooled area, or sponsor a child through Compassion or World Vision, or even help every needy man we see on the street, any more than we can all afford a $35,000 drink... but we can all do something. And where we can do something, we must do something. This is the life and reality of the church.
If we look to come after the man who laid down his own life, then the commitment is clear: "he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

... we have not loved You with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us, that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.


danieldumas said...

Interesting yet sickening story. The first 5 lines of your post should be enough to throw any Christian backwards...

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, this got me excited (maybe you read about it from Kamp Krusty).