You don’t have to search far and wide to come across preachers of doom and gloom. Especially in an election year. Especially in this election year. Listen to the news and speeches from candidates and you can get the idea that our country is teetering on the precipice of total implosion.
Personally, I don’t believe it. I’m concerned that the fear-mongering is possibly used to engender political gain. I suspect that our nation is better off than what we so often hear.
But I also try to be a realist, and I see that there are systems and structures which are broken. We need to identify them and seek to fix them. When a group from Faith Church visited our sister church Kimball Avenue Church in Chicago, we heard an insightful story that I call “Babies in the Water”. You may have heard a version of it before. It is a story about seeing what is broken and how to fix it. It goes like this:
Imagine you are spending a wonderfully cool late summer day (like today is, at least in Lancaster County), enjoying a picnic alongside a small river. Your family has a blanket spread out, and you’re eating sandwiches and chips while your kids, standing on the riverbank, attempt to skip stones across to the other side.
Suddenly, one of your kids starts yelling frantically. You snap to attention, heart immediately pounding, fearing one of your little ones has fallen in. Quickly counting bodies, you breathe easier, they’re all running toward you. Then you make out what they’re saying. “There’s a baby in the water!” You think to yourself, Can’t be…kids mistakenly identify things all the time. But your children are beside themselves, and you see it too. The distinct form of a baby, arms and legs flailing a bit, floating on its back down the river. Then comes the unmistakable cry of an infant. You and your spouse spring into action and rush out to save the baby. Astoundingly, though sputtering a bit and cold, the baby is going to be okay.
You walk it back to shore to wrap it in the picnic blanket. At the riverbank, your spouse is looking up and down the river for boats, for any sign of people looking for their missing baby. There is nothing.
A few more minutes go by, and now you and your spouse are making calls to figure out what to do next, when your kids, back down at the river, starting yelling again. “There’s another baby coming!” And the same process you just shakily went through happens all over again. Now you have two babies.
Over the course of the next few hours the babies keep coming and they don’t stop. Your desperate phone calls lead to an emergency baby rescue committee from your church haphazardly taking shape. People bring portable tents, baby food, diapers, blankets, and start a process for getting the infants to Child Services and foster homes.
And the babies just keep coming. Soon your emergency committee graduates into a standing committee at your church. People sign up to staff the river 24/7. And the babies keep coming.
You recognize that the tents are not suitable for poor weather, so your committee raises money for a permanent shelter and over the course of a week, you put up a building. And the babies keep coming.
This goes on for months, and there is no end in sight, so you put together a board, hire some part-time staff and a fundraising director. And the babies keep coming.
We do this kind of ministry in many ways. It is called mercy ministry. Providing for needs. Just as the babies absolutely needed to be rescued in this far-fetched story, there are many other real needs in our society that we need to address. It honors God’s heart when his disciples share the Good News by providing mercy ministry for those in need in our society.
But mercy is only half of the solution to the situation, because, like the babies, the needs just keep coming. There is a very important question that mercy doesn’t ask. Mercy asks the question, “How can I help those in need?” That is vital. But there is another question that needs to be asked. Do you know what it is?
Think about those babies floating down the river. Mercy asks “how can I help them?” and the answer is clear. Rescue them from the river or they will die. Get them safe. But there is another question, a very important question that someone should ask about those babies.
Where did they come from? How did they get in the water? Babies aren’t supposed to be in a river. Who did this? Why do they keep on coming? And most importantly of all, what do we need to do to stop them from throwing babies in the water?
If mercy asks “How can I help those in need?”, justice asks “why are they in need in the first place, and what can we do to make right the situation that is broken?” I tend to think that mercy is easier than justice. People are missing meals, so we give them meals. People need clothes, we give them clothes. Homeless? We help them get homes. This is mercy, and it is right and good. But what about justice? Why are these social situations happening? Well, the answer to the justice question is much harder to come by.
Over the last 8 years since I have become senior pastor at Faith Church, and especially in the past 5 years since our family moved to the Conestoga Valley school district in which the church is located, I’ve gotten to learn more and more about some of those broken systems and structures in our local community. Through connections in the school district like the CV social worker, who reports to our local Ministerium, I’ve heard a lot about students in crisis. We have a number of people in our church family who work for the school district, and they have talked about the brokenness. For the last two years I’ve been on the Board of our local social services organization, Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, and I’ve heard stories. Also, I’ve had the chance to interact with East Lampeter Township police officers, and I’ve asked them the question “We live in a very nice school district. A great community. Lots of affluence. Beautiful farmland. Solid. But there is another side, a broken side. Poverty. Homelessness. School bus stops at the motels. Why? What is going on? What is the cause?”
You know what these brave first-responders have said? All of them. Same answer. No hesitation. I think theirs is at least one answer or the beginning of an answer to the justice question about why there is so much ongoing brokenness in our community.
Join us on Sunday morning at Faith Church as we talk about what appears to be the reason for the brokenness in our community, and how we can start to address it.