A chance to be different
Our church was broken into last night. I am not going to go into details for many reasons, not least of which is that there is an active investigation, but I have spent a lot of today thinking about my reaction and what I and possibly other members of my church family could take from this difficult situation.
That anyone would come into a building, an obvious place of worship, technically housing a charity and remove items of personal and material value is difficult to process. We house a food-bank at the church which was also a target of the burglary.
Happily, most of the items that were taken have already been recovered. However, the intrusion into our place of worship and disrespect shown has understandably upset many. I was shaken, especially by the removal of food from the bank, which I’m helping to run.
As part on an ongoing series, today’s talk was on ‘being transformed’, specifically by love. It was based on Romans 9 which speaks of love being an action, not something that exists by the mere absence of hate. It says that love must be sincere and honourable and commands us to give to those in need, be hospitable, not to be proud or reject anyone.
It speaks of leaving revenge to God, who is just and wiser than us.
It demands that we feed our enemy if he is hungry and give him something to drink if he is thirsty.
I take from that, that we should shine a light on his misdemenours but refract it through the lens that we should always look through – the lens being Jesus and how He saw and loved the world. Mirroring His obedience, generosity and love, we would show the enemy there is something greater than him, and us. And although there will always be consequences to our actions, the Great Judge offers forgiveness, freely and completely to absolutely everyone.
Now, I do not even come close to using the word ‘enemy’ when I think of the people/person who took items that did not belong to them. It is too strong, and it would be ignorant of me to believe I understand the motives of someone I have never met, never spoken to. I could say I hope that they took the food because they are hungry. But if they did or didn’t, it shouldn’t matter.
The things taken are objects which can be replaced. In fact nothing we have is ours, but gifts from God. That said, I’m not suggesting as a responsible charity we shouldn’t be sensible with security but the thought of turning our church into an impenetrable fortress makes me uneasy. As outlined in Romans, hospitality is required of us. Our mission is to be a transforming presence at the heart of our community, which we would struggle to do if we made ourselves less available, inaccessible and uninviting.
So how should I react? Reflecting on the teaching above, we are are commanded to love people and that act may give them an opportunity to see the real Good News, not some watered down version of our faith that society pedals or that we Christians portray in our lack of understanding, pride or weakness.
How does this teaching (which was planned without knowledge of the circumstances that met us this morning) mean, when it comes to considering the people who came into our building for nefarious reasons? We will probably never know what brought them to act the way they did but I do not believe the reasons should matter. This morning, instead of speculating about motive I should have been praying for them and for us.
Because God acts when people pray. Last night’s event has given our church family a discrete and immediate opportunity to examine ourselves, our reaction to the burglary, our call to love the world in a real way. Many people are already really good at it and I thank God for their example and wisdom.
And as a consequence of praying for and importantly forgiving those who have hurt us, we will also be transformed because as we cannot help but be changed when we love actively, compassionately and unconditionally.
For me, these thoughts concrete something that has been creeping up on me, not for the first time, but something it is easy to forget in the business of life. It confirms that I should stop waiting for events to compel me into loving people the way Jesus says I should. I am not to not wait for opportunities to act compassionately to fall into my lap. I should be seeking people who need compassion and to be loved.
It is rarely easy, even less so on days like today, when so many emotions are stirred but I am to be obedient and show the same compassion I am showed. And so I pray that a compassionate response becomes my primary nature. I want my first instinct to be to reach out, forgive and love regardless of why that person is in front of me, or if I have gone to be in front of them, what brought me there.
I think that by acting in a way opposite to what a lot of people expect of Christians, we might be more of the difference we want to see in the world.