While Sheila and I were on vacation a few weeks ago, we took a few days to head to Atlanta. While a busy place, Atlanta is full of all kinds of interesting attractions and historical sites (and since Sheila and I live the lives of people twice our age, we enjoy a good walking tour). We visited the Georgia Aquarium, which is the largest in the Western Hemisphere. We also took a stroll through Centennial Park, which commemorates the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. On our final day, we took in the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park.
The MLK Historic Site features some unique parts of Dr. King's life that you canít find elsewhere. Thereís Ebenezer Baptist, where he and his father pastored together up until the time Dr. King was killed. Thereís also his boyhood home, where he was born and lived the early parts of his childhood. It was actually at this home where Sheila and I began our tour through the reverendís life and work. Here, we were able to learn about how the biblical values of caring for your neighbor were instilled in M.L. (as he was known at that time). It was the aim of his parents to grow him in the compassionate ways of Jesus Christ, even as racial and cultural turmoil swirled around him.
Sheila and I left that home, and were on our way to the King Center where Dr. Kingís work continues to be carried out, when we ran into a man who greeted us, by the name of Sam. Sam is a man who by all indications lives in poverty. His clothes were pretty ragged, and he obviously didnít have regular access to a shower. Being in ministry and interacting with all kinds of people, I imagined a question for some money might be coming next. So, I came over to Sam, put my arm around him, and asked his name. Meanwhile, Sheila got out a few dollars for him to get something to eat, but not so much that he could get into trouble. We gave Sam the money and I asked him if I could pray with him. The three of us prayed together that Jesus would work in Samís need, and went on our way. Iíve thought of Sam in the days since, and I continue to pray for his physical and spiritual needs.
Now nothing is noteworthy about that exchange, and we could have certainly done more than we did for Sam. But at the heart of what Sheila and I were doing there, and ultimately what Dr. King was trying to do in his time, is to push back on the effects of sin in this world. Inevitably, the circumstance Sam was in was the result of sin. It might have been his own, or the sin of a selfish society, who knows for sure. In addition, in Mark 14:7, Jesus tells us that ďthe poor you will always have with youÖĒ, meaning even if we could have gotten Sam a job and a house that day, it wouldnít eliminate the poverty of this world. That wonít be done until Jesus comes back. So while we canít fix sin, and we canít meet every physical need Ė we arenít asked to. All we are asked to do is to love God and love people. And the way by which we best love people is by pointing them to Christ in our words and our actions. Our best hope for Sam that day wasnít financial stability, or even acknowledgement of his situation Ė but rather that in our words and actions he might see Jesus and desire to know him.
Dr. King described poverty as ďan evil upon society.Ē If we believe in Jesus Christ, we are called to push back on the effects of evil with the Gospel in one hand and our resources and gifts in the other. And yes, we ought to do so wisely, and in ways that effect the greatest number for the greatest good. But given the choice between helping no one so we donít help someone who doesnít need it (and in turn never helping someone who does) Ė we should always pick helping, because our call is to ďnever tire of doing good,Ē not to determine if God can use our works for good before he even has a chance. Whether in pushing back on poverty, on discrimination, on exploitation, or inequality, Christians should be at the forefront of the fight against evil. And as we fight with the Gospel as our weapon, Christís name will be known, and people will be saved from what truly cripples them Ė our sin.
This month at Starnes Cove, we will have an opportunity on March 8th to Bring a Friend to church. Now of course all friends are welcome, but I want to encourage you to identify someone in your life in need of the Gospel. Maybe even someone like Sam. Because every manís greatest need, above health and hunger, is to know Jesus Christ as Savior, and to follow him for life as Lord. Iím praying for us as a church that this and our other events will be fruitful for the cause of Christ. I look forward to seeing what heís going to do among and through us.
In the fight with you, William