One of my favorite passages from The Book of Common Prayer begins,
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. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
It is a corporate confession, even when uttered by one woman alone on her knees at the close of day. The use of the plural pronoun reminds us that Christ-followers around the world are “in the same boat,” so to speak—that we all fall short and are unified in our need for forgiveness. And brothers and sisters, when it comes to the “loving our neighbors” part, we need help more than we know.
Christ-followers around the world are “in the same boat,” so to speak—we all fall short and are unified in our need for forgiveness.
Ours is a rich, mysterious, and beautiful faith, but it is far from abstract or suppositional. The Bible clearly spells out how to best practice it. Love God and your neighbor. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Turn the other cheek. Care for widows and orphans in their distresses. Feed the hungry. Tend the sick. Welcome the foreigner. Visit the prisoner. Share what you’ve been given. Yes, we are faithful and engaged in many of these things, but for the purposes of this discussion, what we leave undone merits special attention.
Consider the debate over abortion, which is once again a hot political topic, thanks to bills in the New York and Virginia legislatures that would legalize late-term procedures. Despite our pleading and declarations to political leaders and medical professionals, abortions are still carried out at a stunning rate. In the state of New York, for example, roughly one third of pregnancies end in termination every year. Christians—we who believe God forms our inward parts and weaves us together in our mothers’ womb, whose eyes have seen our unformed substance, and whose will numbers our days (Psalm 139:13-16)—rightly decry this practice and defend the value of all life. Our words are true, so why do few listen? Why does it feel as if we’re locked behind a soundproof door, furiously beating our fists against the glass?
Our protests fall on deaf ears for several reasons, some of which are beyond our control. (See 1 Corinthians 1:18-19.) But there is one for which we are responsible. We—God’s called-out people—have by and large abdicated our responsibilities. For instance, at any given moment there are nearly 443,000 children in foster care in the United States. In 2017, according to the group Children’s Rights, more than 69,000 kids whose parents’ legal rights had been terminated were awaiting adoption, and most had been in that holding pattern for two years. In that same time, roughly 20,000 teenagers “aged out” of foster care to face the world on their own.
Many in our nation know of Christ and what He expects of His church, and the fact that so many young women and children in need go without care in a nation filled with Christ-followers brings our integrity into question. “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” the apostle Paul asks. “And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Our actions are sermons for the world to read, and in many ways, they’re far from “good news.”
We—God’s called-out people—have by and large abdicated our responsibilities.
Research has shown that young adults who age out of the system are more likely than their peers to experience homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration. Data collected by the National Center for Health Research revealed that “teenage girls in the foster care system are twice as likely to get pregnant before turning 19 than teenage girls who are not in foster care.” And what is a young woman with no family, no education, and no financial support to do? Is it a wonder that abortion seems like the only viable option when she’s fighting to keep her head above water? If we want to regain our voice, if we want to move the needle on a large-scale moral issue like abortion, we have to put down the placards and step away from keyboards into the messy, painful work of caring for people like her before the situation reaches critical mass. That’s something people can wrap their hands around. It’s evidence our faith is so much more than condemnation and hollow promises.
The same is true when it comes to caring for the elderly. Today, roughly 1.3 million senior citizens are in nursing homes, and an estimated 60 percent of residents, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, never receive a single visitor—even on holidays or birthdays. That, too, is unacceptable. No one deserves to live and die alone, not while we’re on this earth, tasked to love them as Christ does. We serve almighty God, “a father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows.” Our Father “makes a home for the lonely” and “leads out the prisoners into prosperity” (Psalm 68:5-6). And His wonderful work is ours, too.
Where does He intend the lonely to go? Into our living rooms and around our kitchen tables.
Where does he lead the prisoner? To our thresholds.
It’s time to fling the front doors wide open and say, “Welcome home, friend.”
Jesus’ followers weren’t always known as “Christians.” Before that term was coined, they were known as people “belonging to the Way” because they followed the One who declared Himself to be “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Acts 9:2; John 14:6). The first of those terms is taken from the Greek word hodos, which means “a road, journey, or path.” And what do all these nouns have in common? They imply movement. A road is meant to be followed; a journey, taken. As God’s people, there’s somewhere we’re meant to go, regardless of the difficulty. We can’t simply tread the safe, well-worn paths between home, school, work, and church and call ourselves “people of the Way.” We don’t have permission to quit, cluck our tongue disapprovingly, and shore up our defenses against the world. Instead, we are called to “go out into the highways and along the hedges” and compel people to come in to the feast (Luke 14:23). Our feet must carry us to the pregnancy center, to the nursing home, the prison, and the homeless shelter. Wherever sickness dwells and brokenness reigns, we are called to enter to tell people—through both word and deed—that our God is greater still.
In The Gospel Comes With a House Key, author Rosaria Butterfield writes, “We live in a post-Christian world that is sick and tired of hearing from Christians. But who could argue with mercy-driven hospitality? What a potential witness Christians have, untapped and right here at our fingertips … The world is watching—and rightly so. And our lack of visible and genuine hospitality—practiced both inside our community and outside—is speaking louder than words right now.” A world that will not hear must be shown. It must see the fierce love that embraces a pregnant teen, takes her in, and supports her and a child until they’re on safer footing. It must see us coming alongside at-risk families and spending time with those in a nursing home simply because we enjoy their company. Such humble yet daring acts point others to our Savior and prove our piety has teeth. And when they ask, “Why do you do it?” we can begin a conversation with five beautiful words: “Because He first loved us.”
Illustration by João Fazenda