Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Benefits of Brokenheartedness

We recently took a group of RUF students down to the Hartford Rescue mission to cook food and serve it to whoever came in off the street. University life can be pretty isolating--rubbing shoulders with the poor isn't something our students (or their campus minister) experience every day. Most Fridays Rev. Greg Woods asks the volunteering group to lead a short devotional, so I spoke on Psalm 51 and the "Benefits of Brokenheartedness." As I was thinking about the Psalm in preparation for my message, I was struck by something that should've been obvious to me: "I'm about to talk to a group of homeless people about how to be brokenhearted. Do I even have a leg to stand on?" Would it be patronizing to offer these people anything more than a hot meal and a smile? Certainly any kind of gospel message would be disregarded--"Easy for you to believe," I imagined them muttering under their breath as they nodded politely. After a few more moments reflecting on the Psalm, I remembered something Rick Downs, my pastor in Cambridge, had said: "You're not ready to do mercy ministry until you recognize that YOU are the one that needs mercy. You are the poor one, the destitute, the one who should cry out, 'Have mercy!'"

Is there a bridge the gospel can travel between the suburban rich and the urban poor? Yes, it is our spiritual poverty. The suburbanite does not condescend to the urbanite! He travels a level road because his poverty is no less severe. We are right in hesitating to speak the gospel if we see ourselves as somehow condescending to our hearers. The breathtaking reality is that King Jesus speaks to us from his knees, a servant ready to wash our feet. What a disarming thought! If nothing else, that should put us flat on our faces before the unbelieving world. "Sinners THEN will turn to Thee." (Psalm 51:13)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Alienation: A Forgotten Road for the Gospel

"If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy." (Yates in Boston Review, October, 1999). Should Christians be reading novels with themes this bleak?
It is true that joy (not alienation) should be the central theme of the Christian life. But joy that turns a blind eye to sorrow doesn't suit the reality of life in a broken world. Novels like Revolutionary Road are worth reading because they remind us of our true condition apart from Christ. Sin alienates us from God, and that's why even though we know that Christ has brought us near, we often get the feeling we are "inescapably alone." I need to be reminded of the gospel everyday--that although we turn away again and again, God draws us near again and again. My college roommate and I wrote a song called "Come Closer" that never made it to tape. That's what God is kindly saying to us as we look to the cross.

Books like this also generate compassion for people who feel (and often are) alone. How often in Christian circles does "ministry" get defined ONLY in terms of sharing a four point gospel plan? We've forgotten that alienation is one of the primary roads the gospel travels. One of the hymns we sing on Tuesday nights has this verse: "Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain; Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain, When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee.
Often grief and pain themselves are messengers that call us back to Christ. But when we see others suffering, they are also a call to show compassion.

We should be regularly reacquainting ourselves with the weight of the Fall. It will make our joy weightier and our hearts more compassionate.