Ever since seeing a few pictures of the earthquake in Haiti, I’ve been moved by the selfless responses several nations have made. I was browsing one of John Piper’s blogs and he had posted several photos of the devastation. A few of those photos, however, were of several medical and search and rescue teams from different countries. Venezuela, Taiwan, Great Britain, and the U.S. were several of the teams depicted. The first thing that came to mind was the scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King when Gondor is on the brink of falling to Lord Sauron’s army, but then a trumpet sounds at the arrival of King Théoden and his six thousand Rohirrim.
When I first watched the movie, I had seriously thought the kingdom of Gondor was about to fail – I had completely forgotten about the Riders of Rohan gathering to assist their Gondor allies. That trumpet, sounding in the thickest of the battle’s darkness, was a joyful sound. This, I feel, is how the church of Christ is supposed to operate in this broken world.
Danny’s message this morning discussed through eight verses at the beginning of Matthew 5, but primarily focused on verse 7; “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” What came to his mind was the devastation that Haiti suffered in wake of the massive earthquake they experienced. He had been watching the concert “Hope for Haiti,” or something like that, and had donated some money towards the relief effort of the Haitian people. The point of his message, though, was that God calls us to do something more than merely giving money to good organizations.
I can’t remember much else of what Danny was talking about because I got lost in all the verses talking about living sacrificial lives for God’s kingdom. There are countless passages in Scripture calling for the strong to help the weak. “Blessed is he who is generous to the poor,” Proverbs 14:21; “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,” Proverbs 19:17; “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered,” Proverbs 21:13; “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse,” Proverbs 28:27; “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship,” Romans 12:1; “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:21; and finally, “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord,” Romans 14:8.
Many skeptics of Christianity ask, “If God is so good, then why does He allow such wickedness, such devastating events like Haitian earthquakes, Thai tsunamis, New Orleans hurricanes, and African genocide to happen?” Their point is valid. It does not make much sense that a good God would allow such disastrous and evil events to happen without any resistance. But I think the answer rests within Romans 12:21; not letting ourselves be overcome by the evil within this world, but rather overcoming that evil with good. What does that good look like? Well, I believe it’s selflessly helping people, our neighbors, in need.
I honestly don’t mean to sound hypocritical because I find it vastly outside of my power to physically go to Haiti to help, but it’d definitely be cool if I could. Danny’s message, though, didn’t specify Haiti only; he talked about assisting those in need in general. A typical thing for Americans to do, as Danny explained, is to set ourselves up nice and comfortably with retirement and 401k plans that we won’t be able to touch until we’ve actually retired. But Jesus calls for a different kind of living.
Our comfort is supposed to reside within Him, not in our money. Therefore it is very much on my heart to give what I can to help those in need – either the homeless in the Caribbean or the homeless in downtown Eugene. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be the homeless; it could just be those who struggle with having a sufficient income to provide for themselves and their families. It could mean simply encouraging those who are discouraged or visiting the lonely and sick. The selfless sacrifice to which Christ calls us is not limited to one specific way. He never said to give donations to the Red Cross or other organizations like it. He never told us we had to make sure that helping those in need aligned with our days off or our free time. He never said that we should just stick to giving our ten percent. He said the merciful shall one day receive mercy; regardless if they felt like being merciful.
Throughout most of my life I’ve been the one in need. When my mother – misled by the temptations of drugs – abandoned us to the mercy of the Child Services department, God stepped in and compelled my grandfather to take care of us. When he became incapable of supporting my collegiate ambitions, God provided through financial aid. And when my biological dad left me fatherless, God stepped in through my grandfather and several other father-figures to let me know I was (and still am) His son. If you really consider all the things God has done for you in your life, you begin to realize that we are all people very much in need. Maybe our needs differ between each other, but we’re all needy nonetheless.
The horn of Rohan sounding in the distance, stilling the cold hearts of the evil orcs, could sound for the hopeless, the helpless, the weak, the poor, the sick, the lonely, the cold and naked in our time, but only if we – those who have been called to be living sacrifices – be the merciful. Danny also pointed out one key element that tends to hold us back: The world’s rejection. Taking the time, money, and effort out of our lives to help those in need might actually receive negative, destructive criticism from the world. Reason might turn against us and convince us to pull away from the selfless-sacrifice ideas and commit to our own lives. “Go get yours,” some might say and we might believe them. But that is part of the battle.
When Jesus says that those who wish to follow Him must pick up their crosses daily, He doesn’t allow room for the “occasional” cross-bearer. He doesn’t say to “pick up your crosses whenever you feel comfortable” or “whenever you have a surplus of funds or energy or time”; He says “daily,” regardless of our attitudes. Again, I’d love to stop school, fly to Haiti and start helping those in dire need. But I don’t have to; there are many right around me who could use some help. I don’t have much money, but I do have words that could help inspire or encourage the downtrodden. The Samaritan who helped the man going to Jericho from Jerusalem used wisdom in what he could give. He didn’t give up everything he owned for this man; he gave up what the man needed. Then Jesus says, “You go and do likewise.”
The world will constantly – either through natural disasters or through the Devil’s wickedness – pour out evil. We, as the living sacrifices that we’re called to be, must be the out-pouring of good; the counter-balance to evil. It’s a great challenge to me and my comfortable nature, but that’s just it: it’s not supposed to be comfortable. In the second movie of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers, Aragorn and Legolas get into an argument. Legolas does not see any hope in winning the battle against ten thousand orcs with just three hundred men. He said that they will die there in Helm’s Deep. “Then I will die as one of them!” Aragorn replied.
Danny mentioned that we might never experience the blessings that the merciful are supposed to receive for being merciful, but that shouldn’t hinder us from sacrificing ourselves anyway. Aragorn fought as a living sacrifice just to give the people around him a fighting chance at living. Jesus fought as a living sacrifice just so it might be possible for the needy – people like you and me – to experience this thing called freedom. Perhaps it’s time for the church, God’s children, to “do likewise.” Perhaps it’s time for the church to live out the command from Luke 6:36; “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”