Not long ago, a friend asked the question: “When is a time you felt lonely, confused, hurt or angry, and it was the church that saved or helped you?” As I considered my answer, several memories came to mind:
• The day we had a miscarriage, and our pastor and spouse came to our house and held our hands and cried with us. They didn’t try to say the right thing. They hugged us, cried with us, told us how sorry they were and how sad it was. Then they bought dinner and brought it back to the house for us.
• The day my brother died. I was living 2,000 miles away, and my husband was traveling home from out of the country and was unreachable. A good friend just happened to call me minutes after I got the call about my brother. When I told her what had just happened, she stayed on the phone with me for over an hour, and she and her husband helped me make the travel arrangements to get us across the continent, including arranging for a car for us once our flight landed.
• When going through a particularly difficult time with a child, a friend texted with dates for us to choose when she would stay with our kids and give us a night away.
• When our preschooler broke his arm, we arrived home from the hospital to a couple from our church waiting on us with dinner for our family.
• Upon learning that we had just received devastating news, our pastor drove until he found us walking in a nearby park. We looked up to find him walking toward us with ice cream for each of us in his hands. We walked and cried and ate together, talking some but mostly just being together in the grief.
“Church” = individuals
Each of these times, the “church” was individuals. And their help was just that—real help and caring presence. It wasn’t Scriptures or prayers or theological interpretations of our circumstances. It was love in action. Practical help. Showing up. Being God’s hands and feet for us at some of our most difficult times. Doing and being more than talking.
And the only actual words that mattered on those days were the ones we heard from these divine visitors: “I love you,” “God loves you,” and “I’m so sorry.”
If the church is called to anything, isn’t it primarily to this? To be the ones who show up, who step up, who put love into action?
There is a time for sermons, for teaching and even for programs—but the church is called to presence, to service, to prophetic action. Being the church means being the church. Caring for practical needs, being present with those whose hearts are broken, and showing up for those who don’t even know how to ask for what they need. We do that for each other. Sometimes quite well.
What about others?
But what about those outside our walls? What about those outside our borders?
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:34–40).
It’s not hard to know these days what the implications of this passage are for the church. God calls us to be the physical presence of Christ in the world by literally caring for the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned and the stranger. How could we possibly think this means only our sisters and brothers in our church and not the refugee, the immigrant, the homeless and the prisoner?
God, help us
God, help us to be your church to the world—not just to each other. May we pray—yes, Lord, may we fervently pray for our nation, for our world, for the refugees seeking safety, shelter and peace. But may we also put our prayers into action by showing up practically for the immigrants and refugees already in our midst and by using our voices and citizenship to “show up” for those still seeking refuge.
God, help us to work out our own salvation by being part of theirs. For Christ’s sake and in his name.
Amy Derrick is a consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches.