I believe that it was Helmut Thielicke who told a story about visiting a parishioner in his mostly bombed out home after the war. The man was thankful for God’s mercy in having enough of his house bombed out that he didn’t have to take in any refugees who had nothing. He had official sanction from whatever authority there was to be free from any need to care for his neighbors because what was left of his house was not big enough.
We now have official sanction for not doing anything, at least not anything generous and reckless and exuberant. We have sanction from Pastors and boards and other folks that we don’t have the resources to do much more than care for “our own” and we are not to sure we want to care for them either. Try suggesting that we have door offerings for the poorer parishioners in our churches. There will be talk about precedent and “real need”. Then try suggesting we have a door offering to fix the roof.
There are voices out there that say the church is in crisis and we need to spend our money on preaching the Gospel. We don’t have the resources to send money over seas to do mercy.
In a world where crisis are becoming chronic we have sanction to be left alone. Our little piece of the world that is left to us is just enough that we don’t have to bother ourselves with “those people”. The government will take care of it. The Clinton Foundation will deal with it. We can’t do anything in the church because we make it worse, and besides that money can go to preaching the Gospel. Of course I will be told that it is a matter of scale and nuance and that we are not being told to stop doing mercy, we are just being told not to spend any money on it, or build any structures, or do things that cannot be sustained. Just don’t respond to chronic need as if it were a crisis seems to be a very common sense and useful message. The problem with this is that Jesus would have no story about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16;19-31) if the rich man would have responded in any way, let alone as if Lazarus were in crisis.
In studying the cases against mercy I began to believe that mercy from an institutional viewpoint is “too expensive”. There are other things that the church needs to spend money on. We see it when the offerings begin to dwindle and we need to fix roofs and bell towers and basements. We will be told that these are genuine “stewardship needs”. Why are we spending money overseas when we need it here? Better yet, why are we sending money overseas when we think we need to spend it here.