Love in Action
As many of you know, Christiane and I moved into downtown Detroit last month, just a short walk from the church. We have a lot of neighbors now. Business people, construction workers, vendors, people who live in our building and those who sleep outside of it are all just a step away. If you start to add the neighbors we meet through the church, it certainly is a lot of people. There is:
- The writer, Will, who visited our church and wrote a nice blog about us the next day. Later that week we ran into each other and ended up talking on a park bench.
- The two homeless women who came by the church this week just to charge their phone and make a call to secure shelter for the night.
- The computer programer in my building who works and teaches part time to Graduate Students and said he would like to visit our church.
- The guy who plays his radio much too loud (in my cranky opinion) as he drives by with his windows down.
- Dozen’s of people who smile and say ‘hi’ as we pass, or give me the “what’s up” head nod. (making Detroit the friendliest downtown I’ve ever experienced!)
All these people, and the hundreds more you and I pass each week driving to work, walking in your neighborhood, or eating at the local restaurants, are all our neighbors.
As we finish this series on the de-churched, I don’t want to loose sight of the rest of the people in our life. They are our friends, co-workers, and others who do not have a religious affiliation or background. Many are Atheist or Agnostics; others worship other gods, both spiritual and material. They don’t have a grandmother at home praying for them. Religion wasn’t part of their heritage, yet they are our neighbors too. They too need to know of the ‘hope that is within us’; a God who is inviting them into fellowship with HIm.
How do we do effectively live as believers in our mostly irreligious cities, not just insulated within our church and christian culture?
First, is proximity. We need to be outside the church walls. I have come to truly love our physical building. The stain glass, the high ceilings, the lovely fellowship hall we have named, the Julia Anderson Room, after our founding Matriarch.
However, when we become so comfortable within the walls of our church that we don’t venture out and engage the world, we miss one of the greatest privileges of walking with God: To make Him known to those who don’t believe, and maybe never have believed.
Second, is priority. On of my mentors and Bishops, Todd Hunter, says we (Anglicans) look to see others come to God, “not to preserve our institution, but as a first principle” (Hunter, The Accidental Anglican, pg. 102). We believe that every person is made in God’s image and created to be in relationship with Him. Therefore, we represent him to those who don’t know Him.
In Acts 17 there is a marvelous story of Paul interacting with people who were far from knowing the True God, although they were religious and had many idols.
“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Acts 17:16 NIV
This is the famous passage about Paul speaking to the philosophers at the Areopagus, a place where religion and ideas are debated. He had previously been in the familiar place of the Synagogue, but then moved to another space, a space not usually occupied by established religion. Scripture says,
“So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” Acts 17: 17
Paul divided his time and mission between the religious and the curious cultural idol worshippers. It goes on to say:
Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”
These philosophers weren’t exactly respectful of Paul, calling him a babbler. He didn’t get mad. He didn’t speak to them as the enemy. He didn’t let his love for God and others get blurred by his own pride or bruised ego.
Instead, he stayed connected to the Spirit of God. He gave a short sermon that has been studied for 2000 years as profoundly bringing others to belief in the “the unknown god” using the cultural philosophy of the day. (vs 22-23a)
He stood up in the Areopagus and said,
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’
Then he famously declared, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (vs 23b)
[If you want to read the rest of the sermon go to Acts 17:24-31]
Like Paul, I love proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, not just to those who know about God, but to those who don’t. I want all of us to be waiting with expectation for God to bring different people, churched, de-churched, and un-churched, across our path as we get out of our comfort zones. Some will come through our doors and worship with us; for others, we will have to go to them. Some will understand the words and culture of our worship; others will need to be spoken to with words they understand as we build relationship.
Pray God gives us all the ability to love our neighbor with actions. Just starting up a conversation may blossom into a life-changing relationship.
Blessings and peace,
Note: If God has put on your heart a creative way to “get outside the church walls” to build relationships with our neighbors, please let me know. I would love to hear your vision and perhaps help you realize it. This is one of my biggest joys and honors of being a pastor. Please reach out to me!