The words of this title are not mine. They were spoken many years ago by Winston Churchill. But, I believe they express a very profound thought, a thought already very familiar to many members of Central Presbyterian Church.
Hardly a day goes by when I do not receive a couple of phone calls and letters inviting me to donate some money to a worthy cause. Hardly a year goes by without one of my kids or my car also is needing some financial aid. Sometimes, the steady drumbeat of financial needs makes me wonder if perhaps the only thing important about me is the money I have to give to others.
Most of us are familiar with the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan (Luke: 14: 25 – 37). A Jewish man was riding through a mountainous, remote area, when he was robbed, beaten and left in the road “half dead”. A Samaritan came along the road. Samaritans and Jews were the bitterest of enemies. Yet when the Samaritan saw the injured man in the road, he was moved with compassion. He braved the danger and stopped, giving the injured man emergency medical aid, and transporting him to an inn. He paid the innkeeper, and directed him to care for the man until he had fully recuperated. That would have been a substantial expense.
What was Jesus doing with this story? He was showing us what it means to love your neighbor. Jesus shows us the Samaritan responding to the physical and economic needs of the injured Jew —— the Samaritan planned for the injured man’s recovery and paid all the related expenses. Importantly, the Samaritan also encouraged and comforted the injured man, and promised to return. He appears to have given so much of himself, not just his money.
I realize that giving of myself is not what most of the charity-giving requests are asking of me. Their message to me is plainly—— “Would I please simply write a check and mail it to us?” Thus, I could be done with this particular charity —– until next year. This is not enough to really satisfy me, and perhaps you feel the same way. We each have more to give “our neighbor” than just our money!
One of the values of my membership and participation at Central Church is that there is a continual invention of new ways to draw me from my “shell” and lead me to giving from myself something other than MONEY! I can think of many examples, but given my limited writing space here, these are three of my favorites!
The annual Central Church High School Mission Trip: Annually, 20 or 30 teenagers and adults go for a week to live in some needy place, to do some construction repairs on houses and roofs. But, most importantly they develop relationships with their destination hosts. The hosts are people so different in life experience from the Central Church Mission trippers, that the latter must exit their “shells” and give something of themselves. So, it is no longer about giving money. But what else can we give? For the children of the “hosts”, who may be seriously considering dropping out of school, or have no real plans for their lives, our Mission Trip teenagers encourage these “host” kids to raise their sights —— they can help the kids define a vision for themselves that could be more fulfilling and perhaps even more financially rewarding. But will only a week of contact and friendship do this in a lasting way? We do not know in advance, but we know we should try.
Now, consider the Elizabethport Tutorial Program: The program meets every Tuesday evening, from October until April. On a typical Tuesday night over 100 kids gather in the Central Church auditorium. We bus 40-45 students to Summit from the Elizabethport Presbyterian Center, and they are joined by about 70 teenage tutors from local high schools. Personal relationships develop between student and tutor. The tutors find themselves encouraging their students to apply themselves more fully. For many students, the encouragement of the tutors has boosted student career goals and study habits.
Over time, mutual respect, trust and genuine friendship are fostered. Of course, the tutors are not giving out money —– they are giving something even more valuable. They are giving their own living example as achievers, and showing the Elizabethport students some of the things that are possible for them in their futures. This is a lasting gift.
The “Midnight Run”: This is a totally different Central Church opportunity. Each month or so, 10 or 20 Church youth and accompanying adults, make a hundred or so sandwiches and a supply of coffee or warm soup, and troop into places in New York City where homeless folks are known to gather in the evenings. It may be under bridges or in city parks. There they deliver their gift of food and sometimes even donated clothing. But more than that, they talk with these “friends” whom they will often meet again on subsequent “Midnight Runs.” The great thing about this endeavor is that each side discovers they are dealing with real people. Each shared story is different for both the Central Church participants and the homeless person, so the encounter is not quickly forgotten by anyone. Which do you think is worth more? The sandwiches and warm soup, or the cordial human encounters?
Sure, not-for-profits will continue to ask for your money and mine ——- they must do so in order to keep going. But ask yourself whether you have something more of yourself to share with your “neighbor” than merely your money, and then share that “something else”.
These thoughts are brought to you by Central’s Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage some personal spiritual growth this year at Central Presbyterian Church.