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 house or my car also needing some financial help. 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 tells 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 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 then 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 meeting the material, physical and economic needs of the injured Jew ---- the Samaritan planned for the injured man's recovery and paid all the related expenses. But, the Samaritan's time with the injured man was brief ---- he did not give much of himself, other than his money.
I realize that this is exactly what most of my charity-giving requests are asking of me. Would I please simply write a check, mail it and thus 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!
Three on-going activities at Central Church help us fill this "giving gap." One is the annual Central High School Mission Trip, where more than 40 teenagers and adults go for a week to live in some needy place, do some construction repairs on houses and roofs, but most importantly develop relationships with the destination hosts. These "hosts" are so different in life experience from the Central Mission trippers, that the latter must exit their shells and give something of themselves (so, it is no longer just about giving money). What can they give? For the children of the hosts, who are seriously considering dropping out of school, or who have no real plans for their lives, our Mission Trip teenagers encourage these host kids to raise their sights ---- they 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 really do this in a lasting way? We do not know until we give it a good "college" try.
Now, consider the Elizabethport Tutorial Program which meets at Central Church every Tuesday evening from October until March. On a typical Tuesday night about 100 kids gather in the Central auditorium. We bus 40-45 students to Summit from the Elizabethport Presbyterian Center, and they are joined by about 60 teenage tutors from local high schools. On-going relationships are developed between student and tutor. The tutors find themselves encouraging their students to apply themselves more fully, and for many students the encouragement of the tutors has boosted student career goals and study habits. The tutors are not giving money ---- they are giving something more priceless. They are giving their own example as achievers, and showing the Elizabethport students some of the things that are possible for them in the future. This is a lasting gift.
A totally different Central Church practice is the "Midnight Run." Each month or so, Central youth and accompanying adults, make a hundred or so sandwiches and a supply of coffee or 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. But, more than that, they talk with these "friends" whom they sometimes will 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 participants and the homeless, but the encounter is not quickly forgotten. Which do you think is worth more? The sandwiches and soup, or the cordial human encounter?
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 to give "your neighbor" than merely your money.
These thoughts are brought to you by Central's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage some personal spiritual growth this year at Central Church.