As I follow the news about our Canadian Armed Forces serving in Afghanistan, it is, for me, an experience that is both heart-wrenchingly sad and encouraging at the same time. To hear the reports of another Canadian soldier, or four, killed in a firefight or a suicide attack immediately makes me pause and reflect. Another healthy, trained, dedicated, gifted, compassionate young person was cut down in the prime of life and the grief of his or her fellow soldiers, family and friends will be poured out.
And yet there is, at the same time, something encouraging in all of this. I grew up in the 70’s, a time called the “Me Generation.” Our focus was ourselves and the last thing to cross our minds was to willingly take the risk of dying for the sake of a people on the other side of the world whom we did not know. But, in this generation, there are young men and women are willing to do exactly that, sacrifice themselves to establish peace and security in a country where we have no self-interest and no connections of commonality. Except this, the people of Afghanistan are human beings who need our help.
There are many, many parallels between the Canadian Armed Forces Mission in Afghanistan and the Christian Church in this world. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… (Matt. 28:19a). And so we go out of our homes, out of our churches, and, in some cases, out of our country, to people across the street, across the track, or across the world, to help them by sharing the love and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ with them in the hope that they will believe and be saved. And there are times when it costs us to do that. It costs us time, it costs us money and sometimes, it costs us our lives. And yet we do it because these people are human beings who need to know that Jesus loves them and that He died on the cross and rose again so that they could live with Him forever.
There are parallels in other ways as well. The soldiers in Afghanistan need to take care of themselves and one another. On a regular basis, they return to their camp in Kandahar for rest, more training and repairs to their equipment. They continually support and encourage one another and they have teams of people around them who support and encourage them, too. But it all serves the purpose of helping the Afghan people.
Sometimes in the Christian Church, we fall into the rut of focusing on looking after ourselves and our fellow Christians and the things that we think are important while, at the same time, failing to go and serve the people outside the church with the Gospel in a way that truly helps them. We may make token efforts to assuage our guilty consciences, but they mean little to those we are trying to reach.
The problem is in our heart. While it is good that we care about our church and the people in our congregation, we break the law of love when we care MORE about ourselves and others inside the church than we care about those in our community and world who don’t believe in Jesus. We become like the Pharisees who believed that they were closer to God because they did all the right things and avoided contaminating themselves through contact with sinners, all the time placing burdens on people and failing to work to relieve their burdens.
In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the final judgment day when he will separate the people of the world into two groups. The group on his right he will bless and invite into the kingdom prepared for them since the creation of the world. The group on the left will be cursed and sent into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. And the criteria that Jesus will use to determine in which group we end up is whether or not we helped those in need around us. When those on his left question his decision-making, Jesus replies, … ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:45) Genuine faith in Jesus Christ in our hearts should result in compassionate acts of kindness to those in need around us, even those outside the church, perhaps especially those outside the church. If we are not compassionately concerned about those in need, then there is something wrong with our faith.
We do not deserve Jesus’ love in action, but we sure need it. And He has graciously given it to us. And it cost him dearly. He not only risked His life. He willingly laid it down, and suffered excruciating pain in the process. And He did it all for you, and for your neighbour, because He loves you both. And that is why we do what do, even if it costs us.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:11)
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
(This article was written for the October 2006 edition of The Binder, the monthly newsletter of Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Swift Current SK.)