Monday, September 23, 2013

Help from God

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
     for in you my soul takes refuge; 

in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
     until the destroying storms pass by.            Psalm 57:1

Today has had lots of phone calls, the sort that are familiar to all pastors. People call looking for food, help paying rent, a hotel room for the night, and more. Some days I get no such calls, but today there have been many.

These calls always leave me feeling inadequate and uncomfortable. I want to help, but I rarely have enough for the help to be sufficient. I want the limited funds I do have to go to those who are truly needy, but I have no sure-fire way to determine whose needs are genuine or most pressing. Often I find myself doing a lot of apologizing.

As happenstance would have it, today I also received an email containing a draft of the church's 2014 personnel budget. It's a lot of money, a great deal more than the small amount in the overall budget to help people with food or rent. For that matter, it's a great deal more than all the money budgeted for mission and outreach.

There's nothing unusual about this. Church budgets are usually dominated by personnel and building costs. Sometimes staff and buildings make direct contribution to helping people who are hungry or poor or homeless, but that tends to be a minor role for staff and structures


I did not read today's morning psalm until the afternoon, and so I heard the words about taking refuge under God's wings as a person feeling inadequate and troubled at my inability to help people. People come to churches looking for help because they have some notion that we do God's work. We say we are the body of Christ, and people were always clamoring around Jesus looking for healing or help. And I can't recall a gospel story where Jesus said, "Sorry, I'm all out of assistance cards," or "You're too late, there's no more food."

I'm realistic enough to know that some people abuse the help this congregation and others offer, but that doesn't change the fact that I turn away people who are genuinely in need, and neither I, nor scarcely any member of this congregation, are worrying about our next meal.

I don't really have any keen thoughts or observations about any of this. I'm just having one of those existential faith crises that hit me from time to time. What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be the church? And is it reflected in my personal budget or our church budget or that personnel budget, my own salary eating up a big chunk?

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