The other day I came across a story in the newspaper about a neighborhood in Chicago that has one of the highest concentrations of drug activity, prostitution, alcoholics, and. . .churches. Huh?!
That’s right, Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood claims to have over 200 churches, with most consitrated on only two roads (Roosevelt and Pulaski).
The question that immediately came to my mind as I read was, “With so many churches, why is the community in the shape that its in.” It didn’t take long for me to find my answer. Some who were interviewed said it was because young people tend to grow up and move away, instead of staying to invest in homes and businesses. Others claimed its because churches, which are tax-exempt, are building on commercial land and stifling economic growth. But Omar McRoberts, a sociologist from the University of Chicago offered this comment. He said, “With the birth of civil rights organizations in the 1960’s that formed to meet the needs of the community, many churches looked inward and shifted their focus from activist work to serving their members. Pastor Terence Raven, of Christ Baptist church agreed saying, “I think there are too many churches not doing what they need to do!”
As a read about this neighborhood, which is jokingly referred to as the ‘community of 1,000 churches’, I couldn’t help but think of my own city of Elgin. Elgin also is known as a city of many churches. And although we don’t struggle with the level of problems facing North Lawndale, we too have our share of challenges- from gangs and teen pregnancy to poverity and food pantry shortages.
Yet as I read the gospels, I find that Jesus preoccupation was with people in need. He is not concerned about our claims to love and serve him, but our willingness to demonstrate that love through caring for ‘the least of these’.
One of Jesus’ favorite images of the Kingdom, God’s loving in-breaking rule, was a dinner party. And anyone who ‘s been to a dinner party knows there are certain rules of etiquette. The first rule is – you don’t eat until everyone is at the table (This is one of the rules at our home that dad is most apt to break).
But do we as Jesus’ party guests do the same thing? We’ve learned that its rude to eat before everyone is seated and served, but when we enter into God’s rule and we see this incredible meal laid out before us, we start gobbling it down. Do we demand, “Feed me, Feed me!!” rather than being focused on what Jesus is focused on, which is gathering all those who aren’t yet at the table.
So as we look around our neighborhoods, our city, our places of work, let’s ask ourselves – Who do I know and care about that is not yet a regular guest at God’s table? What can I do to help that person connect with the God revealed in Jesus? How would these places change as more and more people came to dinner?
Pray, think, dream. The party has started. We have the invitations in our hands. Don’t be afraid to take a risk.