Lewis on charity

I have said before I sometimes feel like a "Mary Christian" in a "Martha Church."  My fellow United Methodists are whirling around saying "Let us DO something" while I am content to listen and pray.  Of course, there is a time for prayer and a time for work - ora et labora is the ancient motto - and perhaps in the wisdom of God it is good for "Mary Christians" and "Martha denominations" to get put together.

Certainly one of the great strengths of the Methodist movement has always been the outward focus - the realization that our personal holiness, nurtured in prayer, sacrament, and Scripture, should always flow outward into social holiness and active service.  Works of piety should lead to works of mercy.  And we Wesleyans are certainly active: from missionaries to social action advocates to disaster relief to children's homes to environmental action, from fighting malaria to fighting poverty; where there is a need, the Methodists no doubt have a system in place to address it (or at least a committee working on that).

Our tradition has done and continues to do much good in the world.  There is so much good that a vast and well-organized church can accomplish all around the world, because as a church or denomination, we really do have the resources to address so many needs all at once, and that is how it should be; it is, you might even say, a sign of our "catholicity." 
 Yet for the individual Christian and the local congregation, I think there can be a temptation to try to do too much, to try to focus in too many directions all at once and end up with no momentum in any one direction.  Here I think the words of C.S. Lewis are quite instructive:

"I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help.  This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can to do those we know.  God may call any one of us to respond to some far away problem or support those who have been so called.  But we are finite and he will not call us everywhere or to support every worthy cause.  And real needs are not far from us."

Since one person will be overwhelmed by all the need that is "out there," I believe the Christian should begin by supporting one or two worthy ministries that really stir his or her interest (or address pressing needs close to home), and trust that God will provide passionate workers to address the other needs as well. 

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