“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” - John Chrysostom
I have three children. I work full-time. I volunteer in several ministries at my church. I am busy. Busy. Busy. Busy. But I also know that as a Christian, I am called to make mercy and justice, advocacy and generosity, a way of life.
Christian communities are created to be places of welcome and embrace, where our renown is for our love of and support for others. This Lenten season, I would like to issue a challenge for a more just embrace, one that reflects the diversity of God’s kingdom, one that testifies to the fact that we are all sinners saved solely by the grace of God alone, and one that does not seek to prove that we are right, but that God is righteous.
Specifically, as Christians we need to welcome and embrace those who are often on the margins of our communities. As Pope Francis recently said, "It is not...with the club of judgment that we will bring back the lost sheep to the fold, but with the holiness of life that is the principle of renewal and reform in the church."
It’s time that we lay down our clubs and seek ways to welcome and embrace those who are frequently marginalized in our churches. Here’s how I propose that we do just that:
- Listen to the stories of those on the margins.
- Seek to understand the barriers that those on the margins face.
- Pray for God to be known in the lives of those on the margins and for God to reveal to you how their story calls you to live differently.
I’ve identified five groups that I have seen marginalized by the Church. This week, I would encourage you to commit 15 minutes of your time to listening, seeking, and praying for these people made in the image of God. The prayers are general, but I ask you to pray for God to reveal specific ways, even the smallest of steps, that you can make a difference as the hands and feet of Christ in your community and the world.
People who are LGBTQ
Listen: Read the story of Justin Lee
Seek to understand: What barriers are there to LGBTQ people feeling like they belong in my church community? What can I do to address or break down some of these barriers?
Pray: Read Romans 15:1-13. Thank God for the ways that LGBTQ people are contributing to the Body of Christ today. Ask God for the courage to seek to remove barriers, and pray for LGBTQ persons to know that they belong in the Church.
People living in poverty
Listen: One Family’s Story Shows How the Cycle of Poverty is Hard to Break
Seek to understand: What systems or structures serve as barriers to breaking out of the cycle of poverty? What is being done today to reform those systems or structures?
Pray: Read Isaiah 58. Thank God for the many ways that God provides for people—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Ask God that you would recognize the cycles of physical poverty in your community, and ask for resolve to advocate for change.
Immigrants and Refugees
Listen: Read stories from immigrants
Seek to understand: What are some of the “push” factors that led these people to immigrate? How is the brokenness of the U.S. immigration system evident in these stories?
Pray: Read Jeremiah 7:1-7. Thank God for God’s ongoing faithfulness. Ask God for the will to join other Christians seeking a more just immigration system in your nation.
Listen: Read how returning citizens are being welcomed in Washington D.C.
Seek to understand: What barriers do returning citizens face when they are released from prison? What acts of mercy and justice can be done to make reentry a more fruitful experience?
Pray: Read Matthew 25:31-40. Thank God for the many ministries and organizations working to support the reintegration of returning citizens into our communities. Ask God for the discernment to welcome returning citizens into your community and advocate for systems that will do the same.
People with disabilities
Listen: Learn about artist Judith Scott
Seek to understand: What barriers face people with disabilities in my community? What gifts do people with disabilities have that are missing in my life?
Pray: Read John 9:1-5. Thank God for the many gifts that people with disabilities share in our communities and congregations. Ask God for eyes to see the obstacles that people with various disabilities face, and the boldness to seek to remove them.
Editor's note: This post is part of our Live Justly for Lent series. As we follow our suffering Lord to the cross, how can His example empower us to engage with a suffering world? We hope that the ideas for practical Lenten justice activities in these posts will help us to act justly, love sacrificially, and rejoice in the triumph of God’s justice in Jesus at Easter. Instead of giving something up for Lent this year, which of these activities will you take up? To make sure that you see all these posts, subscribe to our biweekly Do Justice digest.
[Image: Flickr user Soraya Nullah]