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Wouldn’t it be great if you weren’t needed?

Yes, it sure would, Brian. No schedules, no stress, no busyness, no criticism.

Just relaxing all the time and nobody caring if you even get up in the morning.

Come to think of it, I like being needed a little bit. 

Sure, we all want to be needed. It’s just that we’re not as important as we think we are.

Yes but … I’m still fairly important though, right?

Oh of course you are.

Wait, what are you talking about, exactly?

I’m talking about how we assume responsibility for so much that doesn’t really matter but often miss the important things right in front of us. Unfortunately Christians are as likely to do this as anyone else – wrapped up so tightly in looking ‘out there’ for mission fields that we walk past them right here.

Last weekend, the CBS program Sunday Morning did a piece on Ruth Coker Burks. Years before, Ruth’s mother had bought all the remaining spaces in the family cemetery to spite her brother so his family couldn’t be buried there (quite a feud!). So when Ruth inherited all that cemetery space from her mother she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

It was back in the early 1980s when one of Ruth’s friends contracted AIDS. When she went to the hospital to visit him she saw how ill he was and realized he had been put into isolation with no visitors. She entered the room and her friend asked Ruth to contact his mother so he could have a final visit with her. When Ruth went to a nurse to get more information:

Nurse: “Did you go into that room? Have you lost your mind? Do you know what’s happening?”
Ruth: “I’d like his mother’s phone number. He wants his mother.”
Nurse: “Honey, his mother is not coming. He’s been in that room for six weeks and nobody is coming.”

Ruth returned to his room and sat with him for thirteen hours until he passed away. In the Sunday Morning interview she was asked, “What made you stay with him until he passed away?” Her answer, “He needed me, his mother had already abandoned him.”

Nobody would take responsibility for the remains and so Ruth had him cremated and she buried his remains in the inherited family cemetery.

She would go on to become an international advocate for those with the disease, all the while driving, helping, befriending many other individuals who had the disease and needed somebody to care. Over the years she provided support to many and a burial place in the family cemetery for more than forty AIDS victims.

But it’s not a tale of a huge revelation, or God’s voice shouting, or an opportunity to sell Jesus to hurting people. This is the story of an average person simply looking down at a hospital bed and responding to the need in front of her.

I still remember the growing AIDS menace back then and the accompanying horror as it came nearer and nearer to our cities and neighbourhoods. It was frightening because of the death rate and the inability of the medical community to fight it.

Know what else I remember? I remember how the first instinct of some Christians at the time was to condemn it as God’s punishment for homosexuality. Rushing to judge is much easier than rushing to help.

Out of curiosity, I read Ruth’s story from a variety of different sources looking for a God connection (you know, because God needs to inspire Christians to do good things). But all I could come up with was that she is a church person and, now in later life she feels that she was probably inspired by a higher power. That’s it. That’s all.

Ruth just looked down and did the right thing.

Which raises an interesting question about who does God’s work in the world. Christians are still the largest and most generous giving group to people in need, no question, but by no means does all the good in the world come from us. God takes on plenty of allies in his mission of blessing and caring for the world.

Some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve known were just good people who looked down at the right place and at the right time. Some had money, some didn’t; some lived in clean homes, some lived in filthy homes. Some smoked pot, or drank a twenty-four most weekends, or went to a mainline church or no church at all.

You get the point; we Christians should be allied with non-Christians to help our neighbours. God is still out there doing his work in the world through any means – even the imperfect or sinful ones. Like you and me.

So lighten up, God’s Kingdom is way bigger than you and me and we’re not as important as we think we. On the other hand, we all have an important and unique part to play.

If you want something worthwhile to do, just look down to where your feet are taking you.