Church of the Gaps Psalm 41:1-3

Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
the LORD delivers them in times of trouble. (Psalm 41:1)

In Psalm 41 David is appealing to God once again to help him in his distress. He is feeling his own weakness and reminding God that He is the God of the poor. For that is what the God of the Israelites is like. He cares about the poor and the week and the oppressed. In the Jewish Law there is a special place in God’s heart for that triad of the widows, the orphans and the refugees. This is just one of the Psalms which picks up this theme.
And in his own life David gave an excellent example of caring for the poor and the weak when he showed kindness to Saul’s surviving grandson Mephibosheth. He was the son of Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s great friend.
2 Samuel 9:1 David asked, ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’
So David wanted to help somebody because of his friendship with Jonathan. But David had also made a promise to Saul.
1 Samuel 24: (Saul said) 21 Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.” 22 So David gave his oath to Saul.
David was determined to show kindness to Mephibosheth because of his friendship with Jonathan and also to keep his promise to Saul. But this was especially remarkable because Mephibosheth was lame.

2 Samuel 9: 3 Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”
The story is striking for the enormous generosity David showed.
7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
As David proceeded to bless him, this fact about Mephibosheth’s disability is repeated.
13 And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.
In those days there was great prejudice against the disabled, the impoverished, the disadvantaged, the widows and orphans and blind and lame. Just as there is in many parts of society today, against AIDS victims and refugees and single parent families as well as those of different races and colours and religions and sexual orientations.
It was significant that David should help somebody who was lame. David practiced what he preached. Like David, we should look out for the poor, weak, lame, and hidden, and work at ways of blessing them. Christians should be known as those who welcome and care for other people who are different from us in some way.
The story of Mephibosheth is also striking because David the great King of a vast and expanding empire himself took the initiative in blessing Mephibosheth. Human love usually doesn’t stretch to the lame and disabled and disadvantaged – God’s kindness does! Human love stops at just meeting the needs of others – God’s kindness goes beyond that to give much, much more than we need or deserve! Human love helps family and friends – God’s kindness takes the initiative to reach out and seek and save even the lost and forgotten and hidden.
There is the message of the story of David and Mephibosheth for us today. Is there anybody I could bless today? Is there anyone to whom I can show God’s kindness? Who does God want me to bless??
Psalm 41:1 1 Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the LORD delivers them in times of trouble.
NRSV Happy are those who consider the poor.
NLT Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor!
For three thousand years God’s people have stood out as those who show compassion for the poor and the weak and the powerless. These acts of love and mercy have been at the heart of the church’s mission to the world. Which brings us to the question for tonight. What will Christian mission look like when we emerge from this Covid19 lockdown? So how are we going to show concern for the weak in the years ahead? There are lots of reasons why we certainly won’t be able to just to carry on with everything as we did before.
Until a vaccine is developed or a cure is found, Coronavirus is going to be with us for years and years. Some measure of social distancing is going to be in place and there are some things we aren’t going to be able to do any more. Activities involving food and drink are probably out. Activities with people heaped on top of each other won’t be happening any time soon. People aren’t going to be going in and out of each other’s houses so much and nobody is going to be going round to each other’s gardens when it is raining or snowing or dark. So many of the activities and events which have made up the life of most churches aren’t going to be possible or perhaps even permitted. Most churches run “crossing places”, activities where Christians meet non-Christians, to meet all kinds of needs and to build relationships. Very many of the usual crossing places which have been part of the mission of churches for decades just won’t be happening.
But there is a bigger challenge than that. Historically churches have undertaken all kinds of compassionate service. From providing food for the poor to caring for the sick to bringing up orphans. Supporting those struggling with all kinds of problems, from alcohol and gambling and drug problems, to debts and relationship counselling, to helping with mental health. But over the years, charities have taken over more and more responsibility for helping the poor and the weak and the disadvantaged. Many charities which were started by Christians have now lost their Christian ethos. And in this Covid crisis, we are of course very grateful that the State has stepped in to offer financial and practical support to very many people. Even more people have got used to turning to the Government, or to charities like Food banks. So what is there left for the churches to do?
In theology there is a phrase, “God of the gaps”. The idea goes back to Henry Drummond, in the 19th-century who criticised Christians who point to the things that science cannot yet explain as “gaps which they will fill up with God”. In the 1880s, Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, , said “… into every gap they put their delusion, their stopgap, which they called God.” Of course we reject the idea that Christians only resort to God as the explanation when we cannot explain what we see of the universe. But I suggest that for decades at least, the church has been becoming “the church of the gaps”. The church does still care for the poor and the weak, but at least in the prosperous West the church has just been filling the gaps which the State and secular charities have been neglecting. We have hospitals and the welfare state and food banks. We have charities addressing all kinds of physical and mental and spiritual needs. And churches have been struggling to find people to help who are not already being helped by other agencies. We have become “the church of the gaps” and the Covid19 lockdown has cemented that position. Who is there left for the church to show God’s love to? And in what ways will we be able to do that when the lockdown is lifted as long as social distancing is in place. Especially in the reality that when churches do try to help people, political correctness and safeguarding tell us that it is immoral to talk to those people about Jesus when we are helping them!
Psalm 41:1 1 Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
NRSV Happy are those who consider the poor.
NLT Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor!
But what on earth is that going to look like in “the new normal?” I have two thoughts.
Firstly, in the past many churches have tended to care for the poor by organised activities and events and projects. Christians have given generously for worthy causes so that needs can be met anonymously by a few individual church members, or by church workers, or by external agencies. Food banks and homeless shelters would be obvious examples. The “church of the gaps” has made an enormous difference to countless lives, but those gaps are closing as secular charities and the State are meeting all kinds of needs. Post-Covid19 there will be even fewer opportunities for such Christian projects. Many of the kinds of activities the church have spearheaded, from lunch clubs to toddler groups to pre-schools to drop-ins, may not be able to happen. So in the future the mission of the church will fall back much more on individual Christians loving their own neighbours and talking about Jesus.
Consequently, I think the church will need to focus more on its core mission, which surely includes worshipping God, praying for people in and outside the church community, making disciples and equipping Christians to be salt and light by loving their neighbours and talking about Jesus.

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