Filling your Emptiness by Caring for Others
TRA 26th September, 1999
MARY HELEN'S LIFE WAS EMPTY. Her marriage had failed. She desperately sold houses to keep herself, her three children and pay off her own home. She worked non-stop to quell the hollow rumblings of the emptiness within. Then she met Dennis Brown, a Vietnam veteran who was on a disability pension. They married. She was happy. But her life was still empty. They were unable to have children.
She felt moved to adopt a child, but a child no-one else wanted. But how could she look after a severely disabled child without any training? She decided to become a nurse. She trained at Peat Island Centre for the Psychiatrically Ill. Three years later she graduated as a registered nurse. Now she and Dennis were ready to adopt. Their first child suffered from Downe's Syndrome. Their second and third children were profoundly disabled unable to speak, toilet or feed themselves. Then Mary Helen discovered in a too hard basket, the most profoundly disabled baby of all. Maurice had only half a brain, was blind, spastic, epileptic and asthmatic. Still she nursed him in their small central Coast home.
She was a devout Christian, never missing attending church with all the family every Sunday. Her own children grew up, but Mary Helen kept caring for the disabled. Then she heard of Mother Teresa and was determined to help in her work. She visited Calcutta and while there adopted an Indian orphan and brought him back. Last December David graduated in hotel management and has a job. Mary Helen no longer has an empty life! As she cared for others her inner emptiness filled with love. As she spoke on my TV program, my viewers responded warmly.
When you consider a woman caring for seriously disabled children, at the same time living a life of holiness and personal sanctity, you say: "There is a real Christian. That's what I call true religion." James, the younger brother of Jesus made the same point: James 1:26-27 26 "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
True faith in Jesus Christ lives a life of moral cleanliness and care for the needy. James point out how religious truth should be put into practice. James introduces a person who "considers himself religious." The word "religious" describes a person who performs the external acts of religion: public worship, fasting, or giving to the needy. The person James is referring to "does not keep tight rein on his tongue." Exactly how his speech offends is not indicated. Perhaps cutting criticism of others, or uncleanness, or lying. His uncontrolled tongue reveals that "his religion is worthless" a sham. Such a person is playing the part of one who is religious and has convinced himself that he really is religious but in so doing "he deceives himself." In v26 the self-deceived person is the one whose religious acts do not make a difference in the way he lives.
The kind of v27 "religion that God our Father accepts" is a positive influence on life. James says genuine religion is a lifechanging force. Religion must spring from inner spiritual reality expressing itself in love to others and holiness before God.
James next describes a specific example of love: the care of "orphans and widows." The verb "care for" episkeptesthai also appears in Matthew 25:36-43 where Jesus refers to aiding the sick, providing shelter for the homeless, care for the prisoner, clothes for the naked, food for the hungry and so on. This is "faith expressing itself through love" Gal 5:6 as Paul described it and we noted last week.
One whose religion is genuine will also avoid "being polluted by the world." This means the total system of evil that opposes God and righteousness. You cannot be a Christian and live in immorality whether it be heterosexual or homosexual. Christ-ians are to live in moral purity. James insists religion must consist of more than religious acts. The person whose religious experience is genuine will put spiritual truth into practice, and his life will be marked by love for others and holiness before God.
So in caring for others we are blessed. We discover when we care for others in the name of Jesus, we find our own inner emptiness is filled. Have you discovered you can fill your emptiness by caring for others? I know a widow whose life has been empty since her husband died and her only child now lives overseas. But her Christian faith and love for Jesus Christ made her think of the needs of others. She became a member of one of our auxiliaries for our childrens homes and in caring for them, she has found her own inner emptiness filled. I know a married couple whose life dramatically changed when their four adult children were married in three years and all of them shifted due to work to distant places. Now they had a large house empty and their lives were desperately empty.
Then he was made redundant. He had a generous financial package, but was too young to retire and too old to start again. He met an international Christian leader who was looking for a man to head up an office in London. Without salary they have given several years in London working for an inter-national Christian organisation. Because of their commitment to Christ in caring for others they have found their inner emptiness met.
I know a university student who was leading a selfish and sinful life until, overcome by emptiness, turned to Jesus Christ and found his emptiness filled with a love that overflowed into caring for others. He is today the head of a campus-based Christian student activity that is reaching other students for Christ. Because of Christian commitment, he found his love flowing out to care for others. In caring for others his own need was met.
1. YOUR EMPTINESS.
Everyone has at some time an inner emptiness. We try to fill it by acquiring things, by gaining status, wealth, power, moving from one relationship to another - seeking to find something to fill our inner emptiness. Christian author and university lecturer Dr Michael Green, at a luncheon in Wesley Centre quoted Sophia Loren, the beautiful Italian actress, saying: "I have everything I have ever wanted: films, fame and financial wealth, I am married to Carlo and I have children, but in my life is a void impossible to fill." Everyone has an inner emptiness - a God-shape vacuum. If you have felt that inner emptiness, you are not alone - it is part of human experience. Most people accumulate things in the hope they will fill that emptiness.
Imelda Marcos was a poor child. She felt that emptiness. For the rest of her life she tried to fill it up, milking millions of dollars from her country to fill her inner emptiness. She bought thousands of dresses and 3000 pairs of shoes. When depressed, she would take a group of women in a government plane and fly to Paris or New York and spend millions a day in wild, insane, extravagance. But the emptiness was never filled. Strangely, there were people outside her palace gates who were the poorest of the poor. If she had cared for them, she would have found her own inner-emptiness filled.
2. CARING FOR OTHERS.
If this church ceases to care for the least, the loneliest and the lost, it will have failed it's Lord. In the 1980's we were offered millions of dollars to sell our central city property and build the most lavish church in Australia on 70 acres of land we owned in the Bible belt of Carlingford. But we decided that if we ever were to depart the central city and seek plush suburbs, with leafy trees and easy parking, and neglect the people on the city streets, then God would write upon the Mission doors "Ichabod" - that Hebrew word which means: "The Glory of the Lord has departed this place". But the glory of the Lord is upon us because at cost to ourselves, we care for others in the heart of down-town Sydney.
I have respect for church members who attend our church at personal cost and inconvenience because they believe we must care for the city. You members leave comfortable lounges and homes to travel into down-town to minister to the needs of the city streets. You are special people: you care! I have boasted of you all over the world.
For more than any other church in the world, you support more than 2,000 staff and 3,500 volunteers in over 300 centres of care, where our clients are among the most disabled, poor, alone, unemployed, imprisoned, sick and psychiatrically ill. We care for those in deep need. There is no intellectual snobbery here, no social superiority, no racial intolerance, no religious bigotry. For we accept people just as they are, and challenge them to change through the Gospel of Christ.
Once my guest here was Sister Emmanuelle, a Belgian-born nun who for 27 years has been living in Cairo's rubbish dumps among the ragpickers. She used to be a Professor of Philosophy in the Cairo University before living with the poorest of the poor. 10,000 garbage pickers collect the garbage of Cairo, bring it to refuse dumps and then go through it. Food is eaten. Slops are fed to pigs. Bottles and papers are sold. Sister Emmanuelle runs a school to educate the children. She visits the adults and in a large ledger records family needs. She browbeats the bureaucrats. She runs courses in trade training. She has built a medical centre. She was in Australia to raise $1 million to buy tractors to collect the waste. My listeners donated money to purchase two. She says: "My job is to prove that God is love, to bring courage to these people. I want to prove it is possible to be clean and dignified garbage collectors, and slowly, slowly, we will do it. With God, everything is possible." That's it! You can only care for others when God first fills your life. Imelda Marcos has inner emptiness. Sister Emmanuelle fills her emptiness with God's love expressed in caring for others. Like Mary Helen Brown, the people she cares for cannot repay her, except through love.
3.FILLING YOUR EMPTINESS.
It is not just a matter of filling our lives with activity or replacing love with a care for others. That is good but it is still not meeting our deepest emptiness. What we are talking about is filling our lives with Jesus Christ. He completely fills that God-shaped vacuum, and from the overflowing of inner love comes the outpouring of care for others. That is why committed Christians have more to give than others. That is why the committed Christian can take on tough caring roles that cause other people to crumble. They care on past the point of human endeavour. They are replenished by Him.
How? Jesus said: "I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me into you homes; naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; in prison and you visited me... I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me."
Whenever you care for another person, particularly the person in need, you are doing it unto Jesus. He enters your life and motivates you to care. His presence, which expresses itself in caring for others, fills the God-shaped vacuum in your life. He fills the emptiness and through you cares for others. Ernest Crosby wrote:
"No one could tell me where my soul might be;
I searched for God, and He eluded me;
I sought my brother out and found all three."
When we seek others we find Him. When we find Him we care for others. When we care for others our inner emptiness is filled.
Gordon Moyes 1999
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