The stranger who entered the church was young and new to the community, struggling with her faith, her identity and facing serious problems. She tentatively took her place in the back of the sanctuary as the service began. There was a time where prayers were spoken aloud. Hearing their prayers, she felt a sense of peace. Overcome, she prayed: “God, thank you for bringing me here. Let me receive your grace. Let me grow in your love and peace.” In that prayer the stranger found peace and the church reached out to comfort her. This story represents the church at its best. Someone is troubled, seeking help, searching for God and finds what she needs within the church.

The Gospel of Luke describes our task as the church through a simple story: “suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)

I wish it could always be that way, but it isn’t. Another story: “Like a lost coin, I lay in the streets of the city. People pass me by, ignoring my almost invisible presence. I’m kicked out of the shelter at 6:30 am, if I am lucky enough to find a shelter. By 8 am, I am in line for breakfast. I don’t look at those putting food on my tray. I can’t stand being seen by those eyes. Afterward, I stake out my spot near the shopping center holding my cardboard sign asking for help. I feel like a dirty old penny. No eyes ever meet mine. No one sees me, but I am here.”

This story represents a different dilemma. Basic needs are being provided but something is missing. Those being served know and feel the condemnation of the servers.

But Jesus challenges us to dig deeper: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Both stories illustrate how we often respond to others in need. A simplistic answer would be to say that most of us either reach out with true compassion or we offer help but with an attitude of judgment.

However, reality is more complicated. We mean well but helping others can be frustrating. At times we reach out with great compassion and at times we fail those who need us most.

So, how should we respond to those in need? One reaction would be to ignore them. After all, you didn’t cause their problems. A better response would be to pray and hope their situation will improve. You could send a check or volunteer with a group involved in helping others. All appropriate but as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are challenged to “do more” through the love and grace of almighty God.

Lee Strobel provides an example of what “doing more” for those in need can mean in his book: “The Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evidence of Transformed Lives.”

Cody was waiting upstairs clutching a number that secured his place in line for a shower. Several homeless men were milling around, so he didn’t feel conspicuous. Tables offered free coffee and food. That’s when, unnoticed by Cody, a volunteer named Michelle came in. Michelle surveyed the room, then walked over to him and said, “Sir?” Cody turned and found Michelle looking him straight in the eyes.

“Sir,” she said simply, “You look like you need a hug.”

Next: “Helping: Doing More” The story continues with a dramatic conclusion.