Apologies for leaving this lay dormant for far too long! Blogs coming soon.
This past Sunday, October 8, 2017, I had the privilege of going to four church services in the city of London: Catholic Mass at St. George Cathedral, morning worship at Metropolitan Tabernacle (the Baptist church of the famous 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon), Anglican Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and an evening worship service at Hillsong London.
Each of the services had elements that appealed to me — that spoke to my soul, and each of them had elements that I wished would have been done differently. Most of these differences were simply a matter of preferences, but some of the rub I felt came from deep theological differences.
As a Baptist one would expect that this rub would have been felt most in the Catholic or at least the Anglican service, but it was not. As a proponent of traditional hymns along side contemporary worship music and multigenerational ministry, one might think the “rub” was felt most in the LOUD “epilepsy inducing” light show service at Hillsong, but it was not.
The most severe rub was at the Baptist service, and it wasn’t the music, or the prayers, or the liturgy, or whether or not I was welcomed. The rub was the heart of the Baptist service — the sermon, and it chaffed me to the point of wanting to stand up and yell, “STOP IT!”
Now, I have to be honest. I’ve been chaffed by other sermons. Most of the time it’s a good thing. It’s the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sin, making me uncomfortable in the tepid Christianity in which I have taken comfort. At these times, as well, I want to yell, “STOP IT!” like the man having the lizard torn from his back in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. I am familiar with this rub; I do not like how it feels; but I know it gives life, abundant life. The sermon at Metropolitan Tabernacle was NOT that rub. It was a rub, a chaffing, that comes from knowing that something is not quite right.
The message was from 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. It was going well enough I guess until point two taken from verse 10, “…to wait for His Son from heaven.” His point was that the Christian objective is to “wait” — to wait for Jesus. Now I’m all for a good sermon on being ready for the return of Christ, of living lives of holiness, on focusing on telling others about Christ, but in order that we wouldn’t miss his point the preacher went on:
Note, dear friends, that our aim is not to reform the world. Now Christian people are a people of compassion, and if people are suffering, we should have hearts that want to help. And God will raise up from time to time people with special opportunities (here examples of Christians fighting child exploitation during the Victorian period are offered as an example)…. But they knew that no sooner would they repair one problem that another one would turn up because of the fall of man, and because of the sinfulness of man, and the wretchedness of the human hearts. They knew that you can’t really reform this world; you can only do some good as you go along; you can only give relief as you can. But today there are some Christian people, even some evangelical and reformed people, who have fallen into the old trap that our chief business is to reform the world. And there are quite a number of books and well known names like Tim Keller, and, not such a well known name, but, Paul Trip, and others, who are telling you that your purpose of being here is to reform the world to repair the broken down house of this world. It isn’t, friends. It is a doomed world. It is a world under the judgement of God…. That old heresy of social restoration is being promoted once again.
This is the rub. Can we really separate the preaching of the Gospel with the living of the Gospel? And so I wonder…
- I wonder if we are no longer under the obligation of being stewards of this earth (Genesis 2:15)?
- I wonder if God no longer requires us to do justice and to love mercy (Micah 6:8)?
- I wonder what the prayer taught us by Jesus himself, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means (Matthew 6:10)?
- I wonder what it means for the first and second commandment — our love of God and our love of our neighbor — to be of the same substance (Matthew 22:37-40)?
- I wonder what it means to have pure religion if not to care for the orphan and the widow (James 1:27)?
- I wonder why those extended an invitation to eternity with the Father is dependent upon food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothes for the naked, care for the sick, visits to the imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46)?
I suppose the argument would be that these (and the numerous other texts that could have been listed) are simply secondary concerns to “waiting,” to “preaching the gospel,” to “winning souls” — to welcoming people into the Kingdom of God.
But it just seems to me that if we are going to roll out the welcome mat of the Kingdom, we better make sure that we actually are living in the Kingdom.
And living the Kingdom means restoring the brokenness of a world that God loves — that God sent his son not to stand in judgment of but to love and to save (John 3:17)! Living the Kingdom is fighting against injustice, it’s about binding up wounds, it’s about caring for the least of these! That is the Gospel. That is the Good News! We cannot separate the preaching and the living of the Gospel!
That is a Kingdom worth living in!
That is a Kingdom worth inviting others into!
That is a Kingdom for which it is worth rolling out the welcome mat!
If you’re looking for that kind of Kingdom, I’ll tell you there isn’t a better choice you could ever make, and I would love to have the privilege to welcome you into that Kingdom.
But if your kingdom, if your “gospel,” is anything less than that, then I’m afraid it’s not the Gospel of Jesus, or Paul, or Spurgeon for that matter, and it may be a good idea to make sure your kingdom even has a welcome mat at all.
Recently I saw a quote from a meme on Facebook, I can’t remember who posted it or to whom the quote was attributed, but the quote said, “We have turned the great truth that God is love into an untruth that God has no opinions about anything.”
Reading the great social reformer and pastor Walter Rauschenbusch has pushed me to this same thought again and again — God has an opinion about the poor, the disenfranchised, the widow, the stranger in the land. Reminding me of the words of one of my seminary professors, “God is prejudice; he prefers the poor. Don’t believe me? Read the prophets!”
In my reading of Rauschenbusch’s The Social Principles of Jesus this week, I ran across this poem from Ebenezer Elliot quoted on page 44-45:
When wilt thou save the people?
Oh, God of mercy! when?
Not kings and lords, but nations!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
Flowers of thy heart, oh, God, are they!
Let them not pass, like weeds, away!
Their heritage a sunless day!
God! save the people!
God! save the people! — Is this the cry of my heart?
God! save the people! — Is this the cry of the Church?
It is my firm conviction that God has an opinion!
God has an opinion about the Dreamers!
God has an opinion about the trafficked!
God has an opinion about the orphan!
God has an opinion about the unborn!
I should have an opinion as well! Not mine — but HIS!
As a Christian, I need to stop thinking about social issues as Republican or Democrat, or conservative or liberal. I need to start thinking about them in terms of God’s opinion, God’s preferences, God’s prejudices!
I’m not suggesting this is easy, or that I have always gotten it right, or that I have it all right now. Determining the prejudices of God can be difficult and nuanced. But let’s not fool ourselves, let’s not pretend as though the prophets don’t exist, let’s not pretend that we don’t know what God requires (Micah 6:8) or that we don’t know the attributes of pure religion (James 1:27). Let’s not live as though God is not prejudice.
If God prefers the powerless and the poor, can we really fool ourselves — Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, Protestant or Catholic, evangelical or mainline — that God does not have an opinion about the…
- Which of your opinions need to be conformed to God’s prejudices?
- How can we live the prejudices of God in our everyday lives?
- How can we determine which of our prejudices are more informed by our political affiliation than our love for a God?
Crazy week. Saturday, we moved back to the Waco area where my wife and I live in a 1965 Airstream.
All day Monday and Tuesday, I was at a preaching conference at Baylor University/Truett Seminary. Last night and tonight, I am at another preaching conference in the Waco area.
Walter and I will be back next week; maybe with some thoughts on the preaching conferences!
This week, as I observed the reactions to a recent statement regarding human sexuality by a group of Evangelical Christian leaders, my thoughts have been scattered and distressed. As a matter of fact, these two words — SCATTERED and DISTRESSED — pretty much sum up my thoughts and feelings regarding my standing within the traditions of Christianity and Evangelicalism along with my response from within these two traditions to the broader culture. These feelings of “scattered” and “distressed” are further exasperated by the response to Evangelicals from my brothers and sisters on my left.
I confess that too often the traditions that I call home have acted poorly, unpastorally, and unlovingly. I confess that leaders within my traditions have made strange bedfellows with politicians for short-term “political” gains while losing sight of the long-term goals of the Kingdom. I confess that their sin is my sin even if it is only through my silence. I confess that we have lost our voice because of our own screaming about the sins of others.
I also confess, however, that these sins of mine — some by action and some by inaction — keep me from speaking the Truth with love. I feel guilty. I feel angry — at myself and others. I feel scared that my hypocrisy will be pointed out. I feel scattered. I feel distressed.
A fuller examination of these feelings is probably a post for another day — maybe even its own series. In the meantime, I look and listen to those whom I believe God has placed in my path to provide discipleship and ultimately healing for my confusion, my “scattered” thoughts, my “distressed” feelings. For me, Walter Rauschenbusch has become one of those voices.
Today, I was struck by Walter Raushenbusch’s writing concerning the Church as a product of Jesus’ compassion or social feeling. I realize that I may move beyond Walter’s initial take on this passage, but like usual, he challenged me; I hope it does the same for you.
From The Social Principles of Jesus by Walter Rauschenbusch. Chapter 3, “Standing with the People.” Page 33.
THIRD DAY: The Church, a Product of Social Feeling
And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest. And he called unto him his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. –Matt. 9:35-10:1
The selection of the Twelve, their grouping by twos, and their employment as independent messengers, was the most important organizing act of Jesus. Out of it ultimately grew the Christian Church. Now note what motives led to it. Jesus was relieving social misery. He was oppressed by the sense of it. The Greek verbs are very inadequately rendered by “distressed and scattered.” the first means “skinned, harried”; the second means “flung down, prostrate.” The people were like a flock of sheep after the wolves are through with them. There was dearth of leaders. So Jesus took the material he had and organized the apostolate — for what? The Church grew out of the social feeling of Jesus for the sufferings of the common people.
To what extent, in your judgment, does the Church today share the feeling of Jesus about the condition of the people and fulfill the purpose for which he organized the apostolate? Or has the condition of the people changed so that their social needs are less urgent?
Jesus’ response to the pain of the sheep was not to attack the wolves — the sheep didn’t need to be saved from the wolves. they needed to be saved from their condition, from their evil spirits, and ultimately from their sin.
It was the mistake of the first century to think that the Messiah was coming to save the people of God from external oppressors — from the Romans or even the religious leaders. And it would be the mistake of the twenty-first century to think that the Messiah came to save the people from external oppressors — liberal or conservative — political or theological.
Jesus came and sent the Church into the World to save us from our own sin. In so doing the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made whole, the deaf hear, and the Good News is preached to the poor and oppressed!
This is the message of the gospel — the social gospel or otherwise. The comfort brought to the sheep is through the rod and the staff (Psalm 23) not through allowing the sheep to go their own way further into darkness and danger.
Let me put this as plainly as I can in a way that I hope will not offend anyone (but possibly may offend everyone):
I do NOT need Jesus to save me from someone else’s definition of marriage (regardless of the definition); I need Jesus to save my marriage from my own selfishness, my own pride, my own sin.
I do NOT need Jesus to save me from someone else’s restrictive or progressive sexual ethic; I need Jesus to save me from my own lust, my own wandering eye, my own sin.
I do NOT need Jesus to save me from fundamentalist or liberal theologians (or politicians); I need Jesus to save me from my own nature, from my own unclean spirits, from my own sin.
It is wrong to speak the Truth without love. It is also wrong to speak love without the Truth. And I am thankful for the many men and women in my life (some in person and others through their writings) that have acted pastorally by pointing out my innate sin nature and have challenged me by speaking the Truth into my life with love! I hope that through their example — through their voices of love speaking the Truth — God will bring this scattered and distressed sheep closer to Him, and may He chastise me with His rod and His staff if a I stray or if — and God forbid — I ever run with the wolves!
- How do we challenge the notion that the Gospel can be separated from the social concerns of the world?
- How do we challenge the notion that one can have a Social Gospel separated from the transformational power of the Gospel to change the internal and external life of the sinner?
- To what extent do you feel that Church leaders (and members) are wolves rather than sheep? And how does this happen on either side of the left/right divide in the Church?
- How do we discern that we are not running with a wolf pack even when we think we are one of the sheep?
Do you ever look around the world and wonder, “Is God really in control?” Doesn’t it seem more often than not that the ones who are in control are oppressing the people and the precepts of God. If God was in control, wouldn’t the Church have an increasing, rather than decreasing, influence on culture? If God was in control, wouldn’t my… and mean His agenda be moving forward?
Today, Walter reminds us of another follower of Jesus who struggled to see God’s control. And then Walter leaves us with a powerful question to ponder on this Wednesday with Walter.
From The Social Principles of Jesus by Walter Rauschenbusch. Chapter 3, “Standing with the People,” page 32.
SECOND DAY: The Social Test of the Messiah
And the disciples of John told him of all these things. And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to the Lord, saying, Art thou he that comets, or look we for another? And when the men were come unto him, they said, John the Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that cometh or look we for another? In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits; and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered and said unto them, Go and tell John the things which ye have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good tidings preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me. Luke 7:18-32. (Click here for a more contemporary translation.)
Was Jesus the Coming One? He did not quite measure up to John’s expectations. The Messiah was to purge the people of evil elements, winnowing the chaff from the wheat and burning it. His symbol was the axe. Jesus was manifesting no such spirit. Was he then the Messiah?
Jesus shifted the test to another filled. Human suffering was being relieved and the poor were having glad news proclaimed to them. Sympathy for the people was the assured common ground between Jesus and John. Jesus felt that John would recognize the dawn of the reign of God by the evidence which he offered him.
What, then, would be proper evidence that the reign of God is gaining ground in our intellect and feeling?
Nearly 2,000 years later, many of us still struggle understanding how Jesus is the Messiah or how God can be in control in a world that looks so out of control.
If we are honest, most of us want to rule the way the rest of the world rules — with strength and power. Moving forward our own agenda (thinly veiled as the agenda of God) with power and might.
Wether we are on the left or the right, we believe that to fight fire we need a little fire ourselves. We justify our own violence, or at least those who carry out violence on behalf of our beliefs, by saying we are fighting evil.
We just don’t think that the Messiah is cutting it anymore. We need action, and after all, we are doing it for Him!
And through the noise in my mind, the quiet example of Jesus cuts — echoed in the question of Walter, “What, then, would be proper evidence that the reign of God is gaining ground in our intellect and feeling?”
Do my intellect and feeling betray the type of Messiah for which I long? A military Messiah. A Messiah who isn’t afraid to say it the way it is. A Messiah who is willing to stand up. A Messiah who moves forward my… I mean His agenda!
I keep looking for evidence of God’s control in the world around me. Walter reminds me that I should be looking for evidence of God’s control within me. Within my mind. Within my heart.
I look for evidence that God has the whole world in His hands when far too often there is a lack of evidence that I have placed my mind, my heart, my life into into His hands.
Is there evidence of God’s control in our thoughts and feelings for those in need of protection?
Is there evidence of God’s control in our thoughts and feelings for our “enemies”?
Do we seek to promote our own agendas at any cost and by any means or do we truly seek to promote the agenda of Christ through self-sacrificing love? What do our intellect and feeling reveal about this? What evidence is there that the reign of God is gaining control — not in the world around us — but in the intellect and feelings within us?
Last week the words of Rauschenbusch urged us to pray — a prayer of confession, not only for the sins that we commit but also for the sins of our fathers and the social constructs of which we are a part. This week, however, we want to ask the question, “What is prayer really good for?” Let’s go back to The Social Principles of Jesus, section III, of the chapter “Solidarity of the Human Family” to explore this question:
Does religion create social unity or neutralize it. Does prayer isolate or connect? Has the force of religion in human history done more to divide or to consolidate men?
Evidently religion may work both ways, and all who are interested in it must see to it that their religion does not escape control and wreck fraternity. Even mystic prayer and contemplation, which is commonly regarded as the flower of religious life, may make men indifferent to their fellows.
It is worth noting that the prayer experiences of Jesus were not ascetic or unsocial. They prepared him for action…. When he went out from Capernaum to pray “a great while before day, ” it was to launch his aggressive missionary campaign among the Galilean villages…. Prayer is Christian only if it makes us realize our fellows more keenly and affectionately. (emphasis added)
Religion, even the “flower of religious life” — prayer, is good for absolutely nothing if it does not lead to action. Why? Because for Rauschenbusch, and I believe he is correct here, prayer isn’t prayer — or at least not Christian prayer — if it does not lead to view our fellow humanity “more keenly and affectionately.” It is NOT Christian prayer if it does not lead to action.
When our children were young and we would ask them to apologize for something they had done wrong, they would say, “I’m sorry.” Then we would ask them, “What does ‘I’m sorry mean?'” Their taught response was, “I won’t do it again.” Of course, by the time our son was five he had changed it to, “I’ll try to not do it again.” He knew the limits of his own humanity! Regardless, it was a confession that was intended to lead to change of behavior.
As Christians, it is good for us to pray for social justice, for racial unity, and to participate in confession of personal and corporate sins against “fraternity.” However, if these prayers do not lead to action then they are NOT Christian — they are not prayers at all. These prayers are good for absolutely nothing!
I AM NOT suggesting that prayer is not important!
I AM NOT suggesting that we shouldn’t pray!
I AM SUGGESTING THE EXACT OPPOSITE! True Christian prayer is essential!
I AM AFFIRMING the scriptural truth that prayer, that religion, that a relationship with Jesus Christ, should — must — change us and our actions! May we not forget that prayer like faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).
At the end of Matthew chapter 9, Jesus called his disciples to pray for workers to go into the world. He pleads with them to pray that God would send messengers into a dark world with the light of the Good News. And what do Jesus and his disciples do at the beginning of chapter 10?
“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” Matthew 10:1
Jesus calls his followers to pray. And then he calls them to answer that prayer!
God is calling us to pray for justice, to pray for righteousness, to bring the light of the Good News into the darkness of the world. And God is calling us to be that light, that righteousness, that justice.
I know the limits of my own humanity, however. I know that it would be naive for me to say, “I won’t do it again — I won’t ignore the plight of my fellow humans.” But I want to do better. I want to try to not do it again — to not ignore justice, to not ignore righteousness, to not bear the light of God’s Good News for all humanity. And so I pray. And I change a bit. And I fail. And so I pray. And I change a bit more.
Too often we are afraid of others taking away our right to pray. It’s time for us to be concerned that our prayers are ineffectual because we do nothing about them!
- How can you bring God’s light into the darkness around you?
- How can you bring God’s light, righteousness, and justice to your Facebook feed?
- How can you be the answer to the prayer of healing and fraternity in your country, in your neighborhood, in your home?
In light of events this past week the following entry in The Social Principles of Jesus struck me deeply. It is in the second chapter, “Solidarity of the Human Family.” I have provided the scripture reading in the English Standard Version.
Matthew 11:20-24 English Standard Version (ESV)
Woe to Unrepentant Cities
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
FIFTH DAY: SOLIDARISTIC RESPONSIBILITY
We know that by constant common action a social group develops a common spirit and common standards of action, which then assimilate and standardizes the actions of its members. Jesus felt the solidarity of the neighborhood groups in Galilee with whom he mingled. He treats them as composite personalities, jointly responsible for their moral decisions.
- What groups of which we have been a part in the past have stamped us with the group character for good or evil? How about those of which we are now part?
- What have we learned from the Great War about national solidarity?
I remember reading Nehemiah’s prayer of confession in Nehemiah chapter 1 as a child. You can read it by clicking here. Nehemiah fasts and prays — confessing the sins of his nation and his forefathers. Pleading that God would forgive him and forgive them. I remember thinking to myself, ” What the heck, this wasn’t Nehemiah’s fault! He was a GOOD man! Why does he have to confess for something he didn’t even do!”
But Nehemiah, along with the other writers of scripture and wise individuals since them like Rauschenbusch, recognized that we are part of “composite systems” — stamped for better or worse with group characteristics and responsible for corporate sins.
I’m tempted to spend the rest of this blog pointing out where I see others lacking the mature sense to take responsibility for our current “composite personality.” But instead…
I’m sorry and I confess…
- … for the sins of my forefathers that have stained me, shaped me, and which through action or inaction I have accepted as my own sins.
- …for not standing up for the disenfranchised and oppressed.
- …for not speaking up for those without a voice.
- …for not seeing Christ in the other and for not receiving them with that realization.
- …for demonizing both those on the right and the left of me politically, theologically, socially. I am sorry and recognize that I am the problem for which I point my finger at you. Please forgive me!
Sometimes life gets busy and we forget about commitments. Yesterday, I completely forgot it was Wednesday, and so I missed Wednesday with Walter. I’m sorry; of course, I’m sure no one really missed it that much anyway.
No one missed it anyway. Just another excuse.
I think social justice is that way for most of us – I know it is for me.
I get busy, and I walk by the person asking for help on the street corner.
I get busy, and I ignore the stranger.
I get busy, and I don’t bother making a stand for the one oppressed, the one different, the one in need.
But let’s be honest, what differerence can I really make?
What difference can I really make. Just another excuse.
Social justice, for the follower of Jesus Christ, is a commitment — not just for Wednesdays but everyday — but we get busy, and we think that there is little difference we can make anyway. We excuse our inaction to do something with our perception that we can’t do anything of significance.
I’m reminded of the parable of Jesus in Matthew 25:14-30. In the parable, a wealthy man goes on a trip and entrusts his wealth to three servants. To one, he gives five talents; to the second, two talents; and to the last, one talent.
It’s difficult to know the exact value of these gifts, but some have argued that the approximate value of each talent in today’s currency would be around $1.25 million. So the first received $6.25 million; the second $2.5 million; and the last $1.25 million. For more info on converting talents to dollars, check out this wiki page.
The first and second servant, go out and double the masters wealth and present it to him at his return. The third, however, concerned that his master was a hard master who “reaps where he does not sow,” buries the wealth. I imagine, he goes about with a busy life. Thinking from time to time about his commitment to his master, about the gift that he has received, but life is busy, and after all, he didn’t get as much to work with as the other two.
A couple of things strike me about this parable.
- The gifts are unbelievably generous.
- The third servant isn’t rebuked for his perception of the master.
1. THE GIFTS ARE UNBELIEVABLY GENEROUS
In this parable, these talents represent God’s blessing in our lives. God has blessed each of us in a variety of ways, but one way of significant blessing for each of us is our relationships and our spheres of influence – some have been blessed with more influence than others, but we each have been blessed with more than we probably realize. My family, my friends, my social circles both online and in person. These are of inexpressible value; gifts from God.
Will I be too busy to invest in these gifts with God’s values, with God’s heart, with God’s intention to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to cloth the naked, to heal the broken, to invite in the stranger, to visit the one in prison.
I fear that too often I was too busy to show my own children, who are now adults, the importance of kindness — the kindness of a Christ to those different, those in need, those with whom I most strongly disagreed. What a gift God gave to me in them. Did I invest in them the socicial principles of Jesus? Will God’s values that I hold to be true be multiplied in them? I hope so, and I pray that I will continue to have opportunity to invest in them — as they also invest in me.
Am I intentional to invest the social principles of Jesus in my Facebook posts, my Tweets, my conversations over coffee? There is nothing of greater value than the relationships with which God has blessed me. Worth more than millions and millions of dollars. Do I untentionally bury those relationships because of my “business” or do I multiply their worth by investing the social principles of Jesus in them?
2. THE THIRD SERVANT ISNT REBUKED FOR HIS PERCEPTION OF THE MASTER.
“You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?”
I recently heard a sermon on this text with my family. After the sermon, my son and I were talking about the message which we both appreciated. But we were both struck by the rebuke of the third servant — he was rebuked NOT because he didn’t understand who his master was but because he did nothing with this realization.
My son reminded me of the texts that state that God is a jealous God; if He is the one who gives everything, then He expects everything we do with it to reflect His glory, His values, His principles — the social principles of Jesus.
Walter Rauschenbusch realized this, knew it, lived it.
He realized he was a millionaire because of the opportunities and relationships with which God had blessed him.
He didn’t allow the business of life to get in the way of investing the social principles of Jesus in every opportunity, every moment, every relationship with which he was blessed.
He didn’t let the fact that he was only a preacher, only a son of an immigrant, only a whatever keep him from realizing that he was given much, and he multiplied it, he invested the social principles of Jesus in it, and God blessed it. God gave him even more — opportunities to invest the social principles of Jesus in the lives of governors, presidents, policy makers.
May we recognize that we too are blessed with millions in value because of our relationships.
May we faithfully invest the social principles of Jesus into the relationships with which God has blessed us.
“Doubtless the objection has arisen in our minds that it is not in the interest of the future of the race that religious pity shall coddle and multiply the weak, or put them in control of society” (The Social Principles of Jesus, p. 13).
To conclude his section on “The Value of Life,” Rauschenbusch raises the question above that he believes would be in the minds of his readers. And it is a concern that has been in the minds of countless individuals for nearly 2000 years.
One of the earliest criticisms of Christianity was that it was a religion for the weak — widows, old men, prostitutes, gullible women — according to Marcus Cornelius Fronto, a tutor for the Emperor Marcus Aurelius — a religion that consisted of the “dregs of society” (Late Ancient Christianity, Virginia Burrus, p. 216).
Rauschenbusch continues in his conclusion to this section by saying, “But did Jesus want the weak to way weak?” The implied answer is a resounding “NO!”
“[Jesus] was an emancipator, a creator of strong [individuals]…. [T]he spirit of Jesus is an awakening force.”
I fear that modern Christianity errs on either side of this biblical truth. It seems that Christianity has either become a bastion of earthly power with no room for the poor, the orphan, the refugee. Or Christianity has become a religion of “settling” with no expectation of awakening the good within each person with the transformational power of Jesus Christ.
Is there room within Christendom for a Faith that loves and reaches out to all regardless of race, gender, political party, sexual orientation, etc., but still calls each adherent to the Faith to the high life giving standard of Christ through His Spirit?
The point of the Social Gospel wasn’t to ignore personal piety but that Christ’s awakening force would transform the individual sinner into a saint and the broken social constructs into the Kingdom of God. It is impossible to have one without the other!
How does your faith welcome all?
How does your faith call each to an awakening force in Christ?