Evidence that God is in Control: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 7

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?

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Prayer – huh – yeah! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Wednesdays with Walter: Day 6

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 7.57.23 AMLast 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?

I’m Sorry: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 5

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!

Who wants to be a millionaire? — Wednesdays with Walter: Day 4

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.

  1. The gifts are unbelievably generous.  
  2. 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.  

The Force Awakens: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 3

 

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 1.41.09 PM.png

“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.

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Marcus Cornelius Fronto

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?