Sunday, January 14, 2007

Praying for a church with a dream

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
(Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV)

I always find it fascinating that when nationally-known preachers insist on the "inerrancy" or the "infallibility" of the Bible, they are rarely pointing to passages like this one. God, I am told, was absolutely right about a literal seven-day creation; absolutely right about the ordaining of marriage, absolutely without error about Levitical prohibitions. But when I point to this passage, and ask if these words are inerrant, somehow the once-loud voices go strangely silent.

On this day, when we remember the legacy of a Baptist pastor from Alabama (and his commitment to freedom and non-violence), I found Isaiah's challenges curiously missing in the congregations I visited this weekend. I visited Lutheran, Episcopal, and non-denominational services this weekend - and I heard sermons about getting out of debt, preserving the sanctity of marriage, and the bioethics of stem-cell research. I visited web-sites of nationally-known evangelical leaders, and found many of the same topics.

What I didn't hear about was the challenge of Matthew 25 - the command by the One we claim to be the Son of God to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and the imprisoned. I heard nothing about Christ calling us to serve "the least of these," and nothing of Isaiah's Spirit of the Lord anointing each of us to bind up the brokenhearted or proclaiming freedom for captives.

Over the years, I have listened to more than one Lutheran pastor preach elegant sermons claiming that one could hardly call oneself a Christian without understanding and accepting "the absolute truth of the doctrine of the Trinity." But sadly, I have rarely heard from those same pastors about the commands of that same Trinity to love one's neighbors (even the neighbors who didn't believe in the Trinity).

On this Martin Luther King Day, I am praying in hope for a new spirit in a new church, one willing to both "preach good news" and "do good works" to the poor - the poor in spirit and the poor in fact. A church of open arms, of willing hands and feet. A church that takes action, rather than taking "responsible positions on important social issues." A church that will not just *speak* of justice and mercy, but one where the members will actually act on it, and live it. A church that spends more time on caring for sinners than on cataloging their sins.

If we can transform Christianity from words to actions, from judgement to love, then I truly believe that, as Reverend King wrote, "we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Lord God, let that change come in your church...and let it begin with me. Amen.


bobbie said...

me too god.

i think we have found one here where we have landed. it is a beautiful thing.

wilsonian said...

Amen and amen.

[rhymes with kerouac] said...


mike ashborn said...

Thanks Steve I needed to read that.

AnotherLostAngel said...

Right on Bro.

Deanne said...

Right on.

Do most of us pay more attention to the "moral" teachings of Jesus rather than what He said about how we should treat others and take care of each other because it's easier to follow rules than it is to be nice?

mike ashborn said...

Hi Steve I was glad you made a link to Matthew 25 in your current post. For me 25.31ff is the key to understanding what's going in Matthew 24-25. Christians get so preoccupied with questions about judgement, who are saved, who are not, the end of the world etc., but they are not the questions we should be asking. Who is being a good steward of what God has given, who is caring for the poor, dispossessed, and hungry? That's the good news. The bad news is: I've gotten so tied up lately, very inward-looking, because of ill-health, I've forgotten to ask myself the same question, am I being a good steward?
So thank you for reminding me.

Poor Mad Peter said...

Let's not forget Micah: Justice, justice, you shall pursue. I don't have the chapter/verse, but it's there.