broken parabolic



On Earth as it is in Heaven

13 February 2011

Back around the beginning of last year, just after the massive earthquake hit Haiti, a story hit the internet about a bizarre "relief effort" directed at Port-au-Prince. Some religious organization was trying to raise money to purchase devices which, put simply, did nothing but audibly play a recording of the Bible, or portions thereof, in Creole. If I'm not mistaken, each of these units ran a little over a hundred bucks American, and someone was calling for donations to send as many of these things as possible to the devastated capital.

Not surprisingly, this was met with both anger and ridicule by secular bloggers, and I'm not sure they were wrong. There are segments of Christianity - and this outfit was presumably one of them - which believe that a person's physical or emotional or even mental well-being here on earth is of no importance, and that the only thing the Christian ought to be concerned with is the final destination of someone's soul. The extension of that perspective is to believe that sheltering the homeless, protecting the helpless, feeding the hungry or treating the sick is pointless, and that the effort is better spent trying like mad to convert them before they inevitably die.

I'm not sure that there was never a time when I believed that myself. It sounds sickeningly familiar, and in my youth, I might have looked at things nearly that way. What disturbs me more is that there are still churches asking themselves whether Christianity ought to be concerned with social justice at all.

Susan delivered the sermon this morning. She's not a priest yet, but real sermons are part of her seminary training, and though the lectionary threw her in the deep end this morning, she swam like a natural. The gospel came from Matthew 5 - the Sermon on the Mount - and dealt with how we approach the Law, the Ten Commandments, the "rules" of the faith. I smiled a little when she brought it back to the Summary of the Law, which comes from Matthew 22, and is quoted in the Book of Common Prayer thusly:

Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.

This Summary is recited to the congregation by the priest at the beginning of every one of our services. I was disappointed to see that the Book of Alternative Services, which most Anglican churches now use, dropped it from their liturgies. But I've always been happy that my particular parish still insists on using the BCP, and the constant reminder of this summary is one of the reasons why.

To ignore the very real and immediate needs of our neighbour, then, seems an unacceptable option for the Christian church and the individuals in it. And Christ Himself, at every turn, called us to action in immediate ways. If He had had no concern for physical life, why then would he have bothered healing the sick? Why would he have raised the dead? And at the Judgement, in Matthew 25, Jesus does not condemn people because they lied or stole or drank too much, but because they failed to feed the hungry when they saw them or clothe the needy when they passed them.

And as Father Steve pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the Lord's Prayer itself is a call to action: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven", it says. The Gospel allows us no room to believe that God is unconcerned with suffering here. This world isn't second-rate, or a shadow of reality, or merely a "test" for the afterlife. It is God's beloved creation, as real as our very souls and spirits. And if we are "the salt of the earth", we have no cause to be alarmed at how hopelessly outnumbered we are; it's a rare individual who eats food and salt in equal proportions.

"Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public." So said Cornel West, and Susan quoted him this morning in her sermon, to great effect. Justice will not be achieved with more cops or better lawyers. It begins - and ends - with the love that Christ taught, put into practice here and now, on earth as it is in Heaven.

I don't know about you. But I know I've got a long way to go.

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christianity and social justice