(Part 2 of Maintain and Reform)
“The success or failure of this project depended not on increase in numbers and influence, but on an increase in faithfulness … By Wesley’s own standard, the Methodist movement must be reckoned a failure.”
- Theodore Jennings, Good News to the Poor: John Wesley’s Evangelical Economics
Bold. Inclusive. Relevant.
I am personally convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed bold, inclusive, and relevant.
Now more than the last 30 years the brokenness of our world is apparent. Not only are millions on the Horn of Africa dying of hunger and malnutrition, our neighbors here in the United States are struggling to put food on the table. Not only are sweatshop exploiting workers in Southeast Asia, day laborers on our street risk their lives every day for wages that aren’t even guaranteed to them. Not only are despotic tyrants in the Middle East silencing critics by any means available, our own elected officials increasingly ignore the cries of the most desperate people in our neighborhoods.
We desperately long for a gospel that changes this, and the gospel of Jesus Christ does exactly that.
The gospel of Jesus Christ makes the first last and the last first. It provides an abundance of resources for everyone to share. It forgives us our debts then convicts us to forgive our debtors.
The gospel of Jesus Christ reconciles all people and even all the earth back to our Creator. It is not limited to folks with a certain skin tone, a bank account, or even a Social Security number. This gospel does care about how and with whom you have sex, but it has nothing to do with excluding non-heteronormative folks. This gospel does care about what you do with your body during a pregnancy, but it has just as much to say about the rest of your life as well.
Bold. Inclusive. Relevant.
It was for this gospel that I was arrested in the early-morning hours of October 16 in Grant Park, Chicago. Many of the 175 brothers and sisters who (briefly) went to prison with me do not share my faith in the church of Jesus Christ, but they do have a passionate faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Occupiers from Wall Street to Tucson, Seattle to Orlando, and even to London, Rome, and Tokyo believe in this gospel. They don’t need to say the name of Jesus for me to know this; I saw that faith in their interactions with one another, with passers-by, with the police who were handcuffing them.
Dear friends, what would it look like for our churches to also live out this radical faith? The poor and the sick and the needy and the stranger and the imprisoned would have their wants and needs met. All voices would be honored, and worship on the Sabbath would be the most integrated hour of the week. We would abandon our church buildings because they’re not big enough to hold everyone, so we would hold worship and prayer outdoors or in each others’ homes.
And isn’t that also the great fear? Foul-smelling homeless and scary-looking wild-hairs would sit or stand next to us. Rich folks would have less because poor folks would be getting what they need. Worship would be loud and raucous and uncontrolled.
But I am convinced that to live out this bold, inclusive, and relevant gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed the only way to revitalize our churches. We cannot do it with a capital campaign, unless it goes to help the needy in our neighborhood. We cannot do it with hip youth programs, unless the youth learn about sex and poverty and addiction along with love and peace and joy. We cannot do it with mission trips to majority-world nations, unless that relationship between wealthy and poor grows to the point of true solidarity.
By the end of his life, John Wesley complained bitterly of how the people called Methodists were very good at “earning all they can and saving all they can” but quite failing at “giving all they can”. I do not agree with everything Wesley said (for example, I am glad that we have forsaken the English crown), but his dedication to the radical gospel of Jesus Christ is something with which I agree completely.
I fear that Wesley would not support the Occupy movement of today; it challenges authority far too much for his convictions. However, I am quite certain Jesus of Nazareth would be quite comfortable among the tattooed and pierced masses trying desperately to get the immensely wealthy and well-connected to finally listen to them.
On Saturday night (and Sunday morning) we chanted “we are unstoppable; another world is possible”. That possible world is based on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and indeed the Hebrew prophets, the saints, and Jesus of Nazareth prophesied that this possible world will ultimately be victorious.
And while the Occupations have the headlines for now, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not limited to them. The gospel is evident in homeless shelters, food pantries, clothing closets, workers’ centers, union halls, public schools, and churches. Yes, even churches!
So if we want to maintain our ecclesiastical structure I am convinced that we must reform it so that the gospel of Jesus Christ is apparent in it. Let us as a church embrace the Occupy movement and learn from it.
Occupy everywhere. Occupy together. And occupy with love.