When starting out (in almost anything) it is easy to bite off more than you can chew. As we begin Grace Pres. Worcester we’re working to lay the foundations for a spiritually vital church that has some balance among the different purposes. As we think specifically about expressing Jesus’ commitment to mercy and justice there are four basic pieces
1. Concept – Poverty and Renewal When our first parents walked out of paradise the death which had entered the human soul stained everything else about us. In a helpful diagram from When Helping Hurts the authors depict poverty as a fracturing of the essential aspects of the human person: relationship to self, God, others, and the created world. So poverty includes realities such as loneliness, powerlessness, mental breakdown, moral corruption, oppression, and violence as well as hunger or a lack of material resources. When we have a broader definition of poverty it helps cut through the appearance that some have it together and others only receive. In fact every human is in some manner impoverished and missing essential components of wholeness. A fuller definition of poverty also pushes to distinguish what aspect or type of poverty we are seeking to address. Is our goal to make those who are relationally rich and materially poor, materially wealthy even at the cost of loneliness and isolation? We must accurately understand the nature of poverty, seeing both its common roots and manifold expressions. An accurate definition of the problem goes hand in hand with understanding and receiving the solution. The bible describes salvation as renewal, both for the individual and creation as a whole.
[You] “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” “Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Col 3, Eph 4)
“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’.” Rev 21
A Christian is made right with God in such a way that the healing effects flow out into the other essential aspects of human life: relationship to self, others, and the created order. On a bigger level (societal, environmental), everything that went wrong when we fell into sin is, in some manner, going to be set right by God. As we recognize the complex nature of poverty we must have a similarly complete and compelling vision of what it will mean for things to be right. This then is our aim – the reconciliation of people to God and the renewal of all things. Wow!
2. Concept – Mercy and Justice These two are deeply intertwined such that it is hard to account for one without considering the other. If mercy is related to compassion meeting needs, and justice is related to making things right, at some point being merciful will lead to a pursuit of justice. On the other hand if we look to make things right it must include addressing the consequences of what has been unjust. Concretely, being merciful to those suffering racial discrimination is not only engaging the pain (emotional, financial, physical) of their mistreatment but addressing the forces inflicting this pain. Or I think of children in one area of the city whose quality of education, healthcare, and nutrition is much lower than those living two miles down the road. If we want to move towards justice, then it must mean compassionate engagement with these children in the midst of physical and emotional challenges. As I think about the complex reality of poverty, mercy and justice are complementary and necessary. While Christians often quote Micah 6:8,
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
We underestimate what the Lord requires of us, landing only in the “justice,” “mercy” or “walk humbly with God” portion of the verse. We fail to see how these interrelate, do not act, and are not good.
3. Practice – Where do you start? Fortunately as a young church our limitations are quite clear. In fact having few resources (people, money, facilities etc.) almost makes it easier because it helps us focus on doing one “small thing” well. We want to begin by providing some sort of relief in a manner where we can build a connection to those we serve. From providing relief and really knowing those we serve we can then begin to address some of systemic issues of injustice which are more complex and harder to understand from the outside. Some of my hopes in this approach are…
-through relationships we will engage the less visible aspects of poverty (isolation and powerlessness for example)
-we will learn how to best serve others and not simply serve in ways which make us feel good or fit our expectations
-we will be reminded of our common identity as broken people in need of renewal
-we will work hard for the betterment of individual lives and the quality of life in the city
-we will cling to God for change that only he can bring, joining others in their suffering
We’ve started by praying (that God will lead us), learning (about poverty, ourselves, and the city) and networking (with various people and institutions).
4. Practice – Plod vs. Splash The title says it all. We’re not here to do something flashy with high ideals and immediate results. We want to start small, build wisely, and stick it out. Yes, we’ll need to take risks and do things that demand faith, but these happen in the midst of a path that is followed at a steady pace.