I just need to say it here – we are all from shithole countries. Mine? Poland after the First World War. Poland, where the war devastated cities, towns, communities. Poland, where the greed of some led to the hunger of so many, even there, after 1929. Poland where 3 million jews were marginalized way to easily and with barely a peep from the majority, with deadly, catastrophic, evil results. That’s a poor, angry, troubled shithole country to me.
He might as well of said “how dare they, the poor and troubled, come to my home and think they deserve to have the food, safety, opportunity that I have. Only people who I would hang out with should be allowed in.” And if you think this is an American thing, overheard last year, in a popular neighbourhood here in town when a homeless man collecting bottles was walking down the street: “Ugh…that’s why we moved here – so we didn’t have to see this.”
People of God, if we are not upset and hurt by what is happening to our neighbours because it is cutting us to the core of our faith in a good God, then it is because we have missed the Gospel. We have misread that bible we so vehemently defend. We have been told and told others, a lie, a mistake, an incomplete story. And we have enough money and power for our lives to not be impacted by any of this. We have been told that God loves us and wants the best for us. And it ended there. But actually, the story doesn’t end there.
When I was in seminary we had to read the whole bible multiple times-cover to cover. And I remember staying up all night 2 nights in a row and underlining verse after verse in the old testament and the new about justice. About caring for the poor, the foreigner, about ensuring that those who do not have the resources to live whole flourishing lives, be given to and provided for, by those who do have those resources. Thousands of Verses. And I was so taken with them because — I HAD NEVER HEARD THIS BEFORE. I had NO IDEA that this was part of our faith. Oh I had heard, be nice to people – but never in this full-bodied, take others actually seriously, sacrificially and with love way. And to think I had almost walked away from this faith because, in the way it had been given to me, it could not actually address the real world. Thank GOD he did not let me and he gave me that bible in hand – and thank God I had been taught how to read – for I had received an incomplete story.
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and Love your neighbour as yourself. THAT IS THE SUM OF ALL OF THIS. That is the sum of Jesus’ death, sacrifice and resurrection – to bring back together what was torn apart. Us from God and Us from Each other. IF we do not actively resist that which tears us, Capital “U” Us, apart, simply because we don’t have to and still live a relatively happy, food-filled life, then we have misread our bibles. Full Stop.
There is a reason Jesus was from a shithole country. Why? Because God was doing something about transforming our hearts – sin and brokenness made us obsessed with power, with having, with taking, with being number one. It made us afraid to not have stuff and to not have power. And so in the process, in the incarnated way HE DOES EVERYTHING, he rooted himself in the shittiest shithole, the armpit of the empire, despised – “Nothing good comes from Nazareth”– and said, “Come all who are weary and I will give you rest. Come find life, find water that heals, nourishes, satisfies. Be healed and re-enter the life of the world around you. Come and be made whole by letting go of all the stuff you have grasped to yourself in your fear and dark imagining. And follow me – poor, homeless, from-the-shithole me and I will give you life…”
“Lastly, but in many senses most importantly, we are in danger of reducing Christ’s gospel, which we have been charged to preach in full.
If we create an over-emphasis on some elements of the gospel as being more foundational than others, we can lead to a misunderstanding of faith, or a skewed practice of it – i.e. a sense that following Jesus is all about feeling loved, or all about just “me” and “him”.
Many of us have become aware that our faith has become over-individualised in recent years, and so it is no surprise that the way we teach those we wish to protect and nurture the most, can become the place where this over- emphasis is at its most extreme.
Christians are called to have a personal, intimate walk of faith – to know that they are loved, and to pursue a deeper relationship with God. But loving others, and acting to promote justice, peace, and the increase of God’s presence and kingdom in every context we are in (home, school, community, nation and world) is not an add on doctrine that we should teach children when we decide they are old enough to proactively tackle the world’s brokenness. It is absolutely core.
Jesus answered the question ‘What is the greatest command’ with ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’ but he did not finish there – he went on to summarise the rest of the law as ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ – neighbour here literally meaning anyone you have anything to do with. To Jesus, expressing love for God is inextricably linked with loving others. Ignoring, or retreating from, the suffering and injustice in our world – whether in our family, on our street, or in a different continent, is simply not an option. Multi-directional love is at the very centre of the Christian faith.” from www.thesanctuarycentre.org
I have come to love the Reformed tradition (so much that I might even call it out sometimes and I will be called out by it sometimes). And it is rich with the understanding that we help make the world a better place – we “put the world to rights” (NT Wright’s definition of justice) as the response to God’s love. Justice is exactly our “I love you too Father” that that bible makes abundantly clear (Matt. 25 folks). It is the manifestation of our gratitude grounded in a clear picture of who we really are and WHOSE we really are and what this Kingdom actually is.
We do it imperfectly, we do it short-sightedly, we do it weakly and that is ok. We do it on big scales and on small – we do it in the community and in our homes. We do it in the meals we make. We do it with our money and with our attitude. We do it out loud and in private. At times we will focus on our own needs and at times we will focus on the needs of others. But we do it, and we are never excused from an orientation towards each other, to putting the world to rights, because we know our own woundedness, we know the shitholes from whence we came, and we know the love that meets us there 100% of the time.
THIS is our STORY, this is our SONG. I’m going to sing it all the day long.
(just fyi, when I refer to s-hole countries, I am using it rhetorically, to upend the sentiment it was originally spoken in – the truth of the matter is, that the countries referred to, their people and the societies they create, are beautiful and broken and beautiful – like every bit of this world we make a home in. Beautiful and good with a good dose of the human condition. Places I would one day be so honoured to see first hand)