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The Social Gospel - The Heart of God

October 18, 2020
Mark Chapman

The Social Gospel – the Heart of God

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Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen

Last week, I suggested that maybe the great mission of the church was to help people who are hurting. It has always been a concern for me that many of my colleagues in ministry felt I was off track; that the only way to help people was to introduce them to Jesus and Jesus would be the answer to all their problems.

There is a part of me that knows that is true and I know of no other greater solace than to rest in Jesus and all the hope and promise that is in Him. But there is another part of me that always asks: How and where do people find Jesus? How do they discover this love that will not let them go? How do they discover the One in whom they can find self esteem and begin to believe that there is this God who loves them. Or as I like to put it, how do they find their true home? How do you introduce a person to Jesus?

The answer seems to be simplicity itself; they find the Saviour, they find Jesus in you and me, or they don’t. Now I have been around enough to know that in some situations God has become real to this or that person by nothing other than what I could describe as the miraculous. Something awakens in this or that person and they know God is real. They surrender, they let go and God is there. But most find this God who is trans-cultural, trans-racial, trans-whatever in you and me. Or they don’t. Which is both good and bad. I suggest that Jesus is for many a vague oblong blur or a figure from history, unless Jesus takes on flesh and blood, tears and joy, mercy and grace, compassion and presence in you and me. So then is God made incarnate through the likes of you and me, if only in a little way, on the best of our days.

For some of my colleagues, it’s about getting people to join the church, and asking Jesus into their lives, to avoid being punished in fire for ever by their strange caricature of God who loves you passionately before you die but when you do and you haven’t believed in Jesus, delights in torture. A picture of God that really is contrary to what we know of God in Jesus.

So for many, being saved from an angry and vengeful God somehow became the main story, and the other story that God passionately cares for the dispossessed, the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, the sick; that God longs for unity and oneness for all creation, an end to war and prejudice and hatred; this kind of became a secondary by-line.

As was the Churches calling, the calling of all people was to minister to God in the marginalised. So we have this startling parable of Jesus where he says in Mat 25:31-32,    "When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne,  (32)  and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him."

In Jesus day we have the Roman Empire and to all intents and purposes that would have been all the nations and the leaders were summoned from time to time before Caesar in judgement. But this is far greater and the purpose is far different. The required practice under Rome was to declare that Caesar was Lord and salvation was found only in Caesar. But this is a different kind of judgement; not even do you confess that Jesus is Lord, rather he says:

"I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes,  (36)  naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me." or conversely, Mat 25:42-43,  "I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink;  (43)  I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me."

Next week what happens to the ones who don’t care for the strangers and the hungry, the poor. But for this week, again as we have this new beginning as a church, what does it mean to be the face of Jesus in a community? I come back to a theme of mine for close to 40 years. Jesus, as His ministry comes to an end, says this to his disciples:

"As the Father has loved me so I have loved you, so you are to love … " who? Not the Father, not Jesus, – so you are to love one another.

The flow is always down and outwards. The Father is love, the Son reflects the heart of the Father; His love is the Father’s love for us and that love in us is to flow out to each other and the community.

We like to flow it back to the Jesus, right? So you gardeners know how it works? Yes? You look out and the garden is dry and thirsty. And you think I should so something to help. So you get a hose right and you screw it on to the tap - yes? And then you turn the tap on and out pours a refreshing stream - all good? And then you are so happy that water is flowing, that you want to squirt the water back to where it came from - yes? So you try to push the nozzle of the hose back into the spout. Which is a disaster because it can’t be done. So you tun the tap off and thirsty ground is left to die. Do you know a watering system that works like that or a gardener? Of course you don’t do it that way. We’re smart enough to know the flow is from the reservoir through the hose to the dry ground. That’s why there is a reservoir – because the dry ground needs the water.

So with God’s love. God the source of all love and life, made known in a unique way in Jesus, poured the Father’s love into our hearts that out of our lives would flow a river of blessing. And because it was freely given by God so we give it freely to whoever needs to be loved. The needs of the community to be loved sets the mission of the local church.

So cool. We don’t tell the community what they want, the community tells the people of God what they need. And we respond as best we can. And you become a mission. A church that is a mission never has enough money and lives on the edge of its resources and it makes a difference to the world. And then we hear the accolade: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world.”

Now unto God the Father, God the Son and God, the holy Spirit, be all the honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

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