"I often ask my students at Eastern [University], why did Jesus come into the world? Why did he leave the glories of heaven and break into history? What was he out to do? If he were to write out his mission statement, how would it read? Good question! Everybody is writing out mission statements. What would be his?
I get a lot of good answers. People tell me he came to bring a revelation of God, he came to die on the cross to take the punishment for our sins, he came that we might have joy, that his joy might be in us. It goes on and on and on. But they seldom come up with what Jesus really would have said. I do know what Jesus would have said and did say. The first thing out of Jesus’ mouth when he started his ministry—Matthew, Mark, Luke, check it out—the first thing he says is, “I have come to declare the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus came declaring the kingdom of God. All of his parables are about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is like a man who does this or a woman who does that. When he told his disciples how to pray he said, “Pray for the kingdom. Pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” Note: no pie in the sky when you die! He’s talking about a kingdom in this world. He wants to change this world into the kind of world that it ought to be. That’s why Jesus came, to create transformed people who in turn will live in a transformed world.
We get a good view of that in the 65th chapter of Isaiah. When we go to the Bible, it says this in the 65th chapter, starting at the 17th verse: The kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, the new society that God wants to create, will be marked by justice. It will be justice in this sense: everybody will have a decent house to live in, everybody will have a good job and have a good opportunity to earn a decent living in the vineyards of this world, children will not die in infancy, old people will live out their lives in perfect health and not have to worry about who’s going to take care of them. Read the chapter. It’s fantastic. It says when boys and girls are growing up, parents aren’t going to worry that their sons and daughters are going to end, “in calamity.” Girls getting pregnant before their time and boys being blown away in gang warfare. It even ends on an environmental note. It says when the Kingdom comes people will not hurt the Earth any more. It’s all there. It’s all there.
Now, the question that has to be raised is what makes people of faith so different than people who aren’t religious when it comes to social justice? I have a lot of secularist friends who are very, very committed to social justice. What makes religious people different? Well, there are a couple of things. First of all, we’re motivated by biblical imperatives. We read the Bible. I don’t know whether you realize this, but there are over two thousand verses of Scripture that call upon us to stand up for the poor, to feed the poor, to bring justice to the poor. Two thousand verses that really direct us to concern ourselves with the poor. You know it bothers me because churches invest in stained-glass windows and organs and carpets and all kinds of stuff. They don’t understand that the Bible primarily says none of this means anything if you haven’t committed yourself to the poor. The Bible deals with the poor over and over again. Beyond that, the word “righteousness” in the Scripture. If you were a Greek scholar you would know that that word which was translated “righteousness” could better translated “justice.” Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice. That’s what Jesus said because they are the ones who are going to live satisfied and fulfilling lives. The Bible just overwhelms us with all of this stuff about justice, about helping the poor, about standing up for the oppressed, about being a voice for those who have no voice. And I’ve got to tell you this: if you think that being religious, being Christian, being spiritual is getting ready for the next world, you’ve missed the message of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come here to get you ready for the next world, he came into this world to transform you into people through whom he could do his work in this world.
The second thing, of course, is prayer. We not only are into the Bible, but we are also into praying. We pray in the Scriptures for empowerment. We pray for inspiration. I myself start off every day by getting down on my knees and in the early morning I don’t say anything to God. I don’t say a word. I just center down on Jesus. I say his name over and over and over again because, as my good friend Bill Gaither says, there is something about that name. It drives back the dark spirit. It creates what the Celtic Christians called a “thin place.” And in the quietude and in the stillness of the morning, not asking God for anything, I simply surrender and wait for the spirit of God to invade me. To be Christian is not just to believe in Jesus, but to allow Jesus to invade you, to penetrate your being, to saturate your personality until you begin to think like God. That’s a strange thing to say, but being a Christian is having this mind in us as the Scripture which was also in Christ Jesus, our Lord. That means that the things that outraged Jesus, outrage you. You are as upset by the things that are going wrong in this world as Jesus himself was and is. Jesus weeps, Jesus cries.
When Katrina took place, he was the first one who wept. He was the first one who cried. He was the one who was outraged because we didn’t build levees strong enough to hold back a hurricane force wind. He was the one who was outraged by the fact that there was so much poverty in New Orleans. To be Christian just isn’t just to believe in Jesus, it’s to allow Jesus to invade you, to change your emotions, your feelings, your thinking. That’s what prayer is all about. Prayer is surrendering to Christ so that Christ can transform you into his likeness, to be transformed into his thinking.
But there is another factor I want to bring up and that is this: when we come to being people of faith, we have to recognize that the great social reformers of history have tended to be people of faith. John Wesley. I mean his revivals so transformed England spiritually that Henry Steele Commager, the great historian says, “England never had to go through the upset of a French Revolution. The revolution took place spiritually and then socially because people were changed by the spirit of God.” And they got rid of the abuses of the time. Child labor would have never ended had it not been for the Wesleyan revivals. One of his followers, Wilberforce, the same thing. Wilberforce ended slavery. He was the member of Parliament that pushed for an end to slavery and he did that for year after year after year inspired by prayer, empowered by Scripture, believing what the Bible says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bonded nor free, Scythian nor Barbarian, but all people are equal. These great people like Martin Luther King, like Wilberforce, and most of all for me, Charles Finney, in the 1800s, who started the feminist movement, who started the abolitionist movement because of a deep, deep prayer life. Faith is essential in generating a hunger for social justice.
Now, there is one more thing that I need to say. This will involve us in politics. There is no question about that. I mean we’re going to have to start asking questions. Is it right? Is it just that there are huge tax breaks for the rich while the poor get neglected? Is that right? In order to finance this tax benefit we ended 50,000 programs for inner-city kids who are getting tutoring after school. To finance what, a bunch of rich people? I don’t think that’s the justice of God. I don’t think that’s what Jesus is all about. I go to Scripture and I find a Christ who calls upon us to concern ourselves with the poor. You say, what do you want me to do? Give away my money to the poor? Good idea! Jesus suggested we do exactly that. He says if you have this world’s goods—check it out, John 3:17 and 18—if you have this world’s goods, you see brothers and sisters who are in need, you keep what you have while they suffer. How can you say I have the love of God in my heart? Good question. To be Christian and rich means that you have to use your wealth to help the poor, to help the oppressed, to help the needy.
We have to begin to ask questions about our system of justice. You know there is one kind of justice for rich people and another kind of justice for poor people in this country. Not right. If Jesus Christ is in you, you’ll be outraged over that inequity. You will be angry over that inequity. And the national budget. Do you know that of the twenty-two industrialized nations of the world, the United States is next to last in the proportion of the national budget that we set aside for poor people in the world? We give away less than two tenths of one percent. That’s not even one percent! To put it in perspective, for every dollar we Americans give to our national budget to help the poor of the world, the people of Norway give seventy. We’re six percent of the world’s population. We consume forty-three percent of the world’s resources and we give away less than two tenths of one percent of our national budget to help the poor of the world. That’s not justice. I believe in a loving God but I believe in a God who can get very, very angry when justice does not flow down from the hills and overpower us like beautiful water.
Let me just say this. I’m a city guy. And in the book of Zachariah, the 8th chapter, it says this: when justice comes to the city, once again, old people will come out of their houses, sit on their front steps, lean on their canes, watching the children playing safely in the streets. The image of the kingdom, a just society where there’s safety and well-being for everyone. It’s the will of God. Pray today: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. "