The Start of a Difficult Journey

This week I ask you to embark on a difficult journey with me.  It is often the task of a pastor to speak words of hope to the people of God.  Unfortunately, for many, the world is not a place of hope.  It is estimated that 30 million people are enslaved right now—70 percent of them for sexual exploitation.[1]  Many in our world live in grinding poverty, subsiding on less than one dollar a day.  Billions drink unclean water.  The foundation of their reality is hopelessness. Even in our own neighborhood people suffer from the slavery of addiction.  They live under the oppression of physical and emotional abuse.  Our neighbors sleep not under the stars of hope, but the dark shroud of uncertain futures. What kind of pastor would I be if I ignored their plight?  If I allowed us to embrace the blissfulness of willful ignorance? One of my heroes, John Chrysostom, believed that one of the essential functions of a preacher is to skillfully sketch the condition of the oppressed, that church-goers would have no choice but to see the dreadful reality of their neighbors.  It is on that line that I wish to walk between now and Easter.[2]

Consider these words from the opening chapter of Isaiah:
12When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand?  Trample my courts no more; 13bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me.  New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. . . . 23Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves.  Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts.  They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them (NRSV).[3]
Oppression is, of course, a topic that makes us uncomfortable, because it’s dark.  But more so, because we don’t want to feel guilty about it.  This is where I must tenderly walk narrow ground; I must engage us in God’s work of freedom, equity, and justice, but I must do so in a way that encourages, empowers, and envisages hope.  The truth is that our assembly means very little to God if we do not take seriously the dastardly reality of our decaying world.  To go to church must be synonymous with pushing back spiritual, physical, emotional, and social darkness.  Lest we be a lamp under a steeple . . . eh, I mean a basket. The cause of the widow must come before us.  The plight of the orphan must be a source for our ire. 

It is my conviction that the waywardness of our culture is the direct result of the Church’s weak stance on these issues.  There is absolutely an argument to be made that Hitler would have never come to power if the German Church hadn’t largely supported him, choosing their pockets over justice.[4]  Racial reconciliation would be much further down the road if being white and Christian in the 1950s South hadn’t been part ‘n parcel with the racist establishment.[5] Our culture watched us bicker over choruses and hymns while cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine robbed them of their brothers and sisters.  The steady voices of compassion, like Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, were overlooked while hypocritical moral crusaders were lionized.[6]
If I had not met the compassion of Christ for myself, these things would have been more than enough to keep me miles away from a church. I believe that one of the only paths for Christian renewal is for us to take ownership of the following charge:
Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:17).

This is a complex topic, with many ins and outs.  We won’t cover everything.  Some weeks will feel devastating.  Some will glimpse the hope of future glory.  But this is a road we must walk.  I have no desire to act as if the world is better than it is.  I wish to stand in solidarity with our neighbors, to fill their stomachs, to hear their dreams, and to repeatedly embody the compassion of the One who sought me, rescued me, defended me, and pleaded my case. 

It seems to me that injustice makes balancing life impossible.

[1] These numbers come from Eddie Byun’s book, Justice Awakening.
[2] After all, if we do not consider the world’s pain how can we appreciate the healing of Resurrection Sunday?
[3] The “this” in the first line is a reference to animal sacrifices.  The nation of Israel has become so corrupt that the Lord declares that he hates their sacrifices. Worship and justice are intertwined.
[4] There were Christian resistant movements like the Confessing Church.  However, the bulk of Christian leaders quickly pledged their support.
[5] Again, there were significant voices who did not follow the mob, but let us never forget that the KKK saw(sees) itself as a movement of Christian crusade.
[6] Ron Sider is an eloquent writer, though he wields a devastating wit, who lives a life of the narrow road.  Outside of Christian colleges he’s been largely ignored.  Popular preachers of the 80s and 90s, on the other hand, often led a life fraught with questionable practices, but because their message reinforced our biases we repeatedly gave them a gigantic stage of influence.


  1. Thank you Matt - I'm looking forward to this journey with River Street.


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