Here are my thoughts for tomorrow. They were prompted in part by the vote in the House of Representatives on the upcoming budget. But the Scriptures that I refer to are the Scriptures for tomorrow. Take that as a sign if you will.
There are going to be few Christians conservatives out there who are going to rejoice with what I am about to say and there are a few Christians liberals out there who are going to be aghast by the same statement. Now, if it is not clear, I am a liberal in every sense of the word; I am also an evangelical in every traditional sense of the word. But I think the time has come for a true Wesleyan revival in this country.
But, before the conservatives really rejoice and the liberals lament, I don’t think that this revival is the one that the conservatives are clamoring for; I think we need to stop worrying about throwing all the sinners out of the church(after all, who would be left?) and start worrying about what the Gospel message is about.
This past week the House of Representatives passed a budget that places an unfair and unreasonable burden on the poor and needy in this country. Cuts were made in food stamps, child care, child welfare, and higher education funding. And while programs that benefit the least of our nation, the richest of our nation continue to reap major tax cuts. What bothers me more than anything else is that those who voted for these cuts in funding for the poor and decreases in taxes for the rich claim that they are Christians.
I am not going to take a poll and find out what church, temple, or synagogue members of Congress (both Senators and Representatives) attend and/or are members. But the past series of elections have revolved around values and faith. The majority of the members in Congress have allied themselves with the conservative and fundamentalist version side of the Christianity, so by either association or otherwise, they claim to be Christians. So how can it be that such a budget could even pass? Why is there even such a discussion or consideration?
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Old Testament reading for today is from Ezekiel.(Ezekiel 34: 11 – 16, 20 – 24) Ezekiel tells us that it was the leaders of Israel who failed the country. Throughout the Bible we are reminded that the leader of people will care for those under his charge just as a shepherd cares for and loves his flock. A good shepherd will feed the flock, tend to the weak and the sick, search for the lost, guide and protect the flock, and give his best. We read in the Bible that a bad shepherd is more concerned about feeding himself, worrying about his own health, guiding with a heavy hand, abandoning or scattering his flock and keeping the best for himself.
When we read the Scriptures, we see the comparisons where leaders are exhorted to be good shepherds for their people. A good leader is one who is concerned with his or her people’s needs and that care is being provided for the sick and needy. A true leader looks for those who have fallen away. He leads like a shepherd by providing direction and correction, not with a fist but with a loving hand. A good leader protects those under his care and does not leave them to the wolves – to those who would lead the people astray. A good leader gives of himself to those under his charge. This is the reason why Ezekiel speaks out against the leaders of Israel; It is his prophecy in this passage that speaks of Christ’s coming.
It has been pointed out the major theme that runs throughout the Bible is poverty. If you cut out any passage in either the Old or New Testament that relates to the poor or the needy, there would be nothing left in the Bible. The care of the needy and the poor is what we should focus on, not giving to the rich in the hopes that they will give to the poor.
The one dominant theme of John Wesley’s ministry was his desire to see the poor in England taken care of, not ignored or cast aside. His desire to bring relief to the less fortunate was brought about by the callousness of the Church of England. It has long been said that England avoided the violent revolution that occurred in France at the same time because of the Wesleyan revival begun and lead by John Wesley. So I think that now is the time for another Wesleyan revival; one in which we, those who call ourselves Christian, renew our commitment to the Gospel message that we have for today. (Matthew 25: 31 – 46)
In this passage Jesus is bluntly telling us that we cannot expect to gain much on earth if we ignore those on this earth who do not have anything. Jesus is telling us that whenever we ignore those who are hungry, thirsty, in need of clothing or shelter, or oppressed, then we should never expect the rewards of heaven.
I realize that there will be some who will say that what I have to say in this piece today is political. But I did not make the matter in question political; I am not the one who made one’s faith a political issue. But I am going to be the one to say that if you say you are a Christian and you do not care for the weak, the sick, the oppressed, and the less-fortunate of this country, then you either do not know what it means to be a Christian or you are a hypocrite, no better than the Pharisees and Sadducees that fought against Christ some two thousand years ago.
Were I an ordained pastor in a regular church, the IRS might investigate me and the church for bringing a political statement into the pulpit. But I am not the one who made this a political issue; I am not the one who has said by my vote in Congress that caring for the poor, the needy, the less-fortunate is not my concern.
But I am the one who is saying that a Wesleyan revival is needed. We need to remember who we are and what we say we are. Paul writes to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1: 15 – 23) and says that he has heard of their faith in Christ. What would he say about us? In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of one’s loyalty; where is our loyalty?
There is a need for a revival in this country. As Methodists, inheritors of the original revival, it is up to us to begin that revival. Like John Wesley, we must first open our hearts and let Christ in. For without Christ leading us, we are nothing and we can gain nothing. But ours is all to gain when we have Christ in our hearts and when we let Christ lead us. And if we have Christ in our hearts, it is much easier for us to let the Holy Spirit empower and give us the strength and knowledge that will bring all to the throne of God.
We have heard the words of Ezekiel and know that our leaders are the ones to whom he is speaking. Just as the leaders of Israel failed their people, so too have our leaders failed us. We have heard the words of Christ, calling us to task because we have also failed to take care of those less fortunate than us. Now is the time to change; now is the time for us to say who we really are. There is a need for a revival; the time is now and it is up to us.