The other day I read an article which indicated that Rick Warren, the author of Purpose Driven Church and what is become known as the “purpose driven paradigm,” was becoming involved in the move to end world-wide poverty. Now, this may meet with some disdain in some parts of the church world and it may be meet with some skepticism in others, but I am glad to see that it is happening.
Now, let me first off indicate that I have not read any of his books. I have taken part in a seminar based on his work and it was perhaps that seminar that caused me to question the validity of the concept behind his books and thoughts. I came away from that seminar on church growth asking how one applied the concepts of church growth that required a minimum of 1000 individuals to a church that might be lucky to get 10 to 20 people on any given Sunday. That is part of the reason that I have problems with today’s church growth models; they focus on the big churches and not on the reason why we have churches. It almost seems as if the little church, the small church is doomed to extinction.
But Rick Warren has begun to change from focusing on the growth of his mega-church and other churches to the fight against global poverty. It is one thing to have a successful life but what good is one’s success if there are others who are not successful? Do you bring about success by driving down others or by keeping them from being successful?
In the Gospel readings for today, five thousand people have followed Jesus to hear Him preach. Now, it is my understanding that the women and children who might have been in the crowd were not counted so it is likely that there were anywhere between five and fifteen thousand people on the hillside that day. That, of course, makes the miracle of the feeding of the six thousand even more incredible.
It came to pass that Jesus’ disciples noted that the people were getting hungry and perhaps they should be sent away in order to get fed. But Jesus said that the disciples should feed the multitude, not send them away. And when the disciples said that they had no food to share, Jesus pointed out that there was food plenty enough to share among the people in the crowd. So the disciples search the crowd and found five loaves and two fish. Jesus blessed the food and the disciples gave it to the people. In the end, all the people ate and there was food left over.
It can never be about the number of people that come to the church to find God, it has to be about the feeding and care for the people that search for God. In a world of oppression and rejection, the people sought out Jesus to find the answers and find the hope for their lives. To ask them to find their own source of food was to remove that source of hope.
And I am convinced that is what we need to do today. Countless preachers and ministers are offering hope to people but it is an “empty” hope, one that doesn’t feed the soul forever but only for the moment. Other people are so physically hungry that they cannot search for the spiritual food that will feed their souls. John Wesley noted that a person who is hungry will not listen to the Gospel, for they are searching for food for the physical soul. They will not listen to the words of hope and promise if the grumbling in their stomachs is louder.
So we must feed both the physical and the spiritual. We cannot simply create churches that bring people in but ignore the people who do not have the resources to get to church. We are almost always required to take the Word that is inside the church walls outside the walls and into the world.
The Gospel message is for all, not just a select few. Paul writes to the Romans and points this out. The Gospel is not for some but for all, no matter what their background or ancestry. If we cannot take care of the ones outside the walls of the church, then we will have a hard time helping those inside the walls.
People come to a church for any number of reasons but it is safe to say that they are searching. Jacob comes to a place on his journey home where he struggles with God, a struggle that will end with his name no longer Jacob but rather Israel, one who struggled with God.
This morning, you might be struggling with God, asking why things are happening. Why must there be poverty and starvation in this world of plenty? Why must there be violence and repression in a world where many claim to follow the Prince of Peace? Why must there be injustice in a world where we are told that God seeks justice for all?
Perhaps it is because we are that same place as Jacob, now Israel, was. Perhaps it is because we see that knowing the Gospel is not enough. Having accepted Jesus as our Savior, what shall we do? This is the time and the place in our lives where, like Jacob, we are struggling with God. Perhaps this is the time and place where we begin our journey anew and refreshed, seeking not to keep the Gospel in our minds but in our hearts. Perhaps this is the time and place in our own journey where we begin to reach out and help those who need more than just spiritual comfort.
We are reminded that Jesus will ask us what we did to help the homeless, the oppressed, the hungry and the naked. This is the time that we answer in the affirmative rather than ask where such persons were.