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THE LEAST OF THESE?

least_of_these

What a year 2016 was! How was it for you? 2016 is over but the repercussions of the decisions that were made last year will be felt in this coming year, and in the years to come. There are possible seismic changes ahead. The world is in transition. There are question marks over our whole way of life. The ‘turbo capitalism’ of free trade, the so-called benefits of globalisation, together with the incipient security problems and terrorist threats have all lead to democratic instability where the very future of liberal western democracy itself hangs in the balance.

In a recent newspaper article Pankaj Mishra announced, ‘Welcome to the Age of Anger’. He suggests that we are now seeing ‘a tremendous increase in mutual hatred and a somewhat universal irritability of everybody against everybody else.’ This, according to Pankaj Mishra, is caused by, and leads to, ‘an intense mix of envy, humiliation and powerlessness’. The French have a word for it, ressentiment, which is considerably stronger than our word ‘resentment’ and implies a real sense of ‘hostility’.

This last year has seen a response from those described as ‘history’s forgotten, humiliated and silenced people’, also referred to as the ‘left behinds’ – those who have not reaped the expected and anticipated widespread prosperity that was the promise of globalisation. Pankaj Mishra also suggests that ‘to chart a path through the Age of Anger, or even just to get our bearings, we need, above all, a greater precision in matters of the soul’. But where is the soul of our society? Despite all our technological achievement, access to information and ability, society knows precious little about ‘matters of the soul.’

This is where we have the link between political, economic and sociological matters, and God’s people who make up the Church of Jesus Christ. We, who ‘name the Name of Christ’ are the ones who can safely, seriously and successfully navigate the murky waters of the human soul. We are the ones who are in touch with our Maker, the ones who know the God of love, justice, mercy, peace and rightness. Who know that Jesus Christ is indeed ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (John 14:6) just as himself claimed to be. In Jesus Christ, we are the purveyors of truth and reality and hope. This is because we know the One who is, at one and the same time, fully and truly human, the God-man Jesus Christ, the One who shows us what it really means to be a human being, and what it is to be a human being in relationship with God and with others in families, communities, societies and among nations. Therefore, we are the ones who must speak out, must engage, must act. How else are people, in our society, going to be enabled to handle all that is coming?

God want us all, and particularly those of us who claim to be Christians, to live in a way that has authenticity and integrity as his people, with the responsibilities and accountability that that entails? So, we need to see the world from God’s perspective, to have his values and priorities, building our lives on the sure and certain foundation of Jesus Christ.

There is a passage of Scripture in the New Testament, known as The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), where Jesus clearly outlines what God considers to be of eternal value. In this most challenging of passages, Jesus tells us to ‘feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe and provide for the poor, engage with people in need, in hospital, prison, or anywhere’. We are to help alleviate poverty and suffering in whatever form it is found. Jesus, the One who is the King of Kingdom, shows us that this is how we serve him. He says to us here, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40). The Message translates this verse as, ‘I’m telling you the truth: whenever you did these things to someone overlooked or ignored that was me – you did it to me’. Jesus turns everything on its head. If you will pardon the mixed metaphor, what we see here is that the King, the top of tree, is saying, you will find me at the bottom of the ladder! That is where I am – at the opposite end to worldly supremacy and domination!

And this is our ministry, our calling, as Christians – to care for the least and lowest, the victims of the system, those our ‘turbo capitalism’ has ‘left behind’ and left humiliated, powerless and silenced. Included in this are the elderly, the weak, the infirm, the mentally and physically sick, those who just can’t cope, those in debt, the addict, the homeless, the helpless, the hopeless, the marginalised, the ignored, and so on.

Here at Knaphill Baptist Church we start 2017 with a new ‘strapline’ – agreed unanimously at one of our recent well-attended church meetings after much thought and prayer – in which we express our strong desire to be, individually and corporately, ‘Caring Christians at the Heart of the Community’. Of course, agreeing the new strapline was the easy part – putting it into practice is going to be the hard part!

This is where Jesus’s exhortation and encouragement here in Matthew 25:40 is helpful.  We do all this – ‘feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, providing for the poor, engaging with people in need, in hospital, prison, or anywhere’ as if are doing it directly for Jesus himself. Mother Theresa, who was canonised in 2016, lived among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India, to care for them because, as she said, ‘Each one of them is Jesus in disguise!’

The only way to overcome the ‘Age of Anger’ is with the power of love – God’s love, the love we find in Jesus Christ, ‘poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 5:5), serving the Lord from a heart of genuine compassion that is born in us by him. The Greek of Romans 5:5 is indicative of God’s love being poured into our hearts, much as someone might pour wine into a goblet or vessel of some kind, but whereas the pourer might stop pouring when the vessel is full, in this case the pourer deliberately keeps on pouring so that the vessel overflows!? A friend of our suggested that ‘the fullness is for us, but the overflow is for others’!

So here is the key question: In 2017 will we deliberately and intentionally go in the opposite direction to a society of ‘mutual hatred and universal irritability’ and seek to love God and others by choosing to see Christ in the least and lowest? Deliberately choosing to serve ‘the least of these’ whoever they may be, and wherever we may find them?

Will you come and follow me
if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know
and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown
in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind
if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind
and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer
in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see
if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free
and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean
and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean
in you and you in me?

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside
and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound
in you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true
when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
in you and you in me.

~ John Bell (1949-)

Julia Binney

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