Thirdly, we have come to know the Church in some of its manifestations as a retreat from the world where elect individuals can maintain their supposed purity and not be contaminated. Theoretically, if every single individual were saved, the world would automatically be a better place, but Christians of this persuasion are not at all concerned with God’s great project of world redemption. Some of them articulate the view that Jesus is coming soon and the world will end, so there is no need to think about social and political change. But, Pietism without social engagement, is contrary to the biblical doctrines of creation by God and the incarnation whereby God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son to immerse Himself in human history to live our life, to feel our pain, to experience our joys and to die our death. It cannot be a question of pure spirituality over against social action. It is not even a matter of putting the two together as parallel traits, nor of ascribing priority to one and tolerating the other. They are inseparable as two sides of one coin. There is an important insight in the Report of the World Council of Churches’ Conference held in Kenya, Nairobi, Assembly 1975. This Conference was attended by Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Mr. Michael Manley, who made a Presentation. I remember him consulting with some of the Jamaican Clergy in preparation for the Conference. The Report states: “There is here, a double credibility test. A Proclamation that does not hold forth the promise of the justice of the kingdom to the poor of the earth is a caricature of the Gospel” (on the other hand) “Christian participation in the struggle for justice which does not point to the promises of the kingdom also makes a caricature of a Christian understanding of justice.” (para 34)
Jurgen Moltmann wrote: “The spiritual Gospel and the material gospel were in Jesus, one Gospel”. The alternative between “evangelization and humanization, between interior conversion and improvement of conditions, or between the vertical dimension of faith and the horizontal dimension of love” is untenable.
Fourthly, let us consider the Church as a welfare agency. Let me affirm upfront that this is a fundamental and indispensable part of our mission as a Church. Christian response to human need and suffering is directly in line with the ministry of Jesus Himself who went abroad doing good and healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people, who fed the 5,000 and the 4,000 and who holds up as an example to us, the Good Samaritan. One evangelical writer (Carl F.H. Henry) says “There is no room for a Gospel that is indifferent to the needs of the total man nor of the global man”. So far, so good. As the only organization in the world that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members, the Churches do far more with far less than any other agency. However, our greatest strength may also be our greatest weakness.
Let us never forget that Christian social responsibility is not and cannot be simply a matter of “charity” benevolence or patronage but derives from God’s own preferential option for the poor, from Divine judgement or oppressors and the pattern of Christ’s own identification with the poor. The blessing and blessedness of His Kingdom is God’s promise to the poor of the earth. At the same time, we must never glorify or romanticize poverty as such. Our modus operandi should never be like the dons in the garrison communities, or the multi-lateral lending agencies and even some charity organizations, who depend on the poor to validate their reason for existence and their sense of worth. If a Church needs its outreach programmes to prove its relevance, that Church would prove nothing more that the fact that it has lost its sense of mission. Our aim must not simply be to maintain people in their poverty, but to promote their fullest possible development, independence and freedom. We cannot honestly claim to love people if we don’t respect them and uphold their inherent dignity. All its vast “outreach programmes” may define the Church merely as “The Church for others” instead of the ideal of the Church with others. A true Church is not just a Church for the people, but a Church of the people. The people are not just the objects of mission but are being groomed, empowered, affirmed, as the agents of mission and the bearers of the Good News. The Good News, not of survival but of miraculous victory in the daily battle against the odds - victories that have no explanation, but the grace and strength that God supplies.
The last popular image of the Church that we have time for today is: The Church as “A Development Agency”. This is even more flattering to the ego than the Church as welfare agency. In this case, you are in the big league, playing with the big boys, dealing with “big bucks” real money, not just the little pittance that people put in a collection plate, partnering with governments, with big banks, with impressive projects. Oh, it was so exciting, even intoxicating, until you remember the after effects of intoxication – the hangover, the headache of the debt trap, the sacrilization of capitalism, the unsustainable development, the toxic developments that destroy our natural habitat, the bankruptcies, the outflows that far exceed the initial inputs, as the really big boys demand their pound of flesh. Unlike Shakespeare’s Shylock, this was no bloodless flesh, but the very lifeblood of the powerless. The exact counter-symbol of “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood given for you”. The Christian’s naïve complicity with a global system designed to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer, is no recommendation whatsoever. Yet, for all this, THE CHURCH SHOULD BE A DEVELOPMENT AGENCY and will be, once we understand and seriously accept that economic development and showpiece architecture and urbanization are not an end in themselves. In the sixties, when I was a young Curate, I reflected in a Sermon on the then accepted idea that Jamaica was “a developing country” and I asked the question “Developing into what?” Well - as Roger Mais once said “Now we know”. If we are in a development programme, we must identify the final objective. From a Christian point of view, the development we need is HUMAN DEVELOPMENT, CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT, MORAL AND SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT, CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT, DEVELOPMENT FOR ALL AND NOT FOR A CHOSEN FEW. All this in the context of environmental integrity and community. Imagine, a new Jamaica where garrisons and ghettos are replaced by well-ordered communities; where life is precious, where children are loved and the elderly respected and where persons “net worth” is determined, not by dollars and cents, but by the fact that he or she is a bearer of the image and likeness of God. So, let us pose the original question another way: WHAT IS THE CHURCH CALLED BY GOD TO DO NOW IN JAMAICA?
I believe that we can safely say “all of the above” so long as we avoid the pitfalls and mis-directions that have been noted. It is a huge task and we are a small, poor and weak Church. Lest we be tempted to give up and say it cannot be done, Jesus gives us this little PARABLE OF ASSURANCE:
THE PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN IN THE LUMP
We can be intimidated by the enormity of the challenge before us. The overwhelming evidence before us seems to suggest that this heavy lump will never rise. But the Lord of the Church is saying to us that just as a tiny pinch of leaven, a dash of yeast or, in these days, a teaspoon of baking powder will cause the flour to rise, so also, if we faithfully do what we need to do, the yeast of His Spirit, working silently and powerfully through the system, will have its effect.
In order to make the point, Jesus seems to exaggerate the imagery. The parable features a housewife doing her daily baking. Each night the woman would prepare the dough for the next day’s bread, using a small piece of fermented dough to leaven the next day’s batch. She mixes it, covers it with a cloth, and leaves the mass to stand overnight. The leaven would work away unseen, powerfully permeating all the flour. As if to emphasise that, He is not talking about an ordinary housewife or any domestic chore, Jesus says “She puts her little lump into three measures of meal, that is, over a bushel of meal capable of feeding more than 150 persons. Normally, a woman would bake enough bread for her own family, but the parable intends to dramatize the fact that Jesus is talking about something far beyond the domestic routine. He wants us to face up to the immensity of the mission to which we are called and to say that no matter how heavy or lumpen we think our target may be, there is a power of new life manifested in the resurrection that can make this lump rise and heave with new life. He wants us to know that the presence of the Kingdom of God in His own ministry and in His continuing ministry in and through His body the Church, has a potency that belies its small-scale operation. It is through humble and trusting faithfulness to His call that the whole lump (meaning the whole world) will be transformed. The leaven is an image of the Incarnation. As Jesus became man and identified with us in our weakness and death, so we must acknowledge our solidarity with the world and with the people we are called to serve in His name. We don’t need to seek the limelight or court the powerful, because it is not we, but His Spirit in the Church, that will renew the face of the earth. We know that in the context of the whole wide world of time and space we are a small minority, so were the eleven Apostles and the holy women at the beginning. And so, not for a moment do we concede defeat or ascribe victory to the powers of death, because the power that works in us is the power that created the universe, and the omnipotence that raised up Jesus from the dead. In 1 Corinthians 5:6 and in Galatians 5:9, St. Paul says, in fact warns, that “A little leaven, leavens the whole lump”. Of course, St. Paul was using the image of leaven in the opposite way that it is used in the parable. He speaks of “The leaven of corruption and wickedness” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
THE POINT that is being made is that, in both cases, whether good or bad leaven must not be so overawed by size and worldly power that we under-estimate the long term and permanent effectiveness of what we sometimes call “ the little things”, small beginnings, the cumulative effects for good or ill of seemingly insignificant events and trends that go unnoticed. Our grandmothers used to constantly reiterate the biblical teaching about the vast and eternal consequences of little things, the isolated acts that grow into a habit, the habits that evolve into character and the character that determines destiny. The tragedy of Jamaica is that our people seem to know and acknowledge no greater power than the power of “the big guns”, whether that phrase is taken literally or refers to wicked men. The people are oppressed by fear, barricaded behind locked doors as the disciples were before they knew the power of the Resurrection. Our duty is to proclaim the liberating news that the real power is the ONE ALMIGHTY GOD and to promote the enviable power of a people united in Christ.
So let us not mourn the demise of the glory days of the imperial Church of the past. True Christians must move from the post-Constantinian stance of entitlement and privilege and special treatment to Christ’s way of cross-bearing and the task of suffering for His sake. We must put ourselves at God’s disposal as He continues to redeem the whole creation and to create a new heaven and a new earth. Let us learn the lesson of the leaven and the lump, losing itself in the dough and transforming it from within, without fanfare or fire works. Let us learn from Christ, who in the words of Philemon 2, emptied himself and who said “Learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart . . .” Let us seek the blessedness of the poor in Spirit, the meek, the merciful who mourn, who hunger and thirst for justice and so make peace.
“Strength and power religion” is well and good, as long as it is in the strength and power of the Crucified, which in spite of appearances on that Good Friday, is the only real triumph of our humanity, and which, to go back to Constantine, has proven to be the sign in which we conquer.