During the Lenten Season, our congregation has been journeying through a forty-day Bible Challenge with the book entitled, “The Social Justice Bible Challenge.” It was edited by Marek Zabriskie, pastor of the St. Thomas Episcopal Church. It has been a wonderful opportunity to read the Word of God on a daily basis and discover what the Word has to say about social justice.
There is a quote in the book by Mahatma Gandhi in which he said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” As I read this book, one thing I found most astounding was the fact that the Bible has 12,100 mentions of poverty. It goes on to say that sin is mentioned just 1,600 times, and terms related to sex and sexuality a mere 26 times. I find it amazing that we put so much emphasis on sin and sexuality, not to say that they should not be mentioned, but we should also speak about the sin of neglecting the poor. Over and over again we hear words from the book of Micah, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Jesus Himself said in Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”
This Biblical challenge has tested my living, as well as my preaching. I would argue strongly that many who gather for worship would prefer to hear sermons around praise and prosperity. Preaching a series of sermons on social justice was the most challenging series I have ever preached, because it t is hard to preach a sermon that convicts. I have been convicted myself, therefore I can only imagine as I watch the faces of worshippers, who sometimes give me looks like, “OK pastor, we got it, move on.” I must do what God has called me to do: preach the whole gospel.
I believe with all my heart that praise is something we should do, but we can never neglect the poor and the needy, especially as this country has turned its back on the poor. We seldom hear the word “poor” anymore, it is all middle-class. At the same time, we see the president’s budget proposal reducing food stamps and programs that benefit those in need. In Philadelphia and in the suburbs, you can drive a short distance and see prosperity and then turn in another direction and see poverty. As one who pastors in the suburbs, I can show you homes valued at one million dollars, and I can show you homes that are in despair. To make matters worse, African Americans, Latinos, whites and other minorities live in most of these neglected neighborhoods. As well, many schools in these neighborhoods are neglected.
We cannot depend upon the government. The people of God must speak up and make their voices heard. I applaud the students all across the country who will be gathering in Washington, D.C. on March 24 to speak out for social justice and call for an end of mass destruction weapons. If we can save one life, to God be the glory!
As we approach Resurrection Sunday, prayerfully we will remember what it cost the Master, Jesus Christ, who died so that we might have life and have life more abundantly. He arose with all power in His hands. We have the power right now to change the ungodliness that is going on in our country and in our world. We have the leader to lead us; He has given us the blueprint for social justice. It is time for the people of God to follow the Word of God and be the advocate for all of God’s people, and break down the barriers that separate us along social and economic lines. The Reverend Marek Zabriskie, founder of the Bible Challenge, writes, “The poor are on God’s heart and should be on ours. We are called to fight poverty and injustice wherever we find it.”