In the social issues that have been the subject of discussion lately, we know there will always be poverty, oppression, abuse, environmental problems etc. But their inevitability does not deter us from seeking to reduce them as much as we can while waiting for that day when poverty, abuse and environmental issues will all be done away. “Waiting” in biblical terms is not a matter of hiding away until things get better. We prepare our minds for action while we set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us when Jesus is revealed.
I’m not sure if we’re ready, then, to agree with this take on Easter by N.T. Wright:
Easter is about the beginning of God’s new world. John’s Gospel stresses that Easter Day is the first day of the new week: not so much the end of the old story as the launch of the new one. The gospel resurrection stories end, not with “well, that’s all right then”, nor with “Jesus is risen, therefore we will rise too”, but with “God’s new world has begun, therefore we’ve got a job to do, and God’s Spirit to help us do it”. That job is to plant the flags of resurrection – new life, new communities, new churches, new faith, new hope, new practical love – in amongst the tired slogans of idolatrous modernity and destructive postmodernity.
Whether or not we all agree with Wright, I think it helps to see how this can look in reality. One example is Hope for New York, a ministry that “works with churches to provide volunteer and financial support to organizations that serve the poor and marginalized. Hope for New York’s vision is a city in which individuals and communities experience spiritual, personal, social and economic well-being through the demonstration of Christ’s love.”
Their beliefs hit on some important themes:
The Gospel offers a unique perspective on mercy and justice.
Sacrificial service is motivated by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, rather than out of a desire to earn favor with God. Our motivation for serving others is a response to the grace shown us by Jesus, not an attempt to earn God’s favor through moral behavior. Through service, we witness a mutual transformation; both the server and the served grow in the process. (The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Matthew 18:21-35)
The nature of service is both word and deed.
Our words of unconditional acceptance coupled with our actions of service and love have a powerful impact. We encourage the exercise of spiritual gifts on behalf of our neighbors. We speak and act with the knowledge that our words and deeds will have a significant impact in the world around us. We live in a time in which our displays of mercy and justice are an example of the “now but not yet” aspect of God’s kingdom (The Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25:35-46; Jesus washes the disciples feet)…
Mercy and justice are inextricably intertwined.
God’s heart shows a special compassion and protection for the poor and disadvantaged — like many of the residents of our inner-city neighborhoods. We believe God’s passion is rooted in His desire for all of creation to experience His Kingdom and Shalom. God shows us His compassionate character throughout the Scriptures (Exodus 34:6-7), in the example set by Jesus (Matthew 9:36), and in the actions of His people (Psalm 99:4, Nehemiah).
It seems that ministries like these embrace the cosmic implications dimension of the gospel – God’s desire for all of creation to experience his kingdom and shalom – in gritty places, while avoiding the mistake of thinking that God’s kingdom will arrive fully here and now. They don’t see the gospel as only about how we are justified – in other words, it’s not only spiritual. It includes that, but it is also about God’s kingdom coming, his will being done on earth as it is in heaven, not just in eternity but also now, never as fully as we would like of course.
Hope this makes sense. Sometimes it helps to see someone actually doing this so we’re not just talking abstractions. What do you think?