A very special thing happen today, school began this week in the community I live in in Northern Michigan. It's not unusual for school to start, it does every fall, but for us, in my home it's a very special day. This year marks it the first year since 2004, that our house will be devoid of children all day during the work week! All Amanda and I's children, from our oldest boy Gabe to our youngest Rowan, all will be in school! I'm excited, I'm happy, but sad at the same time. I realize how short life is.
Many of you have children who are going back to school this week, many of you had children go back a week ago, or two weeks ago. As their level in school changes, so do the rules and the focus of the rules. For the little ones it's stay in line, hold hands and make sure you use the potty. For the middle ones the looming threat of more work and emphasis and writing, learning to not bully and what to do when bullied and time management. For the biggest, it's the on going process of what it means to be an adult, responsible driving and decision making, and preparing for college or vocational school. With all these different rules and different stages of development, one rule, rules them all...WASH YO HANDS!
For the first time in maybe two generation there is a real threat that our youngsters could come home with some monster, killer and super contagious flu bug. We all remember HINI and how terrified we were when we thought that there might not be a vaccine...at least for some time. But as our world becomes more global the real threat of serious epidemic becomes more and more a reality and whats so freighting is that 50million Americans are uninsured and have no guaranteed access to comprehensive healthcare.
You know, the church has always been in the healthcare business as well as the social services business. One might say that Jesus taught us to heal the sick, care for the needy, feed the hungry and always pray in private. That perhaps is an oversimplification, but is very accurate as well. The first century church carried this simple teaching on in their everyday life. This message was so convincing that at the hight of Roman persecution (270 A.D-300 A.D) the conversation rate in the empire was 40%. That means that during the most brutal time of persecution 40% of the people who met Christians, become Christians and not just nominal Christians, but devoted and disciplined Christians.
The church continued this tradition of healing and wholeness into the 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th century. They belived it to be SALVATION. The closest world in the Greek language for our understanding of salvation is THERAPUTOS, of which we get the english word THERAPY. In Greek this word means healing. The Latin word that we get our word salvation from is SALVE, of which we derive the word, SALV, an ointment or cream used to promote healing. The truth is, the early church honestly believed that faith in Jesus lead to healing and wholeness.
The church has been a center for healing and wellness for centuries. There where herbariums in monasteries where the brothers, along with physicians, would mix together medicines, ointments and creams for the sick. Brewery's in monasteries where monks would brew heavy wheat ale, that would last longer than a loaf of bread and had more nutritional value for the hungry. Then there was this place called Basilad. This was the very first hospital/poor house/social service center the word had every seen. It was the estate of a Roman ruler, named Basil, turned Monk and it was used to give social services to the empires most needy. The word hospital gets it origin from the latin word for guest house. It was Christians who established the first hospitals, as guest houses for the poor, sick, and needy.
In this passage James reminds his readers that the church ought to be a guest house for the the most needy. James is combating a practice that many of our 21st century churches are guilty of and thats ignoring the plight of the poor and catering to the desires of the rich. James points out that it's the poor that God has chosen to be rich and reminds the readers that it's, after all, the rich who make their lives difficult. They are the ones dragging them into court, they are the ones loaning them money at high interest and calling in the loans, they are the ones imprisoning their children for un paid debt and seizing their homes and goods for payment and these are the ones they are making a special place for!!?? All while treating the people that God has called chosen with contempt!
This is not a political platform or a cause, because the gospel is not a cause. Health reform, tax reform, government spending and cut backs, those are political platforms. Raising money for cancer research and helping the girl scouts by purchasing those delicious cookies, those are causes. The Gospel is not, the Gospel is a way of life! It was the church, motivated by and experience with the risen Christ, that sought out to bring release to the captives, sight to the blind and good news to the poor, and in the last two centuries, the people called Methodist lead the way!
Free education, free health care, social services, these were all first done by and army of lay Methodist women called Deaconess' and that tradition of Christian charity still flows through our veins! The social gospel isn't about causing political rukus. It's about rocking the world with Jesus. The social gospel is about healing the sick, feeding the hungry and caring for the needy, the social gospel is truly about bring good news to the poor.