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We Believe in the Redemption of Society
March 29, 1981

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

LUKE 1:46-55; ROMANS 8:18-25

I am reminded of Mork on Ork and Mindy. Mark once said that on the planet Ork, the aged are honored and respected for their experience and their wisdom. He said, “In fact, the youth gather “around the aged. Someone said, “Well, it's the same here in our cities, except we call it mugging.” The increase of violence is a great problem in our society today. The problem raises the question: Should the church be concerned with problems of society, such as violence, war, hunger, racism, sexism, overpopulation, on and on? Should the church be concerned?

Our tradition gives a very emphatic “Yes”. We believe in the redemption of society. We believe that God's saving love reaches out not only to individual people, but to society. If you've noticed the sequence in this series of sermons, after we talked about God the Trinity, we looked at the human situation, the reality of sin. Sin is the estrangement, the separation of humanity from God. God's response to this estrangement is to seek our salvation. God provided the means for the redemption of persons through the Lord Jesus Christ. Redeemed persons are then gathered into the church, which is the body of Christ on the earth today. You and I are the church. And the task that God assigns to the church is the subject of today's sermon. We believe in the redemption of society. 

The task that God has given to the church is to proclaim the message of redemption to people and to society. God so loved the world that he gave his only son—the world. The word “world’ has been interpreted sometimes in history very narrowly. It has often been interpreted as meaning the soul of an individual person, that God's redemptive activity is for the salvation of the soul of an individual. Redemption in history is too often then confined just to the soul. It has not included the body so through the years, the healing ministry has faded. The fact that Jesus healed bodies was forgotten. 

And a concern for world hunger has not been apparent sometimes in history. The churches seem to say, “God saves the soul, but we ignore the stomach.” 

Redemption throughout history has too often been confined to the soul, and not to interpersonal relationships of people as if God is not concerned with our relationships, one with another. 

And church worship and church participation is too often been just a group of individuals. We’ve lost the sense of community within the church. Our worship of God has become “my” worship. Sometimes we're criticized for the greeting, which we don't do during Lent. But sometimes the criticism has been leveled at me when we turn around and shake hands with people. “My” worship is interrupted. This is “our” worship. We are gathered as the family of God. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord and the horizontal relationship is as important is the vertical relationship. Too often in history, redemption has been confined to the soul and has ignored one’s jobs and one’s vocation. And the church has left the employment of people up to the wealthy landowners or the wealthy factory people until the unions changed all that. 

Too often in history, redemption has been confined to the salvation of the soul, and we've ignored the political, economic and social areas. We have said, “Let's keep religion out of politics. Keep the church out of politics.” Interestingly, in our time, even the fundamentalists are reversing that. The fundamentalists who have been so strict on keeping religion out of politics have now entered the political arena through the Moral Majority with a power and with money, having a tremendous influence, reversing their position, confining themselves to some very narrow issues if you ask me—prayer in the schools, anti-abortion and undemocratic concern for taking away the civil rights of persons such as homosexuals. Whatever their issues at least they're entering into the social arena and believing that the gospel has something to do with our society, with morality and the way we live together as human beings. Society is the arena where we live together and relate together as human beings. And God's love reaches into those areas. God's redemptive activity is for all of us in all of our living. 

Our scripture lesson from Romans spoke of how God's creation is yearning and longing for the new order, like in childbirth. The Old Testament prophets preached on behalf of the poor and preached against the wealthy who were mistreating the poor. Jesus’ ministry was with the poor. Jesus’ teachings and Jesus’ announcing of his ministry was in social terms. Jesus said, “I came to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, and to set free the oppressed.” His mother Mary, when told of her pregnancy, sang a song of praise to God, which is one of the most social revolutionary documents you can hear. Listen to what Mary said, “God has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands.” Luke chapter one. 

Our biblical basis says we believe in redemption of society. When the church has been at its best, it has tackled problems of society earnestly. Early Methodists attacked slavery, smuggling, and the cruel treatment of prisoners. We are the body of Christ today. You and I are Christ's body. You and I have been entrusted with the message of redemption for all society. 

When you look at some of the problems of society today, it seems almost overwhelming. I am very concerned and frightened about the possibility of a military confrontation with Communism. It's frightening that we have a de-emphasis on negotiation and more and more talk of the buildup of weapons and the possibility of a military war. That’s frightening for this planet cannot survive such a confrontation. 

I am concerned about the disparity between the haves and the have-nots and the exploitation of the have-nots by the haves. This wide cleavage is breeding ground for revolution, revolution which is exploited by Communists, which forces us into the position of being on the side of the haves instead of the-have nots. Better that we enter before the revolution happens and reach out to the have-nots. 

I am concerned and really frightened about the increase violence and hatred In our country. A few Sundays ago, the Modesto Bee had a huge article on the arming of America. Citizens buying guns, taking the law in their own hands, distrust of police as in Atlanta today, increasing violence and increasing hatred. This is a very near concern to you and me. We see right in our own Valley the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan—not in Alabama, Louisiana, right in our Valley. Less than 30 miles from here there was a rally of the Ku Klux Klan devoted to the doctrine of white supremacy with a history full of murder, fear and violence. Last week, I was at the Conference Council on Ministries meeting, and heard an eyewitness report of that rally by Paul Dirdak who is one of our Methodist ministers in Oakland. He is Chairperson of the Commission on Religion and Race and represented our denomination at that rally. He wore a clerical collar so he could be immediately identified with the church. He spoke to the onlookers. He spoke to the reporters, he spoke to the Klan. Representing Christ and love, he saw the burning of the cross. And this is in Ceres, California. The Cross was 20 feet high, wrapped in burlap, doused in a flammable liquid. 30 Klans people, men and women most in robes, carried torches around the cross. At a given signal, they ignited the cross and it burst into a flame, bright fire. Then the leader read this incantation, “We burn this cross because Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The cross becomes a symbol of hatred. The cross becomes a symbol of Christianity only for white, Protestants. That's in our backyard. 

How do we respond? We, the body of Christ, how do we respond? Some say it's just too overwhelming. From the point of view of being realistic and practical, it’s just too overwhelming. Let's put our head in the sand or migrate to the outback of Australia. But from the point of view of Jesus Christ, no, it is not overwhelming. We are a people of hope. We prayed in the Lord's prayer today as we pray every Sunday, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Our hope. We actualize that hope. We live that hope as much as possible. We hold that hope to the world. 

We have the vision that God's kingdom, that God's will is that there can be a world without war. There can be a world without hatred. There can be a world where people of all races and all backgrounds can live together in fellowship, all persons of all kinds of lifestyles can live together. That's our vision, a vision of a world where children are fed, a vision of a world where children are taught not to hate but to love. That's our hope and we hold and we live it. 

We have hope because God has won the victory. Evil, the devil, hung Jesus on the cross. They stifled him, overwhelmed him and killed him. But God raised Him up from the dead, and God had victory over evil. The forces of evil have not ultimate authority over God. God is winning the victory and that is our hope. And we hold that hope and we live that hope for Jesus told us take up our cross and follow me. 

Take up your cross. Be the kind of people who stand up for other people when they're being mistreated. Stand up for what is right. Stand up for what is just. Take up your cross. It’s not easy and we may end up on a cross as did Jesus. 

The ultimate victory belongs to God and we carry that hope for we believe in the redemption of society.

© 1981 Douglas I. Norris