By: Bishop Scott Jones On 7/6/2011
Topics: Bishop's Columns & Blogs
My younger, smarter brother, L. Gregory Jones, wrote a book entitled “Embodying Forgiveness” in which he argues that forgiving someone is more complicated than simply saying, “I forgive you.” Real forgiveness—the kind that changes the relationship between people—requires practices and behaviors that “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk.”
One of the problems for Christians in our culture today is that outsiders hear more Christians talk the gospel than they see Christians walk the gospel. We do have a great message to proclaim: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” We know the way that every human being can have a fulfilled and meaningful life, and the grace of God is active in helping that happen.
But when disasters strike or evil and injustice are rampant or poverty and hunger seem overwhelming, then our words about the life-transforming love of God may seem empty. What is needed is the embodiment of that love.
One of the reasons that Christianity spread so rapidly through the Roman Empire is that Christians broke through societal barriers to embody the love of Christ. In the early second century, Aristides sent the emperor Hadrian a description of who these Christians were. He said,
They love one another. They never fail to help widows. They save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something, they give freely to the man who has nothing. If they see a stranger, they take him home and are happy, as though he were a real brother. They don’t consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Spirit, in God.
Down through the centuries, we Christians, at our best, have continued to act on Christ’s command to care for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46). Wesleyans began with prison ministry and health ministries in the 18th century. Today, we are involved in food pantries, homeless resource centers, clothing closets and many other on-going outreach ministries to take care of people’s physical needs.
There also are disasters that occur, and this spring has been worse than normal. The number of tornadoes and floods seem to be at record highs. We continue to pray for the victims of all these disasters and to send them messages of comfort and support.
However, we also must embody the love of Christ in these situations. Our connectional church polity provides secure and effective ways of allowing us to make a difference in places where we want to help. We do this in a variety of ways.
The Kansas Area recently sent a check for $10,000 to the Missouri Annual Conference to help them respond to the Joplin tornado. When a tornado hit Greensburg and Trousdale in 2007, the Texas Annual Conference gave us a similar gift, and we have paid it forward to our neighboring conference. This money will not be used directly for victims. Instead, it will help them hire staff and set up an office so UMCOR donations can be used effectively. We are experienced at disaster relief, and we will be helping people in Joplin for years to come.
Why do we do it? We love Jesus and want to embody his love for the world so that hurting people will know that God cares.