22 October 2011

Insulting the Good Name

My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism? You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself” James 2:5-8 CEB

Last Sunday I watched as two children were brought to the altar, by parents, family and friends; and presented for Holy Baptism. What could become routine in our sacred life, the act of initiating souls in the church and marking them as Christ's own, was for me, more powerful than usual. What struck me, was that the two children were, while at that moment blameless and innocent before God, faced with two very differing futures.

The first child was one of my cousin's second precious baby boy. My cousin and her husband own their home, they have two nice cars and as many children. Both are college educated and have careers they love. They attend professional sporting events and county fairs. They are, while not rich, for the sake of argument, living the modern 'American Dream' and find themselves securely in the middle class. Their son will be raised in the suburbs, attend private schools, and, if his father can make it happen, play football as soon as he can walk all the way through college. Needless to say, barring an unforeseen event, this child will partake of the many advantages of our modern American life.

The second precious child was the first son of a young Hispanic couple. This family lives in one of the, shall we say, 'less nice' areas of the inner city in a rented dwelling, where all the children attend public schools. They have block parties and they play soccer in the streets. His parents did not attend college, did not speak English as their first tongue and in our current economic situation are not leading the careers they probably would have dreamed. They, for the sake of argument, are part of the American working class, and possibly even in poverty. This child, and millions of others like him, could be considered to have the deck stacked against him right from the start, at a disadvantage in our culture through no fault of his own.

Both children were surrounded by family who loved them, friends who support them and parents who have dreams of bright futures, with hope. Both had received the sacrament in water. At almost the precise same time, their parents had renounced sin and promised before God and our witness to train these children in the way that leads to eternal life. As a Wesleyan, I believe that at that moment previeniant Grace, drawing ALL of us toward Christ, was seen in the life of these children through baptism. Both were anointed with holy oil by the priest, as a sign of being sealed in Christ and His church by the power of His Holy Spirit. In years to come these boys may attend confirmation classes together and will probably receive communion for the first time at the same altar. And yet, as we all left the sanctuary, and the two groups departed to their separate receptions on separate sides of town, I could not help but ponder; With the inequality that has, and continues, to exist in our world, where will these children be in twenty-five years? I questioned wether we, the church, would allow this world and culture to "insult the good name spoken" over these boys at baptism?

The questions came from my belief that the church is called to, and can, change this world. How does the church work to see that both of these children, while equal before God, also have equal opportunity in what has been called the 'land of opportunity'.

I have not the answers, but my heart longs for them. I long for the world that is to come: Where tears do not flow, where sickness is gone, where fear has no grip and where death has no power. As a believer that the kingdom is not yet, I still believe that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom is now... That the church is called to dry tears, heal wounds, comfort the scared and proclaim life eternal. So my heart asks, how does the church work for the equality, of having all things in common as proclaimed by the early church, in a culture that thrives on self and stuff?

I do not believe the answer is the 'class warfare' that some would be 'Robin Hoods' proclaim, nor has it been found in the modern welfare system that relegates so many to a cycle of poverty. I also can not believe that the most wealthy society the world has ever seen, should be satisfied when obesity and starvation exist on the same city block. We should not be satisfied with an educational system that allows some children to graduate without the ability to read, unless their parents happen to be able to afforded private schools, tutors or a home in a 'better' part of town.

While, I still believe that our government has many good reasons to exist and many important functions to perform, it is not our Savior and neither should it be our church. So my heart continues to ask, how does the church, make the Kingdom of God, and the equality found in Christ, real in the life of both of these children... knowing it has to be a lot bigger than what happens for an hour or two on Sunday mornings.