“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” — James 2:15-17
“In short, the Methodist Societies functioned like a lay religious order which enabled men and women to work out their own salvation, and at the same time maintain a socially redemptive involvement with the poor and vulnerable around them.” — Tom Albin, “Early Methodism and the Poor,” American Academy of Religion Lecture, 1988
As we begin Holy Week, we turn our attention to the paradox of death and resurrection. Looking at our United Methodist Church and in particular the Immigrant communities within and around us, this is a needed subject of our attention. After General Conference 2019, we saw and felt what always happens when an organized religious body tries to legislate what is allowed in people’s personal lives, holy relationships, and bodies. Regardless of what side we were on, we felt the limitations of legalism up against our spiritual lives. It is hard to find Jesus in the midst. In our imperfect system, nested within many imperfect systems, we cry for resurrection, amidst the pain of death. Looking at legislation passed against immigrant bodies, we cry out for new life, given to people whose hard-sought livelihoods are being squashed.
During this Monday, I encourage you all with a letter that someone once sent to John Wesley, which he included in his journal:
Sir, I was yesterday led to hear what God would say to me by your mouth. You exhorted us to “strive to enter at the straight gate.” I am willing so to do. But I find one chief part of my striving must be, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to instruct the ignorant, to visit the sick and such as are in prison, bound in misery and iron. But if you purge out all who scorn such practices, or at least are found in them, how many will remain in your society? I fear scarce enough to carry your body to the grave! Alas, how many, even among those who are called believers, have plenty of all the necessities of life, and yet complain of poverty! How many have houses and lands, or bags of money, and yet cannot find in their hearts to spare now and then to God’s poor a little piece of gold! How many have linen in plenty, with three or four suits of clothes, and can see the poor go naked! They will change them away for painted clay, or let moths devour them, before they will give them to cover the nakedness of their poor brethren, many of whose souls are clothed with glorious robes though their bodies are covered with rags. Pray, Sir, tell these, you cannot believe they are Christians, unless they imitate Christ in doing good to all men, and hate covetousness, which is idolatry.**
To all of this, Wesley replies, “I do tell them so; And I tell them it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gormorrah [sic] than for them.”***
John Wesley had many the same type of people in his congregations that we have in ours. We have plenty, and yet we struggle to be engaged in social action. We have experienced justification for ourselves, but it does not always lead us on to social holiness. One of the things that I see plainly here is that Wesley directly ties in salvation and social action. When we have an encounter with God, a part of us must die, in order to be resurrected. How many of us have seen the images of children huddled together in reconstituted meat lockers, caged by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and yet have not been moved to love the severed families near us? How many of us have heard about the fear stricken to those around us, through various laws and rumors of laws to be passed, and yet we have not even reached out in love to the invisible people we pass by at the grocery store?
Consider: This is a week of death and resurrection. What would it look like to let your complacency die, so that you might be reborn with a social action of love for your neighbors, especially the poorest and most invisible among the immigrant community?
Pray: Dear Lord, we admit that we don’t know what it looks like in reality, for us to let our complacency die, so we can love our neighbors. Please help us to make the new habit of praying for connection every day, until it is a reality. Amen.
**As quoted in Mysticism in the Wesleyan Tradition, by Robert G Tuttle, Jr., 1988, in the section “On Social Justice: The Inevitable Fruit”