“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
…the Maker of heaven and earth…
The Lord who remains faithful for ever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
And gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free…watches over the alien,
And sustains the fatherless and the widow.”
Have you ever noticed how practical God’s love is? There is indeed a lot of “theory” in the Bible; principles to live by, questions of doctrine and theology. But God goes beyond the theory to the practical. He’s a God of the details as well as the general picture. The cause of the oppressed, the hungry and those in captivity are of great concern to Him. In Exodus 3:7-9, God sees the plight of His people in slavery and is concerned about their suffering. In the next verse, He sends Moses to rescue them, the very thing that they needed. Of course, Moses baulks at this, but God “persuades” him to respond in obedience to his call. As we would say today, this wasn’t his first choice, but he submits to God and takes steps that eventually lead to the freedom of his people in a new land.
Likewise, if the Church is truly caught up in the love of Christ, it will be driven beyond the theory. I have the sense that the vast majority of North American Christians are locked into a purely theoretical understanding of Christianity. They themselves seem to be at the mercy of greedy careers, family demands, and overall busy lifestyles that sap them of energy and reduce their spirituality to a Sunday experience of sacred space. Some clear intentionality will be needed here to look outside of ourselves and, like the God that we worship, will to be concerned at the suffering of our neighbours. The Scriptures teach us that WE carry the sacred space within us. Though we walk in broken flesh, the Spirit of Christ is in us prompting us to be the Good News as well as speaking it, and so let our hands catch up with our mouths.
I love Alistair Sim’s version of “Scrooge” in the BBC’s rendering of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol”. As soon as Scrooge repents after the visit of the last of the spirits of Christmas, he becomes a new person, hardly recognizable from what he was before. After his dance for joy, he procures a turkey for the Cratchit family and gives a very generous Christmas gift to his impoverished housekeeper. His genuine conversion had to somehow take flight out of himself.
I believe the same is true of us. Our faith and hope are driven to become visible in practical love. Some have called this, “sacramental”: being the concrete sign of the Risen Christ in our generation. Is not this what we are called to be? And it begins with the proclamation of Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen for us. By focussing on Him who was poured out for us, we are filled with His Spirit, and in turn sent to be poured out for our generation.