As I travel around I sometimes read the vision statement of congregations that proclaim they are to be about the renewal of the city and of all things. Then I look at the decay of culture, the degeneration of morals in our own society, and I wonder what good we have done. I wonder what good we can do, about the temporal and material nature of our passing upon the earth, about how those who come after us may not, and often do not, continue the good we have tried to do, the justice we have tried to enact, the beauty we have tried to create.
I realize that my own sins have contributed to this decay, this retrograde action upon the good work done before me. Yet I have hope, as I realize that what God asks of me is not to attempt eternal transformation or eternal renewal but that which concerns my own space and time, my own impact upon the issues of justice, in acts of mercy to the poor, in the rebuilding of streets with dwellings, of bringing beauty for ashes.
I believe that all acts of righteousness have eternal value and thus eternal effect. Even if the cup of cold water that I give in Jesus name may be smacked out of the hand of the prophet to whom I extend it by some oppressive tyranny the act had meaning because God sees all things, and he remembers. I also believe that what some call "proximate justice" is significant because cultures do change, economics change, politics change, neighborhoods change, relationships change, nations change even though those changes are temporal and material. We strive to make those changes positive by the revelation of God as to what goodness, justice, and love really are. What I am saying is that those changes are eternally significant, not because they create the Kingdom of God or bring it to earth, but because they reveal it, in terms of the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit that is experienced during that momentatry reflection of the true Camelot.
This means that my country matters, my local government matters, my police force matters, my school system matters, my neighborhood matters. My act of being a neighbor, and being a citizen are arenas in which I reveal the glory of God in the good works that I and my family and my congregation and all of us as the people of God do. Yes, in history positive change has often been swept away by the next regime of evil, or the next invasion of wickedness, political entitity or army; yet they mattered while they were here.
Protecting the boundaries of the widow, caring for the fatherless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, protecting the innocent from the slaughter are God given responsibilities and they make a difference to the people involved, and to the culture involved. One's eschatalogical view may dismiss such activities as fairly meaningless in the light of the coming apocalypse, in light of an expected tribulation, but I do not see that being consistent with the importance Scripture puts upon our responsibility to do good while we are here.
Some believers live in periods of tremendous persecution, in periods of poverty, oppression, war, and suffering. There may seem to be no hope that life upon earth can have any joy or any meaning and thus the hope of heaven, the cry "return oh Lord!" seems not only right but the only thing for which one can aspire. Statements from some affluent church that they want to transform culture may thus seem like a joke.
I believe in heaven, and I believe Jesus will return. I believe in the necessity of people to see beyond the temporal and live for the eternal and to place their hope in things above because death is real and life is fleeting. Yet I also believe God made human life the arena of importance, and how I treat the slave, the sexually trafficked, the unjustly imprisoned, the slaughtered unborn baby, the swindeled impoverished debtor to the payday loan company, the desperate single parent mom, the unloved child means something to God. I also believe that when we mobilize our congregations, our Christians to do something about it, sometimes we win. Sometimes we change the situation on the ground. Our purpose, and our value is not that we be permanently triumphant in everything but consistently faithful in obedience, relevant as salt that keeps its savor.
The situation was changed for me when the Deacons brought groceries to our house in the projects. We would later learn that man lives not by bread alone, but that was not the time for that particular lesson. The lesson for that time was love and mercy and it began to transform our lives, and our hope was renewed, and one family was eventually brought out of poverty, and institutions were yet to be built to stand, advocate, and fight for justice. This was not for nothing simply because "its all gonna burn." It has eternal value, and temporal too. To those who say we cannot renew anything, nor transform anything, nor redeem anything I must say are as wrong as those who think we can change everything by the power of our own hands. I know these cities may one day turn to dust, but I hope to make them liveable while we are here, as I long for the city whose builder and maker is God.