Last week’s sermon on practicing justice and mercy seems to have little to do with this week’s sermon on Renewing the Baptist Witness. In fact, at first glance they can seem to be polar opposites. To those who have followed the headlines of Baptist denominational life over the last thirty years, Isaiah’s condemnation of those who play at religion while ignoring the least of these seems to be a fairly accurate description of denominational life. While we are all well aware of the stories that have generated these headlines (and know that there are sins to be confessed), we must also remember that during these last thirty years there have also been countless untold stories in which the ministry and mission of Baptist denominational life have been at the forefront of letting justice and mercy role down like a mighty river.
Just in Texas, Baptist hospitals have cared for the sick and the dying providing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of indigent care. Baptist children’s homes have provided food and shelter and love to thousands of orphans and other children in need. Baptist retirement homes, like our own city’s Baptist Memorials, have cared for the elderly with the spirit of Christian love. Our Baptist universities have helped thousands of students discover their calling as ministers and missionaries, but they have also trained thousands more how to be teachers, doctors, social workers, lawyers, etc. who perform their own jobs with justice and mercy in the name of Christ. The Christian Life Commission of the BGCT has been a constant champion of justice and mercy in the halls of the Texas legislature fighting for right-to-life issues, literacy issues, health care for children, and much more.
Yes, over the last thirty years the Baptist name has taken a beating due to our own squabbles and sins. It’s a shame that it’s the fighting that has received all the attention. But behind the headlines, faithful Baptists (like faithful Methodist or Presbyterians or Episcopalians – obviously we don’t have a monopoly on faithfulness or troubles) have continued to be the bearers of good news through their efforts to bring about justice and mercy in their communities and around the world. As you attempt to flesh out what it means to care for the least of these in your own life, don’t miss the opportunities right in front of you through Baptist ministries like Buckner, South Texas Children’s Home, Baptist Memorials, etc. Every time you give an offering to Southland you participate in these ministries, but you can do more than just give. You can pray for these ministries. You can purposefully learn their stories. You can participate in their ministries through mission trips, mission projects, and simply showing up and asking, “how can I help?” To help at Baptist Memorials, the best place to start is probably with Kevin McSpadden, the chaplain (and Southland member). He can be reached at 325-481-7503.
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world – James 1:27