Elections and the Kingdom

 

In 6 weeks’ time, we have the right and privilege to vote in the General Elections to choose the people we want to lead this country for the next 3 years. We have a chance to indicate to those people seeking power and seeking to be the decision makers for the country what we value and what we would like them to do on our behalf.

 

I have included in your newsletter a statement from the Equality Network, which is 37 Christian and non-Christian agencies that work with the people that we ourselves work with, and an article from the Council of Christian Social Services about the homelessness issue as some things to consider.

 

I am not telling you what party or which person to vote for; that is not my job nor even my right to do so.

 

I want us to turn to the Gospels as a guide to what is important as we take the time to consider

 

Jesus, when he commenced his ministry, was speaking at a synagogue and opened a Holy Scripture to read.

 

Luke 4:17 He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

 

The scripture he read was from Isaiah 61

 

Isaiah 61         The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

 

Of all the Scriptures that Jesus might have read, he chose the one that unmistakably announced the coming of the Kingdom of God. The listening Jews understood that in this message of Isaiah, the one speaking is the messenger – the Messiah, who ushers in the Kingdom era. To those in that synagogue, Jesus’ words could only mean that he was claiming to be the messiah. And if that was true, the Kingdom of God had become a present reality.[1]

 

It is the good news that Jesus proclaimed that I want to focus on in the lead up to the General Elections.

The content of the Good news of the kingdom of God is set out in 5 statements. And I am going to take one statement each week for the next 5 weeks.

 

Take out one of the 5 and you have disruptions; put them together and you have the kingdom – now on earth…  For these 5 things touch the total person and his total environment.

 

I concur with Stanley Jones who says that if the church would embody them, then this question of the relevancy of the church would never be raised, for it would become relevancy itself.[2]

 

The late missionary and author Robert Linthicum tells us that “Jesus’ commission is the work of liberation – not just liberation from sin, but liberation from poverty, social domination, physical infirmities, political oppression and economic exploitation

 

The first of these kingdom statements is the proclamation of the Good news to the poor. It focuses on the economically disinherited;

 

In 2016 the United Nations criticised NZ for lack of action over poverty:

 

 “The committee is deeply concerned about the enduring high prevalence of poverty among children, and the effect of deprivation on children’s rights to an adequate standard of living and access to adequate housing, with its negative impact on health, survival and development and education” Fifth Periodic Report [UNCROC Para 35]

 

A year earlier, in 2015 Dr Russell Wills reported in the Child Poverty Monitor that 148,000 or 14 percent of children aged under 18 live in material hardship. This can mean living in cold, damp, over-crowded houses, not eating well, poor health, and missing out on things like birthday parties. 9 percent of children and young people are living in households with both low income and material deprivation. 305,000 children, 29 percent of those aged up to 17, live in poverty (family income is below 60 percent of the median income after housing).

3 out of 5 children in poverty are likely to live in families with a low income for a long time.

 

And the previous year 2014 the media reported that an international report by UNICEF has found that child poverty rates in New Zealand have barely changed since 2008, despite similar sized countries significantly reducing child poverty during the recent recession.

 

According to another report another year earlier, in 2013, NZ had the widest income gaps since detailed records began in the early 1980s. Between the mid-1980s and mid 2000s the gap between the rich and the rest widened faster in NZ than any other developed country. Average household income of the top 10% of NZ is 9 x higher than the income of the bottom 10%.

 

And 3 years before that, in 2010, the head of social policy for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Dr Monika Queisser was reported as saying that "The gap between material deprivation of children and older people is biggest in New Zealand out of 27 countries,"

 

This is persistent, consistently growing and presenting issue in NZ that whichever political party has power must address.

 

It is not a matter of blaming people for being poor. Research points out that the majority of poor people, both here and overseas, are trapped there for ‘structural’ reasons. It is often the way society is organised that keeps people poor, not their own shortcomings.[3]

 

Scripture is clear:

 

Proverbs 22:22 22Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; 23for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.

 

Proverbs 14:31 Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.

 

I could cite verse after verse about God’s special concern for the poor but I think you get the idea.

 

Samuel Johnson back in the 17th Century gave us a test of civilisation: the true test of civilisation is a decent provision for the poor.

 

How civilised are we in this country?

 

It is only when we stand with those who suffer pain, humiliation, starvation, and poverty, and look at the world through their experience will we truly know the God who came into the world to share human pain.”[4]

 

According to research done by the Barna organisation in 2007, only 14 percent of evangelical Christians in the United States believed poverty is something that churches should take the lead in addressing. [5] 

 

How can you have a healthy church that is no concern for the poor? Churches [should] come alongside those in society who are under resourced and disenfranchised.[6]

 

For us in this church that means not only speaking of salvation of souls, but of the whole of life – whare tapa wha – the 4 walls – relational emotional physical and spiritual.

 

Because God is interested in the whole person, [the church] needs to show a sincere interest in the physical and practical needs of those around about [it].[7]

 

For us as Christians, human being are not just souls that need saving, they are people with hurts and relationships which need restoring, bodies which often need healing, finances which need sorting out, and minds which need a new perspective from which to view life”[8]

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: if we grant the baptized brother the right to the gifts of salvation, but refuse him the gifts necessary to earthly life or knowingly leave him in material need and distress, we are holding up the gifts of salvation to ridicule and behaving as liars.[9]

 

Christianity should be passionate about souls and passionate about the “slums those souls reside in”.[10]

 

In 6 weeks time, we have the ability to affect the structures in this country which address the issue of the economically disinherited.  Read widely, think and pray for guidance.

 

I conclude with a video clip about the NZ homelessness issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Charles Colson Kingdoms in Conflict 83

[2] E Stanley Jones The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person  120,122

 

[3] Ruth Smithies & Helen Wilson (eds) Making Choices: social justice for our times 44

 

[4] David G Benner, Care of Souls

[5] Barna.org (June, 2007)

[6] Rusaw & Swanson The Externally Focused Church 19

 

[7] Brian Hathaway Beyond Renewal: the kingdom of God 58

[8] Hathaway 60

[9] Dietrich Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship 256

[10] Engstrom & Cedar Compassionate Leadership, 96