Morning Worship Column: Personal Love and Societal Justice Will Transform the World

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“I grew up singing the Southern gospel hymn ‘The World Is Not My Home,’ and it took a while for me to overcome [that sentiment],” said the Rev. Tony Campolo at the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning worship service. “People today are urged to have a mission statement and if you asked Jesus to state his mission, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the first thing he says is, ‘I have come to declare that the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ ”

Campolo, Week Four chaplain, titled his sermon “God’s Revolution and Your Responsibility.” The Scripture reading was Romans 8:18-25.

Jesus came into the world to create people through whom the world will be transformed. The future of the Kingdom of God is a transformed people in a transformed world, he said.

“We are the agents of God’s revolution to reclaim creation,” Campolo said. “For all of creation waits for us to invade it and to change the world from what is to what is to be.”

That change will be on the personal level and on the corporate level.

On the personal level, we have to get to know people, listen to them and love them as they are. Campolo shared a story about students at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, a very evangelical school, who responded to his preaching that many people with AIDS were dying alone. They raised money to buy a house, staff it with medical personnel and provide a hospice for men dying from AIDS. The local newspaper featured a picture of it, calling it “The House That God Built.”

The students’ attitudes and beliefs about gay people were changed; they learned that people do not choose to be gay and that many come from religious backgrounds where they had been taught to despise themselves and even commit suicide.

“The church has a lot of repenting to do,” he said. “This is not the church that Jesus came to create.”

Campolo also told the story of meeting a homeless man on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia who offered him some of his coffee. Campolo took a sip and asked the man why he was sharing something so precious. The man said, “When you get something so good, you just have to share it with someone.” Campolo thought the man wanted money, but the man asked for a hug.

“He gave me a bear hug and I realized that I was holding Jesus,” he said. “The same Jesus who was on the cross is present as people in need.”

Salvation goes beyond the personal to the corporate.

“All of creation is waiting for us to be agents of change,” Campolo said.

Campolo said he has heard Bono, lead singer of U2, twice. Once he was at a presidential prayer breakfast. Bono complimented the people there for all their charity work and said, “I came to talk about justice. It is the responsibility of government to fulfill its responsibility to the poor.”

Campolo said to go into all the world meant not just geographically, but into business, government, the arts and recreation to be agents of change and bring those principalities and powers, those societal institutions under the lordship of Christ.

The second time Campolo heard Bono was at a Clinton Global Initiative conference. The president of Nigeria was part of a panel with other world leaders. Those leaders talked about the need to bring computers and better physical infrastructure to Nigeria. Bono addressed the president of Nigeria and said, “The presidents of two of the largest oil companies in the world are at this table and they ship million of dollars of oil out of your country that is never taxed. I don’t know what they are paying you to let them steal your country’s wealth and betray your people.”

“When prophets don’t speak out, even the rock stars will speak out. He was Nathan, saying, ‘Thou art the man.’ This structural evil, this institutional sin, is creating suffering,” Campolo said. “When a Wall Street businessman buys out a drug that helps millions with pain and suffering and raises the price 1,500 percent, that’s sin, people, that’s sin. We need to buy stock in that company and go to the next stockholder’s meeting and say, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord ….’ ”

Campolo said we are living between the decisive battle and the victory at the end of a war. D-Day in World War II, Gettysburg in the Civil War and Waterloo in the battle against Napoleon were decisive battles that determined the outcome of the war.

“The death of Jesus was God’s D-Day, and he rose as Christus Victor, as the Eastern church says. The decisive battle has been fought and won, but the struggle goes on. Jesus is coming back and he will complete his good work,” Campolo said. “We are called to love people on a personal level and do justice on a corporate level because justice is love translated into social policy. You are called to be agents of change.”

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin presided. The Rev. John Morgan, pastor of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir in “Prepare the Royal Highway” arranged by Timothy Shaw. The Edmond E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund and the J. Everett Hall Memorial Chaplaincy provide support for this week’s services.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.