Written by Rev. Carl Wilfrid
Based on Matthew 4:12-23
My friend has written a book! What a unique treat it is to read such a book, especially since I have long been familiar with his preaching and teaching, the ways Jesus has touched his heart and mind. The friend is Rev. Dr. Don Heinz, long time member of Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, and my pastoral partner (formally and informally) during my 20 years there, our Sierra Pacific Synod partner, and retired Professor of religious studies and Dean at CSU-Chico. The book is “Matthew 25 Christianity: Redeeming Church and Society.”
In this week’s verses from Matthew 4 Jesus begins his mission-work by taking up the task of the newly arrested John the Baptizer, calling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” and beginning to gather a community of disciples, a church. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Matthew describes this new “Jesus movement” as a source of great light in a dark time. In his book Don imagines a new movement of Christians and churches (“Matthew 25 Christianity”) who understand Jesus’ picture of the final judgment in Matthew 25 (“I was hungry and you gave me food…As you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”) to be the heart of Christian proclamation and discipleship. He imagines a movement that partners even with individuals and institutions in secular society, that confronts “unregulated capitalism” (always bad news for the poor), and serves as catalyst for the reshaping of society – as the civil rights movement began in churches but eventually gained other partners and transformed the culture. Surely a realist, Don asks troubling questions: Has the church sold its soul for cultural acceptance? Does the church have the courage for prophetic proclamation to a self-satisfied society? Will the society pay attention to church people? But more than just a realist, Don also imagines fans at football games holding aloft signs that read not “John 3:16” but “Matthew 25.” Firmly grounded in the Lutheran tradition, Don imagines a new Christianity focused not on personal spirituality but on care for the poor and transformation of society.
Many worthy questions emerge once you’ve read the book. Could you imagine voting to designate your congregation a “Matthew 25 congregation,” just as many have chosen to self-designate as” Reconciling in Christ” churches? What would be the advantage to doing that? Could “social gospel” mean a gospel you take out the door, as you appear amidst the least of these, and also as you collaborate with government and other agencies to work for social justice across the land – as the Lutheran-founded Bread for the World does?
I suggest this book would be an important and timely read for preachers and hearers during this Year of Matthew.