As I write this, Pope Francis is in the United States holding services, visiting with the homeless and addressing the United States Congress and the United Nations. Pope Francis is a very popular figure, both among Catholics and among Protestants. He brings to his office both a strong personal faith in Jesus, and promotes what I call a holistic gospel—one that addresses not only spiritual concerns, but also societal ones.
I’d like to present his themes, because they are not specifically Catholic, but Christian, and our Methodist heritage affirms them. (My brother is Catholic, and this is a subject of frequent conversation.)
Francis stresses the priority of mercy. He stresses that sinners need forgiveness rather than judgment. This is similar to Wesley’s emphasis on grace—that more than anything else, we need assurance of salvation when faced with our sins. Francis stresses the priority of the poor. “Blessed are the poor,” said Jesus. The Wesley’s made their spiritual marks among the poor, who were the ones most open to their message. Throughout the world Methodists are known for their devotion to the poor through mission work of all kinds.
Francis stresses welcoming the stranger. Immigration can be a hot button issue; however, our social resolutions and teachings, and the witness of the Old Testament – “Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19) – affirm our call to welcome those fleeing wars and disasters of various kinds.
Francis stresses our obligation to protect the environment. There is controversy over global warming, but the priority to care for the earth is part of our heritage as Christians. No one wants to pass down a littered, polluted earth to their children.
Francis stresses the importance of the family. The family is the fundamental social unit. If the family is strong, society will be strong.
These points of contact between our heritage as Methodist Christians and Catholic teaching shows that our faith is truly ecumenical. As our society becomes more secular, Christians across denominations will need to lean more on each other. The proclamation of a holistic gospel is one way we can support one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Kingdom of God is more than the salvation of individuals, it brings a message of hope and challenge to society. We are called to proclaim a hope that touches all areas of life.
See you in church, Pastor Eric