- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

Excerpts from a sermon given last night by the Rev. Jim Wallis at opening worship for Call to Renewal at National City Christian Church in the District of Columbia.

Why are we here? Because American prosperity still doesn't include the nation's poor, and our biblical faith compels us to do so. Because America remains a nation divided by race and class, and our faith requires us to face the divide.
So we begin with this service of repentance and renewal. We confess our failure to do enough, asking God for forgiveness. And we pray for renewal, asking God to give us new hearts of love and hands for work.
We gather as people of faith who know that our faith must become action. In action, faith has the power to bring people together, to motivate and to inspire, even across former dividing lines. We demonstrate our faith by putting it into practice, and know that if we don't keep the power of faith in our actions, our efforts can easily lead to burnout and despair. The call to action preserves the integrity of faith, and the power of faith saves the integrity of our action.
We are here as people committed to overcoming poverty in our neighborhoods and our nation. We represent a network of churches and faith-based organizations committed to compassionate service for those in need, and to work for justice that brings them out of need. We believe our faith calls us to both.
This year we face a new reality both political parties want "faith-based organizations" to help find solutions to poverty. And a new president has made our role central to that task. He pledged that, "In the quiet of American conscience, we know that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of our nation's promise." We are here to see that promises made are promises kept.
Monday [today], we will hear from the White House John DiIulio will tell us the vision of the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. We will have a chance to respond to this opportunity, and to explore how new partnerships between government and faith communities can best be forged.
Many of us work alongside those whom Jesus called "the least of these." We are committed to new partnerships, but we know that faith-based programs can never replace just public policy. Rather, our most creative and effective grass-roots efforts will work best in conjunction with sound public policies.
Throughout the conference we will share our experiences. What are the best strategies to mobilize local churches, what is working on the ground, and how we can continue to expand the network? We come from across the nation and from a broad cross section of the church Catholic, Protestant and evangelical; African-American, Latino and Asian; Anabaptist and Pentecostal. We are a body with many members and a variety of gifts given by the Spirit for the common good… .
Wednesday morning we will go to Capitol Hill to dialogue with members of Congress from both parties. We will share what we are doing, to show Congress the real people who are now called "FBOs." We will bring our prophetic witness for justice in relation to tax cuts, budget priorities, the need for a livable income and affordable housing for working families, and the need for health insurance for our poorest children and their parents.
But we begin this evening, as we will begin and end each day, in worship and prayer. We ask God to guide our steps, to help us be wise as serpents and gentle as doves, to strengthen our ministry of reconciliation and justice. The time is ripe to build a new spiritual movement for and with people who are poor. But as a spiritual movement, we know that unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. We gather this evening to seek God's guidance so that our labors will be fruitful and multiply until this nation has fulfilled its promises to all God's children.

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Joseph Edmonds at First Baptist Church of Ballston.


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