Last week I was privileged to travel to Auckland and join with hundreds of Anglicans in meeting Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury. Many of us gathered in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for evening prayers and then share a meal next door at Tatai Hono Marae. This was an amazing occasion and a chance to hear Archbishop Justin Welby speak.
The Archbishop made a comment about God’s and the Church’s “mission to speak up alongside the poor.” This reminded me of the other day; a Parishioner was struggling to understand what I mean when I say a “Church for the lost, last and least.” Do I mean that there is no place for those who are well off in God’s Church? I was deeply encouraged by the question as it reminds me of the need to unpack what we mean when we talk about these important terms.
A Church for the lost, last and least is not indicating an exclusive Church where only the extremely destitute have a place and the rich have no place, but indicates a priority of orientation. God’s Church is Biblically called to prioritise the wellbeing of those who struggle. We must constantly ask how our decisions, structures and way of life are serving those who have the greatest need in our society. Jesus, returning from the wilderness at the start of his ministry, declared this agenda:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4: 18-19)
We use the Biblical words lost, last and least to focus us on this ministry in our Diocese:
The “last will be first” and the “first will be last” appears twice in Matthew’s Gospel (19:30, 20:16) at the conclusion of the rich young ruler story, and again at the conclusion of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. In both places the term ‘the lost’ refers to those who have been historically marginalised being given a place of honour in God’s Kingdom.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40). We find this passage in Jesus’ account of the final judgement, and the separating of the sheep and the goats on the basis of how they have treated the least.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’
Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15: 1-7).
And also “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Interestingly this appears at the end of the story of the saving of Zacchaeus. After Zacchaeus (one would assume) a relatively wealthy tax collector has declared: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8). In this case the lost is a wealthy person who has forgotten the poor and justice.
Prioritising the lost, the last and the least as a Diocese helps us to reflect the Biblical example and enables us to join with Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis in declaring God’s commitment to those who struggle. The language of lost, last and least reaffirms strongly the Biblical imperative to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and to be a support to those who are marginalised.
Our Diocesan commitment to this was particularly seen in our recent Child Poverty Forum, where we packed the Cathedral with other churches to declare with one voice to the politicians that ending Child Poverty in New Zealand is an incredibly important election issue.
Finally as we think about the election coming up, may I quote from Archbishop Justin Welby’s address talking about the daily Liturgical Psalm:
“A prominent British politician says “Does it benefit our people?” This Psalm says that is not a relevant question. Does it benefit the poor? The weak? That’s a relevant question. The poor and the oppressed are to be protected by the King. And we, the people of God, are to speak for them.”
The picture with this Bishop’s News is a “selfie” taken by Scottie (Diocesan Young Adult Enabler) with the Archbishop.
Bishop of Wellington