Radical Grace

Radical Grace

Justice for the Poor and Marginalized-

Charles Wesley’s View for the Twenty-First Century

    The theology of John and Charles Wesely has shaped my life from my early childhood. My ministry is centered in this theology, I am who I am because of being raised and trained in this theology.

    Kimbrough, Jr.’s book is a refreshing read, bringing the theology of Charles Wesly to life in the twenty-first century.

    Radical grace is expressed through Christ’s followers seeking justice for the poor.

    Wesley grew up in a world of an emerging industrial revolution with rampant unemployment, economic displacement, widespread illnesses and poor medical care, the Poor Tax, and workhouses. The sin of greed or self-accumulated wealth at the expense of others, often a cause of poverty, was readily evident in eighteenth-century English society. He opposed poverty, hunger, and slavery.

    We cannot equate the “new poor” of the twentieth-first century with those of the eighteenth, as Jose Miguez Bonino observes, “The contemporary poor clearly represent a different poverty in a different world from Wesley’. While our poor suffer just as those of eighteenth-century Britain, ours are in a qualitatively different condition in their social prospects, expectations, and attitudes.”     The dissimilarities between the twenty-first and the eighteenth centuries are very great. Not only has economic globalization caused by the displacement of peoples and recession among nations, but there are vast regions of the world today where seemingly endless wars have ravaged the land and the people, resulting in hunger, displaced populations, rampant disease and sickness, and especially the abuse of women and children. Natural disasters–earthquakes, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis-have devastate and sometimes completely wiped out cities and populations,  leaving only death, hunger, sickness, and poverty in their wake. Many of the populations affected are much larger than anything the Wesley’s confronted in their day. Displaced people rose to 82.4 million in the past year, 1 percent of humanity is displaced.

    So how can Wesley’s approach be relevant for today? Its relevance is that as Jesus said, “the poor are with us always,” and Wesley reminds us that the poor are with us because we fail to live out the Gospel message.

    Wesley’s message rings out loud and clear to our age, and to our failure as the Church:

    1. Charles lived by the reality that there was no privileged class in God’s realm, and he challenges the church to be courageous and step beyond the boundaries of its walls and hierarchies in order to actualize acts of compassion and justice. Fr. Henri Nouwen says: “To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, that prevents us from really being with the other.”

2. Charles calls Christians to develop a lifestyle of commitment to the poor. In everything we do, in the way we live, the welfare of the poor should be at the heart of our concern and activities.

3. Wesley summons us to be friends with the poor. We meet people where they are. One of the biggest criticisms I have received through the years is I am friends with the “poor”, with the youth on the street. I hang out with them, and I treat them as equals. We must be friends, we must not talk down or tell others how to live.

    How do we implement a theology of radical grace that seeks justice for the poor and marginalized? Charles Wesley offers a practical approach motivated by divine love:

`1. Labor for the Poor: Around our neighborhood, the doors of churches are locked, and have security systems; and across our country that is the way it is. We should labor for the poor, we should feed the poor, we should work for justice for the poor, and we should work with them on their level, and befriend the poor.

2. Be a Just Steward: Give priority to the poor in budgetary planning as individuals and as a church.

3. Feel the Care of Others: Charles Wesley speaks of feeling the care of others. This is different from merely caring for others. It means establishing a relationship with the poor, which is impossible without personal contact. We will not feel the care of others if we do not visit them and befriend them.

4. Make Friends With the Poor: It is not easy when one has housing, food, the ability to travel, etc., but one can simply come to understand our own poverty, and the reality the time will come when we will die the same way–without nothing. We can move into friendship in sharing with what we have, and in the moment. It is difficult for me every day to come home to a warm room, food, and the ability to do pretty much whatever I choose. I live simply, but materially have everything I desire. And yet I am the poorest of the poor. And I always put these kids first. We are not as different as we think we are.

5. Preach the Gospel to the Poor: St. Francis once said: “Preach the Gospel. .using as few as words as possible.” While actions speak louder than words, Charles took every opportunity to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

    Charles believed in universal salvation, but also that knowing Christ brought fulfillment to one’s life.

6. Welcome Everyone to the Lord’s Table:

    The Wesley’s taught everyone should be welcome at the Lord’s Table.

     Holy Communion is the sacrament of love, the communion, and fellowship of the body of Christ, and involves participation in the sacrifice of Christ and sharing the resurrected life. As Petros Vassiliadis says: “It is only  through the eucharist that the church becomes the church in its fullest sense.” It is the determinant of the churches and the Christian’s identity. Thus Holy Communion is an eschatological meal. It always involves a becoming. And it should not be denied to anyone for any reason.

7. Pursue “Gospel-Poverty”:

    This idea is found  in only one of Charles Wesley’s texts; it is a response to Acts 4:36-37: “Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabus (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostle’s feet.”

“See here an apostolic priest,

Commissioned from the sky,

Who dares of all vain self divest,

The needy to supply!

A primitive example rare

Of gospel poverty,

To feed the flock one’s only care,

And like the Lord be” (C. Wesley).

    Wesley calls this “A primitive example of rare of gospel poverty.”

    Gospel poverty refers to complete self-divestment. Gospel poverty is daring to give up all in order to supply the needs of others. He relates Gospel poverty to the pursuit of perfection:

“Wouldst thou require what cannot be?

the thing impossible to me

Is possible with God:

I trust thy truth to make me just,

Th’ omnipotence of love I trust,

The virtue of thy blood.

“Ye shall be perfect” here below

He spoke it, and it must be so;

But first, he said, “Be poor;

Hunger, and thirst, repent and grieve,

In humble, meek obedience live,

And labour, and endure.

Thus, thus may I the prize pursue,

And thu’ appointed paths pass thro’

To perfect poverty:

Thus, let me, Lord, thyself attain,

And give thee up thine own again,

Forever lost in thee.”

    Where do Christians and the church begin with these radical ideas of Charles Wesley? We begin by examining how attached we are to worldly things and by considering of what we may divest ourselves for the sake of serving the poor and the marginalized. This can only be done only if we remember our need for gospel poverty and pray faithfully Wesley’s words:

O may I ever be?

The least in my own eyes,

Retain my poverty,

And labour for the prize!

        We are confronted with the words of Thomas a Kempis on our journey, and where we are we in following Jesus and radical grace:

“Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His cross. He has many seekers of consolation, but few of tribulation. He finds many companions at His feasting, but few at his fasting. All desire to rejoice in Him; Few are willing to endure everything for him. Many follow Jesus as far as the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking the cup of his passion. Many reverence his miracles, but few will follow the shame of His cross. Many love Jesus as long as no adversaries befall them. Many praise and bless him so long as they receive some consolation from Him. But if Jesus hides and leaves them but for a brief time, they begin to complain or become overly despondent in mind.”

Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!


Fr. River Damien Sims, sfw, D.Min., D.S.T.

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164



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