I grew up in a church that recognized people for perfect attendance in Sunday school.
As a new Sunday school year began, everyone who had not missed a Sunday the previous year was recognized and given a pin to wear on their clothing.
Each Sunday I would see people in the halls wearing their perfect attendance pins, and I longed for the day I could join them. I never did.
Church attendance is important, but in our mobile society I doubt many are wearing perfect attendance pins. Does this mean they are not faithful believers? Not necessarily.
There is more to being a faithful follower of Jesus than going to church. It appears Jesus felt this way when he and the disciples went to the Temple in Jerusalem to observe Passover (John 2:13-22).
Upon entering the Temple, Jesus was appalled at what he saw. Instead of being an inclusive place of worship where people could pray as they explored the mysteries of life and faith, Jesus found a noisy barnyard full of distractions.
Religious authorities were selling animals and exchanging money at exorbitant prices, fleecing the people they were called to serve and protect.
Passover pilgrims who had to provide animals for sacrifices and pay temple taxes with approved coinage were powerless to do anything about this (John 2:14).
It was obvious to Jesus that compassion, community and God had been pushed out of the Temple by religious racketeers sucking the last coins out of the pockets of those who could least afford it
This was why he took matters into his own hands by overturning the tables of the moneychangers and running them, along with the animals and their handlers, out of the Temple (John 2:15).
“Get these out of here!” Jesus said. “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (see John 2:16).
Why do you think Jesus created a scene in the Temple that day? He had to know how angry the religious leaders would be.
Yes, Jesus knew how risky this act of defiance would be, but this did not deter him.
He could not ignore the plight of those who were being exploited by, of all people, the religious leaders they were taught to respect and trust.
Jesus was sent by God for such a time as this. When he accepted this mission to be an advocate for the poor and powerless, he had to speak truth to power on their behalf.
Jesus felt compelled to make hope visible by standing with those who were being exploited. His prophetic voice had to be heard in word and deed.
Risky? Sure it was, but being faithful to God’s call upon his life was more important to Jesus than self-preservation. He would rather die than let God down or disappoint those he came to serve.
Obviously, Jesus’ understanding of faithfulness included making hope visible through advocacy, and ours should, too.
Micah 6:8 summarizes well our calling: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.”
Micah makes it clear that God expects us to live justly every day and to pursue justice everywhere.
In our dealings with others, we are to be honest, trustworthy, reliable, dependable, kind and fair, treating everyone with the same dignity and respect we desire.
At the same time, we are to work hard to see that all people are treated fairly and take up their cause when they are not.
If someone is being bullied or exploited, we need to stand with them and confront their oppressors.
We are to bring the full weight of our influence upon those who are exploiting others, even if it costs us something to speak up.
We are to listen to pleas for help that others ignore; we are to respond to their plight with compassion and grace.
Calling to the front of the line the forgotten and forsaken is our mission. We have no higher calling.
This is what it means to walk humbly with God. The decisions we make are to reflect the heart and nature of God, not our selfish desires.
We are to be passionate about advancing God’s kingdom instead of building our own.
Isn’t this what Jesus prayed for and modeled? Isn’t this what Jesus expects of his disciples? Isn’t this what faithfulness looks like in our culture?
We must consider where our prophetic voice needs to be heard and our influence felt. There are people whose survival depends upon our being a faithful disciple and making hope visible.
For the sake of the least of these, we must find our voice and become their advocate.
Bob Browning is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky.