Let’s talk about hope. If there is one thing the world sorely needs right now amidst all the uncertainties, calamities and man-made suffering, it’s hope. Hope for a better tomorrow, hope for peace, hope for solutions to a mountain of problems, hope for answers.
And nothing personifies that more clearly than Easter, especially Resurrection Sunday, when Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. And for all those who believe in Him, that will also be the victory that we have already been guaranteed. That should give us all hope.
The awesome thing is that every time we commemorate Easter, we are not remembering someone who is dead. No, we believe that our Christ is a risen Saviour, who sits on the right hand of the Father and who will return one day because he promised us that he would.
So the essence of today is that living hope that can only be found in Him. Jesus did, once and for all, all that needed to be done for us on that cross.
But sadly, the message of Easter is still lost on so many, even here in Christian Samoa. Some people are still living in defeat, in bondage, and in hopelessness.
The irony is that most of these people, if not all, belong in a church. They give money to the church in various forms. Nothing wrong with that if you are giving out of your own volition and not out of compulsion.
But then more and more is required to be given, to the point where people start to feel burdened to give. And give and give, even beyond their means.
And that’s when it becomes a problem.
The church is the single, largest institution in Samoa that people give so much money to. There is a church, and in most villages, more than one in every village.
We tend to look first at what the government should be doing or hasn’t done for us. We always ask and wait on the government to do this for us and do that for our village and our district. And in many cases, that is true because those are the services and utilities that government should provide for its people.
But what about the churches?
With the exorbitant amount of money being pumped into it every week, every month, every year by church members, what exactly is the church doing in return for the wellbeing of the people?
When it comes to the churches, we always hear about the ‘spiritual’ side. That’s what the church is primarily there for. To teach people about God, His Word and His will.
But if Jesus is to be the church’s ultimate example as they all love to proclaim, then Jesus would be shaking his head right now in disappointment with how some of the churches have failed him significantly in this area.
Spiritual edification and building up is always said to be the work of the church. But the same Bible that the church teaches from also says that faith without works is dead.
So you can preach all you want until you’re blue in the face, but if people don’t see you actually caring for them and tending to their needs, they would never know and understand the God of love that you are preaching about.
They don’t need just talk; they need to see you live out the very message that you’re trying to make them do. No wonder so many people, religiously attending churches every Sunday, are spiritually dead.
Here’s the thing. People don’t need more churches. They don’t need any more building projects. They have heard enough sermons. They don’t need more activities done under the guise of spiritual enlightenment.
What people need is food to feed the many mouths they are responsible for. They need money to pay for their children’s education, the bills, the fa’alavelave, and the endless lists of daily living.
Many people are tired of hearing sermons about a God who will provide all of our needs, and then they get slapped with another saogamea due the following week on top of another saogamea due this week.
The reality is that the church has become an obligatory burden for so many instead of the freeing, uplifting experience it was meant to be.
Now to their credit, there are many churches around Samoa who are doing practical things for the development of their congregations. Things like night classes for their college students who need extra help, utilizing the vast knowledge and experience of other church members.
Other churches have a fund that supports further education or donations to local organizations that minister to the poor, homeless and abused.
But for the majority of other churches, what are you doing for your ‘sheep’ in return for their tithes and offerings that they give into your coffers every week, month and year?
If churches say they follow after the example of Jesus, they are doing a very poor job of it judging by what we are seeing today. Jesus ministered to the poor, the sick, the despised, the outcasts of society. He actually went out to where these people were. How many churches can say today that they aspire to do these things consistently, and that they actually do them?
There are some churches but they are far and few.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the Samoan culture is the fact that we honour people. We give honour where honour is due. And church ministers and leaders are right there at the top of the honour roll. And that’s fine because in our culture, the honour is first and foremost for God whom they represent and then the person. Nothing wrong with that.
But it does become a problem when that honour is abused and used for personal gain.
Unfortunately, this has happened way too many times.
On this day many years ago, Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
That gave mankind hope, hope that is eternal. If Jesus Christ died and paid the price so that we can be free, why then are people suffering in the guise of taking up a free gift he offered? It doesn’t make sense. Something is wrong somewhere with our theology and the way we are living out what God had planned.
Think about it.
For today though, let’s take heart in the message of hope that Jesus Christ is alive. And because he is alive, everyone who believes in him and his resurrection – as this country is celebrating today – can have hope.
In the words of Romans 15:13, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Have an enjoyable and peaceful resurrection Sunday Samoa, God bless!