Holiness and social justice

Fuente: Rembrandt / WikimediaCommons


Mr. Bala Gnanapragasam is the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference in United Kingdom, a passionate defender of social justice and dignity, and a member of Christian Aid Board of Trustees. Last year he came to Latin America, together with the President of the Methodist Conference Michaela Youngson, to visit Christian Aid’s projects in the Brazilian Amazon.  In their visits, Bala and Michaela gather stories of transformational hope and these examples continue to inspire their reflections.

Bala has shared a sermon preached on last May 24th, for the occasion of Wesley Day, in which he connects the reflections on social justice and holiness with the challenging stories of Sri Lanka and the human rights defender he met in the Amazon. He shares a thoughtful reflection, “there is no social holiness without social justice.”.  We hope that can also resonate with you and your community.


 Holiness and social justice.

Wesley Day Sermon 24 May 2019.

 Reading: John 21:1-17

The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness. An often-quoted Wesley saying. On this Wesley day I want to explore what is ‘social holiness’.  How the phrase is used. It seems to express, what stands at the heart of our calling.  I am not a trained theologian, nor a local preacher so what I offer to you and to the Lord in this moment are the convictions of a lay Methodist reflecting in the light of experience and the Gospel on the meaning of ‘social holiness’ and what it must lead to.  I will leave it to you to judge what theological weight it may carry, and if it is true to our tradition.

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel, the disciples are discovering the meaning of the resurrection and what it means for their future.  It contains some of my favourite words Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast’.  Jesus was a foodie it gives me great comfort to know I am in good company!

These words take me back to the events of Easter Day in Sri Lanka where so many family and friends still live.  I was there 3 years ago for Easter celebrations and after the sunrise service in Collpety Methodist Church, we said to each other, ‘Come and have breakfast’ and headed for one of the  Hotel, which was torn apart by the terrible suicide bombing, which claimed  over 250 lives and many more injured. People have begun to return to worship on Sundays in fear of their lives, suspicious of any stranger in their midst, no longer able to extend the hand of welcome.  We need to continue to hold them in our prayers and let them know that we are in solidarity with them, as the President and I did along with other faith leaders at Hind Street Methodist Church, a week after the bombing. Being in solidarity, not just locally but across the world is in the heart of what ’social holiness’ means to me.

We so obviously need each other if we are to be the sort of church, the sort of world that is holy in God’s sight.  We cannot – and we are not meant to attempt, let alone achieve, that alone.

The reading from John’s Gospel expresses it in simple, gentle ways.   In coping with the traumatic experiences of their Lord’s crucifixion, the joyful shock of his resurrection, the uncertainty of what might lie ahead for them – they got together, retreated into their comfort zone went fishing!  And after their night of fruitless labour, Jesus appears, completes their community, helps them finish their work, feeds them and forgives, restores and gives them responsibility to care for others. He shows that discipleship, is communal rather than solitary, committed to transforming and serving the world.

And because our discipleship and mission are intrinsic to holiness, holiness itself is inevitably social holiness, found truly only in solidarity with one another.   My first point, of three!

My second

This year, this reading, my theological research, my continuing discipleship within Methodism, my journeys with our Church, All We Can and with Christian Aid across the world, has once again taught me this: there is no social holiness without   social justice.

As David Field puts it in his article Holiness, social justice and the mission of the Church…. ‘the praxis of justice, mercy and truth is integral to holiness and hence to mission of the Church’.

Roger Walton in his article ‘Social Holiness and Social Justice’ reminds us, acts of mercy are themselves expressions of and encounters with holiness, so that holiness will lead us to justice and justice to holiness. Social holiness and social justice are, thus, part of a divine ecology where one follows the other in the rhythm of discipleship. So, I say again,

There is no social holiness without social justice.

Jesus feeds his disciples after helping them to fulfilling work.  He commissions Peter, ‘feed my sheep’ – Jesus fed the 5,000 on the hillsides, and in John chapter 6, he set that practical outreach alongside the mystery of his body given, his life laid down for us, the holiest part of our worship.  In a world of hunger, poverty, unemployment, forced displacement, exploitation of labour I believe we cannot avoid the reality that a call to holiness is a call to fight for justice.

I have seen this so many times in just this Vice President year, the lack of  time constraints me to give you just one story.  We went to Brazil with CA where we met with isolated communities in the Amazon, they all had tragic stories of the devastating impact the hydroelectric dams had on their life, homes, livelihood, and environment. Once thriving communities were driven to hopelessness and an uncertain future compounded by unreliable, meagre compensation offered by the hydroelectric dam companies.

We met Flavia an activist and a devote Christian. Her Christian faith inspired her to work with CA partner to organise local community to demand proper compensation from the powerful hydroelectric dam companies. She organised marches and protested at inter alia the local legislature.  This has led her into conflict with the powerful, leading to harassment by the police who are also act as security guards for the hydro-electric dam companies.

Flavia has been threatened and warned several times, she rides a motorbike and has been on more than one occasion forced off the main road. She also found a large knife on her bed another warning! Flavia’s discipleship was life threatening.

I asked Flavia why are you doing this?  She said ‘…because God has called me to fight for justice for the community’.

So, you see in the midst of this apparent hopelessness the communities came together (social holiness) under the leadership of people like Flavia to confront injustice, ( social Justice) supported by Christian Aid. Giving them hope for new life.

A vision of holiness that defines and embraces the battle for justice, the work of healing and the building of community.   I glimpsed God’s work.  It was striving for justice.  It was social.  It was holy.

My third point.

It has been a delightful year.  It has been a tough year.  We the President  and I  could not have fulfilled our responsibilities without the support of family and friends, without the sense that Michaela Youngson  and I have been prayed for by the whole church – have experienced solidarity which has enabled us to fulfil our duties, if not always to be as holy as we would like!

Any holiness expressed or experienced has been the gift of the community.  But more even than that, this year has shown me once again and so very clearly, that the true source of holiness is the gift and calling of Jesus.

His life, death, resurrection, his teaching, his example, his commissioning, set the pattern, the terms, that gives us new hope, new life and the strength for service. All holiness comes from him.

And once again our reading expresses that so well.  He calls to his disciples, taking them from their routines to a new way of life; he feeds and sustains them; as his profound conversation with Peter makes so clear, he invites us to the deepest relationship with himself, where we find ourselves expressing what is truest and best about who we are, and where we are healed and forgiven and commissioned, and while each of us has a different path, we need each other, we serve each other, by his gift, his achievement, his calling, we can know holiness and that there is no holiness but social holiness. There is no social holiness without social justice.

This Gospel story helps me reflect on my faith, on this year and on Wesley’s call to social holiness.  Of course, it’s all summed up for me in some of the happiest (and as it turns out most challenging!) words in Scripture Jesus’ irresistible call to life, to social holiness and justice: ‘Come and have breakfast!’

Source: Christian Aid Brazil Programme


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