Rev. Bill Lawson's Address


Rev. William "Bill" Lawson
Pastor Emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church - Houston, Texas

Baylor School of Social Work Fall Worship Service
Sept. 26, 2013
Truett Chapel

4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 8:4-6

This worship service is held as part of the working year of the School of Social Work. Here at Baylor University are students who are working on degrees from a university that produces medical professionals, lawyers, corporate CEO's, technical, artistic, and academic professionals. There are Baylor graduates who are in the top levels of government, whose incomes are in seven figures, whose names are household words, and who enjoy international prominence.

And then there are those who are planning to go into Social Work.

Do you really not know what you are buying into? You are reaching back into the social and economic upheaval wrought by the Industrial Revolution, when millions poured into cities and were unprepared for the demands of urban life. You are deliberately pushing your way into the early days of the Catholic Church, when the first poorhouses and orphanages were formed. While other college graduates focus on successful practices or business development or clientele who can pay for their services or their products, you are dealing with a profession aimed at the problems of poverty and sickness. Your clients are consistently unable to pay you-and yet you are studying to build a career among the vulnerable and the excluded.

You are working deliberately to serve the needs of broken families, abandoned or abused children, addicts, victims of human trafficking or racism or corrupt criminal justice systems. Do you get my point? Of all the professions you might have chosen, you are educating yourself to be a loser! Why would you go into Social Work?

You are doing it for just that reason; not to be a winner, but to risk being a loser. The best firefighter is not among the frantic evacuees running from the crisis, but the risk-takers running into it. There are the professions which run from human tragedy.

And then there is Social Work.

At its worst, Social Work is a profession, and its clients are numbers in long lines of mendicants. At its worst, Social Work is cold charity, efficiently turnstiling nameless humans through assembly lines of handout offerings of products or services. At its worst Social Work exists because it is funded, and the Social Workers are there as long as foundations or donors or local governments pay for their services. At its worst, Social Work is a profession.

But at the Baylor College of Social Work, under the leadership of Diana Garland, and a dedicated staff of full and part-time faculty, you are being groomed for Social Work at its best. And at its best, Social Work is a calling.

Yes, at Baylor you are going into Social Work at its best.

Social Work at its best is not a knee-jerk reaction to the Industrial Revolution, or to the poverty or prostitution or mass sickness of the Middle Ages.

Its models are not Jane Addams or William Penn or even the charities of the Constantine Empire. There were benevolence systems among ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, but they were limited to citizens, not available to slaves or migrants. The concept of concern for the vulnerable, even the non-Jewish vulnerable, was introduced by Jesus.

He taught us principles above the ancient Hebrew law. The law commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. But He re-defined neighbor and lifted the concept to include the unacceptable. In Luke 10, a lawyer asked Him a question that opened the door to Jesus' principle of Social Work.

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? Luke 10:29

That question led Jesus to tell the powerful story of a victimized Jew who was ignored by his own countrymen, but rescued by an unknown Samaritan.

Jesus identified Himself with the victims, and challenged us to minister to the powerless as though they were Jesus Himself. Look at His image of Social Work in Matthew 25.

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Matthew 25:35-40

He was the One Who embraced despised Samaritans and hated tax-collectors. He was the One who would cross the line between clean Jew and filthy leper. He was the One Who would not refuse His healing powers even to members of the Roman military, who would ultimately oversee His crucifixion.

And He was the One who would consider children as humans who should be recognized as humans, and not as simply a little above the beasts of the field. All of this brings us back to the text of this message:

4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:4-6

The real basis of Social Work is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So it is fitting that you are studying Social Work in a Christian university, and that you celebrate it today not with scholarly lectures, but in a worship service, with guests not from sister colleges, but from the church community of Waco and surrounding communities.

Why have you chosen Social Work as a profession?

Because Social Work, at its best, is not really a profession. At its best, it is a calling of Jesus Christ to look at the weak of the world as though they were ourselves. Social work is a ministry that re-defines clients as manifestations of Jesus Himself, to be loved and cared for as if we had the opportunity to minister to Jesus on the streets, or in the food lines, or behind bars, or wandering, bruised and battered by a drunken spouse, clutching a baby in His arms. Social work at its best is not obsessed by the efficient handling of as many clients as we can squeeze into a 9:00 to 5:00 work day, or the speedy dispensation of persons in a caseload (even the name dehumanizes the persons being ministered to).

You have chosen a field that does not pay, does not get public applause, and that guarantees frustration and the frequent question, "Why did I get into this?" Why on earth would you choose Social Work?

Because you know you have been picked out by God, called by Him to care for the least of these, anointed with the ability to love the unloveable, and sent forth to witness not for Family Services or the Food Bank, but for Jesus Christ, Who has invited all human beings into His family, and given us the example of Social Work at its best.

You are not where your peers expected you to be. You may not be where your own family wanted you to be. But you are exactly where God has placed you.

Why choose Social Work? You didn't choose Social Work. You have been chosen for it.