Poor

A Long Ways from Jesus

Do you believe that the poor actually have been chosen by God to be rich in faith?

When I read James, I find myself reconsidering the radical statement that some Liberation Theologians make, that being poor is a prerequisite for understanding Jesus. Throughout the Bible we hear an oft repeated warning, friendship with wealth never ends well. Those who have been born with it, need to flee into the wilderness — do a Saint Francis of Assisi style run — to be purged of its effect. Those who have earned it, must cauterize all thoughts that they are somehow better people because they played life’s game to achieve this sordid end.

Sunday, September 9, 2018
Pentecost 18

Remembering John the Baptist

King Herod had a critic named John. First he put John in jail and then he beheaded him, but that didn’t silence the baptizing prophet for we read his words still. John the Baptist is the patron saint of those who protest against injustice today. John was a journalist before there was newsprint. So on this weekend following the Fourth of July, we remember John’s martyrdom at the hands of Herod Antipas, as well as the slain journalists in Baltimore. I think the spirit of John the Baptist (or the “Dipping Man” in my Mary Sees All novel) leads us to ask, “When is Government Sinful?”

Government sin has three forms (in descending order):

  First, bad policy — This may not seem like sin at all, but ill-conceived tax cuts and poor environmental regulation shackles the next generation and betrays the Genesis 1:28 commandment that we be good stewards over the earth. Prophets and journalists speak about this sin with the opening phrase, “History will prove…”

  Second, social injustice — Here kings and presidents stoop lower to betray the poor, the refugee, and the innocent. They sin by their silence when people of color lose their children to aggressive policing. They sin by their quiet approval of hate groups. They sin in their closed door dealings with other rulers who oppress their people. Jesus, John the Baptist, the Old Testament prophets; Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and Hosea, lifted their voice against those who sinned against the poor. Religion must speak.

Sunday, July 8, 2018
Pentecost 11

Abide

John asks a tough question: “how can the love of God abide in us, if we have in our hands the things someone else needs to survive, and we don’t offer what we have to help them” (I John 3:17). The context of John’s question is a call for Christians to help other Christians. This verse follows his command, “we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (v16). Obviously, he is writing to people adjacent to people experiencing persecution. In the first three centuries of the church, the sharp focus of physical persecution (imprisonments and executions) was always surrounded by a broader circle of people losing their jobs and homes because of social prejudice, and these sufferers are surrounded in turn by people like you and I who are doing okay, but not sacrificing to help. Could such a thing happen today?

 

John’s question goes hand in hand with the way another John, John the Baptist described the kingdom of heaven, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (Luke 3:11). Jesus said many similar things and he intentionally broadened this command to say that we must even share our coats with our enemies (Luke 6:29). Jesus calls us to be compassionate on both Christians and strangers, and never permitted the kind of circle drawing that we see in today’s church. Many congregations have a rule that they won’t directly help someone who not a member, or at least, a Christian. How can we abide with God and hold onto such narrow minded behavior?

 

Sunday, April 22, 2018
Easter 4

How we need our religion to work

Jesus comes into Jericho and sees Zacchaeus up in a tree. As soon as Jesus speaks a kind word to this hardened tax collector, the man is changed. Zacchaeus becomes remarkably generous. His heart, like the Grinch’s, grows three sizes. If we (I say this with the collective royal “we”) as a congregation are Jesus in the world today, then this is how the god-forsaken should respond to us. Repentance is not held up by the stubbornness of the pagan’s heart, it is held up by the paucity of winsome examples of real goodness.

 

Sunday, October 30, 2016
Pentecost 24

Is Trump a Pharisee?

In Jesus’ day, Pharisees were well respected social leaders, involved in the political process. They had a specific agenda for making Israel great again. The fact that Jesus opposed them at every turn has caused the Pharisee movement to be vilified in western history. Jesus’ theology wasn’t that different from theirs — his opposition wasn’t a matter of their personal beliefs — it was their political agenda and lack of compassion towards the poor that made him lash out with some of his most pointed language.

Love of Money

Paul warns Timothy that loving money is deadly to the soul. He says, “If we have food and clothing we should be content with that” (I Timothy 6:8).  Is the ‘should’ to be read as an imperative? “Be happy with the bare necessities!” Or is Paul making a more universal statement about our human nature? “We should be happy with minimal comforts, but we are not.” I suspect it is a little of both. To Timothy as an up and coming leader in the church, he is saying this is the only way to be an effective Christian servant, be content with what you receive. There is no room in Christ’s church for leaders who want to live in luxury. Will there be any tele-evangelists in heaven? Perhaps. I believe, however, that they will be eternally ashamed of what they did. In heaven, the wealthy will all wish that they had lived more modestly.

 

Proverbs is helpful here:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Amos 2: Bad bananas

“May all your heads be bald and your wardrobe turned to sackcloth!” This curse has been brought to you by the prophet Amos. It’s mid-summer and everyone is heading out on vacation. There are parties on the beach and gas being guzzled by ATVs. It is also the last day. The end will come soon. Judgement. The vision that God gives to Amos is stark. Our summer fruit is rotten. The festival music will end. The wailing will begin. As mentioned last week (see Amos 1), many pastors are afraid to preach from Amos because he has mostly bad news.

Sunday, July 17, 2016
Pentecost 11

Afraid of Amos - Part 1

There are many reasons to avoid the prophet Amos, and I have used them all. Being a lazy person, as I began to write this morning's blog, I noticed that the gospel lesson of the lectionary deals with the good Samaritan, a subject I can pontificate about in my sleep. In fact, I’ve blogged about it seven times in four years (see http://billkemp.info/search/node/samaritan). There’s also the fact that Amos is a bit political, and during an election year, polite pastors don’t touch that electrified rail. This is ironic, because in Amos 7 the king says, “I find it so disgusting, Amos. That you criticize my faith. Why don’t you go back to Rome? Don’t you know that America is the king’s place to do and worship as he pleases?” (My loose paraphrase of Amos 7:12-13) Further, most church leaders follow Marcion’s heresy (see Old Testament) and abandon all prophets, especially minor ones. This is to declaw the lion, and make scripture irrelevant to today’s world.

 

Sunday, July 10, 2016
Pentecost 8

Up or Down, a Show of Hands

Most religious beliefs aren’t suited for Yes/No, no qualifiers, interrogations. The Republican field of candidates was asked to indicate by a show of hands whether they would support the nominee if it was not them. Simple question, answer Yes or No.  In the Baptism ritual we ask a series of similarly simple — no grey area — questions. Beyond this, what other assertions deserve this treatment? In James 2:5, a rhetorical question is asked and James assumes that we will answer confidently, “Yes.” That question goes like this:

 

“Do you believe that the poor actually have been chosen by God to be rich in faith?” and, “Don’t you realize that the poor have a special place in God’s Kingdom?”

 

You know that the answer should be yes, because Jesus (James’ brother) says:

Sunday, September 6, 2015
Pentecost 8

What do you see?

Take your kids or youth group into McDonald's. When they pile back into the car, have each person tell what they saw. Phrase it: “What’s one thing did you see that you didn’t expect to see?” or  “What is something you saw that no one else saw?” The punchline of the story of the stoning of Stephen is found in what he saw. Stephen says, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This wasn’t what others expected Stephen to see. It wasn’t what they saw. The young pharisee named Saul, for one, saw to it that no one stole anyone’s coats. He saw an execution go according to plan. Good thing for Stephen, this wasn’t Texas.

 

It may be fun to remind today’s church goers how similar their vision is to that of the crowd that stoned Stephen. What the elders of Israel saw were the political realities. The Romans needed to be assured that Judaism was a stable religion and that its holy city could be kept under Sanhedrin control. They saw Christianity as a disruptive force, similar to the zealot movement causing trouble in the highlands. They saw people of the town speaking well of these Christians because they were feeding the poor and bringing healing to those who were distressed.

 

Sunday, May 18, 2014
Easter 5

Foolish Message

In a newspaper this week I read that employment has improved so much that by the end of the year some American cites will have a labor shortage and see workers demanding higher wages. This unfortunate situation will be bad for the economy. The above is representative of the wisdom of the world. Those who understand the first two sentences of this blog, will have a hard time accepting the wisdom of the cross or what Jesus was doing when he blessed the poor, those who mourn, the meek, etc. Jesus’ wisdom involved knowing suffering, being willing to serve others, and having a pure love for truth and beauty. The world’s wisdom involves avoiding failure, demanding concessions from those who serve, limiting the truth we tell ourselves or others, and believing that cost determines value (beauty).

Sunday, February 2, 2014
Epiphany 4

Who Does Jesus Target?

In his sermon recorded in Luke 4:14-21, Jesus says that his mission involves certain people. He is not targeting, Wall Street lawyers, feral cats, or Baltimore Ravens fans, unless they happen to be one of the following groups:
    •    the poor
    •    the captive
    •    the blind (could be physically, spiritually, or both)
    •    the oppressed (and by implication, those drowning in debt)
Have you made the list? One of the things I struggle with is clarity of mission. By saying these named groups outright, Jesus is drawing a line in the sand. It will eventually get him crucified. His mission did not involve ousting the Romans. His list did not include the religious elite. He didn’t put on his agenda support for the Temple or the existing forms of worship, even though he personally participated in both Temple and Synagogue rituals.

His listing of missional priorities made this part of the sermon sound a bit like Obama’s second inaugural address, and was every bit as political. Jesus backed up his words by going out and living with the poor. He accepted those who were held captive to prostitution by the gender inequality of his world. He healed the blind, those who were mentally ill, and those held captive to physical illnesses. He labored to teach those who had been blinded by the false dichotomies of the Pharisees. He challenged the separation of economics, politics, and religion, that continues to keep many people around our world oppressed. Most importantly, he formed a fellowship called Church, that would continue his ministry to the list.

Sunday, January 27, 2013
Epiphany 3
Subscribe to RSS - Poor