The Riches and Poverty of God

Wow!

Paradiso

a sermon
February 25 2018
Sanctuary Church

***

God is calling—God has called us—to the poor. God is calling us to the poor because they are Christ’s and Christ is theirs: we cannot have him without them. God is calling us to the poor because only the poor can know themselves and God. And God is calling us to the poor because his nature is now ours, which means we can be ourselves only as we give ourselves away to the needy and the afflicted. As Rowan Williams makes clear:

The Christian life is about gratitude, a detachment from possessions grounded in the recognition that God’s gifts are restless in the hands of the receiver until they are given again.

This is the word for us in today’s Psalm, which we heard earlier:

23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe…

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Bogging Down In The Causes of Poverty OR Trusting Jesus

Cause and effect.  A simple concept.  We have a condition we call poverty that we want to address as a matter of Christian charity.  Poverty is a problem, a condition characterized by suffering.  And one of the logical ways of addressing it is by viewing poverty as an effect of some cause(s).  Then if we address those causes, we think that we will alleviate or even eliminate the effect – the poverty.

Makes sense.  Very logical.  At this level, and in these terms, it’s even rather simple.

But that is about where the simplicity ends.  Getting behind the effect of poverty and down to the root causes, it turns out, quickly becomes daunting.  It would be easy to blame the poor and say they are just lazy.  If they would get a job (like the rest of us), then they would make money and not be poor.  It would be easy to say that, and there is a strong urge to do it.  But there is a Christian sensitivity to the fact that even though laziness no doubt factors in for a few people part of the time, it is not the only cause.  After all, the ranks of the poor swell when the job market tanks, which happens ever so often.

But there are other causes too.  Catastrophe can strike and wipe out individuals, families, sometimes villages or whole nations.  These catastrophes might be medical, environmental, economic, natural or human-made – or some or all.  And some of them are quite complex in and of themselves.  Addiction frequently plays a role, and that alone proves morbidly complex.

Then there are matters of inter-generational poverty.  Poverty as a learned lifestyle passed down through generations of dry-land farmers, migrant workers, or welfare recipients who learn from their parents to make more money by having more illegitimate children, and then they pass this lesson on to their illegitimate children.

What about race?  What about racism?  What about language barriers?  What about lack of education?  What about debts too big to pay?  What about mental illness?  What if a person was sued and lost a fortune?

A poor person might suffer any combination of these causes, each with their entrenched complexities.  And most of them have nothing to do with laziness – which is an easy stigma to put on the poor that helps the rich to blame them and walk away without a care.

Have I named all the causes of poverty?

I am sure I have not.  But like I stated above, this shows the simplicity is short lived.

But my Christian friends want to address these complexities.  After all, we started with a simple premise that if we address the cause(s) of the effect we don’t like, then we can change it.  But immediately past that, we bog down in complexities.  And one of the recurring themes I hear amid the feedback from my classmates in the Seeking Shalom class is that it is all so overwhelming!

Let me make this one caveat before I offer my rebuttal:  The very simple idea that when we change the cause(s), we will thus change the effect is all well and good.  If the new widget factory opens up at the edge of town, then many unemployed people will surely get a good job next year, and that surely will help.  And I would even be in favor of it.  (Never mind all the complexities inherent in even that simple scenario, because I have seen plenty of small towns grow to regret bringing Walmart or that prison in with exactly that idea.)

Right off, my observation is that Jesus himself loves, touches, and heals the lowly and afflicted as a standard feature of his ministry.  Mobs of needy people cling to him, follow him, run ahead to rendezvous with him, reach out just to touch the hem of his shirt and all but crush him as he moves about his daily business of bringing salvation to the world.  And those of us who claim the name “Christian” universally consider Jesus as the top authority who sets the standard for love and care in the world – certainly as it is expressed to the poor.

So even though there is such a strong, simple, logical case to be made for considering and addressing the causes of poverty, I wonder where Jesus does this.  Does Jesus ever sit the disciples down and explain all this?  Perhaps he says, “Today I want to take you up on a mountain and preach to you a sermon on the causes of poverty and how to address them.  They can be so devastatingly complex, so you need to know how God deals with it so you can too”.  But if he does this, it is not recorded in the New Testament.

In fact, Jesus is quite clear about what to do.  He very plainly instructs us in simple blunt terms in numerous places, but he never tells us to consider the causes and address them in anyway like the class I am taking.  On the contrary, he says “Give”.  Give food, water, your mere presence even… oh and throw parties.  He never suggests that we should be concerned about the “effectiveness” of our charity.  I note that when he heals 10 lepers, only one returns with gratitude, and by Friday night of Holy Week, all those people who found life in him are no where to be found.  How’s that for “effective” charity?

The Bible does, in a round about way, address the causes of poverty in a few cases.  But I note that in Proverbs, laziness is blamed – simply blamed.  No attempt to fix it, except to warn against it.  But this is not a major biblical theme.  I don’t mean to discount it, but I do notice that the Seeking Shalom course does in fact set it aside since it is only a minor contributing factor AND is an easy way to blow off the poor with stigma, which we want to avoid.

The other cause I find addressed is the manipulation (or possibly the lack of care) from the rich!  Even Jesus says “Woe to you who are rich!”  He also tells us it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.  Amos along with other prophets from time to time has a lot of warning and strong words against the rich, all of which comes very near addressing causes of poverty by blaming the rich!  Yet none of that is the curriculum in the Seeking Shalom class.

My thought is that all the examination of the causes of poverty does not serve Jesus, despite how logical and simple it seems.  And on the contrary, I think we would do better to look closer at whether alleviating, and especially eliminating, poverty is even a goal Jesus would endorse.  And I know this concept is very counterintuitive, but if we listen, really listen, to Jesus and take him at his word, and trust his authority on this subject, then this is a worthwhile line of thought to pursue – especially since he actually tells us that we will always have the poor with us, and we can do good to them whenever we like.

But ultimately, I am troubled that somehow in all the complexity of causes of poverty a smoke screen seems to blind us to the simple fact that while we were yearning so sincerely to care for the poor, we failed to give – to simply give as Jesus says – because we convinced ourselves that giving like that does not adequately address a cause, but rather “enables”.  The smoke screen blinds us from noticing that we locked “the least of these” outside in the cold of night yet again, all the while aching over the complexities of the causes that put them there.  I think we should cut out the smoke screen of this discussion and listen to Jesus.

But you really have to listen to him to come to terms with this.  Oh… and trust him too.

Zomb -A- bie Apocalypse & The Language of Love

Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, the homeless people we take in currently are all foster children under the age of two.  But we have a crowd of them – all in diapers.  The toddlers are all boys, and I often say I have my own boy-band.  I love it when we play the Numa Numa song from YouTube and they all start giggling and dancing.

But none of the kids speak in complete sentences yet.  In fact, they haven’t even mastered complete words – not really.  And yet we communicate deep things to each other all the time with inflection, cries, laughs, quizzical looks, and hundreds of nonverbal cues.

Today, it was a wrestling match between the boys and me.  I got down on the floor, and suddenly one of them noticed me.  At first only one giggled.  Then as that one darted toward me a chorus of giggles rose up and a toddler stampede let loose.  I took off crawling around the room dodging boys who trampled, tripped, and toddled behind me as I cut a path between the sofa and the recliner and the ottoman growling like a bear the whole way.

Then finally, they caught me.  I went down to the floor on my back looking at the ceiling as they piled on top of one another with me at the bottom.  The groans, the giggles, the squeals, and even the cut of the cheese – and we were saying in as clear a language as any: I LOVE YOU!  YOU ARE SO IMPORTANT TO ME.  I CELEBRATE BEING WITH YOU.  YOUR PRESENCE IN MY LIFE IS UTTERLY DELIGHTFUL.  I LOVE YOU!

Yeah.  It was the zombie apocalypse I hear about on TV commercials and watch in the movies, except these were babies.  Zomb-a-bies.  They revealed (reveal=apocalypse) God’s love and blessing in this home for the homeless.  Yeah.  God revealed in our little celebration of the love he gives us in this house, and I hope it both manifests Jesus in us and forms Jesus in us as we join these little parties and speak his language of love.

 

Party Theology: Servants See The Glory

Agent Z, as part of his preparation for his homiletics course, gave us a preview of his forthcoming sermon at our communion gathering.  He spoke about God’s guest list to the party He hosts as we discover it in Luke 14:12-14 and Deuteronomy 14:28-29.  Given the fact that Z invited a huge gathering of homeless people to a party he facilitated on his own birthday last year (and a couple more since), it is clear to me that Agent Z is seeing deeper into party theology and finding hope and healing for the world in it that most people never will.

Sharing the meal, especially the meal Jesus gives us, but really any meal, is a foreshadow of the Great Messianic Banquet of the Age to Come because who we eat with says a lot about how we order the world.  As Walter Brueggemann points out, it’s no coincidence that the Civil Rights Movement came to a head at a lunch counter.  But that is some high octane Brueggemann theology, and I am impressed with Agent Z at the moment.

After his presentation, I told Z how fantastic it was for him to connect Luke 14 and Deuteronomy 14 the way he did, and that is when he told me that he is seeing other connections as well.  For instance, he said, look at John 2 and the Wedding at Cana.  Once again we have a party scene, but neither the guests, the host, nor the party manager sees the Glory of Jesus’s first sign.  It is only the servants – the hired help whose job it is to be seen and NOT heard, and not seen either – for that matter.  They are the ones who see the water turn to wine, and they are not allowed to speak up about it.  Party etiquette says they are supposed to shut up and serve.  Meanwhile, the host, the guests, and the master of ceremonies are all mystified and question the event – displaying their ignorance before the servants who know but are not allowed to tell!

Again, the lowly are privileged at God’s party!  They meet Jesus there!  The proud miss all the action!  In this case, the lowly do not make up the guest list, they make up the servant staff whose opinions and observations are discarded BY DESIGN.  But God nonetheless features them as the witnesses to his Glory while the proud are left out.  It seems God has a clandestine PARTY within the party!  The outsiders have subtly become the insiders and the insiders have become the outsiders.

What do these kind of connections tell us about God’s interaction with our world?

    

Here is an eerie thought: If you are mystified by the wonderful wine you are blessed to drink (or perhaps your privileged white, middle-class lifestyle marked with fancy brand names and logos created for your consumption in sweatshops and slave labor in Indonesia and so forth), perhaps you should approach one of the lowly servants in your life – someone beneath your contempt even – and ask them if you can join them at the PARTY within the party.  Maybe you should seek out a group of Fat Beggars holding worship in an alley behind a liquor store.  Because the mystery of the good wine you are drinking is a very small delight next to the sight of the Glory you will find when you humble yourself and join the lowly.  They are the ones on God’s guest list that you are invited to as well, but which you turned your nose up at because of your own contempt (Luke 14:15-24).

You go Agent Z!  Thanx for illuminating my invitation.  I want to come to the PARTY of God.  I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Babies, Eye Contact, and The Image of God

I saw a news report about some research coming from Cambridge University last week which discovered that when a mom makes eye contact with her baby while singing baby songs, they begin to match brainwaves.  But when the mother looks away (to the cell phone or TV for instance), the brainwaves come mismatched.  It is a fascinating report; here is a link:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/direct-eye-contact-could-stimulate-baby-brain-waves/vp-BBJl8tP

Anyway, the bit about brainwaves is new to me.  I did not know we could or would ever measure something like this.  But here at the Fat Beggars Home For Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, I have been discovering the imago dei in our little games of peek-a-boo for the last year and a half.  Seriously, who knew peek-a-boo could be so deep or theological???

And I see these infants and toddlers who come to diaper changes and/or bath time completely naked and unashamed, trusting me as we sing, laugh, and talk “baby talk”.  And I envy them.

Let the children come to me for the Kingdom belongs to such as these!  (I think I have read that somewhere.)  And sure enough, God plays peek-a-boo with us all through the Bible, breaking the rule that says – No one can see God and live.  And that is true, except for all the exceptions.  And those exceptions are just like the game of peek-a-boo (Exod. 24:10; Luke 24:31 and let’s just throw in Genesis 18 for good measure).  There are other instances sharing similar characteristics all through Scripture, but I am particularly intrigued by how many of them involve eating a meal with God.  And this brings me back to the infants whose eyesight is only good to about 18 inches – just the distance it takes to make eye contact with a nursing mother!

And I see God in these little ones!  Baby Jesus comes to me as we play the peek-a-boo game.  And I see the shear joy and delight in the little face as over, and over, and over and over again this innocent little game full of trust and surprise puts our brainwaves in sync with each other and in one spirit with God.

And I have Secret Agent Sassafrass smiling at me just now as I write.  So, I think I need to go and play peek-a-boo with God as he forms his love in me and his image in her.

Praise Report From the Streets: Job Starts Monday!!!

I got a message from Agent Mamma DJ reporting that Agent V got the job!  Let us praise God for this wonderful blessing today!!!

I asked readers yesterday if I could give her your number and arrange a ride to the interview, but no one responded with that kind of help.  But this morning about 8:00, both ladies set out on foot making the trek to the interview.  DJ reports that God sent an angel – a lady passing by – who picked them up and gave them a ride.  Thus they arrived almost two hours early!

Then Agent V got her interview early, and it seems her eagerness and earliness won favor with the boss!  She starts Monday!

Please hit the like button on this post.  Not only does it translate into a small praise for God’s mercy, it also will be seen by Agent V, and that translates into encouragement too.

Holy Encounter with a Homeless Man at Grandma’s Birthday Party

As my readers surely know by now… I love finding blog posts where people describe their encounters with Jesus among the homeless. These are always eye opening experiences.

Retrospective Lily

Hi, friends. As I’ve accumulated more Christian followers, I pondered getting my feet wet with an outright Christian post–not because I want to change my blog’s focus (literary and historical blurbs) but because I’m open to broadening my scope. If you’re a Christian, you know what I mean when I say that serendipitous things occur constantly when you live in the Spirit. God gave me this experience at the right time to share on the blog. Let me know if you like this post. (Disclaimer: Photo from Pixabay, not the man in the story)

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She says: “Knowing what I know now, I could have made a difference. Changed a crime scene into a blessing. If I’d only paid closer attention. To my surroundings. Acted when my senses told me something just wasn’t right about what my eyes saw. I could have been Jesus’ hands and feet”. And I think, YES! This is that moment when HEAVEN expands our imagination. I hope it keeps expanding until my limited view of LIFE is conquered.

ihave3daughters

Good morning!

Tuesday afternoon I ran into the Dollar General store just around rhe corner from my work. Freezing rain was falling, and our principal had advised us to head out before the streets got treacherous.

I needed to make a few stops on my way home. My car needed gas. And it was one of my students’ birthday the next day. I had to bring treats. She chose Takis as her birthday treat. And then there was toilet paper. I certainly wouldn’t want to be without it in case we had an ice storm over night. And I want plenty of ply.

I decided to run into the nearest store to quickly grab some Takis and toilet paper. Dollar General it was.

As I was heading back to the paper goods section, I noticed a couple pushing a grocery cart. Not just any grocery cart, but one so full…

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Our Heavenly Host

My readers really NEED to see this post.

wedevo

By Jimmy Sweeden

Luke 14:12-14

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Can you imagine going to a party hosted by Jesus? First of all, you’d never run out of wine.

But you might be surprised by the guest list.

You might expect to see the Pope, your pastor, maybe some people on the worship committee, Justin Timberlake, etc…

But what if you saw an illegal immigrant? Or that homeless man you pass by on your way…

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Can I Give Her YOUR Number???

So many of my friends think ministry to the poor is only “effective” if it leads those receiving the care to have “dignity”, “independence”, and responsibility.  I don’t share that notion, but that does not mean I want to see people languish.  I just want to see Jesus celebrated by them and in them.  I don’t believe the Nazi message that “Work will make you free”, but I am always thrilled to see a needy person find a job!  In my view a job is not THE ANSWER, but of course it is a blessing nonetheless.

Well, for those following this blog for a while now, you know about my partnership with Agent Mamma DJ.  I have introduced her here before.  And it just so happens that DJ has brought Agent V into this partnership too.  Both of these ladies share living quarters in a very humble circumstance, and the situation seems perpetually precarious.  Basically, my partners come from among the needy to be ministers to the needy!

Just today, I took DJ and V out around town to help them with some personal business, but along the way God blessed the three of us to find and pray with a woman camped in one of Lubbock’s city parks with her seven dogs!  And while we were there praying and encouraging this lowly soul who sleeps in the wide open park in the cold of night, a couple driving by who saw us there ran up to McDonalds and bought lunch for all of us!  Divine providence!!!  Serendipity of the first order!!!

Later, as we drove away, DJ, V, and I kept remarking on how God had orchestrated our day and moved through us, in us, and even ministered to us as well as the lady with the dogs.  There is no way we could ever have planned it.  But we made ourselves available, and God left his fingerprints all over our lives for our trouble!  DJ and V really might not have had lunch if it weren’t for this divine intervention.

But our time was coming to an end, and in fact, I was running late getting back to my life and work here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners.  But we happened to drive past a restaurant about 4 miles from where DJ and V live that V had a job application filled out and ready to return at.  So, we whipped in and dropped it off as fast as we could.  Agent V was utterly thankful, because she didn’t think she would be able to walk it back up there today at all, and yet God, in his providence, had directed me to take the route back to their place that led right by this restaurant.

Well, that was all a couple of hours ago.  But DJ and V just called to tell me the wonderful news that V got a call back already!  She has an interview lined up for 10 o’clock in the morning.

Are you hearing me, dear reader???

She has a JOB INTERVIEW!

As important as this is to me, it is far more important to her!  And as important as it is to her, it is ever bit as important to YOU!  You readers who think these poor, needy people need to “GET A JOB” should/oughta really be excited about this.  And this girl is a go-getter, so I expect her to have a real shot at it.

But as you more perceptive readers surely have discerned by now, she plans to WALK to the interview tomorrow morning, and will set out from home between 8:00 and 8:30 to make sure she has enough time to get there.

But the thing is, I know you CARE.  YOU CARE.  YOU want to see the poor get jobs and become independent and all that.  And even I want to see her get a job and contribute what she can to society.  This job will be a tremendous blessing!  And since you CARE so much, I am sure you will be happy to bless Agent V with a RIDE.  I expect to be tied up with responsibilities here at FBHWOS at the appointed hour.

So, the question is:

Can I give her YOUR number???