Sunday, August 20, 2006

Choked

How could so many churches and so many people who consider themselves to be Christians miss such an important and pervasive vein running throughout the biblical text and the narrative of faith?

I've pondered that question for over 30 years. Concern for the poor is everywhere in scripture. The issues of justice turn up again and again in the story of God's dealings with God's people as reported in the Bible.

Still, the church generally appears to miss the point. Very few congregations make compassion, poverty relief and a commitment to justice a top priority for congregational life or for spiritual formation among members.


Why?

I'm constantly surprised by the words of Jesus. By surprised I simply mean that I continue to discover new twists and emphases that somehow escaped me in previous readings and meditations.

The latest I discovered in the well-known "parable of the sower."

You can find the full story at Matthew 13:1-23.

I'm focusing today on that part of the parable that speaks of the seed that fell "among thorns."

In Jesus' story these seeds are choked out by the faster-growing thorns that spring up all around them preventing their growth and fullness of life.

My surprise came when I re-read the interpretation that Jesus provided his closest followers.

I'll let Matthew's account speak for itself:

"The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22).

There it is.

The wealth of the modern church has deceived it almost completely.

The appearance of dedication remains in place. Like a grape vine that is green and leafy, but producing no fruit, so the typical church is filled with people who appear devoted, but when it comes to really pursuing the values of Jesus and the entire biblical tradition relative to the poor and to justice, the greed and the deceitfulness of wealth simply shut things down.

The contemporary church hears little about the poor, and does even less.

How could so many miss the truth so often about such a central dimension of the truth of God?

Jesus supplies the one-word answer: choked.

13 comments:

MommyHAM said...

Awesome, Larry.

Just what I needed today - to hear the Word's authority on issues such as this.

Please pray for me so that the accompanying thorn of wealth, worry, does not choke me out. I've been trying to remind myself, "All things thru Christ" anytime a negative thought enters my head, and most of the time am successful. But those ones it's not....I need to share that burden and give it to others who will give it before the throne.

I see your blog campaign has helped quite a bit - are you getting funds from "mainstream" i.e. less "virtual" reality as well? I'm praying.

Larry James said...

mommyham, thanks for the post.

We are receiving funds from our normal supporters, but the blog campaign is largely a stand alone effort and we aren't publicizing it outside the blogsphere. We want to determine how serious people in virtual space really are about addressing poverty. We have lots of talk here. We are now measuring concrete, real time action.

Amber G. Lehmann said...

So, how do we may these seed fruitful? Do we clean up the thorns, risking a prick, or simply plant somewhere else? what does it mean to be stuggling yourself to be free of the thorns that come with privelege?

Anonymous said...

Somehow the point is not in religious observance, but in real life connection to both the values of Jesus and the painful reality of the world. Form is almost meaningless. . .appearance of the vine is not the point. Fruitfulness is the deal. This is where the institutional church gets way off track. To be consciously struggling with privilege is an indicator of movement toward being thorn-free!

David Michael said...

What would it look like for a suburban church of a large metropolitan area, thirty miles away from the inner city, if they "make compasson, poverty relief and a commitment to justice a top priority." Who are the churches doing this now who are not mission churches?

Larry James said...

David Michael, thanks for the post and the great question.

Churches 30 miles away could:

1) Send financial support. Everyone wants to rush past the importance of funding. Believe me, no one is "throwing money" at problems in the inner city and few churches have inner city concerns in their budgets, nor do they allow inner city leaders to appear to ask for funding very often. Giving money is one of the most helpful and efficient acts of ministry available.

2) Organize interactions and ongoing engagement with inner city ministries and put yourself in a position of service.

3) Challenge some families to move to the city and work with ministries.

4) Challenge members to consider the real life political realities facing the poor in the nation. Teach and preach justice and equity.

5) Train your youth to make different life decisions that will place them in the context of urban reality with their careers.

That's for starters.

Justin said...

I think the biggest reason that this has happened is because salvation somehow got turned into a post mortem thing, purely about keeping my ass out of hell. When we realize that salvation is a process and it involves action trying to right the world, I think we'll be on a better track. Thankfully, I think that has been happening through Emergent and McLaren et al's books have been transforming minds among traditional suburban evangelicals.

For me, I'm through with supporting ministries to the poor who's main goal is converting people. I don't think its about that anymore. If they see Jesus in us, they will seek to be like him.

owldog said...

We are collecting change at work and a question was brought up, if they write a check do they make it to CDM or Dallas Food Bank?

Do I need to take the change to a machine at a grocery store that charges a small % for making it dollars or does CDM have a relationship with a bank that counts the change for free? I just want CDM to get every penny possible.

Jeremy Gregg said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeremy Gregg said...

owldog, thank you so much! The donations can be made out to "Central Dallas Ministries" or to "Central Dallas Food Pantry." We will be happy to accept funds in any form -- I believe that our bank can provide the change-counting service you describe.

For more info, visit:
www.CentralDallasMinistries.org

Jeremy Gregg
Director of Development
Central Dallas Ministries

Larry James said...

owldog, thanks so much for your post and for your action! You set a good example of others. Everyone can act if they decide to.

Those writing checks are aware that their donations are tax deductible and each will receive a letter acknowledging their gift.

KentF said...

Thanks for your words Larry - very moving. I think our young people are going to step up and take the church to the next level (sorry for the tired cliche'). Hopefully us older folks will follow.

While I was helping our youth group at Fortress last year in urban Ft. Worth - I quizzed the 14 interns about their upbringing. Most were from Metroplex suburban cities and churches - and many wanted to live in the inner city after graduation and continue minisitering to the poor - praise God!

Jeremy Gregg said...

Kent, have you ever considered sending them to Urban Experience>

http://www.centraldallasministries.org/ue/