Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jesus speaks to the church of 2008. . .

A conversation with a friend this past week got me to thinking.

Most of the time we who claim to be followers of Jesus focus on what we should say about him to the world.

Wrong focus. Wrong sequence.

We should first ask this question, "If Jesus were here today, what would he say to those who claim to be his people?"

Better, what would he say to me?

I think I know the general direction of that conversation.

Here's just a sampling:

"You need to remember the song my mother sang when she carried me in her body. You know, 'he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.' (Luke 1:51-53)

"Oh, and don't forget the advice my cousin gave to those who asked him what they should do to prepare for the arrival of the Kingdom of God, namely, 'The man who has two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.' (Luke 3:11)

"I know you recall what I said that day in Nazareth when I kicked off my efforts here, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,' you know, the Jubilee Year. (Luke 4:18-19)

"You've always seemed fond of my sermons. Remember this one? 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

"'But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how they treated the false prophets.' This message may not play well in your churches, but remember, it is the message I've given to you.(Luke 6:20-26)

"Or, how about the time the friends of my cousin John came asking if I was who I claimed to be? Remember what I told them? 'Go back and report. . .what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me' or more accurately, 'does not take offense at what I do.' And, you have to know that caring about this list of people will get you into some serious trouble, if you aren't careful, especially when you include them as your close and dear friends and allow them to completely define your mission' (Luke 7:22-23)

"When surrounded by hundreds of hungry people, give them something to eat. (Luke 9:13)

"Recall my story of the man who fell prey to thieves? Remember my question? 'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?' Was it the preacher? The music minister? Or, the outcast Samaritan? You decide. (Luke 10:30-36)

"Forget your plans for building larger houses to indulge yourselves! Share your abundance with those who have no houses or clothing or food. Sell what you own and give it to the poor. In that way you will be depositing wealth into an eternal account that God keeps track of! (Luke 12:13-34)

"When you throw a party, don't invite your friends, relatives or rich neighbors. No, invite those who've not had a party in a long, long time. You know, the poor, the ill, those that are accustomed to being kicked aside! You'll be paid back forever! (Luke 14:12-14)

"Be like the shrewd manager in my parable. Make friends among the poor with the wealth you have been given and you will be welcomed into an eternal life the likes of which you can't imagine! Don't love money--if you do, you'll get off track every time. Love people. (Luke 16:1-15)

"Open your eyes to the suffering poor at your own door, in your own community. Don't make the mistake of the rich man who lived in a safe, secure, gated community. He missed the whole point of life and lost everything eternal! Don't be fooled by the marketing, the media or the unconcerned who counsel you to take care of yourself first and at all costs. This material world will blind you to my friends. Remember Lazarus! Even when your churches forget or ignore my values. (Luke 16:19-31)

"Never, ever laugh off the suffering of the poor or excuse it as 'just how things are.' Someone will always be around to say that. Don't let it be you. Give to the poor to relieve their pain and suffering. Remember, as you do so, your treasure is building for eternity! And, your life will be filled with the riches that really matter! (Luke 18:18-30)

"Make sure you don't cheat, harm or ignore those around you! Understand that your life in my kingdom is all about fairness, justice and mercy. Hey, these are the central matters, my core concerns, not some marginal option for you! (Luke 19:1-10)

"Be very wise. Compare the attitude of your religious leaders to that of the very poor, like the widow who gave all she had to a religious institution with no commitment to relieving her pain, in fact, to an institution that caused a great deal of the pain she knew so well! Flee religious debating societies and spiritual country clubs. Befriend, instead, the weak and the poor as the central focus of your life and your community." (Luke 20:45-21:4)

If he were here today, I know he'd tell me things like this. What I know he would tell me ought to shape my plan of life.

What do you think?



Anonymous said...

Funny, how silent it gets when facing such facts... well played, Larry.

Justin said...


Maybe its just the memorial day weekend.

Aren't Jesus's woe's directed at anyone who views this site, not just the ones that you disagree with?

By the way, I do agree that the church needs to hear these verses more often, and I've been trying to help with that at the church where I'm currently leading worship. Most of the time, people don't really understand.

Anonymous said...

I confess that I am often overwhelmed by the plethora of good and honest causes that call after me. Because we made donations to the American Cancer Society in lieu of flowers at a family funeral, I am on every list of every cancer related drive that comes to our area. I have similarly donated money in the names of deceased friends and relatives who have requested a particular ministry or non-profit be remembered. Long after the donation has been made, I am on these lists too. Particularly at this time of year, I am inundated by causes that legitimately cry out for my help, that call me to see the world through the lenses of a child or a recovering drug addict, or a victim of sex-trafficking. There is so much need.

"When the foundations are being destroyed," cried the psalmist, "what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3). When need is deep and poverty unplumbed, when hopelessness seems one long, uninterrupted lament, from the scream of the tsunami and the tears of New Orleans to the silenced cries of injustice across the world, what can I do? When the decision to support one cause is a decision against supporting another, when money can only go so far and can hardly touch the depths of the issues around me, I can become not only paralyzed to make the decision, but inclined to take a large step away from all of it. And often, I euphemize my mental retreat to the one asking for support, "Not at this time," "I'll think about it," or even, worse of all, "I need time to pray about it." For behind my words is often a manifestation of my indifference. "Wait" almost always means "never."

In his letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. responded to fellow clergy who were asking him to wait for a better time to pursue the cause of justice in the South. "Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, 'Wait,'" he wrote. "But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill with impunity your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society… when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of 'nobodiness'—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait." To call for those suffering to wait is to institutionalize our apathy.

Though at times unconsciously taken, our steps away from the center of the world's pain to a place where we can clear our heads and find perspective are invariably steps toward putting it out of our heads. Requesting time to think, we are requesting time itself to stop. We are asking those with urgent needs to pause for the sake of our own relief. We are asking those affected by injustice and hunger, darkness and pain, racism and religious persecution to cover their faces in nobodiness while we think it through. Notes King, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied.'"

When Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us, I don't think he said it with the kind of despair I find within me when I look around and see how vast is the need and poverty of a hurting world. He said it knowing every face in the immense crowd of nobodiness, knowing every name we would try not to learn when the pain of others becomes unbearable. He said it living in time and yet conscious of eternity, showing us the mindset he longed for us to hold: A non-answer is very clearly an answer. "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters" (Matthew 12:30).

The oppressed and the brokenhearted will continue to call me from my comfortable apathy and languid affluence, even as Christ himself calls me to set aside all that entangles and follow after him. The poor and the downcast will always be surrounding us; and where we will allow ourselves to see, it will be overwhelming. They need justice, they need mercy, and they need our time, even as Jesus seems to tell us that it is we who need their time. "The poor you will always have with you," he said as if it were a promise that he too would be near. He spoke knowing that throughout most of history the Christ of God would not be with us in the flesh. But in the cup of cold water delivered to the least of these, in the reaching out to the downtrodden and oppressed, he is there among us—the hand extended to the one hurting, and the eyes of the one in need—killing the notion of nobodiness two faces at a time.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:36, what an eloquent reflection. Many of us can identify.

Two questions: 1) what might happen if every community of faith in America seriously reconsidered their mission in this world of pain, brought church expenditures in line with these words of Jesus that Larry posts? 2) what might happen if we all decided to marshall the amazing resources of this nation to craft a fairer, most just society and world community?

Oh, but what am I thinking?

Anonymous said...

Larry and Anon 2:36: Thanks.

I often marvel that churches, which teach tithing when it comes to giving to the church, do not themselves tithe to the poor. The average church dedicates only 2-3% of its budget to poverty relief. Can you imagine the resources that could be unleashed if churches followed their own advice and tithed to the poor?