Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Jesus Church - Part 3: Ministry With the Poor

Listen to the sermon here

Choose a good reputation over great riches;    being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.
The rich and poor have this in common:    The Lord made them both.                  
Those who plant injustice will harvest disaster,    and their reign of terror will come to an end.Blessed are those who are generous,    because they feed the poor.                
Don’t rob the poor just because you can,    or exploit the needy in court.For the Lord is their defender.    He will ruin anyone who ruins them. 
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23(NLT)My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?  For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes.  If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?  Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters.  Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith?  Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?  But you dishonor the poor!  Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?  Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?  Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin.  You are guilty of breaking the law.  For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.  What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?  Can that kind of faith save anyone?  Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing.  What good does that do?  So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough.  Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.  James 2:1-10, 14-17(NLT)

Like a needle pulling thread, there is one overarching thought/word which runs through all Scripture concerning wealth and power – it is the undeniable connection between justice and wealth…in short – how the wealthy of the world treat the poor of the world; and vice-versa. Dishonoring others isn’t just rich snobbery; it can happen from either side, whether you’re poor or rich – you can be a poor or rich snob!

The Proverb writer stated the obvious (to people of faith), that God made both the rich and poor people, and to dishonor either is to go contrary to God’s intention and will.

James takes the case a bit farther, giving us his practical eye on relationships between those on either end of the economic spectrum, and especially the high standard of impartiality the church must set in being as impartial as God when it comes to the way we treat others.


Impartiality becomes the buzz word for this whole subject; God’s people are to be as impartial as God.  A person’s economic standing (high or low) is not to interfere with how that person sees others, or is seen by others.

James uses the word favoring when it comes to seating the rich and poor at the church dinner-on-the-grounds.  It means to lift the face.  The picture here is someone reaching out an up-turned hand to lift up your chin, perhaps to get a better view of your features – to get some more light on the subject, so they can decide if you’re acceptable enough to sit in a prominent place. 

How is that person judging?  Superficially!  He is judging by what he sees, and that is the whole point;

·        What you can see is a wrinkled old face, or a smooth new one. 
·        What you can see is designer jeans or work-stained overalls.
·        What you can see is a palace or a shanty.
·        What you can see is a Lexus or a lemon.

What you can’t see is the inside of another person. 

And that is all that God chooses to see when it comes to judging that person.  In picking-out the first king of Israel, God warned the prophet Samuel not to look for some regal appearance:

People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7(NLT)

With this clear-cut line between superficial judging and simply judging character, we can better understand God’s anger over partiality – particularly on the part of those who claim to know and serve Him.

One source[2] I read gave these reasons why showing favoritism is wrong:

Why is it wrong to show favoritism to the wealthy?

·        It is inconsistent with Christ’s teachings.
·        It results from evil thoughts.
·        It insults people made in God’s image.
·        It is a by-product of selfish motives.
·        It goes against the biblical definition of love.
·        It shows a lack of mercy to those less fortunate.
·        It is hypocritical.
·        It is sin.

The Reason Churches Die

Favoritism (a lack of impartiality) is one of the reasons churches die…and ought to!

A lack of impartiality exists when we refuse to bend the knee to the Spirit and rather choose to bow at the altar of culture.

What I mean by that is when we judge another by their outward signs, we miss the inward bearing witness of the Holy Spirit.  If we fail to see the Christ in someone else, simply because we’re too busy eyeballing the outside of that person, we can begin to set ourselves in a way that will harden us to what God wants to do with us.

A church I served more than 25 years ago was once a large church with more than 500 attending every week.  That was in the post WW2 baby boom era.  The church was located in the suburbs of Jacksonville, Florida, an area of white, upper middle-class, relatively affluent, white collar and middle management families. 

Somewhere in the 1960’s the neighborhood began to shift.  The city was home to a port, and international influence started creeping into the neighborhood. 

By the time I arrived at that church the neighborhood had gone from church-going Anglo who manicured their lawns to multicultural and more poverty than anyone wanted to admit.  The drug culture moved in; gangs became prevalent and English became the second language.

The result of “favoritism” in that church came to be the commonly accepted understanding among the residents/members that there was an us and there was a them.

One of my colleagues wrote about this concept:
It’s hard to share the Good News of Jesus Christ when the neighborhood has changed and the church hasn’t.[3]

And here’s the reason why, for that church, death was on the horizon:  The them in the community became those poor people who needed our money and help.  

Now, to a degree that sounds Biblical – mission dollars at work!  But it was really favoritism in reverse; these were people to be served – not fellow image of God-stamped on their souls persons with whom we could worship and work and care for our neighborhood.

Those people weren’t the future of the church with whom we would celebrate the Kingdom and goodness of Christ together – they were them – not to be confused with us!  With every self-righteous effort to minister to those poor people, we insulted the Christ who died for us all.

Scripture says we are to be imitators of Christ:
 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.  John 13:15(NLT)

Suppose Jesus had decided on an “us” and “them” mentality. 

Would he have left heaven and his divinity behind to become one of us?  Instead of a cross and forgiveness and a home forever with Christ, he might have sent us enough money to enroll in a self-help book club, majoring on how to live your best life now.

But Jesus opted for incarnation - taking on human flesh; he was tempted like we are, experienced all we experience – and he lived among us.  There was no us and him; it was God with us!

This is why in the United Methodist Church we say ministry WITH the poor, not ministry TO the poor.  It takes the favoritism out of the equation, and puts us all together.

So, to help us think a little more about just what may sometimes sneak up on us and cause us to lose our impartiality, consider a few questions that might keep you awake tonight…

·        Does this church look like this neighborhood?

·        Who would we favor walking through that front door?

·        Would poor people feel comfortable here?  Would rich people?

·        What can we do to remove any last vestige of favoritism from our daily living, so we can imitate the impartial God who treats everyone the same?

You wrestle with the answers for a while, and see if God shows up.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit![4]

[1] Title Image: Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Life Application Bible Commentary: James, © 1997 by The Livingstone Corporation. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois.
[3] Dr. Dawn Chesser, DiscipleshipMinistries.org
[4] Life Application Bible Commentary: James, © 1997 by The Livingstone Corporation. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois. 

No comments:

Post a Comment