Remember the poor.

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9and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Galatians 2:9-10

 

Remember the poor.

 

It seems the early church had an awareness of how easily the poor can be forgotten. So right there in the middle of their Gospel-planting-strategy-conversation regarding the assignments of the Apostles Peter and Paul, they insist:

 

Remember the poor.

 

The Gospel of Jesus requires us to engage with the poor. Not as an afterthought, but as one of the rhythms of life we are eager to pursue.

 

Remember the poor.

 

Its a leadership issue.

Its a Gospel issue.

Its a Church DNA issue.

Its a heart of Jesus issue.

 

9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.  2 Corinthians 8:9

 

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18 – 19

 

Remember the poor.

 

1My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man.  James 2:1-6

 

Remember the poor.

 

17As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.   James 6:17-19

 

Remember the poor. The early churches did this very thing. In every community in which the Gospel took root in the hearts of people, their view of people under the grace of God in Christ changed their actions toward them. The Gospel radicalizes the concept of the “image of God” in humanity and compels us to see that Jesus who came from the communion of God entered into poverty and died of all people. The piety rooted in the Jewish heritage of the Apostles was amplified among the nations through the Gospel.

 

The impact was dramatic. Many historians find the social impact of the Church unavoidable in their examination of the first three centuries after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

 

For example consider what Elaine Pagels writes about the success of Christianity in affecting change:

When I was working on the book, “Adam, Eve and the Serpent,” I was thinking a great deal about why this movement succeeded, and I thought it may have had a lot to do, as well, with the story they told about the creation. Because they told the story about how human beings were made in the image of God…. Now if you think about the gods of the ancient world and you think about what they looked like they looked like the emperor and his court. So those gods looked very different. But this religion is saying that every person, man, woman, child, slave, barbarian, no matter who, is made in the image of God and is therefore of enormous value in the eyes of God…. That’s an extraordinary message. And it would have been enormous news to many people who never saw their lives having value. I think that is a powerful appeal of this religion…. The Christian movement seemed to convey a sense of human worth in two ways. Both by the story of Jesus and his simplicity and his humility in terms of social status, in terms of achievement, in terms of recognition during his lifetime. And also in the story of creation; it conveys royal status on every person….

When we think about the appeal of this movement to many people it’s certainly clear that some were drawn by the way that this community would take care of people. For example, like other elements of the Jewish community, the followers of Jesus tended to feed the destitute, take care of people who were widowed so that they wouldn’t become prostitutes and orphans and so forth. That was a primary obligation of Jewish piety. And Jesus’ followers certainly understood that. We know that when people joined the Christian communities in Rome, for example, they would be buried. This is not something anyone could take for granted in the ancient world. And this society was one in which people took care of one another. So that is an enormous element of the appeal of this movement.

{To read other historians’ comments on the success of Christianity: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/why/appeal.html}

 

Remember the poor. Essential for discipleship. If we’ve forgotten the poor, are we really following Jesus?

 

 

Wrecked… Kin in the Kingdom of God

This morning I read a post written by Ann Voskamp about her trip to Haiti.  Halfway through I kept having to sweep the tears in order to finish.  Wrecked.  Its too easy to distance ourselves from our kin who live in poverty.  Its too easy rest in the self-righteousness of “where I was born.”  She writes,

And when our Haitian Compassion translator, Johnny, stands in The Alpha Hotel with its rats running down the hallways, he tells us how, after getting his BA in Florida, he’d got his MDiv in North Carolina.

How he’d come back to Haiti to work for Compassion, and took in 5 starving Haitian orphans to raise with his own 3 and saved to send all 8 of them to university.

How he’d walked out of the Hotel Montana not 30 seconds before it collapsed in the earthquake and how after the quake, how he’d climbed from one tree to the next, all down the mountain from the Montana, all the roads blocked with rubble and death, wild to find his kids and wife somewhere in Port Au Prince that is home.

And that’s when I couldn’t stop it – when it came out of me, a whisper, but still too loud.

Like an angry fool, I had asked him, laid my hand on his arm and quietly begged him, “Johnny, I know you were born here – but someday — couldn’t you take your family and move to a land like the States?

Just step over the rubble and beggars and latrines and garbage and gangs and just get your family out of this place where you were born and come find the land of the free? It’s ugly, but it’s what I thought for our friend: You only get one life here and who really wants to spend it in the slums?

And he looked me in the eyes and he waited, searching mine.

Searching for a way to get the truth right into me, me born into the lap of ease of the West and homesick for the farm and wanting everyone to have the relative ease of the middle class.

“But I am Moses.” Johnny speaks it deep, his eyes never leaving mine, his fatherly hand gently squeezing mine, soothing out my roaring wail.

I am Moses. I do not leave my kindred.

And the whole planet and all my heart reverberates.

I am Moses. I do not leave my kindred.

You don’t leave your kin to save your own skin.

You don’t stay in the palace if you want anybody to find deliverance – especially yourself.

You don’t forget who your brother is — when you know Who your Father is.

I turn away, chin quaking hard. I’ve got a passport in my bag and a ticket to ease and he only gets one life here and he’s living in the desperate need of this one for the definite reward of the next one – and how in the world again am I living mine?

If the grace of my life is mostly where I am born, and I am born again into the family of Christ, than how can my life birth anything other than a grace that gives?

Read the whole post and take in the pictures.

habituated inactivity (blog action day — poverty)

blog action day 2008

blog action day 2008

 How many times have I changed the channel when confronted with global scenes of human devastation?  I couldn’t even venture a guess.  We all have changed the channel at some point.  We have even hurried past another person who threatened to invade our precious sense of equilibrium. 

However I am concerned.  I’m not talking about donor fatigue.  I’m talking about sloth and its companion of hardness of thought;  continually choosing not to do the good that we know we should do, we begin to believe that we never were to do good with the poor at all.  One of the disturbing patterns of human behaviour is our ability to turn habitual actions into hardened character.  In respect to the under-resourced who are my neighbours locally and globally, I am troubled by how easily those of us “afflicted with affluence” habitually choose inactivity or passivity as a righteous decision.  I believe there are many self-justified reasons for choosing to “do nothing this time;” however what scares me about the lack of concern, care, or compassion is that with time the character of a person, community, church, or nation shifts in such a way that the “poor” cease to be persons but instead become a class or a caste.  It seems to me that whole systems of a society can conspire then to keep people in the confines of poverty in order for them or at least the resources of their geography to be available for the service of the ultra-affluent.  Because we are “not them” but “us” we then believe we are justified in our habituated inactivity.

Habituated inactivity is a justice issue.  Stirring a people to action and even identification with people captured by poverty requires a multi-facited strategy.  It is not enough to get us to give once a year.  We need sustained activity underwritten by clear beliefs regarding God, Humanity, and the Creation and by congruent core values regarding relationships, economics, work, and care for the “least of these.”  I believe that this sustained activity on behalf of the poor is best worked out in community and is meant to be part of the overflow of the transformed life that Jesus envisioned for His called out ones.  It is possible to shock people into an act of giving or debit deliverance in order “to relieve the conscience as quickly as possible.”  However in community the leaders of mercy have the opportunity to seek habitual activity on behalf of the poor or under-resourced in specific long-range relationships with individuals or communities.  In this way I hope habitual activity on behalf of the poor becomes hardened character from which we are not easily dissuaded, either by good times or the worst of times.