Tag Archives: poor

Dangerous Wealth and Encouragement

The Kingdom of God will bring balance to the world. This is a story of both encouragement and caution. Encouragement that no matter the pain we suffer in the present, we are not forgotten by God. God cares for the poor and suffering. If we find ourselves in great wealth, we are to use that wealth for others. Wealth is responsibility.

Throughout the NT, we see images of how God’s order of the world is not the same as our order of the world. “God chose the foolishness of preaching to confound the wise…” “The first shall be last and the last shall be first…” “To be great in the Kingdom is to serve others…”

Here, God brings balance to the world. 

Luke 16:19-21 “There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man’s table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores.

22-24 “Then he died, this poor man, and was taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell and in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham in the distance and Lazarus in his lap. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, mercy! Have mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue. I’m in agony in this fire.’

25-26 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you got the good things and Lazarus the bad things. It’s not like that here. Here he’s consoled and you’re tormented. Besides, in all these matters there is a huge chasm set between us so that no one can go from us to you even if he wanted to, nor can anyone cross over from you to us.’

27-28 “The rich man said, ‘Then let me ask you, Father: Send him to the house of my father where I have five brothers, so he can tell them the score and warn them so they won’t end up here in this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham answered, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.’

30 “‘I know, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.’

31 “Abraham replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.’”

What did you see?

What did you experience and observe?

It is fascinating to me that Jesus mentions “Hades” in this passage. Hades is a Greek term. It refers to the god of the dead. It was used in the NT period to refer to some kind of place of suffering where those not fit for the “bosom of Abraham” would go. It was a place that brought balance to the world as a place where the evil suffered. Often the term “Sheol” would also be translated as “Hades.” It’s description is often like “Gehenna” which was a real place in Jewish antiquity. It’s thought to be the “valley of Hinnom” which would be located immediately southwest of Jerusalem. Here, it’s surmised that the worship of Molech took place by Israelite kings Ahaz and Manasseh. Here, a huge, hollow brass alter was erected and, according to some traditions, infants were placed in the arms of the idol to be burned to death. However terrible the means of execution, it is certain that the worship of Molech involved sacrificing children with fire. It was a time of grave sadness and pain. Gehenna, forever associated with this dark time in Israel is also associated with the great trash heap of Jerusalem where the garbage of the city would go to be burned. This term of pain and suffering became, over time, Hades. It is used in the NT to describe a place of great torment.

Recall who Jesus is talking to in this text. The Pharisees have come at Jesus and he is calling them out for their love of money. He is very much saying that they are like this rich man and deserve Gehenna, Hades, Sheol. The poor have been resigned to the trash heap in life and in death, God would bring the balance to this world. This is offensive Jesus. He’s not being nice. Everybody knows it and it’s not a friendly scene.

Hades is a place of torment and in Revelation, it is cast into hell. Forever.

It seems that God has no use for those that abuse the wealth to which they are entrusted.

Here’s the thing: In the ancient Mediterranean world, there is no concept of “coming out” of poverty. Jesus lives in a world where people believed that all the good in life (land, wealth, honor, blood etc) had already been distributed. It was limited in quantity. There was no more to be had. This is the opposite of the Western American viewpoint that hold that there is always more and it’s available to whoever works hard and has the pluck to go and get it. To “get ahead,” to improve one’s lot in life is really unthinkable. This is why it was so remarkable that Jesus chose who he did to serve him – the disciples are not leadership material – they are blue collar fishermen, necessary for life but no one is inviting them to any parties…

The rich man does not work. To be rich in this culture means that you were born into wealth and working was not in your lot. However, in Jewish culture, wealth came with the responsibility to care for others. This man clearly did not.

I wonder what the relationship was here. It is remarkable that the rich man knows the name of the destitute. He knows him. I wonder if Lazarus was the rich man’s servant at one time. This wealthy man had a servant who became injured which prevented him from doing his job. Now, he just sat at the gate of the house – not begging (an actual occupation) – eating table scraps. I wonder if this rich man prided himself on the fact that Lazarus was not just any poor man, he was his poor man. I wonder if he greeted him by name from time to time. I wonder if he tossed some scraps from time to time. I wonder if he came home from important meetings and gave some alms in front of his friends (remember Jesus is making a stinging relationship to the Pharisees here) to demonstrate that he practiced those ritual associated with caring for the poor.

But it was all for show.

I wonder if he ever said of this man, “Hello Laz, how is today? Good old Lazarus, you never see him down or depressed. I don’t know how he does it. He’s an inspiration to us all…” Then leaves him there, at the gate, this man entrusted to his care, suffering so that the dogs lick the puss out of his wounds.

We live in a world that has always been knit together in an intricate web of relationships where we respond to one another. We relate. It’s one of those things that make us human.

Response – ability.

Now, we leave that to someone else. We leave the response to suffering on the shoulders of governmental agencies. We pay others to keep those with whom we are uncomfortable away, far away from us. “Put them at the gate” we say. Let them work for their welfare check. Don’t let them abuse the $200 a month food stamp benefit. Let them pay for their own health care. If they  need so much, let them work for it. Put them at the gate. Don’t let them inside. I don’t want to be made unclean with their suffering…

This ritual continues day after day. Week after week. These two souls connected together. Then, death.

The ritual changes.

The scene opens with the rich man in torment. Suffering in the burning garbage heap. Across a great divide, he sees Abraham and Lazarus. Even in torment, he gives command. Even in torment, he is still entitled. Even in torment, he is proud. Even in suffering, he holds to a world that no longer exists.

“Father Abraham, Send Lazarus…”

But there is a problem. Abraham points it out. In life, you had it all and did not share. In death, the tables have turned. There does not seem to be vindictiveness in the voice, just an explanation of the facts. You experienced good in life and now, in death, Lazarus is being “comforted.”

This word translated comforted is “parakaleo” You can see how the translators got to comfort here. If this is a story about reversals, then the rich man’s enjoyment is turned to “torment” (a word originally contrived to describe the process where a coin was tested – scratched by a hard rock – to determine it’s genuineness) and Lazarus’ suffering was turned to _______. Comfort right? However, this word does not mean that. This word is put together words using words that mean something like, “call on.” If you check the lexicon for the meaning of that word, you’ll see a variety of words that flow in the channel of comfort, encourage, and exhort. If someone is worn out or weary, you might encourage or exhort that person. But think of what that might look like – we’re not talking about feather beds here – we’re talking about something much more active. What sort of thing requires this “call upon?” I think of runners who have hit the wall. Warriors that are weary from the fight, athletes with their hands on their knees wondering if they have it in them for “one more…”

I remember going out for soccer in college. I walked on the field that day during tryouts and coach Whitecar said, “Fisher, you want to play?” YES! I replied. He motioned to the waiting bus which took us to Mount Baldy. This was a sand dune on the shore of Lake Michigan. Up and down is one time. Do 25.

I didn’t need a lazy boy, I needed coach behind me yelling, “come on! You can do it! Make it happen! You want to play?? Get some!”

Call upon.

Deeper translations of the word can have the connotation, “I am called upon as a witness.” Perhaps Lazarus is called upon to witness that the world has been set right. Either way, what I love about this is that no matter if we are worn out in this life and seek comfort in the Kingdom to come or need the “kick in the pants” here on earth – encouragement from our God is in the form of service! We are always useful to God. We don’t retire to a life of leisure – we retire to be useful, purposeful, always in the fight! Whether our need is to be reminded that we are not forgotten in this world – no matter the suffering, no matter how much it feels like it’s over – we are not forgotten!! Keep going! Get some! You have a purpose! You have meaning! You matter to God!!

If it’s your time to enter rest, know that our rest is eternal worship of God. Forever. Worship. You can make it.

The rich man sees his situation in full focus. It’s ugly. Abraham was not mean. He even responds with “my child!” The rich man has, perhaps for the first time in his life, a thought of others. In a scene that Dickens ripped off for Jacob Marley, he cries out, asking that someone be sent back to warn his brothers. Someone needs to go! Surely, if they could see the pain! Surely, if they could smell the sulfur, feel the heat… they would repent! They would change.

Here, the passage is, I think, at it’s darkest. Abraham looks at the suffering man.

“They know.”

“Yes but…”

“They have Moses and the prophets – let them hear them. If they will not – they will not hear anyone.”

Abraham’s response to the rich man’s second request is that the brothers have Moses and the prophets. Did not Moses say, “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor” (Deut 15:7)? And are not the words of Isaiah clear enough?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isa 58:6-7)

I believe when Jesus finished this story, he ended by looking hard at the Pharisees that surrounded them. Silence. No one had anything whatsoever to say. Jesus literally says, referring to them, that if a rotting corpse should rise from the dead to tell them their future, they would not hear, they would not have ears to hear, they would not listen.

Saints, this passage is both a warning and an encouragement.

What do you need?

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Failing to thrive. In prison and everywhere else.

“Blessed is he who considers the poor.” This might also be said, “blessed is the one who cares for the weak.” Being poor is a bad thing in our paradigm. It’s a sign of failure, a sign that somehow, whether through some calamity not of their making, some character flaw that causes them to not seek to better themselves (though just what “bettering one’s self might look like is up for considerable debate), or just weak – being poor and needing help is a sign that one is failing to thrive.

When I worked on the mother/baby ward during my year of CPE, there were babies whose diagnosis was “failure to thrive.” It seemed to me to be something of a catch all for babies that just struggled to make it, struggled to gain weight, struggled for life. In any other world, they would have just died but through the amazing advances in medical technology, nutrition, and medicine, they are able sometimes to recover and thrive.

I wonder what “failure to thrive” might look like in prison?

I wonder what “failure to thrive” might look like in a marriage?

In a professional career?

In a one’s personal life etc.?

The psalmist in Ps. 41 declares that the one who considers that one who is “failing to thrive” is blessed! The one writing the psalm is so sick, so in need that they seem despairing of their life. This psalm is often identified as a prayer of individual thanksgiving but it reads more as a plea for help. The prayer comes from one so sick that his continued survival is in jeopardy.  Reading the Psalm makes me wonder if the writer is so sick they are getting a little paranoid?

If the writer is David, it would have been written during a time in his life that he was running. Running from Saul, running from his past, running from death which is always nipping at his heals. David, in the story of his running, takes huge risks. He takes on huge responsibilities, does things that one the one hand are courageous and on the other, frankly stupid. He struggles as I have experienced America’s warrior struggling, with life.

Listen to what his enemies say:

I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord;
heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die and his name perish?”
When one of them comes to see me,
he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it around.

All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,
“A vile disease has afflicted him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
Even my close friend,
someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned[b] against me.

Ever feels like someone is just waiting for you to die? Waiting for you to fail? Waiting for you to struggle, fall, give up? Ever feel like there are those around you whispering about you? Imagining the worst for you? A close friend, someone you trusted, your spouse, your loved one, your confidant – turned against you? Just when you needed them the most, just when it would have been so important for them to stand by you – they walk away, leave you in your failure to thrive?

Ever feel like this might be God?

Have you ever felt like the old Yiddish proverb, “Thou hast chosen us from among the nations – what , O Lord, did you have against us?”

I believe that it is reasonable to feel this way in chaos. If you experienced this, are experiencing this, or are wondering if your feelings about this in the time of your struggle are valid, I can say emphatically that I’ve been down that road myself and they are valid.

Saints, what holds the Psalmist together here is the confidence that they are acting in integrity. They are doing what is right. Though around them is scandal and pain – they are confident that this too shall pass and moving to a place of integrity will carry them through.

“You shall know the truth,

And the truth will set you free.” – Jesus

I read this as a promise that when we get honest with ourselves and move to a place of integrity, we will experience true freedom. It will hurt, it will be painful, it might even give those who have spoken against you cause to triumph but know that in the long run you are better, you are healthier, you are stronger because you no longer care what they say about you! You are no longer dependant on “them” for affirmation and strength. Your day is your responsibility! Your health is your responsibility! YOU are your responsibility!

How freeing would it be for verses 5-9 to not even matter?

Blessed is he who takes care of the weak.”  Once we have cared for ourselves, we can care for others. It is given to us to be authentic, be real, get to the truth and acting with integrity  – then, when we care for others, we do so from a place of love.

I wonder what world’s view of the church would be if, instead of lashing out against perceived ills and confessing grandly the sins of others, we got real with ourselves and spent our energy on what we could control , namely “considering the weak?”

Luke 10:Jesus stood in a field. Around him were his disciples and among them were the “72.” These were disciples that had gone out to spread the news of the coming kingdom. They had returned and were ecstatic! They were bubbling with news of what they had seen and experienced. With joy they relayed what they had seen. A crowd gathered.

Lord! Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Jesus smiled and replied that he had seen Satan fall from heaven and that he had given them power to tread on serpents and scorpions – over all the power of the enemy. The crowd around Jesus were in awe of the stories they heard.

Of course, not everyone was all that impressed. Some were quite cynical. Cynicism always follows the miraculous. As is should with reasonable people. Doubt can be a good thing.

Jesus praises God –  “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

He then says to his disciples quietly (but remember, people are quite close so they can hear), “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!  For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Jesus says to his uneducated, unlearned, unread, unstudied grubby, blue-collar, emotions-bleed-all-over-the-place disciples that they are seeing things that many prophets begged God to see and did not. Things that kings, in all their power and wealth could not see – something that might be just a little annoying to someone standing close by, a lawyer, a theologian, a learned and holy man.

He jumps to his feet and challenges Jesus. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Immediately, all the air is sucked out of the space. It gets silent. People look to see how Jesus is going to respond to this challenge.

In the ancient Mediterranean world, questions are rarely perceived as requests for information. They are almost always viewed with suspicion as a challenge to personal honor. The hope is that the person who is asking the question will not know the answer and be shamed by ignorance. This is absolutely the case since Luke points out that the intent of the questions is to “test” Jesus.

Here, Jesus responds (as he does in other passages) by insulting the questioner back. Jesus asks the lawyer – a man who has spent his entire life becoming an expert in the law, a specialist in the Torah ,the written Word of God – “well, how do you read?”

What we have here is what is affectionately referred to in my military career as a “sharpshooter.” It’s that Soldier who knows Army Regulations and Field Manuals from back to front. They can quote paragraph and line number to contradict whatever point you are making and they do it in such a way as to make a fool out of you and make themselves look good. If they outrank me, I ignore them or say something like, “thanks for your input Sir. That is a good point.” Or if it’s not going to be disrespectful, I just call it out. “Help me understand why you needed to make that point???” Awkward silence ensues.

Jesus calls him out. “Ok smarty pants, how do you read it?”

The Lawyer, now on the spot, regurgitates the catechism answer. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 thereby revealing that he knew the answer all along. He question wasn’t just a test of Jesus, it was a lie. He pretended to be ignorant though he wasn’t. Instead of shaming Jesus, the lawyer shames himself and Jesus emerges – once again – as the honorable victor in the contest. I can see the gentle (and maybe a just a little condescending, trying not to laugh because the disciples are chortling off to the side) smile as Jesus answers, “You have answered correctly, do this and live.” By now, people are laughing out loud. The lawyer needs to save face. He retorts, “Ok, then, who is my neighbor?”

Now that is a good question. Its really the question. No one argues the point that God requires us to help the “other” what we argue about is just who the “other” is and how much help we have to give them. We don’t argue about the need to holiness, but oh the legalese that comes out when we get into just what that look like and who gets to say what holiness is. Soooo, yeeahhh…

Jesus tells a story.

“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

It’s a parable in 7 scenes.

Scene 1 – Robbers strip their victim and leave him for dead. Now, no one can identify his ethnicity. This is important. Remember, this is a small place. Everyone looks the same. You distinguish your tribe, money, status by your clothing but now, that’s all gone. Helping this guy carries a risk. No one knows anything about him. If I help him, what does that say about me? What might others say about me, what might I be risking, I don’t know his charges, I don’t know his preferences, I don’t know if he’s weird or not, I don’t know if he can help me back – I just don’t know!!

Scene 2 – The priest comes, riding his donkey which highlights his own status as an elite. He sees the victim and ponders helping him. If the victim is dead or is a non-Judean, he runs the risk of defiling himself by helping him. Then, he would have to return to Jerusalem in shame in front of those for whom he had just performed, gloriously, his priestly duties! His shame stemming from the reality that now, he would have to seek purification rites. The risk is too great and who has the time for all that. No one will even know he didn’t help the “other.” Note: Sirach 12:1-7

Scene 3 – The Levite comes. He might have come a little closer to examine the victim since the road was not straight and it’s possible he even saw the priest pass by before. If the priest did not give first aid, why should the Levite? I mean, if someone else ignores the plight of the weak, should I put myself out there? This would be a challenge to the priest, an insult, and God forbid I insult a preacher! Moreover, if the victim lived in Shechem, that would make him a Samaritan and we all know what that would do to my rep! The Levite passes on.

Scene 4 – The Samaritan shows up. We talked last week all about how Samaritans (Northern Jews) were viewed by Southern Judeans. The fact that Jesus highlights this is shocking and controversial in this tale. Allow me to demonstrate. What if we read the story as this, “the Preacher passed by, not wanting to get his suite dirty – what if the man was a criminal or an addict?? He clearly has nothing for me. The deacon passed by, the director of the men’s ministry who has been a Christian all his life and always is there first thing on Sunday morning in his best three-piece praising God with practiced hand motions. Can speak tongues on command. This guy saw the preacher pass by and thought better of putting that guy into his car. After all, he had another marriage retreat to plan for. Then, an atheist comes. A person unwelcome in their church comes upon the man in the street. He is filled with compassion and reaches out to help.

Scandal.

Scene 5 – The Samaritan offers first aid (wine, oil and bandages), which the Levite could have done but neglected to do. This is risky. The victim could hate him once he regained consciousness since, after all, he was being treated with Samarian wine and oil – impurity. In this story, the Samaritan is “damned if he does and damned if his doesn’t.”

Scene 6 – The Samaritan does what the priest could have done but didn’t: he places the victim on his own animal (by the way, very, very risky – who knows if the robbers are not close by) and takes him to an inn and continues to care for him.

Scene 7 – Finally, the Samaritan, in contrast to the Robbers leaves money and promises to pay what else would be needed in the care of the victim. This is perhaps the most risky part of the story – if the robbers find out that this guy has a soft heart and helped a witness who was supposed to die (tying up loose ends right?) they might come for the Samaritan and his family. Or, if the victim survives, he might rage at the Samaritan for helping him. I cannot express effectively how much these two groups hated one another. Purity matters. Read Leviticus.

The story is not lost on the lawyer. Red with shame and anger, he cannot even bring himself to utter the word, “Samaritan”  when Jesus asks, “Which of the three became a neighbor to the victim?” The lawyer’s question was, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus question was, “To whom must you become a neighbor.” The obvious answer is anyone and everyone in need.

The victim is laying on the ground like the psalmist, failing to thrive, his life passing before him. Naked, his exposed skin (his shame) feels every pain and agony on that ground. He sees his commander, his NCO come near him. At last!! They will help me!! Then they pass by. He sees his Chaplain come near. “He’ll help me. He has to. He’s the chaplain!” The chaplain follows the commander’s lead and passes by on the other side. Then, in shame, he goes to prison. He deepest, darkest secrets known to the world. His career gone. His family gone. His success gone. He is failing to thrive when an inmate, a sex offender, reaches out to him and says, “come, be healed.”

Oh saints!! What stops up from helping? What stops us from healing? What stops us from receiving the blessing of God for “considering the weak?” What keeps up from becoming the neighbor of those who need us? Is it pride? Anger? Is it others? Men of God, this will never go away. You will not get some special dispensation from God once you leave here to help others. There will ALWAYS be a good reason to not help. There will always be a good reason, a solid justification why you can’t “get your hands dirty” if you will not help now, if you will not be a part of God’s healing in someone’s life here, when will you?

When will you?

 

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Christ the King and how we fail to live that truth.

Procurator Pontius Pilate was a career statesman. His star was rising when he got the assignment to Palestine. He was the fifth prefect to oversee the land and after a brief stumble early in his career had shown some talent in leadership. Legend has it that his mother was a pictish girl from Scotland and his father a minor Roman official. Whatever the story, getting the assignment to rule in Palestine was potentially a step towards greater things in the Empire. I wonder how coming from humble stock, scrapping your way to the top of the heap impacted his style of rule. What little we have of his leadership show a man who is capable of exercising force though not the shrewdest of politicians.

Pilate was the leader of an occupying force in an occupied land. He was sent by Rome for one purpose, rule the little known, little understood, but somewhat important little land of Palestine. He was the face of the mighty Roman empire. He spoke for the Emperor, Tiberius. His hold on the land was not strong. Only a foolish leader would think that they could rule in that area without some struggles but so far it had not been terrible. As occupied lands went, Israel was not the best nor the worst that he had been involved with over his rising career as a statesman.

Our text this morning finds him in Jerusalem, overseeing the chaos that was Passover. Thousands descended upon the city from all over the world making it a melting pot of potential danger. Last year had been a bit of a disaster. There had been unrest during the celebration which had boiled over into violence. The Procurator, dealt with it as he had the power to, putting it down with the force he was comfortable wielding. It was not remembered kindly by the populace, Luke would remember it as the day that the “blood mixed with the sacrifices…” It would become the signature event of Pilate’s time as Prefect – insurrection put down with violence. He has to do so several times, each with more energy until finally, it was an insurrection put down with such force in Samaria that resulted in his getting called back to Rome.

There would be no such bloodshed this time. He was convinced that he could hold the city from itself. These Jews were a volatile people. Why couldn’t they just settle down and become Roman? Others had. It seemed like those that he served with, the other prefects, none of their lands had the kind of unrest that his had. Every year it was something else. Someone else. Rising up and rebelling. All they had to do was pay their taxes. Really. That’s it. At the end of the day, Rome was not interested in the Jews becoming Roman, of worshiping their gods and taking their traditions. Tiberius, as all Caesars before, was interested in one thing – money. Bring home the tribute. In exchange, we’ll give you peace. The Pax Romana – Roman Peace – was to be the payoff.

To accomplish this, Pilate had been given several Legions to command but most of his forces were auxiliary forces who, scorned by their brethren, served the occupying Empire. He had brought them with him to Jerusalem. He would have Romans by his side. He was not confident in the Auxiliaries to do exactly what they were told. He had paid a political price for that last year when the riot was put down during Passover. The Jewish face of the Empire, Herod, had smeared his name a bit in court as a brutal man though his rule was no more or less violent than the last. He wished Herod would get it into his head – Tiberius would never trust a non-Italian to speak for him. So Herod served Pilate and Pilate served the Prefect of Syria and he served Tiberius. This is the way of Empire. This is the way of the kingdom of the world. Everyone serves someone and everyone serves themselves.

Peace and money. This is all. This is all anyone ever wants. Money to do as they will and the peace to pursue it. The way of the world, the way of kings and kingdoms. So had it been for centuries and so it would remain for eons to come. Money and peace. The latter to be thrown to the side in pursuit of the former.

It was that peace that was threatened the day that the Sanhedrin came into his hall to condemn this peasant carpenter from Nazareth. They knew his weakness. They knew that his hold on the city was tenuous at best – in they came with their accusations of zealot, rabal rouser, and rebel. What was he to do? He had heard the reports. This Jesus, Yeshua they called him, had been notorious for some time. He had spies and informants moving with this crowds as he had drawn closer to Jerusalem. Herod had some dealings with another prophet of sorts, John the Baptist, and it had not gone well so Pilate was understandably treating this Yeshua thing with kid gloves.

He had stood by and allowed the Prophet to enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. He had heard the back brief from his centurion about how the poor and slave class saw in the peasant carpenter some kind of King. He heard how they brought out branches and even threw their coats – the only outer garment they owned – on the ground so that the feet of the donkey would not touch the ground. Such was their devotion. Perhaps there was something to what the Sanhedrin was saying. He never trusted them. They claimed allegiance to Caesar and the Empire but he knew better. They cursed the ground he walked. It was always like this. In trying to maintain some semblance of “what used to be” they tried theological arguments, trickery, archaic legal arguments under their religious law, character assassination but in the end, they capitulated to the only real power in the world. Roman power. They brought their theological issue into the very seat of secularity to be judged by a secular Prefect. What little respect he might have had for their monotheism, their puritanism, their law-abiding, was blasted as they called upon all sorts of arguments to get him to “do something about that carpenter.”

And what had Jesus done? Healed some people? Called them names? Pointed out their hypocrisy? How did Jesus’ teachings hurt them in any way? People were paying their taxes – not just to Rome but also to the Temple. They were getting theirs. What they were not getting was respect. Yeshua was calling them out for what they were – power hungry, greedy, abusive. People liked Jesus. It threatened their power. It threatened their place in society.

None of this really mattered. Who really cared whether or not some widow put money into the temple tax box? So what if these men in their clerical class lived off the poor? As long as the tribute was paid to Rome, peace would come by the sword. Peace would remain in Jerusalem. These Sanhedrin only mattered to Pilate as they stood in the way of another peaceful Passover. They would play their part in the pageantry was was Jerusalem and he would play his – at the end of the day, money went into the chest and the chest went to Rome. If religion was a part than fine, whatever gets the job done. That is the kingdom of the world. That is the kingdom of mankind. That is life. So be it. Jesus would come to court.

He had tried to pawn his problem off on Herod but the crafty politician would have none of it. He could not pass the issue up the chain or the Prefect of Syria would put a bad word before the Emperor. Perhaps Pilate could not do the job, perhaps he should be replaced. No, he would deal with it. Here. Now.

Jesus enters the court. Pilate saw the abuse. He saw the blood, the bruises. Whatever had taken place last night had not been kind to the peasant. He looked exhausted. Caiaphas had been clear in his accusation – Jesus had threatened the rule of Roman Law. They could not execute him, only the Romans could do that. Pilate saw through it, he knew their charges were bogus and false. He called them out, “Judge him according to your laws.” But they would have none of it. They wanted death. Death was to be the price of peace.

Pilate goes straight for the jugular – “Are you king of the Jews?” Silence reigns. Everyone hears the real question – are you a rebel? Are you a zealot? Do you claim leadership of the Jews? Jesus looked at him in the silence. Quietly, through bruised lips he says, “Are you asking me this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate smiles. Only these people would respond like that. You can’t get a clear answer from anyone in this miserable land.

“Do I look like a Jew? Your people and your high priests turned you over to me. What did you do?” Pilate is annoyed. There is no danger in this man, give me something, anything and I can toss him in jail for a little while, protect him from these priests who want to kill him and wait till the whole thing blows over. He didn’t bite.

“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king. not the world’s kind of king.” Pilate stares at him. What was he talking about? Two kingdoms? Man’s kingdom? What other kind of kingdom could their be? Money, power, land, respect – that’s the only kind of kingdom there was and everyone, including these religious leaders, wanted a piece of it. But he wasn’t a part of that? He didn’t want money or power? What?

“Are you a king or not?”
“You tell me. Because I am King (not a king), I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for truth, recognizes my voice.”

More opaque comments. What is wrong with these people? Why kill? Why did he ever want to be a leader? He could have been a farmer, comfortable on his land in middle Italy, sending grain to Rome for festival but no, here he is in dirty, dusty, smelly Jerusalem discussing truth with a poor Jewish carpenter prophet.

Exasperation. “What is truth?”

There was no saving this man. He wouldn’t even save himself. In a last ditch effort he offers the crowd a murder or the harmless Jesus but they take Jesus. Let him die than. Let him die for peace.

Two kingdoms. Pilate is king of one. It’s the sexy one. The grasping one. The one people dream and work toward. Its the one where you work hard, please who you have to please, pay your dues and maybe one day, you too can retire to the beach somewhere and tell your stories. This kingdom is marked by constantly searching and seeking for wealth and glory. It is temporal. It is subjective. It is here. Now.

The Jewish leaders wanted it. They wanted it to remain status quo. They had abandoned (as Jesus was so fond of pointing out) their obligation to care for the community, the poor, the widow, the orphan, to establish a high caste. A learned caste of scholars and clergy. A class separate from the poor they were supposed to serve and instead very focused on how many miles a person could walk on the Sabbath. What? healing a man on the Sabbath? This has never been done – it does not matter that it helps people, it violates some obscure interpretation of an ancient law – anathema. “Kill him,” they said. What threat was he to them? When had he ever threatened their lives? Perhaps their livelihood but never them, never their families. They had tried to get rid of him through theological arguments. They planted people to question him publicly, they called him out, drug his name through the mud but in the end, they couldn’t stop him. They couldn’t change what was clearly changing. Life, as they knew it, was never going to be the same. They were becoming irrelevant. “Kill him,” they said. So they went to the Law. If all else fails, we can use the secular courts to maintain the past. We’ll lobby congress, we’ll throw money at it, we’ll make laws and change laws and throw out the bums that won’t get it done. We’ll make mountains out of molehills and destroy whoever stands in our way. But their heart showed out. Their hatred marked them and instead of their legacy being that they cared for those around them, that they represented the best of the Kingdom of God, that they showed the world what it was like for a people to commit to God, they demonstrated that they were just like everyone else. They were just as corrupt. They were just as depraved. The lusted for power and killed to hang on to it.

Have you made the connection yet? The Church does the same. At it’s best, it is the kingdom of God. At it’s best, it cares for those that are in need, for all that is holy and right. At it’s best it is the body of Christ in the world. When people come into contact with a Christian, they come into contact with Christ. But then, they get lost. They get entranced. They get sucked into the lie that money means influence and influence means power. They take the calling of God to serve and twist it to be that by making money on the backs of others I am serving them. By having power, I am serving them. All is fair if Abortion is at stake. I can hate others, be spiteful and destructive if it just keeps two people of the same gender from “getting married.” (contracting with each other for tax benefits etc) What are we doing? What is truth? What kingdom are we serving?

Who are you serving? Live your convictions. Live what God has called you to be and do but my friend, do so in the reality of God’s kingdom – a kingdom of love, care, peace, joy, patience, gentleness… – do so in a kingdom marked by sacrifice and love rather than hate and animosity.

Christ is the King. We are his servants. Let our service be marked by the fruit of the spirit rather than the fruit of the world.

Amen.

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We are rich and we are poor – living with it.

poor” – it’s a word with baggage in our culture. Every four years about this time, it’s a political word – most other times it’s either equated with guilt or anger. Seems like we either feel guilty for not doing more or angry for perceived abused of the system.

Today’s Text was all about the poor. It is a sermon that I approached with some trepidation. My goal was to preach the Scripture without it being a. political, b. some guilt inducing rant, or c. a progressive diatribe. My wife tells me I got there. I went with the Proverbs and James passage.

The central question I dealt with is the one that I think we struggle with – who is poor?

Often, the comparison is made with the poor in third world countries and the poor in America but this is comparing apples and oranges. The two are not the same. The question in my mind is: does this person have resources? See I want to get away from “rich/poor” and focus on resource. Those who are fat in resources (be that money, time, spiritual, emotional etc) verses those who are lacking. A person may not have much money but be rich in time. A person may have a pile o’ money but be destitute in spirit.

Proverbs 22 equates a good name (solid reputation) as transcending riches. The ideas of wealth and poverty are human designations. We put that on each other. Verse 2 does not pass judgement on the rich/poor but does emphasize that God made them both – not that God designated one to be wealthy or one to be poor but that both humans come from God and thus are the same. In the eyes of God – there is no poor/rich category. Verses 7-9 speak of the reality of the rich and poor – once one loans money to another, the relationship is going to be master/servant. Sallie Mae taught me that! Losing that master was a great day in my life! Those verses highlight that there are blessings that are on those who are generous and curses upon those that deal unjustly with the poor. Justice is a value in God’s economy as is a good reputation. Verse 16 highlights how God views oppressing the poor to enrich others – its bad and leads only to poverty in the community! I love this idea that the author points to – when the poor are stolen from to put more in the pockets of those who are rich – everyone loses! The whole community suffers. This thought is continued in 22-23 – the meaning here is understood in terms of power and voice, the poor do not have power to resist, they have no voice, they are “crushed at the gate” (in the ancient city-state the gate is where legal issues were settled, if you had money or resources, then you had voice and could win your issue, the poor have no money, they have no power or voice) – be careful, because God is the legal representation of the poor. That was remarkable to me in this text – using the legal system to take from those who have not to give to those who have is particularly bad for everyone and will bring calamity!!

Clearly, in this text the writer makes the argument that the poor and the rich share the same community. He does not make a moral judgment as to who is better/less than the other but it seems that one has a responsibility to care for the other. To provide some sense of security. Certainly, there is blessing for those who share and calamity for those who oppress.

I covered even more in the James passage but what it comes down to is this – lets not use our politics and emotions around poverty as an excuse to do nothing. We ALL have something to give. Yes, we do need to discover for ourselves what we belive is a lack of resources and what we are willing to give to – but we NEED to give. We all share the same space. We all share the same community. Breathe the same air and all that. We are responsible for one another. Who is poor? Who is destitute? I imagine that needs to be answered by each of us individually but let it not be an excuse for inaction. Let it not be an excuse for superiority. Don’t let a person’s station be just another way to judge and separate them from you. We are called to actually serve. Actually DO something. The poor and rich will always be with us. But those separations don’t have to BE us. We can be different. Let love and service to others be the defining characteristic of a Christian.

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