“For I was homeless and you gave me a bunch of numbers to call, I was hungry and thirsty and you sent me to a food pantry only open on Saturday mornings except on holidays that I needed two buses to find and can only use once a month requires proof of income and two forms of ID and when I was late wouldn’t serve me, I was a stranger and you welcomed me and then ignored me because I was different and my life was too messy for you, I was naked and you offered me a clothing voucher, I was sick and my Obama care was too expensive and you handed me a “band aid,” I was one of thousands imprisoned in part because of race and poor education and you refused to stand up for me.” – Matthew 25:35-36 (Remixed)
I had a deeply disturbing conversation with a friend I consider a fellow seeker of a still speaking God. He a well educated, employed, white male of privilege. He’s well-read in the Bible and enjoys studying God’s word. And like the Pharisee in our Gospel; with all his privilege, should know better. Which is why I was shocked when he said as far as he was concerned God didn’t care one bit about economic justice. Well aware of our church study, debate, and passage of an economic justice covenant; he didn’t see anything in the Gospel’s to conclude Jesus was the least bit interested in economic justice. Yet, cut out just the Gospel passages about poverty, greed, and disregard for others in service to our own needs, and the second half of our Bible barely holds together. In Matthew right away we see Jesus’ birth to a poor, unwed mom and step-dad; cast out from polite and acceptable society to congregate in a barn with farm animals. When Jesus’ mom proclaims such a birth she says in part, “God’s mercy is for those who respect God and follow the Holy One’s decrees…God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…brings down the powerful from their thrones…lifts up the lowly ones; fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich empty away.”
Today’s Hebrew Testament & Gospel echo this message: Thus says the Lord God of Isaiah, “…if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom will be like the noonday sun…If you refrain from trampling the true meaning of worship and devotion to God, from pursuing your own interests…not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own words…” then Jesus says, “Truly I tell you whenever you do such kindness to the least of these members of my family, you do it to me.”
Like many today, my friend’s insulated studying Scripture in a vacuum, a literal spin on faith so works of charity alone are enough; a trickle-down Christianity without comparing how it stacks up with God’s decrees. Sisters and brothers, if we offer prayers and other gifts in thanksgiving, yet won’t challenge a system that serves “our own narrow and justified interests; our own over-confident words” we’re in danger of missing the boat. Do we not understand when Jesus cries “hypocrites” to the learned in the Gospel; his words are meant for us as well?
Yet, Jesus loves us with an everlasting love and wishes us to embrace this love and share it with everyone. In the Gospel the woman bent from half a lifetime of torment is our witness. Insignificant; she was no greater than an animal. Yet, she’s regarded in her lowliness by Jesus and lifted up. And she responds like Mary by “praising God.” Although uneducated as was Jesus’ mom, she could see God-with-her. While the educated priest steeped in self-confidence and either/or thinking, only saw the rules. Which of these two, the woman or Pharisee did honor to God?
This week I sat down with the principal of Frank Allis Elementary School. God has shown me the spirit of this moment; the opportunity to act on God’s call for economic justice in a way all of us can get behind while honoring our past, and bringing it alive in our present. And it’s right across the street. Over 80% of the 500 children at Frank Allis live in households at or below poverty. As a society while God lifts the lowly, we do not. I shared with the principal the Good News of ecumenical churches joining in community and generosity with our neighbors and friends; the staff, parents, and children in our public schools. Our multi-church nutrition effort at Schenk Elementary is posed to expand. Your leadership council has heard my vision for Lake Edge to lead an expansion at Frank Allis, along with other partner churches. The sacred conversations we’re having with other neighborhood churches have made this possible. Zion Lutheran Church has already expressed a desire to be a partner in any nutrition expansion at Frank Allis. The Allis principal, a veteran educator and Eastside resident, is excited about the possibilities. She’s been preparing the way for just such an effort. The beauty of this program isn’t just in helping children, but building community; among the teachers and staff, parents and children, the churches and neighborhood, with the food suppliers, and between all of us. I’m hopeful together we’ll make this our main church ministry; so when others ask, “What does your church do?” we’ll say, “We feed children. Do justice, and build community.”
More than Sunday worship; in building these relationships we’ll create the true worshipful environment God requires. Our church will become part of renewing and growing the connections between the white Protestant church and other races, ethnicities and social groups. In connecting with our neighbors we’ll deepen our minds and hearts for justice and witness. Is this not the worship God requires?
The Prophet Micah: “What does God require of us? To do justice, love kindness, and (together) walk humbly with our God.” Do this and we too can be set free!