These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
I have a question to ask you. True or false?: God has a bias towards the poor.
It is a question you will be asking yourself sooner or later if you are a student of scripture. For that is the unspoken question behind so many of the commands of the law of God… as well as the preaching of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus. It does seem that God has a special place in his heart for the poor. It is hard not to reach that conclusion after reading this very hard to hear parable of the final judgment from Jesus. To put it in apocalyptic terms… it seems that those who will be raptured with Jesus – or get their ticket stamped to heaven… are those who have cared for the thirsty, the hungry, the homeless , the sick and those in prison. In other words: the least, lost and left out in our society and world.
That is not to say, Jesus does not care for the middle class or wealthy.
What so many often miss is that Jesus also had plenty of time for wealthier people. He engaged in very deep conversations with the rich young ruler (he loved him)… with Nicodemus… with Zacchaeus – just to name a few. Many of his friends were among the better-off of his community—he ate at their homes, they supported his work. Mary’s perfume that she poured on Jesus’ feet cost about $20,000. And it seems like the wealthy supported his ministry… joined his cause.
So, Jesus was not biased against the rich—which is the way it can sound sometimes.
But Jesus did make it plain that there was a special place in God’s heart for the poor and the lost. Which anyone with a hurting or vulnerable child, brother, sister or friend can understand. If you especially care about the people in your life who are hurting- would we expect less from the son of God? So I understand that Jesus spent a lot of time with the poorest of the poor.
He had a lot to say about wealth and poverty, far more than any other issue.
He talked about the disparity between the rich and poor— remember the story of the Rich Man and the beggar Lazarus and the chasm between them? It is another parable of judgment based not only on his treatment, but his apathy or ignorance of the poor at his door.
I have this feeling that Jesus he would have a lot to say to us about wealth and poverty today and we might not like what he would have to say to us.
And maybe he is, but we are not listening.
Jesus would see the disparity growing in our own country and not be very happy. Jesus would see the global gap as well. Jesus would wonder about the issues we wonder about: surely the one who healed the sick would wonder about our approach to healthcare for the poorest among us… Likely Jesus would notice the homeless in our streets or those facing foreclosure… and wonder with us, how does that happen in a country God has blessed so much? Surely the Jesus who fed the hungry would notice the many dying of starvation and thirst in our world and wonder “why”? God gave you enough for all.
And Jesus might very well tell this parable to us once again… to shock us out of our complacency.
These were important issues for Jesus— and he challenged the religious people to open their eyes… and challenged their values, their friendships, their use of time and money. We may not like that he did that—but that is what he did.
He asked them to do things with their money which would go beyond even charity and generosity and made it a heaven and hell issue.
My question is “why”?
I don’t think Jesus was a liberal or a conservative… I don’t think any one political party has a hold on Jesus. I think Jesus is above and beyond all labels. He is an equal opportunity disturber! Liberals and conservatives should not feel smug around Jesus.
I don’t think Jesus cared for the poor simply because Jesus was compassionate and loving… though he was. Maybe he was simply following the law of God… the shema—“to love your neighbor as yourself”- which is true.
But when I read the Matthew text this morning, I realized there is more to it than that… there is another reason: I wondered if you noticed it when he said:
“For I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
The hungry, the naked, the thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner—they are members of Jesus’ family.
Have you ever thought about that?
As you work with the homeless families at WIHN—do you ever think: well, it is good to see some of Jesus’ family? When you go to Carying place or Wake Urban ministries… when you hear stories of the working poor just struggling to survive… or those who have lost their jobs and going to the soup kitchen for the first time… do you ever think: Well, there goes some of Jesus’ family? When you see people line up at Alliance Medical Ministry for basic healthcare—because they are slipping through the cracks… or when you see people in the emergency room with no insurance—do you ever think: There are some of Jesus’ family?
Maybe you have, but I haven’t. Until now.
Which tells me on world communion Sunday that the communion that is taking place around this family meal with Jesus includes not just people from all over the world… it also includes people of every economic class… there are rich and poor people at this table… there are homeless people welcomed to this feast… because they are members of Jesus’ family.
Which means—and you know where I’m going with this—they are members of our family too. For if we belong to Jesus and they belong to Jesus—guess what—we belong to each other…
Which is why I think Jesus is so hard… and later Paul would be so hard about how we treat each other at this family meal. If they are our brothers and sisters, we should be caring for them too!
This was an issue the early church struggled with. The first congregations of Christians were far more diverse than ours are today. They consisted of rich and poor— Jew and Gentile. Over time, a problem developed in that first family. Part of their practice in the early church was to eat together. Pot luck. Every week.
The early church ate together quite a bit. That’s what families do you know… eat together.
But something happened in that early church that I’ve seen happen in modern churches. Paul Galbreath gives a good description of what this began to look like:
Some were able to get to the service early and set up place to eat. They saved places for their friends to join them around the makeshift tables. There were cliques around the church. Others in the church had to work longer hours to make ends meet and arrived late for the meal. With little time and resources to prepare a meal, the latecomers found themselves sitting at the back of the room, watching as others ate rich food and drank good wine. The divisions between the haves and have-nots in that first family were reinforced by the way they related to each other and ate while at church.
I am thinking this is the situation Paul discovered when he visited one of their pot luck congregational meals. And it just steams him. So he writes them a letter—a scathing letter: “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s Supper”.
He tells the church—you need to examine your eating habits… it is not right for some to have plenty to eat and drink while other members of Jesus family go hungry. Gathering around the Lord’s table should promote sharing with the needy among you… healthy family meals should promote healing of divisions in congregations rather than separate and isolate.
After this admonition, Paul reminds the congregation that the primary pattern for gathering at the table comes from the life and teaching of Jesus… and then he reminds us of the words we hear again and again at the Lord’s supper.
Paul, you see, has been listening to Jesus… Paul is simply applying the message of Jesus to the life of the church. He is asking us as a body to make sure there is plenty to go around and that we do not gorge ourselves at the expense of others… He is encouraging them to treat each other as family… members of the family of Christ.
Today, Jesus is gathering us together for another family meal. When you come to the table today, realize you are not eating alone… brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world—rich and poor… young and old… those who live in wonderful homes and those who will be looking for a place to lay their head tonight… realize… they are also joining us at this table. Because, as you know… this is not our table… this is the Lord ’s Table. And everyone in his family is always welcome here. Amen.