Tag Archives: Homeless

What’s in our Tear Bottle?

Text:   Mark 9:38-50

Those of us who are parents have always wanted to meet some characters called:   They, Them, and their cousin Everybody!    You know how it goes—“They” said it was o.k., Dad—-or it’s o.k. with “them”——or “But Mom, Everybody is wearing this or doing that!”

They” are everywhere, and we even find “Them” in the church.   “They” and “Them” make all the decisions.  And usually cousin “Everybody” doesn’t much care for the decisions “They” made!  They, Them, and Cousin Everybody!!   We have a fundamental tendency, it seems, as human beings to divide the world into “Them” and “Us” .

That’s what the disciples are doing in the text above.   We can almost hear the panic (and the pride also) in the disciples voices when they say:   “Jesus!  Jesus!  We saw Them.   They’re out there.  And They are doing miracles and curing people of demons, and maybe even preaching in Your Name!    And Jesus, we’re sure—we’re absolutely sure—they’re Them.   We know they’re Them, because they are not Us.   And so we stopped them!!!”

If the disciples were expecting a pat on the back from Jesus for this they were very disappointed.   Jesus was not happy about what they had done.   On the contrary, he probably was driven to tears of anger at their shortsightedness and pride, because he gave them one of the sharpest rebukes ever given to his disciples.   “Don’t stop them! He says.  “There is not Them.  There’s only Us!   And no one who does any good work in the power of my name should be thwarted from doing so.   Whoever is not against us is for us!”

Jesus continued by stating that those who willfully erect “stumbling blocks”,   whose actions hinder the progress of the “little ones” (read believers),  are better off at the bottom of the sea with a millstone around their necks!

There is a verse in the Psalms—Psalm 56:8—-that says:  God, you have kept count of my tossings;  put my tears in your bottle.   Are they not in your record?   (NRSV)

This Psalm is referring to the ancient practice, according to scholar James Fleming, of collecting one’s tears and preserving them in a “tear bottle” made of glass, many of which had a bulbous bottom and a long neck flared at the top to facilitate collecting the tears.

Some say that the woman of the streets (read prostitute) who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears at the house of Simon the Pharisee may have actually been pouring out her own bottle of tears on his feet.

I see Jesus as a man who felt deeply!!   As we just celebrated Father’s Day,  I would suggest that he is a model for  fathers today showing what a  man should be and do as a father. .  Jesus is a man who cried tears of compassionof grief, of love, of anger.   Jesus loved deeply, just as God loves deeply.    And those who love deeply express deep emotions.      

Jesus wept over many things

After his Triumphal Entry, he wept tears of compassion over Jerusalem, as they rejected him and the way of peace that he brought and chose instead a way of a military messiah that would result in the utter destruction of Israel by the Romans.   “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it.   How often I have desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings—and you were not willing…”

Jesus wept tears of grief as he saw the grief of the family of his friend Lazarus at his death.

He wept tears of anger, I’m sure, at the sight of those who took advantage of the “little ones”—-the poor, the weak, the young, the elderly, the sick, the lepers, the outcasts of society. As always, Jesus’ anger is for any one who took advantage of or failed to help the “others”, the “little ones”—-the poor, the weak, the young, the old, the sick, the outcast.

He wept tears of frustration, I’m sure, at the failure of his disciples to grasp what His mission was about as the “suffering servant” Messiah. and their failure to grasp the significance of the Kingdom of God that he proclaimed.

He wept tears of anguish in the Garden of Gethesemane, as he prayed that “this cup might pass”, but nevertheless promised to do God’s will.

We have pointed at some of the tears that may have been in Jesus’ tear bottle.    But today the question is:   What is in my tear bottle?  what is in yours?

When I was a child it was widely taught to young boys that “Men do not cry!”   I was lucky to have a father who didn’t teach me that.   He didn’t cry often, but one of the times I do remember seeing him cry was over the way the church was treating the present minister.   He was an Elder in the Christian Church in Abilene, and came home from a board meeting and cried as he told my mother about it.    So, I learned a different lesson as a boy—that there is nothing wrong about crying in compassion with other human beings.

But the question is:  “ What makes us cry??”  What turns on our eye faucets and tear pumps?   What makes our eyes tear up and our cheeks get damp?    Is it crying tears over injustice to others?   Crying tears of compassion for others?  Crying genuine heart-and –soul tears over the plight of the world and our fellow human beings?   Is that it?    In other words is our crying based on the kinds of attitudes and activities that brought tears to Jesus’ eyes?

What makes you sad?   What makes me sad?  What makes me glad?   What makes you glad?    What makes you angry?   What makes me angry?   Those are the questions we should be asking ourselves.

What tears are in your tear bottle, Christian?   What tears are in my tear bottle, pastor?

As I thought about these questions I decided that I would “go first” in answering them.   But I invite you to think about what is in your tear bottles as I share what might be in mine as I look at my life and ministry…..

I have often cried tears of grief, as I conducted funerals and saw the deep grief of those who have lost a loved one.  I share that grief and their tears.

I have cried tears of frustration when I left the room of an elderly person in a nursing home whose family seldom visits and whose life is being “warehoused” by the system.

I have cried tears of anger  when I read about how the elderly and the poor are forced to choose between paying for medicine and a doctor or pay for food.   Or when I read that those who have worked hard all their lives and saved are rendered bankrupt by their inability to pay medical bills because they can’t get health insurance.   A life-threatening and very expensive illness strikes and they must choose between life and bankruptcy!   Something is terribly wrong with a faith community that keeps quiet about that!!   Those who decry health care availability for all makes me  cry for the church  and those who call themselves Christians who do not seem to feel their pain and strive to alleviate it.

I cried tears of grief, I remember, when I first saw the Vietnam Wall—grief for the loss of all those young men and women whose names are recorded there and for what their lives might have meant to their families and to our society.   And I cry tears of grief today as I read about those who die in Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine.  So much human life squandered and human potential not allowed to develop!

I cry tears of compassion with the one who is facing end of life and being placed in hospice and who feels frightened about what is happening to him or her.

I cry tears of compassion, but also of anger,   when I see pictures of children in Africa who have bloated bellies and sticks for limbs due to hunger while the adults of their country spend the money meant for food to buy arms to kill each other!  And the same for children in America who have no health care, not enough to eat, and when they come into the Lord’s Diner for a meal cannot respond normally but look at me with dull eyes and no expression.

I cry tears of frustration as I watch a mind being wasted by Alzheimers Disease, or a body wasted by cancer and then read of cuts in funding for research for cures for those problems while millions go the oil companies.   I cry tears of anger  when I hear of the terrible prices exacted for cancer drugs by the drug companies that force those suffering with cancer to choose between life and bankruptcy.

I cry tears of —what—Frustration?  Compassion?   Grief?   When I look out on this sanctuary on Sunday morning and see all the empty pews that could be full of people praising God and going forth to serve him this week—if we would but get on fire for Jesus Christ and invite and bring them here.   Most people come to church the first time, research shows, when someone in the congregation invites them.   When have you done that?   Why not?

I cry tears of compassion  when I see children growing up outside the church, without its teachings and without a knowledge of Jesus Christ, because their parents just don’t care!

I cry tears of joy  as I dedicate a baby and its parents to bring it up in the church and teachings of Jesus.

I cry tears of joy when I baptize someone.

I cry tears of joy as I pronounce a couple husband and wife at their wedding.

Those are some of the tears in my tear bottle?   So what do you cry for Christian?   Now it is your turn!!

What makes us cry, church?   Is our crying based on the kinds of things that brought tears to the eyes of Jesus?   What makes us cry, Church?   Fellow Christians, what makes you cry!

I have come to believe that there is a linkage between suffering and love.   They inhabit the same deep place in our souls.  If we did not love there would be no suffering and grief, there would be no crying.

We suffer and hurt and weep for our children late into the night because we love them.

Our children get homesick when they go away to school or camp, because they love their homes and their parents.

We shed tears over someone’s death, because we loved them and loved being with them.

To not cry is to never deeply and fully love  !!

 

Jesus wept because Jesus loved..   Does the church of Jesus Christ weep because they love?    What makes you cry, Church?

Frederick Beuchner, in “Whistling in the Dark” says:   “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention to them.   They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where you should go next.”

Some of you will remember the trio of Peter, Paul and Mary that was popular during the 1960’s.   Paul wrote a song entitled “For the Love of it All”.   I’d like to quote some of his lyrics in closing:

Long ago on a hilltop where now the curious crawl

A man on a cross paid the ultimate cost

For the Love of it all.

For the Love of it all, we are gathered by grace.

It is still not too late to come and celebrate.

The Love of it all.

Eli, eli, lamina sabakthani!   The Love of it all!!

WHAT’S IN YOUR TEAR BOTTLE, CHURCH?????!!!

Mercy or Retribution?

It’s true!   People do some terrible things to each other.   Many of us have been harmed by words and actions of others.  Words can assault us and injure us as much as physical blows and others actions may cause harm or death to our loved ones.  Those who harm us are often the victims of our  hatred, our wrath and our retribution. .  We ourselves often strike out  with words that hurt towards those we love, even if they are short of actual body blows!   We want to get even. We want Retribution!

If we are hurt we want to hurt back as much or more as we are hurt.   When we or a loved one are hurt, the adrenalin hits our bodies and prepares us for “fight or flight”.  Our blood pressure goes up.  Our breathing increases.  Our heart rate increases.  and the desire for retribution is very strong!   And yet as Christians we are faced with a problem.   Jesus taught his disciples that we should  forgive and not get even. That we should “love God and our neighbor as ourselves, and makes he makes it very clear by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan immediately after that teaching that our neighbor may be someone we hate and has treated us badly and hates us also.   Loving God  and hating our neighbor is therefore not an option according to Jesus.  If we follow what is often called the Great Commandment  to love God and neighbor (because it sums up all “the law and the prophets” including the Ten Commandments) then  love and forgiveness is the only option for a follower of Christ.   It is a simple but difficult command.

And how do we go about loving God anyway?    Love is relational.   We can say  “I love you God”—but how do we show our love to God in action?   Love is an action word!   Again we go to the great commandment and find out we show our love for God by loving our neighbor no matter how much he or she has hurt us!   That’s tough!   But we are commanded to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves!   Even tougher!  If we are to show our love for God in a concrete way the choice between retribution or forgiveness, mercy or getting even, is obvious.  The choice is love and mercy and forgiveness.

In my Sunday School Class we have been studying the Beatitudes. We have been aided in our  learning by a book written about Mother Teresa and the Beatitudes.   You guessed it!   I have to teach the class about the beatitude “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” this coming Sunday.

As you know, Mother Teresa and her sisters worked in the worst part of Calcutta in India.   They opened a House for the Dying among other things they did there.     People were dying in filth and squalor covered with their own feces on the streets of Calcutta every day. At first she borrowed a wheelbarrow to get them to the house where they could be cared for and loved and cleaned up and as she put it “at least die a human death”.   She viewed what she did as following this Beatitude “Blessed are the merciful” and as showing her love for God by showing love and care to those who were dying alone, in their own feces, on the streets of Calcutta.  According to Mother Teresa you show love to God by loving God’s children—and that includes what Mother Teresa called “the least of these.”

She took to heart the Parable of the Last Judgment in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 35-40,  where Jesus is assuming the personhood of those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, suffering, in prison, etc.   To those who reached out to him in God’s love he says “You did it to me”.

Listen to Mother Teresa’s own words:   “Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do it to me.”  (Matt. 25:40)   “If in my name , you give a glass of water, you give it to me.  If in my name, you receive a child, you receive me.  (Mark 9:37)   He has made that a condition also, that at the hour of death we are going to be judged on what we have been and what we have done.   He (Jesus) makes Himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the sick one, the lonely one, the unwanted one, the rejected one.

He says “I was hungry and you gave me to eat.”  Not only for bread, I was hungry for love.  “I was naked” not only for a piece of cloth, but I was naked for that human dignity of a child of God .  “I  was homeless”  not only for a home made of brick, but I was homeless, rejected, unwanted, unloved, a throw-away of society, and you did it to me”.  (end of quote)

Mercy is what you show when you don’t have to!   Mercy is unearned.  Mercy is forgiveness and love and care when you don’t deserve it.   Richard Rohr says “you don’t know what mercy really is until YOU need it.   God shows you mercy every day as God forgives for the many actions we take that drag the name of Jesus in the mud.   God loves us even as unloving and unlovely as we can be.   God shows us mercy and God’s love  in that forgiveness.  God does not demand retribution.  And as we follow Jesus and  forgive others who hurt us and do not practice retribution against our neighbors we become capable of receiving God’s mercy.   It is as simple and as difficult as that.   “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”    Amen.

Crazy Churches!!

One of the things that Jesus was accused of was being crazy. Here was a homeless, self-made rabbi from Nazareth, with no authentic credentials from a Rabbinic school, who  was challenging the religious leaders by his actions that flaunted the laws of the Torah by reaping on the Sabbath and healing the sick on the Sabbath.   This man was  advocating for the poor by speaking against the economic domination of the poor by the rich in his society.      He was touching the “untouchable lepers” and healing them.  He was restoring sight to the blind. He was referring to himself as Son of God, which was one of the specific titles of the Roman Emperor.   He was healing people and casting out demons and talking about a Kingdom of God that he taught and modeled in his life.  That Kingdom of God  was completely different from the present conditions—it was  ruled by God and not by the emperor or king.  And the Kingdom of God was one of justice and fairness to all.    I really believe if Jesus came and  said and did similar things today in our world we would think he was crazy also.   You see, when anyone is truly filled with the Spirit of God as Jesus was, they will always disturb and disrupt our sane and structured world by their words and actions.   Jesus was filled with the Spirit and he did exactly that!

By what he said and by his actions Jesus was drawing an uncomfortable amount of attention to himself.   As a result,  two groups —those closest to him (his family) — and those most threatened by him (scribes and Pharisees)  began to ask the same question:   “Is this guy crazy?”  “Has he lost his mind?”   In the third chapter of Mark we read  that  Jesus’ family showed up while he was teaching large crowds and asked to see him.   They had come seeking “to restrain him, for people were saying ‘he’s gone out of his mind!'”   (Mark 3:21)

The other group, the scribes and Pharisees accused him of being demon-possessed and doing his work through the prince of demons—Beelzebul.   In their minds he was crazy and dangerous and should be put away.

It makes me wonder what would happen if the church, referred to as the “body of Christ”  by the Apostle Paul would go “crazy” like the one who is their head—Jesus the Christ?    And then I ask myself—-what would that “crazy church look like?”    What if the church today embraced the craziness of the gospel as shown in the life and teachings of Jesus?   What if,  rather than worrying about fitting in with the society they are apart of, the church didn’t care what society thought of them and instead were bearers of the message that Jesus brought through their actions?   What would that church look like?

What if some of the churches sold their beautiful buildings and sound and projection equipment, their comfortable air conditioning and heat, and their padded pews and utilized  the money to aid the poor, to minister to the sick and outcasts of society,  as Jesus did to his own society.   What if churches began to meet in   old buildings downtown that were vacant so that they could encourage each other and spend their time serving the homeless, the poor, etc instead of spending their time keeping up their building and paying huge utility bills?    Crazy!!!

What if the church started ministries that did more than entertain the children and educate the adults, but that pursued the prostitutes and help them out of their business by working with them to rid themselves of their addictions.  What if the church focused on rescuing addicts with no regard for their own church’s reputation?    Crazy!!!!

What if the church used their buildings and moneys to feed and house the homeless,  to offer clothing to the poor,  to provide dental and medical care to those who can’t afford it?      Crazy!!!

What if the church became politically active and demanded changes in the economic and political domination systems of our day, where the few dominate the many economically and politically.   What if churches descended on legislatures en masse  at state and national levels and demanded specific justice and fairness for all and not just for the privileged few?   What if the church demanded new laws that paid workers a living wage as a minimum wage?   What if the churches demanded that laws  treat the indigent with respect?     Crazy!!!

What if the church sent its members out into the community to pick up and bring to the church for worship those wandering the streets in their city on Sunday morning?  What if they gave them a special place down front, and then  invited them to their individual homes for dinner after church? Or to a fellowship dinner at their church?    Crazy!!!

If churches started doing the above, our society would think they were “out of their minds”, “crazy”  and just plain nuts!    May God give the church the will to be as crazy as Christ!!   Amen

Asking the Right Questions Today?

 

A recent article in the Alban Weekly caught my attention by its title.   “New Questions for a New Day?”    Although it was an article on new questions churches need  to ask rather than the ones they are asking, it caused me to think about questions that desperately need to be asked in our political jungle today.    We are allowing the media and political pundits to ask the wrong questions of our politicians!   Let me give you a few examples:

The question:   “How will you vote on issues concerning abortion?” should be replaced by the question:  “How will you vote on issues concerning quality of life for all human beings in our society?”   Will your votes  seek to protect only fetuses or will your vote be for protecting the one in five children in Kansas who are hungry and without access to enough adequate foods and considered food insecure.   Will you protect these children  from disease by your votes that extend badly needed medical care, or are you only interested in unborn fetuses?

The question:   “How will you vote on issues concerning gay marriage“? might be replaced with the question:  “what will you advocate through your votes that will protect the rights of all citizens of the U.S. regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation so that all citizens can enjoy the full range of freedom guaranteed by our Constitution.?”

The question:  “Are you a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican?” might be replaced by the question:   “In what way will you vote for the common good of all citizens, regardless of party preference?”    I recently saw a poster on FB that showed a bird flying and said “politicians should be like birds–both the left wing and the right wing support the middle!”

The question:   “How can we better hold educators accountable?” should be replaced by the question, “ How are you going to be held accountable for the education of our children in Kansas? ”   How are you going to better support teachers in their difficult job?  Are you going to respect the job that teachers do, often for poor pay and little appreciation?   What are you going to suggest and vote for that will make sure that children we send to teachers are ready to learn by supporting early childhood education?   What are you going to do that insures that half of the children coming to the Wichita Public Schools are not coming to school hungry and therefore unable to learn?  or homeless and therefore insecure and having difficulties learning?    As I read recently—“When Congress passes “No Child Left Unfed, No child without Health Care, and No Child left homeless, then we can talk seriously about No Child Left Behind?  After that happens we can talk about accountability!

It’s time we get the message to the media and the political pundits that we wish to have politicians speak on these questions rather than the old tired ones that are now asked..   As Ghandi once said:   “Be the change!”  We can “be the change” by defining the real problems in our society and then demanding answers and solutions to those problems by asking the right questions.  We then need to use the power of the ballot to demand accountability from those who govern us.   The change can begin with your intelligent and knowledgable casting of a ballot that holds our elected officials  accountable.   “BE THE CHANGE”.

 

Are All the Children at the Table?

 

 

Recently on TED Talks the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, retired pastor of the Riverside Church in NYC spoke about compassion.   He spoke of how he learned a living definition of compassion from his mother at home around the dining room table.    Forbes was one of eight children who gathered with their mother and father around the table in the evening.   As the children grew older, inevitably one or more of the children would be missing when they sat down to eat.   His mother showed her love and care and compassion by requiring that before anyone ate and fixed their own plate, a plate would be fixed for those who were not there at the table. 

Dr. Forbes says that his Mama reminded him of how God looks around the world table and asks those of us children who are enjoying the blessings set before us—-“Are all the children around the table?”   When you bellied up to the table to get your needs met, the question Mama Forbes asked,  and God also asks, is:  “Where is your brother? ”   “Where is your sister?”     Forbes says:   “Just as Mama Forbes asked her children seated at the table about those missing, so God asks us to look after one another, to serve one another and to include one another.   It is not enough to live and provide for myself, that I put food in my own mouth, or that I even pass it to my left.  I must remember the ones still making their way to the table.  

God requires  us to remember those still trying to get to the table.   We are not to shun them, we are not to shame them.   We are to remember them and honor them by serving them first.    This is a theme that runs through both the New Testament and the Old Testament.   Those who are blessed by food and shelter are to help provide for the vulnerable, the elderly, the jobless, the homeless, the poor, the widow, the orphan.

The question for us as Christians is:   “Are we asking who is missing from our table of blessings and making sure they will be able to make it to the table?.”   In the state of Kansas with one child out of five living below the poverty level-–a level set in the 1950’s based  on food prices at that time—-I’m afraid our answer is:  NO.

Why people can’t hear what the church is saying….

 

“Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear a word you are saying!!!     Perhaps this should be inscribed in the chancel area of every church in the nation.    This is probably the main problem that mainline churches have and it is the reason they are decreasing in number and size—their  actions and their words are, too often, not matching.

I recently ran across a poem called “The Mood of Christmas” by Howard Thurman.   It reads:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

 The work of Christmas begins:

               To find the lost.  

               To heal the broken.

               To feed the hungry.

               To release the prisoner.

               To rebuild the nation.

               To bring peace among people.

               To make music in the heart.”

We Christians love the Advent Season and the Christmas Season.    They are times of Joy and Love, and Peace and Hope for most of us—-and rightly so—-the coming of the Christ Child (God with us—Immanuel)  was a time of “Joy to the World” as the hymn we sing says it.     But it is not Jesus’ coming that is so important, it was what Jesus did after he got here and the message of the Kingdom of God—-a different and better way to live—-that is important.   

I’m afraid that message of what life can be like if God is at the center of it. as om the Kingdom of God,  and the messenger’s life of sacrifice and service to God that models life in the Kingdom,   have been lost among the Christmas wrappings.   The work that Jesus set his followers to do was what Thurman wrote about.  It is the ministry Jesus described in his sermon at his home synagogue:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

I am going to use only one of the items on Thurman’s list  to illustrate my point, because it is a problem that is near to my heart, and I feel it is near to God’s heart….Feed the Hungry.  

Recently the Kansas Food Bank that serves more than 215,000 Kansans annually, combined with the Hunger in America national organization to issue a report on Hunger in America.   They used rigorous academic research standards for their report which was reviewed by a technical advisory team that included researchers from American University, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and the Urban Institute.    The study was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation the data was gathered by over 6000 trained data collectors.   This is not “a bunch of crying, do-good liberals” reporting.   This is hard data gathered and put together by trained researchers.   The results are frightening!  I will share a few of them with you.   The full report may be seen by going to Google and entering  Hunger Statistics, Kansas Food Bank Warehouse.

1 in 7 people in Kansas—an estimated 215,300 people, turned to the Kansas Food Bank meal service programs for help in feeding themselves in 2014.   Of these 215, 300 persons  68, 900 were children and 19,900 were senior citizens 11% were adult students..   Among all clients, 14% were black, 37% were Latino, and 42 % white.

The above reported that 82% were buying inexpensive , unhealthy food because they couldn’t afford the healthier.  They also reported the tough choices and trade-offs they had to make to try and keep food on the table this past year:

71% reported choosing between paying for food and utilities.   35% had to do this on a monthly basis.

73 percent report making choices between paying for food and paying for transportation to work.   35 percent made that choice every month.

66 percent had to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine and medical care.  30 percent of thse households had to choose every month.

60 % reported choosing between paying for food and paying for housing.  28% reported having to do that every month.

Ways they tried to cope with food shortages included,  52% who ate food past the expiration date.  37% pawned or sold personal property in order to buy food.  33% reported watering down food or drinks.

Why does this happen in a wealthy country?   The report gave the following reasons:   Low Wages; underemployment; and unemployment.  Of the 60% who were employed last year, they were only able to work part time and at minimum wages.   For families with both husband and wife working part-time at minimum wage of 7.25 per hr. it has been shown that even if both parents work, they cannot make enough to live on and pay rent, utilities and food expenses.   Therefore the choices that they have to make that are  listed above.

So far the churches have been mostly silent in dealing with the causes of poverty.   They are involved,  at least some of them, in treating the symptoms and helping those caught in this vicious cycle survive—-but not in dealing with the causes of the problem itself.

Can you imagine the impact if churches as a group were to demand that their legislators at state and national levels take action to raise the minimum wage to one that a family could live on?    What if churches boycotted those business who paid their employees just the present minimum wages of $7.25 an hour?   What if we said—-we’re not going to buy your hamburgers, McDonalds, until you pay your employees a living wage and provide benefits for them.   We don’t care if you raise the price of a Big Mac in order to do so!

Behind unemployment is often the lack of an education.   It has been proven since the days of John F. Kennedy’s Head Start Program that Early Childhood Education to get poorer children ready for public schooling improves their chances of success in school and acquiring the education they need in today’s labor market place.    Yet in Kansas,  our Governor and Legislature is currently taking the Tobacco Funds earmarked for Early Childhood Education and putting them in the General Funds  as well as taking funds from Education,Kindergarten through College, in order to continue allowing  over 100,000 small businesses in Kansas to not pay income taxes at all.

What would happen if churches were to demand that this not happen?  What if we demanded that everyone pay their fair share of taxes—including businesses?    Most of the legislators and the governor are presenting themselves  as Christians.   Governor  Brownback and your legislative toadies—your actions speak so loudly we can’t hear a word of what you are saying about being Christians!!

There are many other ways of attacking the problem of poverty.   The problem is not lacking ways but lacking will to do so.

In my opinion, if churches are not actively involved in doing something to change  at least one of the above 7 things—actively involved—-then their action, or lack of action, is speaking so loudly to the world that the world can’t hear a word of what they say to each other on Sunday a.m. at the worship service.   If they are not working to correct the above problems at their root, then they have no right to proclaim the Kingdom of God that Jesus commissioned his disciples to proclaim.   Jesus gave few commandments, but one that he did give was the Great Commandment  to “love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself!

Why Do Churches Exist?

 

Why do church congregations exist?   What is their purpose?  What mission do they have?   Why do we need churches, anyway?  What vision do they need to share with the world around them?   These are questions that many Chrisitian congregations should be answering.   And they need to find those answers quickly, because, at present, most mainline congregations are only religious social clubs.   Congregations must be more than social clubs if they are to be relevant in today’s world.

I recently led a leadership group in  a local congregation in an evaluation of where they were as a church on the life cycle of institutions.    They decided, correctly I believe, that they were in what George Bullard called the maturity phase, as he defined  in his book,  Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation:    “Maturity is that period when Relationships, Programs and Management are dominant.   Vision is no longer dominant.   Management is controlling the direction of the congregation.   A congregation that is past it’s prime characterizes Maturity.   It is more passive than active.   It is still successful in many areas.   For the most part it has a positive spirit…..It is no longer focused.   It is no longer clear about its vision.  The success culture of the congregation keeps it moving forward .  It is blind to the fact that it no longer has an empowering vision that is fueling it forward. “

That lack of vision and mission became evident when I asked the leadership what the purpose or vision of their church was.   No one had an answer.   They are still struggling with why they exist as a church congregation!    While I suggested how to go about creating a vision for their church they have not  followed through with my suggestion and the congregation they lead  still has no clear vision of God’s purpose and mission God desires  for their congregation.  .   I gave them several examples to think about to get them started:   “To Be a Nurturing Church in a Hungry World”;  “To Live the Great Commandment in the Community Around Us”;   and the vision of the Saddleback Church as stated in Rick Warren’s “The Purposeful Church.” (With a Great Commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, God will Grow Our Church).A vision shared by the entire church should define the mission of the church.  The raison d’etre for their existence.   Without a vision of their mission a  congregation is just another social club.     I suggested that the leadership group  needed to form a small task force to do develop this vision of mission  with much prayer,  Bible Study, and discernment so as to arrive at a  vision and mission that all in their church congregation  could “buy into”.  As of yet, almost a year later,  none of this has happened and things go along the same way they have for some time—-downhill.

In my opinion, this is the reason for many of the mainline churches being on a downward spiral and increasingly  shrinking both in numbers and in their influence on their society.  That society is becoming  increasingly immoral or amoral, violent, greedy, not  compassionate with the needs  of the most vulnerable in our society,  polarized in politics, distrustful of government and each other.    These church congregations have forgotten that the one they are named after—Jesus the Christ—-gave them a mission which is to continue the mission Jesus began of sharing the good news of God’s adoption of humandkind as God’s children—as a part of what Jesus called “The Kingdom of God” .  That is the rule of God in people’s lives that  reflects the love and passion of God for all the world—-all the world.   Jesus saw good news in God sending him into the world to show what life lived in the Kingdom could be.  He didn’t just tell us about it, he lived it.  And life in the Kingdom of god is-pretty much the opposite of what the life of most people is now in the U.S.    We have a mission as a church to bring about the new way of living  that Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God that was breaking into the world in Jesus’ time and is still here with us.   The Kingdom of God exists now—not later—-not after we die—Now—in this world!

It is not our mission as the church to sit on the sidelines, bemoaning the thin moral air in our society and the lack of morality, the violence,  the greed, the distrust, the polarity in politics, the lack of compassion for the vulnerable.  It is the mission of the church to step up to the plate and deliver a faith that gives stability,; to work with love and compassion to overcome the victimization of the most vulnerable;  to offer a way of peace to replace the violence that infects our society and world like a terminal disease;  to offer caring for others needs to replace the greed upon which our economy is now based;  to insist on compromise over polarization in our political arena.   The mission of the church is not to get along with the world as it is.   Not to be part of the present establishment governmentally,  politically or religiously; , but to point toward a better way—-the Way of Jesus that he demonstrated for us in the Gospels.  

We should never settle for the status quo—-the mission of the church is to transform lives, to change lives,  and in transforming  lives transform the society in which  we live our lives as church iby showing how that can be done using our lives as an example.

Let me illustrate with this story:

Edwina Gately is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania.   In their newsletter  she wrote about the following incident:

“I once worked in a downtown overnight shelter.   It was a big, basement shelter, and every night when the homeless came in, I would stand at the door handing out blankets.   Once this guy came up to me and said, “Edwina, could I have one without lice?”   “What?” I said.   “Could I have one that doesn’t have any lice on it?”   And I said, “Oh, er…okay,” and starting holding up the blankets to see if I could find one without lice.   “Here.  I’ve got one here.   This one’s got no lice.   There’s nothing moving on this one.”

And suddenly I thought to myself, “What am I doing?  Here I am picking out blankets without lice and urine for certain folks.   This is all wrong.”

So I went to the supervisor and said to him, “This is not right.   We should launder these blankets every day instead of every week.   We can’t do this to these folks.   They deserve better than this.”   The supervisor looked at me and smiled.   He shook his head and said,  “Edwina, let me tell you something.   When you have been here as long as I have, you get used to it.”

NOOO!  ..something in me screamed.  WE MUST NEVER GET USED TO IT.  WE MUST NEVER ACCEPT THE WAY THINGS ARE BECAUSE WE ARE TOLD, “Well, it’s always been like this.”    The world was not meant to be like this!!   We were not meant to live in poverty.   We were not meant to be hungry.   We were not meant to be homeless.   We were not meant to have to sleep in lice-infested blankets.   When we accept the system with “This is the Way it is” we become a part of that system.   We are part of the oppression, the injustice, the diminishment.”

The Church is meant to take action for change in many areas of our society that need to be improved.    Blessed are the Christians who never get used to it and continue to work for change!