We are going to base our sermons for the next five weeks on a story from the beginning of Jesus ministry on this earth. He was around 30 years old and He stands up one day in local temple and proceeds to read the Holy Scriptures from the book of Isaiah.
16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the Lords favor has come
20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. The Scripture youve just heard has been fulfilled this very day! Luke 4:14-21 NLT
I wish I could tell you this will be five weeks of tinsel, trees and manger meditations but it is not. I wish I could assure you that we will experience warm Christmas fuzzies and build in our anticipation of a day of gifts, great food and fun. However none of this is our destination.
I am your pastor and as such live with the idea that it is my job to deliver Gods word to you. It is my job to point you to Christ no matter how counter the culture His message may run. No matter how politically incorrect or old fashioned it may be I have no choice but to tell you the truth and try to motivate you to be like Christ. It is my intention to make us uncomfortable by holding us to the word of God and to responding to our world as Christ responded to our world.
This series is about the Advent of Christ and what He left us to do and we will check ourselves and examine ourselves to see how we are doing in carrying out His mission.
5 Sundays of Advent
November 27 To Bring Good News to the Poor Poverty and our church
December 4 To Comfort and Heal the Brokenhearted Grief and our church
December 11 To Proclaim Freedom to the Captive Addiction and our church
December 18 To Allow the Blind to See The Message and church
December 24 To Give Liberty to the Burdened and Battered Freedom through Christ
Today we are going to tackle the first reason that Jesus said that He came to this earth.
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
If you study the bible for any length of time, you come to see an interesting thing. God does not treat everyone equally. He actually gives preference to the poor. God takes the side of the poor, throughout the Bible. Any theologian can tell you that God has a definite bias toward the poor.
About a year ago, I was flipping through the 24 hour news channels and saw a talk show host of a very popular show with political conservatives and the host was ranting about the words social justice. He said something like this: If your church or pastor uses those words he is not biblical so get out of that church. He suggested that the phrase social justice was code for socialism or Communism.
I have news for you. . .God is deeply interested in social justice. I dont think God is a socialist or a Communist but He cares about injustice. He cares deeply about those that suffer.
Tim Keller in his book, Generous Justice, writes these words, It is striking to see how often God is introduced as the defender of these vulnerable groups (Deuteronomy 10:17-18) . . . When people ask me, How do you want to be introduced? I usually propose they say, This is Tim Keller, minister at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Of course I am many other things, but that is the main thing I spend my time doing in public life. Realize then, how significant it is that the Biblical writers introduce God as a father to the fatherless, a defender of the widows (Psalm 68:4-5) This is one of the main things He does in the world. He identifies with the powerless, He takes up their cause.
If you help the poor, you are lending to the LORD and he will repay you!
Proverbs 19:17 NLT
Anyone who oppresses the poor is insulting God. Proverbs 14:31 TLB
Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need.
Proverbs 21:13 NLT
There are 2,000 verses of Scripture that call us to respond to the needs of the poor. This is at the core of the Christian faith.
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassionhow can Gods love be in that person?1 John 3:17 NLT
The answer is, it cant.
What this is saying is, if you have no compassion for the poor, youre really not a Christfollwer, because the love of God is not in you, or if you are a Christfollower, then at the very least, you have hardened your heart toward God in this area.
Because God tells us 2,000 times in the Bible how a Christian reacts to the poor. A Christian has compassion, and works to alleviate the injustice of poverty.
In fact, just based on what the bible tells us, this is one of the key ways you should be able to tell whos a real Christfollower. In Matthew we read that on day we will all stand before God and He will judge us on what we did to the least of these.
Picture of Mother Teresa: Let me ask you, "How do you think Mother Teresa would get up in the morning?
Do you think she kind of dragged herself out of bed and said, Well, here we go again, another lousy day on the streets of Calcutta. Ive gotta meet the needs of the poor again, man I hate Mondays, I wish I could sleep in.
No. I dont think so.
She climbed out of bed with excitement and enthusiasm. Those who knew her talked about the bubbling joy that radiated from within her. Why was she so joyful?
Because she knew she was ministering to Jesus all day long, because, Jesus comes himself to us through people who are in need. And as we minister to them, the joy of Jesus comes into us and energizes us. She wrote once, I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending love letters to the world.
Today we are going to try to understand four things about poverty and the poor.
Why we should remember people in poverty
Our greatest model for how we should treat the poor is none other than Jesus Christ. Jesus did two things when He was on this earth. He met the physical needs of those who came to Him and He met their spiritual needs. Often He combined the two. In doing so He demonstrated the dual nature of the Kingdom of God.
Maybe we can also find the answer in Jesus words. He gave us the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Not long before leaving this earth he commissioned His disciples then and all that would follow with these words, Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Just a few weeks before that Jesus gave the Greatest Commandment by stating, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)
This commission and these commandments ought to drive the heart of every Christfollower and every church.
We should remember people in poverty because Jesus said to and taught it as a mandate with eternal consequences!
31 But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.
37 Then these righteous ones will reply, Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?
40 And the King will say, I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!
41 Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didnt feed me. I was thirsty, and you didnt give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didnt invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didnt give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didnt visit me.
44 Then they will reply, Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?
45 And he will answer, I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.
46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life. Matthew 25:31-46 NLT
How we can recognize people in poverty
What does it mean to be in poverty and how do we identify poverty?
I cannot give you any kind of complete answer to this question in a 30 minute sermon with other points to be talked about. Let me assure you this will come up again in the coming year because we are going to wrestle with this. I want us to wrestle with it individually and corporately as a church.
Some of you will get it and some of you may choose to find a church that is about you and for you. To my dying day or the day I move on from this church I will fight for us to not be a consumer driven church. To be the hands and feet of Christ demands that we not look to our own needs but that we develop eyes to see the needs around us.
Let me give you a reading assignment and try to not make comments on it. If you want to know how to identify the poor start with Jesus story found in Luke 10. Start reading about verse 25 and you will know when you need to stop reading the story.
Often people have objections to helping the poor because the poor seem to make such horrible decisions. Welcome to generation poverty. What do you expect? A few years ago some folks tried to help a neighbor with the purchase of a baby bed. They were shocked when they walked in the house and saw a big screen TV bigger than any of them had. Does that mean you dont help people because they dont know how to manage money and spend on entertainment instead of need? I dont think so. You seek to understand who your neighbor is and then you get over it and try to influence people to do the right thing to come to know who Jesus Christ is and what He can do for them.
"I had a little tea party, this afternoon at four,
Twas very small, three guests in all. Just I, myself and me.
Myself ate all the sandwiches, While I drank up the tea,
Twas also I who ate the pie, And passed the cake to me."
You will never be able to love your neighbors as you should until you have experienced and been saved by someone who owed you the opposite of salvation. When you truly experience the undeserved love of Christ you will be left with no choice but to move forward to show other undeserving people that same kind of love in Jesus name.
How we can respond to people in poverty
Phil Smith in the book, The Poor will be Glad, suggests that three out of four ways the church tries to share the gospel will fail to have long-term results. This is implied in the parable that Jesus told about planting or sewing the seed of the gospel in four types of soil. (Matthew 13:3-23) Consequently we shouldnt be overly surprised when much of our efforts and money dont seem to bring about long-term benefit to many people.
Often this same principle applies to sharing our resources with the poor. We should all know by now that we are to respond but nothing will be done or maybe I should day nothing will be done effectively unless on question is asked. The question is simple but seemingly overlooked by many in the church today. It is a one word question and it is simply, How?
How do we respond in our city or community?
How should we respond in a Country that provides care in the form of social service agencies?
How should we respond when it is reported that one in six Americans now receive government assistance?
How do we respond when the needs around the world are beyond most of our comprehensions?
How do we respond to the needs and poverty when our actions may very well create dependency and be a disincentive instead of an incentive to change and overcome the challenges of poverty?
Again let me remind you that this is a sermon that will raise more questions than answers. Job asked some question in chapter 31 of the Book of Job.
16 Have I refused to help the poor, or crushed the hopes of widows? 17 Have I been stingy with my food and refused to share it with orphans?
21 If I raised my hand against an orphan, knowing the judges would take my side, 22 then let my shoulder be wrenched out of place! Let my arm be torn from its socket! 23 That would be better than facing Gods judgment. Job 31:16-17, 21-23 NLT
May God help us on our quest to find a proper response. N.T. Wright wrote these words and I pray that you have ears to hear them: Gods law asks us . . .to find means of ensuring that the weakest and poorest in the community are enabled to have access to the opportunities they need in order to provide for themselves. Opportunities may include financial resources but could also include access to education, legal assistance, investment in job opportunities, etc.
I pray that we will find a biblical way to respond before our Lord returns and assesses our work and relationship to our neighbors.
How we can respect people in poverty
Let me read you something a well-known Christian author said.
Whenever you meet a suffering person, you will find that Jesus is there waiting to be loved in that individual. Thats why Jesus said, "whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me." You cannot reach out to a person in need, you cannot embrace somebody whos hurting, you cannot minister to somebody who is in desperate straits, without having that eerie and wonderful awareness, that Jesus is coming back at you right through that person.
The author tells a story: He says,
I was walking down the street in Philadelphia and a bum came towards me. I mean a dirty, filthy guy. He was covered with soot from head to toe. You couldnt believe how messed up he was. He had this huge beard and there was rotted food stuck in the beard. As he approached me, he held out a cup of McDonalds coffee and said, "Hey mister, want some of my coffee?"
I looked at his dirty, filthy man and said, "Thanks, but thats okay," and I walked by him. The minute I passed him, I knew I was doing the wrong thing, so I turned around and said, "Excuse me. I would like some of your coffee." I took some of the coffee and sipped it and gave it back to him. I said, "Youre being generous. How come youre being so generous today?"
And this bum looked at me and he said, "Because the coffee was especially delicious today and I think that when God gives you something good, you ought to share it with people."
I didnt know how to handle that, so I said, "Can I give you anything?" I thought that he would hit me for five dollars.
He said, "No." Then he said, "Yeah, yeah. Ive changed my mind, there is something you can give me. You can give me a hug."
I was hoping for the five dollars!
He put his arms around me and I put my arms around him. And as I in my suit and tie, and he in his filthy garb hugged each other on the street, I had the strange awareness that I wasnt hugging a bum, I was hugging Jesus. I found Jesus in that suffering man.
We show respect by understanding that even the people we consider so beneath us are children of God. He created them. He loves them just as much as He loves you and might I even suggest He may love them more because Jesus Christ has always been about the unlovable.
I have every hope and intention of unpacking all these things in the coming year so that as a church we understand why we were called in the last ten years to stay in the neighborhoods where our churches our located. We even have some folks that have moved into homes around our church buildings so that they can minister to families from our immediate communities. Others already live here and can help us understand the need and what our response should be. Am I suggesting that everyone living around us is poor? Absolutely not, if they know Christ but without Him and His love at the very least they are poor in Spirit we should reach them with the love of Christ.
A young boy was walking through the park. He had just gotten out of his Sunday school class, where his teacher had told the class that you never can tell when youll meet Jesus.
As he was walking through the park, he noticed an old woman sitting on a bench. She looked very lonely, so he sat down next to her. He said "Hi" and then offered her a piece of his candy bar, which he had been saving.
She accepted the piece of chocolate with a smile. They talked for a while about nothing in particular and then the boy offered her another piece, which she also gladly accepted.
They talked a little while longer and then the boy got up to leave.
As he began to walk away, he turned around, ran back to the bench and gave the woman a big hug. And, she gave him her very biggest smile.
When he arrived home, his mother saw a big smile on his face and asked, "What made you so happy today"?
The boy said, "I shared my chocolate bar with Jesus. And, guess what, Mom? She has a great smile".
Meanwhile, the old woman returned to her little apartment which she shared with her sister. The sister said "Youre all smiles today",. "What made you so happy"? She said, "Well", "I was sitting in the park sharing a chocolate bar with Jesus. And, you know what? He looks a lot younger than I expected"!