Monday, March 06, 2017

An unlikeable sermon

One week ago, I got some strong affirmations for a sermon I preached on Christians and Protest. In that sermon, I stressed that there are times when Christians need to raise their voice in protest against or for certain subjects. There were very strong affirmations about that sermon. Stronger than I typically receive. It was nice. It also told me that it was a likeable sermon.

Yesterday I preached an unlikeable sermon.

I decided to narrow in on one subject that the Bible consistency tells the people of God they should be attentive of. It is a subject that God protests about. It is a subject that is highlighted in the commandments and statutes of the Covenant. It is a subject that the prophets hold the people of God accountable for. It is something Jesus refers to in his ministry. It is something that the letter writing apostles bring to the attention of Christians.

The subject that God protests and expects Christians to protest about is how the poor are treated.

Due to an electronic malfunction, there is no video of that sermon. I want to share the main points here.

The wrong protests
I have watched churches, congregations, and Christians protest many things in my 20+ years of ministry. They have protested against abortion, gay marriage, and the Walt Disney Company. They have protested when they lost influence in schools over school prayer, against stores that acknowledge diversity with “Happy Holidays”, and the inclusion of diverse religions in the public square. They have protested against these things but there is minimal evidence that God calls us to protest any of them from the Bible.

But there is something the God clearly calls believers to protest throughout Scripture, yet many congregation or Christians do little to raise their voice to it. It is something that affects 1/6th of the world’s population. It is something that is responsible for the death of 22,000 children every day. It is something that touches this nation and the communities we live in. The thing that God calls us to protest is how the poor are treated.

The godly protest
The theme of protest for Christians should come around to this at some point. I am not saying the Christans, congregations, or churches should or should not protest about the previous things listed. I am saying that at some point Christians should raise their voices about the subject of the poor and the excluded.

God explicitly commands followers on how the poor and excluded are to be treated. In Deuteronomy 10, the relationship between the people of God (Israel) is summarized. In the midst of the summary of the covenant, the only commands about how the people were to relate with other people. Out of the 6 commandments that deal with relationship in community, Moses highlights the poor.

Through the Law, Prophets, and Gospels, we find God directly addressing the needs of these specific people: the poor and needy, widows, orphans, and strangers. This theme of how the faithful treat the poor is dealt with all the way through the Bible and never does it deviate from this message: God cares about the poor. And God wants the people who follow God to care about the poor also.

The poor and excluded are always put in front of the biblical people of God. Before the people of God enters the land of promise, Moses brings the covenant of commandments and statutes to the people. Exodus 20-23; Leviticus 19, 25; Deuteronomy 24, 25 are all commands regarding how the poor and excluded are to be treated. After the land has been established, the prophets call the people to accountability for how the poor have been treated since the land has been settled. Isaiah 58:6-12; Jeremiah 22:3-5,13-17; and Amos 5:10-15 are all examples of prophetic declarations about the failure to care for the needs of the poor and excluded. In the Gospel, Jesus puts the needs of the poor upfront with those who follow him in Luke 4:18-19 and Mark 14:7. And the first epistle of John offers this expansion upon the "laying down of our lives" in 1 John 3:17-18. The Bible stresses that whoever wishes to know and do what pleases God will at least stand up for justice and righteousness with regard to the poor and the excluded.

Justice and righteousness are themes that run parallel in the Old Testament with the poor and excluded. Micah 6:8; Isaiah 1:16-17; Jeremiah 22: Amos 5 all refer to the justice that is required of God's people. Justice does not just represent punishment for crimes, though. Justice is the treatment that all deserve equally. It is the lifting up of the poor and excluded out of forgottenness and into community. It is providing the generous sufficiency so that the poor and forgotten can live and produce what is needed to live as dignified people. It is caring for those who cannot care for themselves in generous way. The widowed, fatherless, foreigner, disabled, aged, homeless, hungry are all people that the God’s followers are called to be concerned about, as highlighted in Luke 14:12-14; Matthew 5; James 1:27,2:5.

God has an expectation that we will be standing up for the poor and forgotten.

When laws further demean people of certain status - we should protest.
When drug and insurance companies and the government remove needed medical care from the sick and disabled - we should protest
When nursing homes are filled with forgotten people and mental health facilities turn out the mentally ill because they can’t find room - we should protest
When we see foreigners being shunned in communities because they are different in some way - we should protest
When we are afforded certain rights that others are not because we fit into a certain class - we should protest
When we receive the benefit of a better life because we are a certain race or social status and others are turned away because they are not - we should protest

This is what God calls us to by command and prophetic word and applied to our setting. It is what Jesus Christ calls us to in determining our fitness for the kingdom. Matthew 25: 34-46 highlights the end of days and the judgment of the Christ. In that judgment, those who have responded to the needs of the poor and excluded will benefit from the kingdom. Those who have overlooked the needs of the poor and excluded will be rejected from the kingdom. We are called to protest for the poor, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger.

This sermon received no affirmations or accolades. It wasn't liked very much. It wasn't received as warmly. And with reason. It is an uncomfortable sermon. It is a sermon that was designed to hold the congregations accountable for a portion of scripture that is not frequently highlighted. It is a sermon that puts something we are responsible for right in front of us. To ignore the way the poor and excluded are treated is to ignore a significant portion of the Bible. And it demands a response.

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