The Children’s Crumbs

    Sep 06, 2015

    Preacher: William (Tex) Culton

    Detail:

    Christian Century: Sept. 2, 2015

    Behaving Belonging: A unite Church of Canada pastor, Gretta Vosper is defending her ordination. She is an avowed atheist who refuses to pray the Lord’s Prayer in worship; and who has taken a church of 150 down to 50 who support her. She maintains that behavior, not doctrine, should be the foundation of the church.

    An extreme reading of James 2: 17: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

    St. Peter’s Test: John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio and a candidate for the presidency has irked others in his party by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and by moderating his stance on immigration. His explanation for the former particularly rankled some on the right. “Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s not going to ask you much about what you did to keep government small, but he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.”

    A clear reading of Galatians 2: 9-10: and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was (or had been) eager to do.  

    This is Paul’s description of his hearing before the church in Jerusalem to gain support for his first missionary journey. From its’ very inception, the church has been concerned for the poor.

    Contentment: Accumulation of wealth beyond meeting our basic needs doesn’t make us more content, studies show. Dr. Michael Finkelstein says contentment takes practice. Think back on a time when you felt a sense of contentment, he says – it likely didn’t come from material possessions. “Our task is to simply discover where (contentment) resides.” And focus on those times and places. It helps to “practice thinking, believing, and saying that you’re grateful and thankful for what you’ve been given.” “Slow Medicine: Hope and Healing for Chronic Illness” in Utne, July

    James 2: 5: “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?”

    Matt. 6: 23: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

    Frederick Buechner wrote that it is easier for a Cadillac to get through a revolving door than for a rich man to enter in to the kingdom of God. A loose translation of one of the sayings of Jesus.

    The rich and the poor. Is there a difference? Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald had a running argument on this theme. Hemingway claimed that the rich were different and Fitzgerald’s answer was that the only difference was “they had more money.”

    The Bible seems to be in agreement with Hemingway. James paints a dark picture of the rich (is it not they that blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they that drag you into court?) And Jesus warns against the false sense of security that wealth can give (lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume etc.). In fact, one of the temptations of Christ was to be powerful and possess the world.

    The truth is, wealth and our desire to be wealthy can be distracting. It is certainly time consuming. Having it tempts us to believe that we achieved prosperity through our own efforts and that the wealth we have accumulated is therefore ours alone. We are tempted to throw money at all our problems and use it to address all our wants, needs and desires. We are tempted to use it to build relationships and keep others close.

    But, Poverty also has its pitfalls and the poor are tempted to blame God, to get bitter, to give up on life and lose themselves in self-pity.  

    What I think the Bible is speaking too are the distractions of wealth and poverty that keep us from experiencing the kingdom of heaven. There is this persistent and ancient theological explanation about wealth and poverty. If we are wealthy, we are obviously God’s favorites. If we are poor, we did something to deserve it.

    The poor envy the rich and the problem that James was addressing was the treatment of the poor who were coming into the church. They were giving favoring the rich and tolerating the poor. He pointed out that they were acting no differently than those who were not Christian. They were not loving their neighbor as they loved themselves, and were therefore guilty of sin.

    He goes into a long defense of his theological position and gets a bit rash when he writes, 2:14b “Can Faith save you?”

    I believe that faith can save us, but it must be a real faith, not a lip service faith. It must be something that radically affects the way we live and love others. I think that James is condemning false faith. He is not making a case of salvation through works, but arguing for a dynamic faith that seeks to put into practice the law that Christ fulfilled without negating the revelation that it is by grace that we are saved. We do not do good works in order to pay our dues and get into heaven. We do good deeds because that is what Christians, conscious recipients of the grace of God, grateful for salvation do. We simply live Christ. Jesus did more than preach; he served, he sacrificed. Living Christ is living in the kingdom of God and bringing the kingdom with us wherever we go.

    I live in Hunterdon County where there are more deer than people. I used to ride down the middle of the road at night to give myself a little more room and time to react if a deer appeared in my headlights. Middle of the road is where I drive politically, and not because driving on the left is forbidden or on the right is more popular in Hunterdon County. I reserve my judgement until I have had time to consider the arguments and positions of both sides. But I must confess, that I carry the same concerns as did Peter, James and John when they questioned Paul before he could serve the Lord with the church’s blessing. “Remember the poor!” That’s the trump card for me when I’m considering any political or theological decision. But I do not separate my political decisions from my theological self. My decisions are not made on the basis of pragmatism or popularity.

    Decisions on how to treat others is a reflection of how God has treated me. “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James is referring to the mercy we show others as triumphing over the judgement we deserve from God. We must offer God’s grace to others, because it is God’s grace that saves us, not our good looks, our wealth, or even our works.

    Grace must proceed from grace. Our awareness of God’s grace is imperative as well as our sharing that grace with others. There is only one way for that to occur in our lives. It is by accepting Christ and receiving God’s Holy Spirit into our hearts (the metaphorical seat of love and judgment).

    Otherwise, our judgment will be driven by our human instincts and prejudices and fears and sin. We will be blinded by our desires and be unable to treat all others as if they were children of God.

    So what’s the point?