24 February 2019
Luke 6. 27-38
We give. . . just like god!
“Will work for food.” We’ve all seen the sign, at one time or another. On a vacation to a big city. Even here in Midland, on the way to school or to work or to church. Handwritten. On a worn piece of cardboard. We’ve seen the sign and we’ve seen the person holding it. And we experienced the discomfort and the unease, the moment we realize that the traffic light is going to change before we get into the intersection. And we’ll have to stop and wait, right there beside them. The discomfort. The unease. And that mixture of embarrassment and guilt. Trying not to make eye contact. Trying to find anything to distract, to deflect. We monkey with the mirror. Fiddle with the radio. Check cellphone, makeup. I know the routine. I’ve done it myself, a time or three.
But then, the light, finally, turns green. And it doesn’t, really, take all that long to rationalize, to justify, what happened. Our actions. Or rather, inaction. Conventional wisdom kicks in and it was for the best that we didn’t do anything. They ought to get a job, a real job. Pick themselves up by their own bootstraps. No doubt, buy booze. Drugs. Make a better living than most, just standing there. We’d, rather, they just go away. Another street. Another neighborhood. Another city. After a few blocks, a couple minutes more, of driving, that sign, that person – well, what do they say? Out of sight. . .
It’s not that we’re bad people. We just don’t know what to do. What’s right? What’s wrong? What’s for the best? The only thing we’re sure of is that drive by kindness, just doesn’t change things. For us. For them. When all is done and said, we don’t know their name or they ours. We don’t know the stories. We, certainly, don’t remember their face. It’s no wonder we do our best to avoid that red light.
And then, there’s the advice, the encouragement, the commandment, tucked away in today’s gospel, that brings it all back. Luke, chapter six, the first half of verse thirty. . . “Give to anyone – to everyone – who begs from you!” “Give to everyone who begs from you!” No matter how hard we try – to make those words say something else! No matter how hard we try – to say that Jesus didn’t really mean what we think he’s saying! We can’t. They don’t. He didn’t. It’s plain and it’s simple. “Give to everyone who begs from you!” Period. End of sentence. What Jesus said, Jesus meant. What Jesus said, he, still, means! And this morning, I can’t spin it in our favor.
Usually, last thing we do before worship begins, we confess our sin. We admit that we have not loved god, loved god with our whole heart. And we admit we have not loved each other, not the way we love ourselves. So much, by the way, for a “golden” rule! Anyway, we sin. We do not, we will not, we cannot, love! And so, more than we care to confess, we drive right past the beggar without ever stopping. Without ever slowing. And we have the audacity to say that it’s for their own good! And to be honest, sometimes it may be in their best interests. Not stopping or slowing, that is. But I don’t think most people stand on that street corner because they want to. I don’t believe – if they had any other option – they would be there.
Most people on the streets, well, they struggle. And if we cared – if we really, truly cared, myself included – we wouldn’t, just, give them a dollar or two. And we wouldn’t, simply, roll down the window and hand them a happy meal. And we wouldn’t provide a room, merely, for one night. We’d do what Jesus did, what Jesus continues to do! We’d bring them good news! We’d proclaim to them release and recovery and favor! We’d set them free! But, of course, that takes time. That requires effort. And it’s so much easier simply to focus on the symptoms. For a moment. For an hour. For a day. So much easier to alleviate our guilt, rather then their poverty. “Give to everyone who begs from you!”
So, over all, we blame the poor for their neediness, and we pass them by. We see the sign. We see them. And we say “Go in peace! Keep warm! Eat your fill!” Without ever supplying their needs. James, chapter two. Love is more than wishful thinking. Love is more than good intentions. Sure, they need money to survive. And of course, they need food. They and their family. But how can we deal with poverty, with need, if we don’t address what causes it. Most of the people holding those signs aren’t there because they want to be. Most are there because they must. Most are there because they have no other options. Homeless. Unemployed. Underemployed. Mentally ill. Addicted. Abused.
As a church, as a congregation, we’ve taken a road less traveled. We’ve sold our building and stepped toward a different future. Imagine. . . Imagine if we were to become a congregation, a church, that wasn’t just interested in the effects, but, more importantly, in the causes! That thought about the reasons for having to have a food pantry. We’d like to think that our government – for the common good – would be concerned. But until then, what if that’s why we’re here! But, I digress. . .
As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, I’m not here to wave banners. I’m here to lift up crosses. To lift up the cross god has chosen us to carry. But even more, lift up the cross upon which god has suffered and been broken and bled and died. You see, the only reason – the only reason – Jesus tells us to give is because that’s what Jesus himself has done! Given to every, single person who has begged from him! Given to every, single person who was unable to beg from him! God isn’t here, just for the powerful and rich. God is here for the hungry and the lowly. God isn’t here for those who can make their own way, or at least, for those who think they can make their own way. God is here for those – as my mom used to say – don’t have two pennies to rub together.
“Give to everyone who begs from you,” Jesus says, “to everyone unwilling, unable to beg! Because that is, exactly, what I’ve done! Because that’s, exactly, what I’m doing!”
That person, standing on the street corner, holding that sign? They are us! They are us, in the eyes of god! And imagine – just imagine – if god, simply, kept on going! If god didn’t, even, look our way! All for our own good! “Give to everyone who begs from you!” When we ask god to save, redeem, we’re the ones holding the sign, trusting, believing, staking our life, that god will notice us! That god will stop! That god will give!
“It’s true, we are all beggars!” Those were the last words Luther ever wrote. They were found on the table beside the bed, the morning after he died. And Jesus said, Jesus says, “Give to everyone who begs from you!” That, for us, isn’t just a commandment or a moral or a principle. It’s a statement of faith, our creed, as well! God tells us to give! Not to some, or to many, or to most! But god tells us to give to everyone, to give to all! No ifs, ands, or buts! Because you see, my friends, you see, that is what god has already done!