Nuggets

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Isaiah 7:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Luke 22:1-13


A popular nugget of folk-wisdom circulates among us. Wording varies, but the message boils down to: “People come into your life for a reason” or “to teach you lessons.” Maybe it’s true. It’s certainly comforting. But we want to be careful how we use it. If we look at people through a lens of “what purpose do you serve in my life?” they can stop looking like people with their own lives and agency and start looking like props in our personal story.

Another nugget suggests distancing ourselves from people who bring negative energy into our lives. If that energy manifests as abuse or manipulation, follow that advice. Flee. But for Christians to live lives of service … some negative energy is part of the package. Expecting people in genuine need – people living with serious physical, economic, social, or mental disadvantages – to meet our expectations of “positivity” doesn’t resonate with the Beatitudes blessing the poor and grieving. Many people are working so hard to physically or emotionally survive they can’t muster any more strength for our standards of positive – or sometimes even tolerable – attitudes. We serve them anyway, because they suffer and Jesus calls us to solidarity with the suffering.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he sent Peter and John ahead to arrange a place for the Passover meal. He told them they would meet a man carrying a jar of water, and to follow him to a house where they would find a room available and furnished for their needs. We never learn the name of the man carrying water, or the man who owned the house, but both their lives were touched by Christ. They are not mere plot devices. The mission of Peter and John – of Jesus – was about just such people … people like us.

Isaiah and Paul are separated by about 700 years, but both address the need for communities to go through difficulty together, rather than going around it separately. God’s justice is bigger than any individual life. We experience it most fully when we share it with those who experience it the least.

Comfort: You are part of something bigger, in many small ways.

Challenge: Find ways to replenish your strength for when others may need it.

Prayer: Thank you, Loving God, for the gift of Community. Grant me the wisdom to feel blessed by both its benefits and its responsibilities. Amen.

Discussion: When do you find it most difficult to be charitable? What do you think that says about you?

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Poverty Line

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 62; 145, 2 Chronicles 6:32-7:7, James 2:1-13, Mark 14:53-65


The 2017 Federal Poverty Level – a factor in qualifying for some federal benefits – is $12,060 for an individual, and $24,600 for a family of four. We often call this threshold the Poverty Line.

Unfortunately many people make a host of assumptions based on a person or family’s financial position relative to the Poverty Line, which tells us one and exactly one thing. Assumptions multiply if people use the benefits available to them. Somehow the American Dream – and its bastard child the Prosperity Gospel – have managed to frame poverty as a moral failing, despite Christ’s consistent solidarity with the poor.

Jesus talked a lot about the poor. More importantly, he talked to and with the poor, assuring them their circumstances did not reflect God’s love for them. As Christianity gained favor with the affluent, the church found it necessary to counsel those who carried biases about the poor into their faith. In his epistle James wrote:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Today’s judgments and evil thoughts are more subtle. Our attitude toward charity waxes and wanes according to our judgment of whether people in need are deserving or undeserving. Somehow their decisions and actions seem to warrant more scrutiny than our own. We mask the stinginess of our hearts and wallets behind otherwise noble concepts like stewardship and accountability.

Jesus didn’t make distinctions among people in need based on their worthiness. As Paul reminds us in Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Perhaps the biggest mistake we make when talking or thinking about the poor – is thinking of them as “the poor.” To follow Christ is to be a servant to all; there’s no service in washing clean feet.

Additional Reading:
For more thoughts on today’s scripture from James, see Solidarity.


Comfort: Poverty is not a sign of God’s disfavor. 

Challenge: Pay attention to what aspects of life and society unnecessarily favor people of greater means over people of lesser means.

Prayer: Gracious God, teach me to see all persons as you do. Amen. 

Discussion: What are the differences and similarities between tackling poverty on a national or global scale, and loving the poor on a personal level?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Solidarity

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56; 149, Joel 3:9-17, James 2:1-13, Luke 16:10-17 (18)


I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.

The author of James would probably have appreciated these words from Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. James was very aware that people struggle to see everyone as equal without regard to social and economic status. He wrote:

For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Maybe we don’t make such distinctions on Sunday mornings, but the ever-present barriers between classes is very real. One common way to handle poverty is to push it out of sight. Many a generous soul who volunteers at a food bank or homeless center would not be keen to find one on their own block. We all like to hear a struggling neighborhood has been improved, but do we ask whether the improvements are positively impacting the people most in need, or are just forcing them away to create a new playground for the more affluent? In many ways, we are tolerant rather than inclusive. Tolerance starts from an assumption that we own social (and sometimes physical) space and have the authority to grant others permission to enter it; inclusivity assumes we all have equal right to that space and requires mutual respect and actual relationship to thrive.

Our faith communities should be places where we remove barriers and distinctions. By choosing solidarity and inclusivity over charity and tolerance, we remake part of the world in the image of the Kingdom. Whether our personal poverty is one of pocket, spirit, or status … we have a lot to learn from other people.

Comfort: All members of the Body of Christ are equal.

Challenge: Spend time with people who are different from you.

Prayer: Lord of Creation, may my heart be open to all. Amen.

Discussion: Are there any ways you are tolerant where you could become inclusive?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!