SNAP and God’s Concern for the Poor

So, I was thinking as I read about the fact that too many kids in our country don’t have enough to eat; as I noted that we have used up pretty much all the money we had for assisting the poor already this year; as I learned about cuts to the SNAP program; as I read the advice from one pastor that we should not talk about the plight of the poor because it is too political, that God must spend a lot of time weeping.  In an age where we seem very concerned about rights: marriage rights, gun rights, freedom of speech, etc., we don’t seem to spend much time thinking about what Jimmy Carter (among others) called the two most basic human rights: to live in peace and have enough to eat. I was also thinking that life would be easier if I just kept my thoughts to myself…. but, there is this call I received, and vows I took.  So, here’s my thinking today.

Whether we agree with the position of the prophets and Jesus on the poor or not, it is clear that God seems to, on the one hand have infinite concern for the widows, orphans, those aliens in the land who have nothing, the poor, the people who live on the fringes and on the other, gets very impatient with those who have means and don’t take care of the poor.  The prophet Amos says in this week’s lesson “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land…” (Amos 8:4)  Is the warning of God’s anger for us? Read through this article from Sojourners about the poor and the SNAP program: Just Picking On the Poor: The Facts and the Faces of Cutting SNAP – Jim Wallis | God’s Politics Blog | Sojourners.

Now, I know that there are concerns that some programs for the poor create dependency and keep people from work. I support every effort made to find long-term solutions to problems and to help people become the people God calls them to be — which biblically speaking, includes meaningful work. But, as one who meets the people who come in our door desperately searching for help, very few are the “lazy reprobates” everyone seems to fear. They are quite the opposite, in fact.

I also know that government excess is a problem and that “the government” is everyone’s favorite bad guy (even though in a Democracy, the enemy is us). But we can’t be a people who allow the “pain” of fiscal responsibility trickle down so the poor pay the freight.

It comes down to compassion and love, for me. If my God cares about the poor; if my God died to save me as a poor brutalized human; if I am called to love God AND my neighbor (read “humanity” ala the Good Samaritan) then caring for, supporting and giving voice to the poor is a calling for all who call upon the name of Jesus. That’s just what I was thinking today.

Pax Christi, Tim

Remembering September 11

So, I was thinking that many of us are thinking about September 11th 2001 today. Our memories of that day may evoke many different feelings. When all is said and done, however, our remembering must always serve today and tomorrow and not be mired in the past. Resentments, hatred, fear, conspiracy theories must give way to honoring those lost; caring for those still struggling.

For people of faith our memories must also look into the rubble and dust of that day in September and see the sacrifice and death that took place outside Jerusalem on a cross on the day of the crucifixion of Our Lord, Jesus.  Through that memory we will find the path to hope, peace, forgiveness and love that makes some sense of the tragedies throughout history – like September 11. We need to remember, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann said, “God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.”  God weeps in the tragedy and God will turn our mourning to dancing.  That is the promise and that is the memory.  Tonight, our confirmation students will, as they do each year, begin meeting people of other faiths in our area. On this September 11th, they will go to the local Islamic Center to be with other children of Abraham and learn of peace, mutual respect, and how faith and knowledge overcome fear.  In so doing, the memory and sacrifice of September 11 is honored because hate is defeated by love and terror does not win.

Let us pray:

Holy One, on this day of remembrance, we lift to you the honored dead and the ones who still bear the marks of pain and grieving made on that day.  We remember the sacrifice of police, firefighters, medical personnel, clergy, and so many others who gave life to others and who gave their lives for others.  We remember our rage and terror; we remember our fear and hopelessness and we offer it all to you. Most importantly, O God, we remember you as the one who suffers with us in the smoke and rubble of life; we remember you as the one who brings life from death; peace from violence; hope from despair and love from hatred. We pray for your healing touch and peace on this day and all those to come.  In the name of the crucified one, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Pax Christi,  Pastor Tim

Saying Grace: Paula Deen, Progressives, and Race

Saying Grace: Paula Deen, Progressives, and Race.

So, I was thinking about the whole Paula Deen and racism thing.  I can’t say that I will miss her show — not because she is a racist or not – but because her approach to cooking and screen persona don’t do much for me. I also must confess that I have little time for racism’s various manifestations in our world — even my own.  But then I began to think about God in all this and as I formulated my thoughts, I read this post.  So, I will just say — “What she said.”  Amen.

Blasphemy and the Poor

Congressman Stephen Fincher is preaching, and he should stop. He cites two verses from scripture to defend the notion that aid to the poor in our country should be slashed.  His comments about how the Bible tells us we should cut aid to the poor is irresponsible and just rotten use of scripture. His use is not just one opinion among many, but blasphemy.  Now, I know that is a strong word, but it applies here.

Ted Peters, brilliant Lutheran theologian writes: Blasphemy “involves using the name of God directly or indirectly in order to hide evil behind a veil of righteousness. It is hypocrisy.” (Sin:Radical Evil in Soul and Society, Eerdman’s, 1994, p 217) Congressman, this is blasphemy. God’s call to care for the poor is a central biblical teaching from beginning to end. Read the whole thing, not just twistable verses.  His remarks are also blasphemy because they add to the public characterization of Christians as hateful and lacking compassion, and so it leads people astray.  Here is the article:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-schiffman/congressman-quotes-jesus-in-bid-to-gut-food-stamps_b_3331920.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009&utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=3031105b=facebook

Fincher cites Matthew 26:11, which says “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” as a reason to leave people poor, and make them poorer.  The context of course is that Jesus is on his way to death and as a woman anoints his feet with oil as an act of honor and compassion, the disciples complain that the money for the oil should have gone to the poor.  Jesus does not say “Ignore the poor. Pedicures for everyone!”  Jesus, in all of the gospel, stands with the poor – and in fact is poor himself.  C’mon Congressman.  Reading just a few of the 200+ references to the poor in scripture will uncover God’s love for those who are poor and God’s anger with those who make them so.  The Congressman also cites 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”  How about we include at least the following verse: “For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.”  The problem was that some members of the Thessalonian church seem to have been withholding what they could pay, what they could do, what they could share with others and only received.  It was hurting the Church. That is far different than what the Congressman is saying.  Read the other letters of the New Testament and you will, again, find great concern about and responsibility for the poor among us.

Let me suggest just a few Biblical passages to expand the Congressman’s reading list:

Amos 5:11-12  11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.  12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins– you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

Luke 4:18-19  18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,  19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 6:20-26   20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.  23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.  24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Matthew 25:41-45   41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;  42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

Luke 16:19-25  19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,  21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.  22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.  23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.  24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’  25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

OK. I’m done for today.  Rant concluded. – Pastor Tim

Disaster in Oklahoma and the Presence of God

So, I was thinking that not to speak in the face of the devastation of the most recent disaster in Oklahoma is well, unthinkable.  What I share here is in part, some of a letter shared with the congregation – so pardon any redundancy.

The pictures of the devastation wrought by the huge and protracted tornado are heart breaking and even beyond comprehension.  The fact that our own area has listened to sirens warning us of the possibility of similar threats over the last two days brings the destruction closer to home, even if only in our imaginations. “What if….?” What if I were the one trying to imagine where my house used to be.  What if this town was being featured on the news feed.  We might even utter “Thank God it was not here” knowing immediately that our thanks is not really gratitude, but relief.  The images and the possibility of such an event happening means that fear becomes a companion in times like this.

Reminds me of a story you may know:

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out,  and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger.  They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.  He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:22-25)
Who is this Jesus; this sleeping presence and stiller of storms?  None other than the God who over and over says to us, “Do not be afraid.” But letting go of the fear can be hard.  Especially when we wonder if it isn’t precisely this God who somehow allows, or even causes these disasters and storms.

I am thinking that soon, if not already, some morally upright, emotionally uptight, self-proclaimed proclaimer of “truth” will announce that this disaster was God’s punishment for something or another.  Listen: No matter what anyone tells you, the God revealed in Jesus Christ and worshiped as the Holy Trinity does NOT punish people with tornadoes — or disease, or earthquake, or any other such thing.  This God does not have a “plan” that called for a tornado to strike Oklahoma yesterday to serve some mysterious purpose.  It is true that tornadoes and earthquakes and such all happen within the order of creation, within the providence of the God who orders all things.  But that does not mean God points a divine magic wand to conjure up the tragedies of life.  They happen as part of the natural course of things. Tornadoes happen because rain falls; cancer happens because cells grow and sometimes, do so out of control. The God I have met in Jesus Christ does not inflict such things, but bears them instead.  You see?
So, where is God in this disaster?  Look at the cross — God is on the cross, suffering, bearing the brokenness and crying out for mercy. Look to the devastation itself to find God in Oklahoma. God is in the rubble, in the cries of the broken and grieving.  The God of the cross is present in the one who races into the rubble to find the person wailing for help and in that very wail.  God is already working to bring new life and resurrection from this disaster – and every other incidence of suffering, pain, grief that happens this day – even if it never makes the news.  God is with you as you tremble with fear and draw your kids close. God is with the people and working through the people.

God be with all who weep and mourn and clean-up today and in all the days ahead. God be with us as we battle fear and seek faith.

Pax Christi,

Pastor Tim Olson

Entertaining Worship

So, I was thinking that there is a false choice that seems forced upon us in our age — either you can have worship that is innovative and “entertaining”  or we can have worship that honors traditions and is thus, “boring.”  The choice is false because no matter how we worship, we have lost the ability to engage the truth of the human condition and its connection to God in our worship.  In an article that succinctly calls attention to this false choice and glaring lack, I hope you find something that provokes you to answer the question, “So, what is worship really about?”  Enjoy — CLICK HERE>   Article | First Things.

Pastor Tim