Monday, March 19, 2007

My latest sermon

I thought i would post my latest sermon. I was pretty proud of this one. I got some positive feedback from the congrgation and I thought it ( and others did too) it was my best deilvery of a sermon yet. Let me know what you think....

John 12:1-8 March 18, 2007

The last two verses of that scripture sound a lot like Jesus is saying pay attention to me the poor do not matter. “Let her alone… You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.” The sentiment certainly contradicts the teachings of Jesus found in the other Gospels. A Jesus who asks a man to sell all his possessions and give the profits to the poor (Luke 18:22). A Jesus asking his companions to ignore the poor is simply not a Jesus who comes to our mind. This statement taken at face value or out of context seems out of character.

I looked at how the other gospels handled this story and the other three have him saying very similar things there will always be poor people, but I will not always be here. It makes him seem downright conceited as if he should be the center of attention. As if the poor simply do not matter. When in reality the opposite is true the poor do matter. Sharing with the poor is one of the corner stones of Jesus’ ministry. So how can we see this statement in a better light?

Steve Khul a member and one time president of the (a website designed to help people connect the bible with their daily life) examined the passage in this way:

One of our enduring problems is deciding what we should do about the poor among us. We agonize (and rightly so) about political, economic and social strategies that will truly help the poor. But the text identifies a deeper problem of the poor among us. It identifies the way Judas (and we) hides behind the poor, giving the illusion of concern, but only to betray them and advance our own self-interest (v. 6). Health care reform, welfare reform, are all undertaken to help the poor, or so the rhetoric goes. But whose pockets get lined in the process? The fact that "the poor are always with us" gives us the answer: not the poor, but we would-be helpers, the Judas' of the world. As such, the persistent presence of the poor in our midst represents more than failed economic and political systems. They represent our thievery, our greed, our moral poverty, though always well-hidden.

It is not that our well meaning social programs aren’t exactly that; well meaning but are they really helping the issue of poverty? This is true in our own country and I found this to be very true in Guatemala. Guatemala is a beautiful country. It’s a country with beautiful landscapes and a country where the people are warm and welcoming. It is a country where minimum wage is $5 dollars a day and 75% of the people live at or below the poverty line. A country where for some families their one meal a day may come from table scrapes or possibly what they scrounge from a dump. It is staggering to see the devastation that the government caused to their own people, especially the native people.

For thirty years Guatemala raged in a violent civil war. People were disappeared (kidnapped and killed), or simply murdered for no reason other than the government wanted to. The peace accords were signed 1996. Yet, sadly the Guatemalan government is hiding behind their poor. For example, Guatemala has a 70% literacy rate which is low in itself, but it is even more tragic when you hear the truth behind it. It is true that 70% of the population who is registered with government is literate. However, it is impossible to register with the government if you do not have the money to do so.

Another staggering problem in Guatemala is health care. When we were in Guatemala we visited several medical clinics that were mostly supported by United Methodist Churches here in the states. They were not supported by the government at all. In fact they where set up in response to the poor health care provided by the government. In each department (more like a country then a state) there is a hospital. And in communities that the central government deems large enough there is a clinic. Not bad for a nation recovering from a war that lasted over 30 years. What they don’t tell you is often the walk to a clinic is hours. They don’t tell you that the public hospitals and clinics are often closed because the doctors refuse to work because the conditions are unsafe for both the doctors and the patients. Now of course there are private hospitals that serve those who can afford them. Unfortunately most of the people suffering are the poor. At the clinic we visited the cases they treated the most was dehydration due to diarrhea because if lack of clean drinking water.

Now if we take this scripture at face value than according to Jesus it is ok we can forget those suffering with illness and disease mostly because they are poor. That is what he is saying. Right? Somehow I don’t think so. I think what he is saying here is stop fussing over them and making a show of it. He is asking is companions not to let Mary alone, not because he thinks she is less of her as a person due to her economic status. He is asking them to let her alone because their comments are not about taking action to change the situation. Jesus is not about words, he is about action. Jesus is about taking real steps to create positive change. He would much prefer his companions to look at their own lives, instead of judging Mary. It would be more productive if they took steps to live more simply. He encourages simple living for a variety of reasons. First, we can not worship two gods. We can not worship our things and God. Secondly, the more simply we live the more there is to share. Just think if we cut back on the resources we used. Think of the amount of waste we produce and the resources we abuse.

It is especially important that we figure out how to address the poor seeing how we live in the richest country in the world. Our poor would be considered wealthy in other countries. We live very comfortable lives. What do we do for the poor? What do we do for the poor in our country and in other countries? I recently watched the Diane Sawyer special Waiting on the world to change. The special focused on those struck by poverty in Camden, NJ. There was this one little boy who was so excited about starting school in the fall. He worked very hard all summer learning his numbers while he moved from temporary housing to temporary housing. By the time he went to kindergarten he could count to 10, yet he could not name the three meals of the day. He never had eaten three meals a day. So poverty is a problem in our own country. It is the actions of our own country and other developed countries that have perpetuated the problem of poverty around the world. 20% of the world’s population live in developed nations and consume 86% of the world’s goods. In the US 40-50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten. The wealthiest 20 % of nations in the world consume 58% of total energy, while the poorest fifth consume less than 4% , the wealthiest 20% of nations in the world have 74% of all telephone lines, the poorest 20% have 1.5%, the wealthiest 20% of nations consume 84% of all paper, while the poorest 20% consume 1.1% the wealthiest 20% of nations own 87% of the world’s vehicle fleet, the poorest 20% own less than 1%. These numbers are staggering. Yet, while these numbers are staggering there are actions we can take to change this. First, we can volunteer in mission. I think experiencing poverty first hand is the best way to learn about it. To live with out hot water for a week or with out constant electricity can be an eye opening experience. Now I know not everyone feels they have the time to go out of the country in mission. There are plenty of opportunities for mission in our own country. There are depressed areas all over the country and even in our immediate area. How about volunteering at a soup kitchen or mentoring a student. Well, then that would take away from family time, what better way to spend family time then to volunteer together? Volunteering not your thing, what about making an effort at cutting back on consumption? Using high efficient light bulbs, eating a vegetarian meal once a week, making sure plastic gets recycled.

It is actions such as those then can help create change. It is in taking these actions and making changes that we can live out our Christianity. In the scripture Jesus asks his companions to stop judging Mary because they are simply talking and not doing anything. Not only are his companions not doing anything, but Mary is honoring him. She is taking action to demonstrate her faith. In the last verse Jesus says “She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial." Anticipating and honoring. Honoring. Yes his guests have invited him to a banquet, but it is Mary who showed her reverence for him. The actions of the poor and oppressed Guatemalans remind me of the actions of Mary. In their pain and in their poverty they still reach out to each other. They share with each other. They share with complete strangers. I was absolutely amazed at their hospitality and warmth. Everyplace we went the people welcomed us. I can’t count the number times I was hugged, the number of times that I was told I was family. These people were absolutely serious. At first we thought it was simply because we were Americans, but it had nothing to do with that. Two of the three medical clinics we visited were started by men in their homes. The men who started these clinics and the men and women who staffed these clinics often get very little in return. Many of them have jobs beside the medical clinics. The medical clinic was their offering to their community. They just as easily could have only helped their own family. One if the men actually donated the land that the clinic was on. Not only did he donate the land for a Medical clinic but also for a church as well because the nearest church was a two hour walk that the majority of the community actually made. That was valuable farm land. Farmland that his family used to make their money. Now they work in another farmer’s field or find other means of a job for income. It just shows those with the least sharing the most.

So how is it that Jesus can so easily say leave the poor alone because they are always with you? Especially when it seems that there is so much that we can learn from them. Yet if all we do are going to do is chastise them then maybe it would be better to “let them alone” and follow Jesus. Of course in following the example of the life of Jesus there seems no way it is possible to ignore the poor. Jesus knew that He really wanted to people to live out his teachings. He never asked anyone to worship him, he called them to action. He called them to spend time in prayer, to give up their positions, to love one another as they love themselves. All that involved action, involved change, often hard changes. Yet, those changes are necessary to live a life closer to God.

I would like to share a portion of a poem by Calvin Miller with you

My easy Christ has left the church.

Who can say why?

Maybe it’s because His video-logged apostles all

read diet-books, travel agency brochures

and Christian fiction thrillers

on how the world should end

But none read books on what the starving ignorant

should do until it does.

He left the church so disappointed that Americans

could all spell “user friendly”

but none of them could spell “Gethsemane

Can we say for sure he’s quit?

Oh yes, it’s definite, I’m afraid:

He’s canceled his pledge card.

I passed him on the way out of the recreation building

near the incinerator where we burn

the leftover religious quarterlies

and the stained paper doilies

from our Valentine banquets.

“Quo Vadis, Domine?” I asked him.

“Somewhere else,” he said.

My easy Christ has left the church,

walking out of town past seminaries where

student scholars could all parse the ancient verbs

but few of them were sure why they had learned the art.

He shook his head counfounded that many

had studied all his ancient words

without much caring why he said them.

He seemed confused that so many

studied to be smart, but so few prayed to be holy.

Some say he left the church

because the part-time missionaries were mostly tourists

on short-term camera safaris,

photographing destitution to show the

pictures to their missionary clubs back home.

I cannot say what all his motives were.

I only know I saw him rummaging through dumpsters

in Djakarta looking for a scrap of bread

that he could multiply.

“Quo vadis, Domine?” I asked him.

“Somewhere else,” he said.

He’s gone - the melancholy Messiah’s gone.

I saw him passing by the beltway mega-temple

circled by its multi-acred asphalt lawn,

blanketed with imports and huge fat vehicles

nourished on the hydrocarbons of distant oil fields

where the poor dry rice on public roads

and die without a requiem, in unmarked graves.

Is it certain he is gone?

It is.

There are issues in this poem that I struggle with. I went on a mission trip and I’m sharing my pictures with you after this sermon. There in lies my struggle in that by sharing these pictures that I took with my digital camera I want to share my experience, but while I am really am sharing my experience I am also demonstrating my privilege. Jesus did not start his ministry in order to start a new faith tradition. His ministry focused on the way people lived in relationship to God and to each other. We as present day Christians especially United States have a lot of work to do. Everyday feel like I struggle with tough questions and choices the same way you do. Most days I don’t know if I get it right. They are tough choices and decisions. It is my prayer for each of us we can make these decisions thinking about the example Jesus has given us.


Sally said...

excellent! thank you

Turbulent Cleric said...

Kristen, thanks for all you have shared here. I am glad to have read this splendid offering