Dear Friends in Christ,
When I served as pastor in Orlando, we had a family whose Christmas tradition was to make hot chocolate and make sandwiches and then go out after the Christmas Eve service to the places where the homeless would congregate. Just like snowbirds, homeless people would go to Floridafor the winter. Charitable organizations in Florida are usually hard pressed during the winter to keep up.
This past week the mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, announced that he was banning anyone from feeding large numbers of people in Philadelphiaon city owned land. Apparently a number of religious organizations use a couple of sites in the city and set up food lines to feed the hungry. Mayor Nutter says that the feedings lack both sanitary conditions and dignity. “Providing to those who are hungry must not be about opening the car trunk, handing out a bunch of sandwiches, and then driving off into the dark and rainy night,” Nutter said.
A newsperson said something in reaction to this story that made me take notice. He said that churches should not be denied access to serving. After all, that’s the reason they exist.
That last sentence, “After all, that’s the reason they (churches) exist” grabbed my attention. Is that our main business? I do think that sometimes we tend to really emphasize that preaching the Gospel is our business. After all, if we clothe people and feed their stomachs and they don’t know Jesus, they are going to hell with clothes on their back and food in their stomachs. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have an obligation to help those who need help. That’s how Christianity becomes so functional now. We have been loved by Christ to show the love of Christ. As we study this God inspired proverb we are taught to “See, Do and Be Blessed.”
God gives us resources to use. Instead of being impulsive in the way we use them, he wants us to give some real thought. He wants us to honor him by giving back to him. “God loves the cheerful giver.” He wants us to take care of our families. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” The Lord also says in Romans 13 we should be ready to pay taxes because “the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.” But God has also given to those who have so that we can take care of those who have not. The Bible says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” Using our resources to help those in need is good and godly stewardship.
There are people that need to be helped. During Holy Week Jesus was at the home of Simon the Leper. Suddenly a woman broke open a bottle of expensive and fragrant oil to anoint the Jesus. The disciples complained that she could have sold that oil and given the proceeds to the poor. “Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”
This does say something about priorities. Jesus always comes first, even before the poor, but the poor remain on the radar. Understand that doesn’t mean that just because people claim to be poor that we have an obligation to them. The Lord also says that if people don’t want to work, then they shouldn’t be eating either. There are plenty of people who use poverty as a tool to scam.
But open your eyes and see there are plenty who are needy. To help them is urgent. As I studied for this sermon, the Bible impressed me with all the references to the needy.
Not to see them and respond to them is sin. You will see how often the Book of Proverbs speaks to the needs of the needy. Here are just a few. “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” Another proverb says, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” If we don’t respond we are not hallowing the name of our God. In the book of Jeremiah there is a story about a king named Shallum. He was also known as Jehoahaz. He was the son of Josiah. Shallum was wicked and selfish. His father was much godlier. God spoke through the prophet, “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. Did you hear that? Defending the cause of the poor and needy is what it means to know the LORD. God’s people who by faith love Jesus just can’t ignore the needs of others.
Yet the temptation will always be there to do exactly that. We have that part of us that is selfish. When Jesus talked to a young man who asked what he needed to do to get to heaven, he was leading the man down the path to get him to confess his sin. The young man thought that he had kept all the commandments. Jesus made it clear he didn’t. Sell all you have and give it to the poor. The man walked away with his chin on the ground because he had a lot of stuff and didn’t want to give it up. God surely blesses us with stuff. The question is: How much do you treasure it? What is your real treasure?
Sometimes not involving ourselves with the needy is just not wanting to get involved. Cain thought his answer to God was a good one – Am I my brother’s keeper? I guess he thought God was supposed to say, “Well, no, you’re not,” when God would say, “Well, yes, you are.” God wants us to be involved.
Our sinful nature is lazy and doesn’t like the work it takes to help the needy. It is work. I don’t give money away much anymore when people ask. Too often people abuse that. A few years ago we were coming back from the airport on MARTA after picking up our daughter. She was coming home late and we didn’t know if she had eaten. We took her a sandwich in case. A man came through the car wanting money for food. Kristina offered him the sandwich instead. He made a face and didn’t want it. If someone wants gas money, I will take them to the gas station and fill up their tank. More than once I have had people who quit following me on the way to the gas station. Did they really want the money to get a liter of Jack Daniels? Think about this, sometimes even giving them money is the lazy thing to do. It certainly is not love if we are enabling their destructive addiction.
See what they really need. Take time to find out. Again the Proverb says, “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Sometimes it might be food. Another Proverb, “He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.” Sometimes the person might need money. Still another proverb, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Sometimes we just might have to stand up for those who can’t defend themselves. But see people – look for people that are in need…
…And then do something about it. That’s what a redeemed child of God wants to do. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus teaches us who our neighbor is in the parable about the Good Samaritan. He helped the man who was robbed and then passed over by the Levite and a priest. We hear how the Samaritan went so out of his way to help the man. Don’t just stand in awe of the God Samaritan; pray that you do what the Samaritan did.
The Proverb that I have chosen for today says, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord.” When we give to the poor, we are depositing money into the savings account of Jesus. He identifies with the needy. Remember when he taught about Judgment Day, those who believed in him would be obvious. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” When we feed someone we are feeding him. “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” When we give someone a drink, we are giving him a drink. “I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” When we show hospitality and mercy to people and clothe them, we are really doing it for him. “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Jesus himself once said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Bad things come from a bad heart. Good things come from a Holy Spirit transformed heart that knows Jesus as the Savior of all.
But Pastor, my heart isn’t always good. There are so many times I feel selfish and lazy and too busy with me that I can’t don’t do things for others and frankly don’t want to do things for those who are needy. I don’t go out of my way to find them either. Anyone who denies that isn’t being honest.
God would say to you, then don’t look anymore at what you have done or not done, look at what Jesus has done. While it is true that the commandment of God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we find loving ourselves so easy; we have that down pat. But loving others as much as we love ourselves, we are not even close. But you know what? Jesus did that for you and gives you the credit as if you did it yourself! Jesus didn’t stop there. He took all those failures and died to pay for their punishment. No one was left out. Not you! Not me! Not the people that need to be compassionate! Not the ones who need compassion.
Knowing the Compassionate One, Jesus Christ, let compassion explode from within you like air from a balloon. Don’t sit back. Do!
Be blessed! I don’t want anyone to think that I am somehow hinting that doing this will earn you heaven. When the writer of the Proverb says, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord; he will reward him for what he has done.” The writer is not saying that either. Don’t think that you can even add or help or aid to what Jesus has already done so perfectly.
When the Proverb says we are rewarded or blessed, what blessings cane we expect? Remember again the words of the Lord Shallum’s father Josiah, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” They are evidence of Christian faith.
Again Proverbs has something to say, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” The opposite of being refreshed means to be stale or dull. We don’t ever have to feel guilty for doing what is right. Another Proverb says, “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Love is often returned and friendships are established and cultivated. “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing.” The Lord makes a promise to take care of those who take care of others. Isaiah says, “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” You will be the light. That’s what Jesus said about his children, “You are the light of the world.” You are merely reflecting the light of the greater light, Jesus. What a blessing! So, see, do and be blessed!