February 11, 2018

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Sermon - Brad Brookins

Bible Study

Text and Questions                   

 

Be the Church for the Powerless

2-11-18

 

We’ve talked before about how the authors of the various Bible books argue with each other and seem to disagree with each other—sometimes over very important questions.  The texts we are considering this week bring us face to face with one of the more important arguments over a very important set of question: Who is God?  What is God like?  What does God want us to do? 

 

One perspective on God says God is violent, vindictive, intolerant and capable of hating our enemies even more than we do.  You will find this in some of the books attributed to Moses, in most of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and scattered a bit through the prophets.  There you find saying such as these:

 

Genesis 6:7  7So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’

 

Joshua 10. 8-11 8The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear them, for I have handed them over to you; not one of them shall stand before you.’ …And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who inflicted a great slaughter on them at Gibeon… 11As they fled before Israel… the Lord threw down huge stones from heaven on them…and they died; there were more who died because of the hailstones than the Israelites killed with the sword.

 

I Samuel 15. 1-3  Samuel said to Saul, ‘The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord… go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’

 

There are many more such passages we could look at, but these give you the idea.

 

A contrasting perspective on who God is can be found in other passages from Moses, the Psalms, the prophets and in much of our New Testament (sayings based, by the way, on the Old Testament).  Consider passages like these, among many more we could look at:

 

Exodus 22:22-24

“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn…”

 

Leviticus 23:22

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.

 

Isaiah 1:17  

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

 

Jeremiah 22:3  

Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

 

Zechariah 7:10  

Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.

 

Matthew 25:37-40    

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

 

James 1:27

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

 

1 John 3:17

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

 

In light of these passages (and remember this is just a sampling) consider the following questions:

 

Section 1

 

1.       Who is God?

2.       How do we know what we believe we know about God?

3.       Can we know about God?   (This isn’t a simple yes or no question)

4.       Are both of these perspectives on who God is correct?  Is one correct and the other incorrect?  Is there some in between position we can take in trying to understand God?

5.       Discuss this statement:  Our primary source for understanding who God is is a collection of books written by people who don’t seem to agree on who God is. 

6.       Why do we want to know who God is?

 

Section 2

 

1.       We've wrestled with this question before without adequately answering it:  In a world where the rich and powerful care little or not at all about the poor and powerless, why is it significant that God does care so much about them?

2.       Zechariah 7:10  “Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor”.  Who do you think was doing the oppressing?  Why do people oppress and abuse the widow, the orphan, the alien or the poor?

3.        Isaiah 1:17   “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”  These are all action phrases.  Our core idea for this series—“Be the Church”, is also an action phrase.  Put these two together.  Discuss “being the church” in the terms Isaiah lays out here.  What would the church that learns, seeks, corrects, brings and pleads look like in our day?  Where do you see us “being the church” in these terms and where could we do better?

4.        I John 3: 17  How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

5.       Could we create a world where the “widow, the orphan, the alien, and the poor” are treated well and fairly?  How?  Who would benefit?  (That’s not a rabbit question, by the way.  Be careful with this one).

2-11-18        

                       

Powerless

Isaiah 58:6-11  (The Message)
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is this:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you stop the unfair practices,
    quit blaming victims,
    quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
    and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
    your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will show you where to go.
    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
    firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
    a spring that never runs dry.

Here’s what Isaiah means by all that:  The well being and prosperity of the whole world—the planet and every human, plant and animal on it; every city and village; every ocean, lake and stream—everything depends on the relationship between the rich and powerful and the poor and powerless.
Get that relationship right, Isaiah says, and “your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly”.  Get it wrong, Moses says elsewhere, and “God’s wrath will burn”.
Now this is quite remarkable, when you think about it.  The God of the universe, the Creator of all that is, cares about the poor and the powerless—about the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the prisoner.  The people occupying the bottom rungs of society, are the people at the top of God’s list.  It seems God cares about them more than God cares about the rest of us.
Now that is not to say God doesn’t care about you and me.  Only that these people—the physically, emotionally and materially poor and powerless, have a special place in the Divine heart.
You don’t have to take my word for it.  God’s word is pretty explicit. And I think I can convince you of that—with a little help.
As you were coming in this morning I handed out 37 Scripture passages that express God’s heartfelt concern for the poor and powerless.  These are 37 passages out of the hundreds and hundreds I could have chosen.  They cover the full range of Scripture—from early in the Hebrew Bible to late in the Christian New Testament, and illustrate the consistent heart of the Divine.
So instead of me prattling on for 20 minutes this morning, we will listen God speak through the words of Scripture and in the voices of our friends. 
1        Exodus 22:22-24 
“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn…”

2        Exodus 22:25
If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.

 


3        Leviticus 19:10
You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
4        Leviticus 23:22
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.

5        Deuteronomy 15:7-8
If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.

6        Deuteronomy 15:10-11
Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

7        Psalm 12:5
“Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the Lord; “I will place them in the safety for which they long.”

8        Psalm 68:5
Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
9        Psalm 72:12-14
For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life.

10        Psalm 82:3
Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.

11        Psalm 140:12 
I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.

12        Psalm 146:5-9
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God…
who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry…The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

13        Proverbs 14:31
Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker,
but those who are kind to the needy honor him.

14        Proverbs 19:17
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and will be repaid in full.

 

15        Proverbs 22:22-23
Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate;
for the Lord pleads their cause.

16        Proverbs 31:8,9
Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

17        Isaiah 1:17   
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

18        Isaiah 1:23    
“Your rulers are rebellious, and companions of thieves; everyone loves bribes, and follows after rewards.  They do not defend the fatherless.”

19        Isaiah 10:1-2   
Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey!  What will you do on the day of punishment!

20        Isaiah 41:17   
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.


21        Jeremiah 22:3   
Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

22        Ezekiel 22:29   
The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the alien without redress.

23        Zechariah 7:10   
Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.

24        Matthew 5:42   
Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

25        Matthew 18:5   
“Whoever receives a child in My name, receives Me.”

26        Matthew 25:37-40    
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’


27        Mark 10:21   
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

28        Luke 4:18   
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me (Jesus said), 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,

29        Luke 6:20-21   
Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

30        Luke 14:12-14   
Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

31        Acts 20:35
In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”


32        2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

33        James 1:27
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

34        James 2:2-4
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?

35        James 2:5
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that God has promised to those who love God?

36        James 2:15-16
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?

37        1 John 3:17
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?


Convinced?  This is what God care about.

Today we stand on the edge of another Lenten season, about to begin our 40 days of spiritual wandering on our way to Easter morning.   This year, to pass the time, I have an assignment for you—one that will take up as much of the next 40 days and you will give it.
The words your heard for Scripture this morning—take them home with you.  Let them echo in your head.  And ask yourself this:
Who is this God who cares so much about the very people for whom most of the world cares not at all?  
Who is this God who wants to shape communities and nations and the Creation itself around the needs of those who have so little?
Who is this God whose heart is broken open and whose love pours out to the poor and the powerless, the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the prisoner, the least of these who God declares are all members of the holy family?
Who is this God who envisions a world where hunger and thirst, poverty and loneliness, selfishness and greed are distant memories—a world where equity, generosity and abundance are the birthright of all?
That’s our question—our mantra for this Lenten journey.  
Who is this God?
And to that question add this one:
In the light of this Divine abundance, who will we be?   Amen.
 

February 11, 2018 Sermon - Brad Brookins
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