A Wee Bit More on Poverty

My presentation last week on the faith community and poverty was only part of a larger event.  Another workshop devoted itself mostly to practical activities that churches are doing or could be doing to help alleviate immediate needs and the conditions of poverty in our community.  It can be a lot.  Local hospitals, food pantries, emergency social services, housing and clinics are all the product of local Christian outreach and mission.  On the other hand, the conditions that nourish poverty and starve opportunity are still present in abundance. 

If the various congregations in the community were of a mind, they could bring tremendous pressure and resources to bear on poverty, but they are not of a mind.  Congregations cannot come to agreement within themselves as to what should be done, and there is division and competition between congregations and denominations.

For that reason, my workshop was devoted to the theological foundation for what we are called by God to do.  My own favored path leads from Leviticus through First Isaiah and Amos to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.  The question then is not what we can or should do that frankly is no different than what any semi-organized group with some intentionality can or should do.  The question becomes what work has God commanded us to be engaged in for the current and continued welfare of humanity.  Taken seriously, it can block us from using personal political or social attitudes and beliefs as excuses.  Taken seriously, it removes specious economic arguments from the table.  Taken seriously, it means that we are to be engaged in the work God has given us to do because God has given it, and for no other reason.  We are to be the agents of God’s love to one another and to all because we are followers of Jesus.

That, of course, assumes that we take it seriously as the most important work we have, and that is not something we are very good at doing.  We get it right part of the time, and when we do it’s something wonderful to behold.  But most of the time life gets in the way.  My job, my family, my own immediate needs and wants, and the circle of my friends and acquaintances consume all my time and mental and emotional energy.  That’s neither an excuse nor an accusation; it’s just the way it is.  And so we muddle through.  Maybe that’s why Jesus said the poor would always be with us. 

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