So Poverty Then…

Last week it was divorce.  This week, poverty.  What’s next, infanticide?  The Lectionary… well, actually, Jesus… won’t give us a break with these tough texts.  I can already hear the range of sermons that will be preached on Sunday.  They’ll run from, “Jesus wasn’t really talking about money,” to “Jesus was really only talking to this one guy, not making a universal statement,” to “Jesus expects everything from us,” to “Jesus was a communist.”  If you wanted to get a full understanding of the range of practice and belief in American Christianity, the sermons this Sunday will give you a glimpse of the truth that “neither height nor depth… can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus,” but it sure can separate us from each other.

This Sunday’s text is an interesting one as it follows on the heels of The Feast of Francis of Assisi on October 4th.  Francis chose a life of voluntary poverty.  Simply put, he begged for Christ.  At Draughting Theology last week, we spent our hour discussing Francis and what he means for 21st Century American Christians.  It was an interesting conversation because, early on, we decided that only a small handful, like maybe two people, in the whole world were living the Franciscan lifestyle.  Not even the Franciscans are doing it.  They know where their next meal is coming from… heck, the order even owns property.  Parish priests are comfortable by the world’s standards.  (Yes, even this lowly Associate, Saint Paul’s treats me very well).  Not even Mother Theresa, for all her blessed work, lived a life worthy of Saint Francis.

So, Poverty then… What are we to do with it?  I’m not 100% sure, but I think it falls somewhere between “Jesus wasn’t talking about money” and “Jesus was a communist.”  Beyond that, I’m a) glad I’m not preaching again this week, b) wondering how my Rector will handle this in light of my daughter’s baptism this Sunday, and c) going to spend the week pondering it all anyway.

I invite your thoughts.


13 thoughts on “So Poverty Then…

  1. I am preaching this week. I preached last week, but at St. Francis we celebrated St. Francis Day with those readings, so I got off the divorce hook, but can’t (and don’t want to) dodge this one.

    Anyway, in preparing for the sermon today, I found a good sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor where she said that people make one of two mistakes in interpreting this passage. 1) They think it’s not about money, or 2) they think it’s only about money. So there you have it, the outline for my two-point sermon.

  2. Steve, what’s your take on the notion that this text really was directed to this one person? And, essentially the same message was given to Nicodemus….that one has to give up what is most dear to someone (money for the rich young man, reputation and family lineage for Nicodemus,….????? for me).

    • Yeah, I think the call of Jesus is highly individual. Remove whatever is in your life that separates you from God. For this guy, it is stuff (for a lot of folks I guess). For others it is family lineage, for others selfishness, for others drugs or drink or dancing or whatever. Jesus knows what stands in the way, and is eager to help us remove it.

  3. It’s kind of similar to the old Buddhism koan: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” (Obliterate even your concept of the path to enlightenment). And, Jesus – I think – is calling me personally to give up safety and security…..more on this later…..

    • Keith, I agree. He is calling me to give up that false sense of self-sufficiency that my wealth (and power, position, family, etc.) have created. Synthesis notes that the disciples, who were probably struggling to make it from one meal to the next, would have heard this text in a particularly shocking way. To them, a little more wealth meant they wouldn’t have to worry about survival and could spend more time spreading the gospel. Yet Jesus tackles that false belief in them and in us.

  4. It seems to me that both last week and this are touching on the issue of vulnerability. What relationships, possessions or ‘fortresses’ do we build around ourselves thinking that that is the way to be safe. Give it all(whatever it might be) and follow Jesus. Much easier said than done. Peter, as usual, speaks for the human condition because he thinks that giving it all up is the answer; it’s the first step, the second is to trust in God without any guarantees.

  5. Cost of discipleship gets cranked up another notch. Synthesis notes that Mark is the only gospel account that includes the line that Jesus loved the man. It is out of love and pity that Jesus tells him to give it all way. Jesus could see that wealth was the one thing that was keeping him out of the kingdom, and he knew that giving it all away was the only way for him to get in. If he looked at us with pity and gave us one instruction, what would it be?

    I notice that the CEV is particularly good at translating this passage in a way that I can understand (especially the last verses about this age and the age to come):

    I’m preaching on stewardship this week. “God isn’t asking you to give more to this church this year. He’s asking you to give everything.” We’ll see how that goes.

  6. Let’s face it, we are all poor – even the rich young men among us. Perhaps it is the awareness of our poverty which makes us human and fit to become the grateful heirs of a loving Trinity from whom all blessings flow? This is particularly challenging here in North America: poverty is abnormal, sinful, something to be hidden if not mitigated, something which calls forth both pity and the sneaking suspicion folks get what they deserve….but we are all poor. If we were not, why would we need each other? Why would we need Society, and Nations, and Families? Why would we need pets? And perhaps, perhaps, why would we need God?

    To become radically, intentionally, voluntarily poor like Francis of Assisi, whose life and ministry were commemorated in the past week, is to chose less to live more, is to pick up one’s cross and follow Him whom we claim to know – and like all crosses, they are a poor and miserable painful excruciating fit, subjecting us to ridicule, derision, and a sense of being handed over to God knows what and God knows why. It is to be led where we would not go and be subjected to terror and fear for we see we have no control – we are dependent as a newborn on others and for many of us THAT is the ultimate horror.

    Now here is the amazing secret that I believe we often miss: It is not merely recognizing the poverty around us, it is not merely giving to charities, or disposing of our wealth but fully embracing our essential poverty as human beings that makes us both understanding of others poverty and able to receive the wealth of God’s grace and share it with others!

    Let us not forget that Our Master also tells us that what we do for the least among us we do for Him, and that even a cold cup of water given to those in need will not be forgotten nor go unrewarded. Giving one’s time and attention; addressing the unfortunate with our concern in dignity; feeding, clothing, and sheltering our neighbors, friends, and family; tending to hurts and relieving pains and causing fears to be seen as the shadows they are: all these are the proper responses that flow from picking up the cross of our own poverty and following Our Lord, Jesus.


    • You need one of those Internet memes that shows the XX guy and reads, “I don’t always comment on blog posts, but when I do, I bring it,”

      Robert touched on this earlier. The poverty to which we are called by God isn’t just about money. That isn’t to say it isn’t about money, but it is much more than just that. It is about trusting in the provision of the God of all Creation. It is in the giving up of our selves, our whole selves, that we area due both poor and rich. It is our modeling our life after Christ “who though he was rich, became poor for our sakes.” (2 cor 8:9).

    • Small Farmer, would you mind coming to Dayton, OH this Sunday to preach in my place? I’m pretty sure that my sermon is going to end up sounding like your post.

  7. This blog could add to our Drafting Theology conversation tomorrow night as we discuss Vida Dutton Scudder and her perspective on Socialism and Christianity.

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