Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Good News in Unlikely Places

Tuesday in the Third Week of Advent - December 19, 2017
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
I don't believe in luck, but I do believe that some people are luckier than others. By that, I mean that I don't believe that random events are meaninglessly random, but I do believe that some people, through no fault of their own, are the recipients of a disproportionate number of otherwise inexplicable favorable events. And I also believe that some people are the disproportionate recipients of the "bad breaks" in life. Sure, some people "make their own luck," which is to say that people who go through life unprepared or inattentive or pessimistic are more likely to stumble their way from day to day, but I also know too many people who have endured too much hardship to think that it's as simple as cause and effect.
When it comes to people who just can't catch a break, poor people must be at the top of the list. It's hard to win the game of life when you start out with half a deck. Although there are exceptional cases when individuals break through the vicious cycle of poverty, most people who are born poor will stay poor. In this country and in most countries, the quality of education that a poor child receives is directly related to the income of her parents, and it's hard for a really smart kid to make good on those smarts when she is trapped in the worst-funded school in the county. One of my children has not been to the doctor for a sick visit in two years. That's not luck. That's access to good nutrition, good hygiene, good preventative medicine, and a stay-at-home parent, which are all things that a child in a single-parent, barely-making-it household probably doesn't have. Access to affordable health care is essential, but so is providing enough nutritious food for a growing human body to function properly.
People come into my office all the time looking for financial assistance. I presume that 99% of them are stuck in their poverty because of the choices that they have made. But they aren't choosing between turkey and ham, between Advil and Tylenol, between hiring a babysitter or taking a day off of work when their kid is sick. They choose to be homeless because they are living with an abusive partner and have no where else to go. They choose drugs or alcohol because they don't have the mental health support to cope with a hungry baby who won't stop crying. They choose soup kitchens and disability checks and handouts because they don't have enough money to buy a car to look for and get to the job they need to turn their life around. They choose chaos because they don't know peace. They have never known peace.
And what does God say to them? In the eyes of God, you are blessed, you are loved, you are not forgotten.
Who is Jesus? Is he the one that we've been waiting for? Is he the savior who has come to redeem the world? "Go tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them." Jesus is the one who has come to earth to restore the sight of the blind. Jesus has come to help the lame walk and to cleanse the lepers. Jesus has brought hearing to those who are dead. And Jesus is even the one who has come to bring the dead back to life. But Luke the Evangelist knows as well as a sixth-grade essayist that you always save the strongest argument for last. And, if you really want to know whether Jesus is the Son of God who has come to bring salvation to the whole world, then you need to know that he is the one who has come to bring good news even to the poor.
If ever there was someone who needed life-changing, trajectory-altering, history-reversing good news it is the poor. For all of human history, poverty has been a plague we cannot solve. Those with resources can, for the most part, dig themselves out of whatever hole they have fallen in. But not a poor person. Not a poor family. Not a poor community. Not a poor nation. Not poverty itself. Jesus the Christ brings a reversal as dramatic and thorough as a dead man springing back to life. And it is good news for the poor.
But how is this good news? Jesus' good news for the world is the realignment of our assessment of value. Jesus who came and died and rose again, who told the rich young man to sell all that he has and give it to the poor, who proclaimed that it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, reveals that God is not on the side of the rich and powerful. Jesus proclaims that God is not on the side of the middle-class and upwardly mobile. God's victory is manifest in the lives of the hopeless.
Every human institution that stands in the way of the redemption of the poor is damned. That's payday lenders. That's crooked landlords. That's property-tax-funded education. That's taxes on groceries. That's American health care. That's you. That's me. That's the tax bill that's before Congress and every representative and senator who votes for it and every one of us who votes for those who support it. How will we know whether Jesus is the one on whom the world has been waiting? What do you see and hear? The more I sit with Jesus and read the Bible the more convinced I am that if I want to know what it means to call Jesus my savior I need to know what it means for transformation to come to the poor.

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