My wife and I were enjoying a trip to New York City earlier this month. We honestly love New York, and although she planned an amazing visit for us, the truth is that we had as much fun just walking up and down the streets as we did seeing ‘the sights.’ So thank you NYC! You’re awesome.
However, this ‘sight’ made me pause. And then stop. And then go back to take a photo. Because it troubled me.
And it is here in apparent reference to a sermon the pastor gave on the ‘seeds of justice.’
Mind you, I appreciate the compassion this church is trying to show to all. I visited their website and it offers a welcoming place. There’s room in Christendom for left and right, as long as Jesus is the center. The reference point. The main point.
Although it would have been base and disrespectful of me to take a photo of him, there was a homeless man lying just next to the sign, sleeping by the church and out of the weather. You can see his things in the lower corner of the photo. I took the photo from the angle I used to avoid disturbing him or making him feel as if I were some tourist taking pictures of those living on the street. That wasn’t my intent.
But just to back up, I grew up in the United Methodist Church. (This church uses the cross and flame UMC logo and says it is Methodist, so I assume it’s UMC.) My father is a retired UMC pastor. I was raised in an old-school United Methodist Church that had more in common with the old Methodist Episcopal preachers of fame, John Wesley and Francis Asbury, than with the ever quotable, ‘why won’t he just go away,’ Karl Marx.
That church believed in social action; so much so that many of its members went (and continue to go) around the world and into their communities to help the poor, sick and starving. And to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, offering everyone the message of forgiveness of and redemption from sin. (Although admittedly in the modern version of that church, the primacy of the Gospel keeps fading into the background.)
I grew up believing in that redemption, as I still do. I also believed in hell; and truth be told, as a young man I was probably more afraid of eternal damnation than I was in love with the person of Jesus. Fortunately, I still fear the final judgment of God. It is a boundary that keeps me safe. But if we pursue him, we change. Just as children fear the wrath of their parents more than they fear drowning or cars, but later realize that their parents’ rules were simply ways of loving them and keeping them safe.
I have visited other UMC churches. The last time I went to one there was a prayer and meditation time. The congregation was invited to reflect as music played and quotes appeared on the screen. Quotes by such Christian thinkers as (atheist) author J.K. Rowling and physicist Albert Einstein. Some were reasonable insightful. Others were, as my philosophy major son describes such things, ‘deepity.’ That is, having the appearance of intellectual depth but lacking substance.
Which brings me back around to churches and quotes.
Although I am a member of a Southern Baptist Church, I prefer to describe myself as ‘Baplicodox.’
That is, I love many things about many traditions. The scriptural emphasis and clarity of the Reformation, the dedication of the Puritans (how I love their insight into our souls!), the history and theological depth of the Catholic tradition and its saints and the mystery and devotion of the Orthodox fathers.
And all of them, despite many differences, bound together in pursuit of Jesus. And concern for the poor is foundational to scriptural, historical Christianity. As such, we have a rich treasury of scripture and other pearls of wisdom concerning poverty. Enough that Marx and his ilk need not be referenced at all!
Here are just a few:
‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ Luke 12: 33-34
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.'”
Matthew 25: 34-40
‘But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?’
1 John 3:17
‘Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.’
(King Solomon or others)
‘A rich man is not one who has much, but one who gives much. For what he gives away remains his forever.’
(St. John Chrysostom)
The list could go on, and on, and on with the insights of believers ancient and modern.
The sad fact is that the ideological child of Marx, Communism, killed at least 100,000,000 through war, execution and famine in the 20th century; it continues to breed unimaginable suffering.
My point is merely that we need not invoke the author so much human misery in order to speak compassionately and wisely of caring for those in need. The Bible itself, which is the essential book for those places which call themselves churches, can supply ample inspiration.
So believe what you will! This is America. Be left, right, center. If you wish, be a socialist or communist. But please, don’t use the words of an atheist, who planted the poison seeds of so much misery, to call for Christian charity to the poor.
Jesus himself is enough.