The True Treasures of the Church

This is the story of St. Lawrence the Deacon, adapted from Wikipedia:

In 258, the prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence turn over the riches of the Church. Lawrence asked for three days to gather together the wealth. Lawrence worked swiftly to distribute as much Church property to the poor as possible, so as to prevent its being seized by the prefect. On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, Lawrence presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to give up the treasures of the Church, he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, and said that these were the true treasures of the Church. Lawrence declared, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.” For this Lawrence was martyred.

Once again, here is a story that took me a long, long time to understand. How can the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering be the true treasures of the church?

Here’s what I think it means: As I recently heard someone say at a conference on homelessness, the condition of the poor and the marginalized tells us most plainly what the moral condition of society is. Indeed, that is the message of the prophets throughout the Old Testament, and that is what Jesus explained to us in Matthew 25:40. What we do for the “least” of our borthers and sisters, we do for God. If you and I, as reasonably financially comfortable persons, want an objective view on whether we are living in right relationship with God and God’s creation, all we need to is look at how well our society is taking care of its “poor, crippled, lame and suffering”.

The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann was in Seattle recently, and he said it in a similar way: The perpetrators of violence want to forget what they have done. Perpetrators of injustice need the victims to remind them of their wrongdoing.

The poor, crippled, lame, and blind among us are beloved children of God in their own right. They do not merely exist so that I may get a chance to get things right. As beloved sons and daughters of God, they and I – we all – deserve love and support because we are created with and for love by God. Nonetheless, one of the ways the poor are the true treasures of the church is that they help us to see ourselves as God sees us, examining how well we are doing at loving God, ourselves, and our neighbor.

Queries for prayerful consideration:

What is this treasure that the poor have given to me?   

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Temptations

It took me a long time to learn what the temptations of the devil are about in Luke 4. Remember when the devil tempts Jesus after he has fasted in the desert for 40 days, just after he has been baptized? The devil’s first temptation is for Jesus to turn stones into bread. Next, the devil invites Jesus to rule all the nations in the world. Finally, the devil asks Jesus to throw himself off the temple wall and let God’s angels rescue him. 

 

I mean, what’s wrong with Jesus turning stones into bread and feeding those who starve? Why should Jesus not rule all the lands of the world and institute justice and mercy for all? Why should Jesus not throw himself off the temple parapet and show the devil once and for all that he is God’s son with all God’s might? Wouldn’t all of those things be good?

Clearly not. So why would those not be good things?

After decades of political activism, it dawned on me that the temptations have one thing in common: The devil’s temptation is to substitute one powerful person or system with another. The changes Jesus could bring about in the devil’s scenario would be imposed in one act – just like magic! The devil tempts Jesus by asking him to become the new boss. And that is often the temptation that those of us engaged in working for justice are given. We are tempted by the vision of getting enough power to impose our agenda – God’s agenda of compassion for the poor – and make things right, once and for all.

 

But Jesus said “no thanks”. He said “no thanks” to a change that wouldn’t involve a change of people’s hearts. He declined the opportunity to impose a new agenda from above that would simply force people to obey a new power. Jesus did not want to become a new dominator with a new and improved agenda, The Jesus Agenda.

 

In Luke 4, I think God is trying to tell me something about my efforts to ensure justice and mercy for all in this land and in the whole world. Jesus doesn’t want me to win a great victory over the unjust power-people and triumphantly impose The Jesus Agenda. Jesus is asking me to open myself to being loved and transformed. He wants my words and actions to be such that they prepare the way for others to open themselves to God’s love and transformation.

 

Query for prayerful consideration:

In my pursuit of justice and mercy for all, do my words and actions invite others to open themselves to God’s life-changing love? 

50 Million Christians Protesting in the Streets

A few days ago I asked why there aren’t 50 million Christians protesting in the streets here in the USA (see 10/4 entry). Indeed, why am I not out in the streets protesting against war and increasing poverty?

The question has political, practical and spiritual dimensions, and here is my spiritual answer: 

I have seen the enemy against whom God would have me direct my protest, and the enemy is me. How do I protest against myself?

I believe it is true, as John Woolman said, that my possessions are “seeds of war” (see 10/6 entry). More accurately, perhaps, it is my desire for convenience and financial security that constitute the “seeds of war”. Like most people, I want inexpensive appliances and equipment for family, home and office, and I want to set a little money aside for college for my daughters and for retirement. As do most of us.

My family’s income depends directly and indirectly on how well the state of Washington is doing. Washington’s economy depends on Boeing. Boeing does best during times of war. In fact, the US economy does best when the military-industrial sector is thriving, as it does in times of war.

My Christian self hungers for peace. I plant the seeds of peace as I read, talk, organize, and pray about peace. But try as I might, my economic self keeps planting seeds of war.

Lord, have mercy.

Query for prayerful consideration:

As I consider the complexities and complicities of war and poverty, what are my sources of hope?

Pray _____ Protest

Last week more than 20,000 Buddhist monks filled the streets of Rangoon to protest Myanmar’s oppression of its own people. Monks led the way, and I can only assume they felt it was their religious duty to speak out. I can only assume that they saw it as a spiritual necessity, as opposed to taking sides in a divisive political battle. 

I muse: “Why aren’t there 50 million Christians filling the streets in the USA protesting against policies that are making life harder for regular wage earners here?” Healthcare and housing costs continue to rise faster than wages, and more and more public money goes to pay for weapons, ammunition, and soldiers. 

So, if I were to fill in the blank in my headline, which would it be? Pray and protest? Pray or protest? Pray, don’t protest?

Query for prayerful consideration: 

Does my Christian faith require me to protest increasing poverty?