God’s call to us to care for the poor – Day 1 follow – Isaiah 58

Last week I started blogging about the politicization of the poor, so this week I wanted to  expand on the 5 areas that I mentioned.  These were:

1. God calls us as His followers to care for the poor.

2. Poverty can have a systemic cause.

3. Poverty can have a personal cause to it.

4. No matter what government does, The Church has the capacity & responsibility to make caring for The Poor a priority. 

 5. As Jesus followers this is not an issue of politics, rather this is a question of sacrifice.

Today I am going to take number 1.

1. God calls us as His followers to care for the poor.

I must confess that I have not always felt this way.  I grew up very “me-centered” and within a conservative Reformed faith tradition, I did not have much theology for what God thinks about those who are impoverished or who are oppressed, nor did I have any framework that He might want me to do something in partnership with  Him.  To be fair, it is very possible that this responsibility was being presented, however I was not able to hear it.  In my opinion I was a good Christian – a sinner who had encountered Grace – chosen, saved and growing as a disciple, but without any desire to be about justice or mercy.

However, while I was working in a church that is part of a mainline denomination I was confronted with what God says about the Poor and me.   This church was a minefield at times where we would argue in Board Meetings about how we could not afford to do outreach while at the same time spending thousands of dollars to refurbish the organ and repoint the stone.  As an end result of a perceived lack of resources, this church was not overly “Outward Focused” and this included the poor.  This fit well with my theology that could best be described as letting the poor pull themselves up by their own bootstraps while I chase after God personally.

The time came around for us to have our Annual Conference – a time when the Overseer came to the church and met with the congregation to discuss the joys and challenges within the church.  This time around I was asked to bring a Biblical reflection.  The text was Isaiah 58.  Little did I know that God would use this text as I prepared to break me out of my “me-centered – let the poor pull themselves up personal theology” to begin considering what His heart for the poor was.

As I read Isaiah 58 I was confronted with God’s people trying to do all of the right external fasting to get God to answer their prayers while at the same time neglecting justice and those who were impoverished around them.   They had the right knowledge and were on track with certain spiritual practices when it came to ways to know God, but they had missed out on catching and practicing His heart along the way.   God used passages like this one where He is speaking through Isaiah to get through to me:

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
   and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

   “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
   and your night will become like the noonday. “

I was suddenly confronted with the very practical expression of God’s heart by caring for the poor. I also was confronted by a sense of His Presence with us as we do so as expressed in verse 10.   It was not merely about a “God and me” kind of theology in which I could lengthen my Quiet Time and know God more, but rather I was confronted with The God who directs the attention of those who are actively seeking Him to address the needs of those around them as a deeper way of seeking Him.  Ouch.  Once again I was being thrown outside of my comfort zone and being confronted with the messiness of expanding my theology outside of my neat little box.  I again had to consider that God doesn’t serve me, but rather I am called to serve Him.  A desire to seek Him personally while also serving Him practically was being birthed in me.  I now understand that this tension has been held by people for centuries, but it was new for me.

While this is the passage that spoke to me, there are so many others that we could consider in what God’s desire is to see the poor cared for as an expression of His love.   For the sake of the length of this post, I’ll instead give us one passage to reflect on each day this week here on this blog…so keep checking back.  But in closing, consider Jesus’ words in Luke 4 as He describes His Mission:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
   19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I’ll jump off of this passage tomorrow…

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