Summary: When we look at God’s word, we will realise that we must respond decisively to the poor in three ways; to be charitable, to seek justice, and to see poor people as God does.
GOD OF THE POOR – THE CALL TO CHARITY AND JUSTICE
God’s love for the poor
Luke 16:19-23 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.”
The rich man and Lazarus is one of Jesus’s toughest parables. It insists that God’s wrath rests on anyone who neglects those who are materially poor, while God loves the poor. It raises some key questions. Are we rich? Who is Lazarus today? What should we do to avoid the rich man’s fate?
Imagine if in the UK a child had only a one-in-five chance of living to be 5. Imagine if the average life span was only 50 years. Imagine if one in 20 of us had HIV. Imagine if half of us were undernourished. And we had to live on 15p a day! Sadly, there is a country like that and it’s Ethiopia. Elsewhere it’s sometimes worse. In Angola people die on average at age 39. In Lesotho one in three people has HIV. In the Democratic Congo, 70% are undernourished. And in the UK – the figures speak for themselves, it’s a different world. Look especially at the income difference – about 300 times. As those of us who’ve been to Mozambique will testify, virtually everyone in the UK is well off in a global comparison (although homeless people who fall through the net can suffer dreadful poverty). That’s why I will focus today on poor people in the poorest countries, which are mainly in Africa.
Those sorts of figures are helpful to some of us in understanding poverty, but less so to others. So let’s just look at some pictures. Just remember as you watch, Genesis 1 says that all humans have the dignity of being in the image of God, and Romans 5 says that Christ died for them. [Phil Collins as background.]
As Wayne said last week, the burden of poverty in the world can seem so extreme, that one is paralysed. But when we look at God’s word, we will realise that we must respond decisively in three ways. To be charitable, to seek justice, and to see poor people as God does. Let me repeat, to be charitable, to seek justice, and to see poor people as God does. These are outlets for the unprecedented compassion to which this church is called.
The call to give charitably
Let’s start with charity. The bible is full of encouragement to be charitable. The good wife of Proverbs 31 is commended because “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”. In Deuteronomy 15, God’s people are told “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy.” Jesus too calls us to compassionate charity for those neighbours who need it. As we heard last week, the parable of the Good Samaritan defines the neighbour is defined universally to be any suffering person, not just a member of the same country, race or faith. So our charity too must be global.
A great example to us is the early church, full of the Holy Spirit and following Jesus’ teaching. This featured voluntary sharing of resources and taking of responsibility for one another’s needs (Acts 2:44-45), “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Paul organised a massive collection for the poor members of the church in Jerusalem. He gave two guidelines for individual charity in 2 Corinthians 8 – ‘give all you can’ – be generous and ‘giving is voluntary’ – it has to be your own decision, drawn from the compassion you feel.
I believe Paul’s collection for the Jerusalem church (Romans 15:26-27) can be seen as a model for us of global charity promoting the well-being of humanity. We can do this via supporting Christian development charities, like Iris, Compassion or Tear Fund. Our charity can be in time as well as money as our friends do with the down and outs via Bridge Trust closer to home. Scripture encourages us greatly in charity as Paul tells the rich in 1 Timothy 6:18-19: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age” meaning we would be rewarded in heaven for our charity.