Every Thursday morning at Midtown Commons, we set up a folding table and top it with bagels, cereal, and fresh fruit. We brew numerous pots of coffee and click on the open sign. Just before 8:00 am, we open the doors and our beloved neighbors, many of whom are homeless, join us for breakfast and meaningful conversation.
Around 8:45, when a good amount of people are sitting and eating, I turn off the TV and call everyone’s attention. I make sure everyone knows they are invited to our Saturday Gathering and let them know of any upcoming events at the Commons.
Then I open the bible and read a large chunk of scripture.
And no one makes a sound.
Everyone sits and listens politely and eagerly.
And sometimes I read whole chapters… long chapters.
Total silence. Everyone listening.
Then, after the passage is over, I say a prayer to thank God for the food, turn the TV back on, and sit down to eat with my friends.
“Great sermon, pastor!” Says Larry from a nearby table.
“It was just the scriptures!” I remind him.
“Well it was still great.”
His words affirm a beautiful truth:
The scriptures are good.
I used to do something different on Thursdays. I would read a short psalm and then share my thoughts and interpretation on the psalm for a few minutes. When I did this, people listened to the scripture, but then got restless when I started to add my own piece.
Though I don’t know the reasons for the disinterest in my micro sermons, I would guess it has something to do with the fact that my life looks very different than the lives of the people in the room. As much as I love and respect the men and women listening, I really don’t understand their situation. At least, not in an empathetic way. I can’t know.
When I apply scriptures to my own life, I am applying them to a life that is quite privileged. A white American male with a full time job, a car, and a mortgage. When I read about Judas betraying Jesus, my heart breaks seeing how Judas was so tormented by Satan that he would make such a regrettable choice.
When the poor hear the story of Judas betraying Jesus, they see a snitch and are angry at the injustice. The violation of the codes of friendship.
I can’t really predict those interpretations, so now I just read the scriptures and listen to the conversation that follows. And I love it!
But this is rarely the strategy when ministering to the poor.
Usually (from my experience) we approach the poor with this message:
“You are poor. And if you just fix that, God can really work with you.”
Allow me to point out that this is not true.
It’s a lie.
And it’s certainly not biblical.
Jesus, when preaching to a population living in deeper poverty than we can even begin to imagine, said this:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20b, ESV)
He does not follow this up with, “But if you can get a good job, with benefits, you will be even more blessed.”
His follow up is far more challenging:
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” (Luke 6:24, ESV)
One more scripture:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…” (Luke 4:18a, ESV)
So, no commentary. Just let these scriptures steep a little while.
But I will ask a question:
In our ministry to the poor, what is a message of good news? A message that leads people to receive their comfort from the Kingdom?
Or a message that leads people to receive their comfort from earthly resources?