Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blessed are the Poor? Really?

We're in the middle of a sermon series called 'Happy Days'. It's based on the Beatitudes, and wrestles with how to find joy in unexpected places. Now the TV Show, Happy Days, portrayed life the 1950's and 1960's. Those were 'happy days' because the American Dream (usually involving a well-built, 3 bedroom house with a 2-stall garage, manicured lawn, white picket fence, mom as a homemaker, healthy happy children and dad working his well-paying, 40-hr per week job) was seemingly accessible to everyone. How could you not be happy?

Yet the Beatitudes turn that whole notion on it's head. We don't pursue the situations described there (poor, mourning, persecuted, etc.). Yet Scripture shows us that joy is found in unexpected places, perhaps even in the very opposite circumstances of the American Dream. When Jesus said, 'Blessed are the...' the term 'blessed' means - "Lucky you. You're in an enviable, advantageous position. Heaven favors and smiles on you." I look at all those situations and think, "Really?"

The first Beatitude is, "Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20). This one strikes me. Currently, I am experiencing some anxiety. I'm wondering if my house is worth the loan we have on it. Our country, in the current recession, is seized with fear of being poor. The government is pulling out all stops to keep us from becoming poor. So how does this Beatitude speak to me? I believe it calls me to 1) Not being seized with the fear of becoming poor - as if life is over and not worth living if I don't have the standard of living I expect, and 2) To practice generosity, especially in the midst of such a fear.
I leave tomorrow for Honduras, to minister in the poorest area of the country alongside a body of believers described as, "Incredibly spiritually rich and incredibly resource poor." This is going to stretch me. I guess I'll see if these reflections from Yancy's The Jesus I Never Knew hold water:

Why would God single out the poor for special attention over any other group?
  1. The poor know they are in urgent need of redemption.
  2. The poor know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with one another.
  3. The poor rest their security not on things but on people.
  4. The poor have no exaggerated sense of their own importance, and no exaggerated need of privacy.
  5. The poor expect little from competition and much from cooperation.
  6. The poor can distinguish between necessities and luxuries.
  7. The poor can wait, because they have acquired a kind of dogged patience born of acknowledged dependence.
  8. The fears of the poor are more realistic and less exaggerated, because they already know that one can survive great suffering and want.
  9. When the poor have the Gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threat or a scolding.
  10. The poor can respond to the call of the Gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.
  11. Poor people find themselves in a posture that befits the grace of God.
I think I'm about to find out. I'm also wondering how this will impact me from here on out. Here we go!