“Thy Kingdom Come”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 6:20-23
James 2:1-10

Luke 6:20-23

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

James 2:1-10

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

 


 

In this chapter of the Book of James, the author is calling out the human behavior of favoritism.  His rationale goes something like this:  in God’s Kingdom the poor are rich in faith and will be heirs of the Kingdom, so why do you treat badly, those who God blesses?

We all know how this world works.  It seems the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  And as much as we may wish to believe our lot in life is purely built on hard work or laziness, the reality is that many more factors are at play than we have control over.  There are the things we control – like how we respond to situations and opportunities and the lack of opportunity.  And there are things we do not control – like societal bias, our parent’s means, …and luck.

Certainly hard work is important.  The Bible encourages us to work hard and to live into our potential, making the most of whatever we have.  But the reality is that while each of us is beloved by the King of Heaven and earth, our means and resources, skills and abilities, network and connections are very much different from one another.  In the parable of the talents, not all the servants are given the same amount.  And in life, we are all differently equipped – in intellect, in common sense, in wisdom, in physical ability, and so on.  So in life, as in the parable, we are encouraged to maximize our potential, making the best possible concoction out of the ingredients at our disposal.

Some have a strong work ethic.  Some do not.  Some head their parent’s wisdom, while others do not.  Some have parents who are active and involved, while others do not.

But in all this, we cannot deny luck or perhaps grace.  We cannot deny that some things happen – both good and bad – without their being earned.

 

And so when we have the opportunity to rub shoulders with the elite, by all means, we jump at the opportunity.  We hope their luck and network will rub off on and convey to us.  We fantasize that perhaps they’ll find us as charming as we do 😊 and write us into their financial futures.  As absurd as all this sounds when we say it out loud, we still chase after these illusions – hoping to be that lucky one.  And we tend to roll out the red carpet – removing obstacles, cutting corners, bending process – just to be close to those who are rich.

And this stands in stark contrast to how we treat the have-nots in our lives.  Far from rolling out the red carpet, we most often avert our gaze and hope for as little-to-no contact as possible.  Perhaps we’ve seen so many like them before.  Perhaps because you’ve opened yourself to someone in need before and been burned, burned out, or abused.  Perhaps because you’re on a schedule and have no margin for anything extra.  Perhaps because you’re on a budget and have no margin for anything extra.  Perhaps because you’re overwhelmed by the enormity of the need and the inadequacy of your power and means…

We have our reasons, do we not?

But most of us have learned in life to favor the rich and ignore the poor.

James is calling out this behavior challenging it by God’s behavior.  Far from ignoring or pushing aside those in poverty, Jesus attends to them, heals them, says that they are blessed, rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom of God.  Those who the world scorns and despises, those who the world has judged and labeled, those outcast are the very ones Jesus blesses.

And James is holding these believers accountable – for living according to God’s Kingdom instead of the Kingdoms of this world.

 

There is a gentleman who used to stand at the corner of Brook and Laburnum.  You could tell he had weathered a lot.  Missing teeth, uneven hair, scraggly beard.  You knew he’d been on the street for quite some time.  But he always smiled, greeting folks with a blessing.  And he wrote out a blessing.  In addition to his sign asking for help, he wrote another sign, often hanging it on his bicycle parked nearby, that read, “Smile, it’s not that bad.”

This gentleman mesmerized me.  How could he, of all people, say, “Smile, it’s not that bad.”  Coming from him, I knew it had truth.  Coming from him, I could take it and receive it.  Coming from him, it wasn’t trite or diminishing of my pain.  Coming from him, I found it inspiring.

But no day was it more inspiring that when I found myself in the extended misery that was bed bugs.  I was worn out by this mystery bug that even the exterminators knew very little about.  Almost eradicated for many years, knowledge of bed bugs had been lost and very little facts could be found over the internet about their behaviors.  How could I overcome a tiny bug I didn’t understand?  And the exterminator kept changing the story – first saying all I had to do was launder and bag everything fabric in my home and pull everything out 4 feet from the walls, and then showing up the day of – only to reveal that I had to remain in this limbo for another 2 weeks, after which they would likely treat again….  I thought I was going to lose it.  It was like moving all over again.  It would be a total of 6 weeks, before my space would be bed bug free – the whole time in which I was living out of bags & lying in bed as bait night after night.  It felt like hell – a unique type of hell that I care never to repeat.

And one day, in the throws of my ordeal, I passed this gentleman on the side of the street.  And his sign, “Smile, it’s not that bad” called me to gratitude, out of the depths of my pain and anger and self pity.  It called me to give thanks for my home.  It called me to give thanks that I had clothes & bed & things to have to clean and bag up.  The words on his sign were still true.  And I just balled and balled as I passed him that day.

He had given me a gift.  He was teaching me what faith and gratitude were like.

 

Later that year, someone interviewed him for the local free paper.  His name is John.  At that time, he had been on the street for four years, maybe more.  But it hadn’t always been that way.  Back in the seventies, he was in college, and he majored in computer programming and minored in accounting.  His future gleamed bright.  There was money to be made.  He worked for a bookkeeping and tax firm, and he was doing well.

After eight years, the firm was sold to a conglomerate and John panicked.  He took out an unauthorized loan, sure that he would pay it back, but he was unable to before the auditors caught up with him.  It ruined everything.  His lawyer told him, “If you had the money, you could walk away from this,” but he didn’t.  So he went to jail.  He was released on a suspended sentence, which meant that any small infraction would land him back in jail.  So after some time he was caught speeding, which landed him back in jail.  Each time they’d say it was just a few months, but it wasn’t just that.  It was just enough time to loose his house, loose his car, loose his job…over and over again.  The hardest part was working his way back from all that again and again, only to loose it ALL, all over again, over minor infractions.

But John didn’t give up.  He relocated to another city.  He started over.  Again.  He steered clear of the financial sector and was doing well.  But he was summoned back to Richmond when his Aunt and Uncle could no longer care for themselves.  So he threw himself into their care.  He lived off the savings he had rebuilt.  But both of them passed away, and when they did, relatives came out of the woodwork and claimed everything that was theirs, leaving John on the curb, with two plastic bags that were his things.

He was homeless.

He says he had no idea that returning to Richmond would leave him homeless.  But it did, and now he has that stigma, like a leper.  He feels no one wants to hire him – like he has a disease that will rub off or a giant X on his chest.  Folks look at him as cheap labor, and he’s happy to do anything.   Usually by the time he shows up on the corner to beg, he’s already worked a job.  Folks will have him bike out to their houses, out in the suburbs, and its not uncommon for him to work 5 hours and get paid 20 bucks.  It can be incredibly discouraging.

 

It was winter when this reporter interviewed John, and they talked about the cold.  John survived by sleeping a work shed, lighting a kerosene heater in the center and sitting up all night.  He explained that in winter, it was not safe to lie down.  Lying down would mean death.  And so that was how he managed.  And the birds had become his companions.  He feeds the birds and walks with them, and he chases away the cats.  And the birds are his security, because whenever anyone is coming, they make noise and shake the tree limbs.   About those birds, he says, “It may sound crazy, but I talk to those birds.  And they listen.”

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[d] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

 

Sisters and Brothers,

We are called to more than what can be touched and seen;

We are called to bring in the Kingdom of Heaven,

To live as God’s people that God’s Kingdom may come on earth, as it is in heaven.

 

May God give us Christ’s eyes to see our neighbors,

Christ’s humility to know our neighbors,

Christ’s wisdom to see the truth,

Christ’s power to say, “No more.”,

Christ’s love to welcome all,

Christ’s courage to face the fury of this world and follow wherever our Lord leads.

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