Greg Paul, director of Sanctuary Ministries and author of God in the Alley, spoke at Richview yesterday. Some notes: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29) – This is like the passing of a mantle. We’ve been called to continue to ministry and suffering of Christ. Shootings in Toronto have reminded us that we would rather die for a cause (even an unworthy one) than to live without one. When St. Lawrence was asked to show the riches of the church to the prefect of Rome, he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows, and said, “These are the treasures of the church.” Your church does a great job of ministering to the poor, but you are not a church of the poor. Imagine if the empty seats here were filled with the poor, broken, and the crazies of the community. What would it look like if the church decided it was its mission to take in the poorest of the community? This is the calling of the church. We are called to live by Biblical standards, not to impose them on other people. It’s God’s job to convict people of sin, not mine. I find that he does convict people, and that he often has different priorities than I do. Jesus announced his mission, quoting from Isaiah 61:
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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19).
This should affect us. It’s good news to the poor, not to the middle class. Isaiah 58 describes for us what it means to worship God. Isaiah 58:1-3: God’s people thought they were doing all the right things to worship God. Yet there was a sense of emptiness, that something is missing. Isaiah 58:8-9: The after picture: what it could look like. The question is, how do we get there? God describes the type of fasting – the most extreme religious practice – that he didn’t choose (Isaiah 58:3b-8). He describes the type of religious worship he does choose (6-7). He tells us clearly what we are supposed to be about:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injusticeand untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed freeand break every yoke?
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?
What unwritten rules in this church would need to be rewritten if the poor and abandoned and oppressed were to become the church here? The people who should feel the most welcome are the poorest people around you. We’re called not to just serve the poor, but to bring them into our homes and our churches. We should not be a church that reaches out to the poor, but a church of the poor. I wanted to be Christ’s presence in the neighborhood, but when I got there, I realized he got there way before me. The only difference between me and those who look more broken is that when I stop trusting God, I can fake it. But we’re really not that different. Middle class churches need the poor much more than the poor need the middle class.