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Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I read a fascinating essay about a recently launched evangelical campaign called “58”.  It’s built around the words of Isaiah 58:
“You will call, and the Lord will answer,
You will cry, and He will say ‘Here I am’.
If you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.”

As mainline churches see their numbers dwindling, evangelical Christians have found a voice and an enthusiastic following among young people who desire to make a difference, yet see church as full of self-promoting hypocrites.  Poverty, homelessness, you name it can be ended, these 58ers believe, because the power of God is greater than any social problem.
And what of the passage where Jesus remarks “the poor will always be with you?”  He said that to Judas – pre-betrayal knowing Judas was already stealing from the money bags.  It was a sarcastic rebuke.  “Of course the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, will always be with you.  Because your hearts are closed to doing what God requires.”

I’m turned off right now by the moralism of the church I was raised in and attended every week.  Oh, we said “we’re all God’s children”, we shook hands with strangers when they arrived and did our once a quarter packing bags of food at the local pantry.  But that is touchy-feely stuff.  It’s easy and you do it and head home and say “I care”. 
God requires more.  I’m part of a leper colony.  People, good church going middle class, whites (yes race plays a role) don’t know the first thing about what goes on inside here.  Worse, they don’t care.  I’m here to tell you, God’s children are inside these walls.  They may have done horrendous things, but they are children of God and He expects each of us to be treated with dignity, and respect, and mercy.

A minister friend asked me one day “what can my church do to help the incarcerated?”  I told him what churches typically do.  They come in here and tell you “God loves you; repent”.  There’s singing and hands raised in praise.  Then the inmate is released.  Where’s the church?  Does anyone offer the inmate a bed, a meal, a job?  That’s what “58” means.
There was an old, crazy woman that came to worship at our family’s church.  She was dirty, loud, undignified and didn’t fit in with the well-heeled Presbyterians she came in contact with.  Frankly, she annoyed the hell out of me.  We did a ceremonial handwashing for a Good Friday service one year and she sat beside me.  She reeked and when I washed her hands the water turned brown.  I swore I’d never attend another service like that again.

And then it came to me one evening as I sat in receiving on a sweltering August night.  “You never fed me when I was hungry; you never visited me in prison.”  It was Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25.  As you treat the least of my children, so shall you be treated.
There’s a reason the lepers, and possessed, and filthy, and whores and tax collectors flocked to Jesus and the well-heeled ignored Him.  He carried a message of freedom unlike anything in the world.  God loves you and forgives.  You are free of your sins, and poverty, and self-loathing.  How ironic that such a beautiful empowering message has been lost on so many of us “modern” American Christians.

Isaiah 58 is a call to action and a reminder that God hears.  He will answer.  He tells us all, no matter what our circumstances, that a child of His is in need.  That child may be in a homeless shelter or even a prison.
As James reminds us, faith without works is not really faith.  Read Isaiah 58.  God’s calling us to action.

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