The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Loving people I forget to love

with 3 comments

Here’s last Sunday’s (September 10th) sermon, and the trouble it got me into!

Proverbs 22

1 A sterling reputation is better than striking it rich; a gracious spirit is better than money in the bank.

2 The rich and the poor shake hands as equals—

God made them both!

8 Whoever sows sin reaps weeds,

and bullying anger sputters into nothing.

9 Generous hands are blessed hands

because they give bread to the poor.

22-23 Don’t walk on the poor just because they’re poor,

and don’t use your position to crush the weak,

Because God will come to their defense;

the life you took, he’ll take from you and give back to them.


What’s better than striking it rich? A sterling reputation.

What hands are blessed hands? Generous hands.


cue Psalms

Now, instead of the Psalm on your handout, let me switch to the alternative Psalm, #146, and read it from the blue Bible in your seat racks.


Psalm 146

1 Praise the LORD.

Praise the LORD, O my soul.

2 I will praise the LORD all my life;

I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,

in mortal men, who cannot save.

4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;

on that very day their plans come to nothing.

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the LORD his God,

6 the Maker of heaven and earth,

the sea, and everything in them—

the LORD, who remains faithful forever.

7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed

and gives food to the hungry.

The LORD sets prisoners free,

8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,

the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,

the LORD loves the righteous.

9 The LORD watches over the alien

and sustains the fatherless and the widow,

but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The LORD reigns forever,

your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the LORD.


What does he do? Start at 7 and call them out.

cue Journey with Jesus

journey-with-jesus.gifDaniel Clendenin, in the excellent Journey with (for September 10), writes: Christians should favor the poor not because of any political agenda of the right or left, but because we’re called to imitate the character of God. Using a legal metaphor, Proverbs says that God is the Maker of the poor, their advocate, and their vindicator who will “take up their case” (Proverbs 22:2, 23).


A thousand years after the Proverbs, James has discovered something that amazes him. Far from reflecting the nature of God, he writes of churches who reflect the nature of the world:


James 2:1-10,(11-13),14-17

The Royal Rule of Love

1-4My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?


5-7Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—”Christian”—used in your baptisms?


8-11You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others.


14-17Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?


Why is it outrageous nonsense? Because he’s found people who claim to be followers of Christ but aren’t at all like him.


Nickel and DimedBarbara Ehrenreich wrote an eye-opening book called Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting by in America. She decided to leave her post as a writer and try to make it at minimum wage jobs to find out for herself what the story really was.


Here’s part of Daniel Clendenin’s comment on it:

The unskilled wage earners that Ehrenreich imitated are the fully employed, not the lazy, the destitute, the unemployed or those who abuse welfare. They constitute about 30% of the American work force who earn less than $10 per hour (cf. the Economic Policy Institute). They are the people we pass every day who make our American way of life possible. They clean our office buildings at night, serve us at restaurants, repair our cars, sew our designer garments, handpick our fresh produce, and mow-n-blow suburban yards. Even though these people work long and hard, they barely make ends meet. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, “in the median state a minimum wage worker would have to work 89 hours each week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at 30% of his or her income, which is the federal definition of affordable housing.” In fact, Ehrenreich’s colleagues routinely worked more than one job, slept in cars, and crowded multiple people into small living quarters.


With the federal minimum wage at $5.15 per hour (it was last raised in 1996), the challenges that the working poor face are immense, complex, and interrelated. In his similar study of the same people, Pulitzer Prize winner David Shipler avoids blaming politics of the left or the right and instead notes how poverty is both a cause of problems and the result of problems: “A run-down apartment can exacerbate a child’s asthma, which leads to a call for an ambulance, which generates a medical bill that cannot be paid, which ruins a credit record, which hikes the interest rate on an auto loan, which forces the purchase of an unreliable used car, which jeopardizes a mother’s punctuality at work, which limits her promotions and earning capacity, which confines her to poor housing” (The Working Poor; Invisible in America, 2004).

I met someone for coffee one day last week. It was crowded in the coffee shop, and the weather was fine, so we went to the town square. A young woman I knew when she was small suddenly appeared and sat down with us.

Hmm – we were there to do some semi-private business. So, we spent a few minutes chatting with her, then excused ourselves and went back to the coffee shop.

I ran into her again later, we chatted a bit more. As I pedaled away on my bicycle, a light went on: She was telling me she was out of money! And I’ve been thinking all week about this “if you come upon an old friend …” in need! Augh.

Rode around looking for her (I knew I had twenty bucks in my pocket!), but she was gone. I’ll find her yet.

Amazed and a little puzzled, I found some healing and hope in something that happened to Jesus. The more I thought about it, the more startled I was.


Mark 7:24-37

24-26From there Jesus set out for the vicinity of Tyre.

You’ve been hearing about Tyre in the news – what country is it in today?

And where on this map? It’s the little blob in the way upper left. Think they were Jewish there?

He entered a house there where he didn’t think he would be found, but he couldn’t escape notice. He was barely inside when a woman who had a disturbed daughter heard where he was. She came and knelt at his feet, begging for help. The woman was Greek, Syro-Phoenician by birth. She asked him to cure her daughter.

Here’s a pagan woman in a then – pagan city. Jesus has been the champion of inclusion. But what’s the attitude of the culture he’s grown up in toward foreigners? Revulsion! So Jesus, probably worn out, obviously escaping from Jewish territories where he’s been mobbed, has fled to a pagan city – and here’s how he responds:

27He said, “Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.”

Whoa! Jesus, what’s up with that?

I’ve heard many attempts to explain this away – like, “The word translated dogs here means little dogs, like pets” (somehow referring to strangers as pets seemed a little on the wierd side, to me). Or, “It probably just wasn’t as insulting then as it is now. It’s a translation problem.” Hmm.


But this week someone challenged me to look through new lenses. Once again, I saw the ever-new Jesus in a fresh light.


What if it isn’t meant to be explained away? What if it is as insulting as it sounds?

[See Disclosing New Worlds’ challenging thoughts on this.]

Watch what happens:

28She said, “Of course, Master. But don’t dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?”

Ready for a mind-blower? She responds graciously, and Jesus changes his mind:

29-30Jesus was impressed. “You’re right! On your way! Your daughter is no longer disturbed. The demonic affliction is gone.” She went home and found her daughter relaxed on the bed, the torment gone for good.

Could it be that in a moment of exhaustion, Jesus responded like the culture which he’d grown up in would respond? Could it be that it wasn’t sin, but a mistake, a human smallness? And isn’t it true that he immediately sees her for what she is and corrects himself?

I think of that verse that says Jesus was tempted in all ways like we are, yet was without sin. It’s so easy to say, “Yeah, sure, but really – being God and all, how serious could temptation have been?” But what if Jesus really knows what it is to have a slip of attitude, an unnecessarily hard word of speech, or a flash of irritability? What if he knows what it takes to recognize and reject it, changing the way he’s headed?

If he knows that, he knows me.

I thought again of my missed cue with the young woman on the square. Maybe I didn’t get it. But maybe I will next time. And maybe Jesus understands first-hand just how that works.

I can grow a little stronger, I can have a little hope – following a Jesus like that.

Scripture is from The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Written by Monte

September 11, 2006 at 1:29 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] [See also Proper 18 B: Loving People I Forget to Love] […]

  2. “If he knows that, he knows me.” And me too! This totally spoke to where I am! Thanks—


    October 1, 2006 at 8:02 pm

  3. Hi Monte–You might check the site for lots of fun connections to a spiritual uplift, based on Richard Foster and his group.


    Jolean Rice

    September 14, 2006 at 6:43 am

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