Mismanaging God’s Affairs: “God Don’t Like Ugly” Homily 25th Sunday in OT
This homily will be in plain talk and say difficult things to hear as that is the talk of Jesus in the Gospels, especially in Luke. This Sunday’s Scriptures are ultimately about God’s response to poverty, greed, and responsibility. They are also about forgiveness. That is good, for most commentaries agree that the intent of Jesus’ words in Luke 16:13 where it says that we “cannot worship both God and Money” was to make us squirm, if the shoe fits- and on some level it fits all of us. The “shoe” here has to do specifically with our obligations and responsibilities to those who suffer materially. The Hebrew Torah has over 630 ‘laws’ guiding our relationships with God and with one another. Many of these are specifically about our responsibilities to the poor. We may not be breaking the “ten commandments” but we may not even let the intent of the law into our consciousness. That is why Jesus boiled the commandments down to two: loving God first and loving our neighbors as ourselves. For Jesus that specifically includes our neighbors who live in poverty and relative poverty.
Throughout the Scriptures, from the Law and prophets through the Gospels, God is concerned with our relationship with those who have little of this world’s goods, who are indeed our neighbors no matter where we may live. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) was quoted by Jesus when he spoke with the rich young man as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels in Matthew 19:18-21, Mark 10:17-27, and Luke 18:18-27. Jesus did indeed feel deeply for the poor, saying (Luke 6: 20) “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Jesus lived without possessions or even his own home. Most of his followers were the poor of Galilee. Many of our homeless people identify with not having a place to lay your head. When Jesus blessed the poor in Luke, it is the blessing of economically poor folks, not humble folks although they may be humble too, materially poor, not the “poor in spirit” as recorded in Matthew 5:3. Luke consistently shows Jesus as concerned for the poor and upset with the rich (see for example the parable of “the rich fool” who hoarded his valuable crops when he could have fed the community Luke 12:13-21). Luke also shows that no matter how hard it is for the rich (those who have a good deal of the world’s goods) to be part of the kingdom of God “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 18:27). In today’s gospel, and throughout Luke, Jesus comments strongly on those who focus on accumulating money and goods and have money as a “superior”, a boss, a god, a reason for being, thereby rupturing the covenant relationship we have with God who asks that we put God and what God wants first: to love and treat our neighbors, especially those who have little, as ourselves.
The other strong theme in the Gospel of Luke is forgiveness and that is in today’s Gospel as well. The manager who mismanaged the landowner’s resources also lightened the debts of his debtors. For the wrong reasons, to save himself, he forgave debts and the landowner then forgave his debts. God forgives our mismanagement of resources, the very resources that could help others (and our planet) live, if we make any attempt at all. We can go so far as to say, God forgives even when we make no attempts at reparation, for that is God’s nature –to forgive. But if we say we love God and our neighbors would we not even try to show our love to the poor and God’s creation in actual material ways as well as in spiritual support?
Sunday’s Scriptures include good news for the poor and that is something poor folks desperately need. The readings in Amos, Psalm 113, and the Gospel clearly say that God is on the side of the poor, and God is not tolerant of greed and exploitation. How good it is to feel that God is on your side when everything else seems to be against you. We are blessed to be church with the poor so I will share some stories that may illuminate this homily.
Barry, 60, is a formerly homeless man with back injury who is now a beloved Elder in our church. Walking with us he was able to reconcile with his family and obtain subsidized housing and his disability income. He is now a role model for our young people, a God-parent to some of the newly baptized, a prayer leader and a friend and brother to all. When he is out ill, there is an emptiness that is palpable on Sunday. Barry needed a spinal treatment that was not covered by Medicaid and would cost about $4000. He was in tremendous pain. Church members who had adequate and better incomes and others made a good down payment on this treatment, the rest was put on our credit card. He agreed to pay half of it back to the church. He has been doing so, but it is difficult on his fixed income. Recently we received some donations and were able to forgive his debt completely. His health needs were met and his burden lifted because the people of God took up their responsibility toward the poorest. He could not believe it or accept it easily. He will be giving donations to the church as he can, but is relieved that the debt is gone. He asked: “that is what Jesus does with us, isn’t it?” And it is, even in today’s Gospel.
Yesterday co-pastor Judy Beaumont brought Sharon to sign the lease for her first affordable HUD subsidized apartment. These are all too rare here but she was finally able to get one. We helped her initiate this process over four years ago. We rejoiced as we saw her joy at seeing her own home and at finally being able to live on her own. She has profound deafness, few work skills, and was dependent on an abusive and possessive older male partner. With this new start, and her first home at almost fifty, she got a new lease on life. It was a miracle that she lived to see this day. There was no way she could have moved on without the support of rental assistance and pastoral and communal support. She thanked us for not giving up on her. We thanked God together for but for the grace of God we may have done so.
A woman named Kelly Sue spoke with me at the suggestion of a church member. She is a poor woman, older, living solely on a small Disability check and suffering with a broken spine and the pain of a difficult hip replacement. Her son lived with her and was a help in all ways until he became addicted to drugs. In the course of a few months he stopped working, stole her money and left. She was not able to pay the high rent without him was evicted. She cried as she told the story of her eviction: her things were thrown out into the street and the landlord appeared and cursed at her for not paying the rent. She was both homeless and humiliated. A dear friend brought her here so she could start again. As we talked and I gave her my understanding, encouragement and hope of affordable housing she blessed me for being God’s instrument of hope. She said that now she knew God was on her side. I could not have agreed more. The image of her landlord humiliating her reminded me of Sunday’s Scriptures.
The prophet Amos warns the Covenant people that God is tired of their greedy behavior, especially the exploitation and neglect of the poor (Amos 8:4-7). The people are complacent participants in systems that “trample on the heads of the poor…and deny justice to the oppressed” (2:7) and “live off the needy and oppress the poor people of the land” (8:4). Amos says that God “hates” the religious assemblies and hymn singing of the hypocritical who do not keep the law of justice and gratify themselves at the expense of others. Amos says “Let justice run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:23-24). For Amos justice is not an abstract concept, it is justice for the poor and marginalized. Sharing, giving, mentoring, feeding, clothing, housing and loving the poor- and challenging those systems that keep people poor and fail to meet even basic needs. Without subsidized housing neither of these women can afford to have a home, a place to live of their own. Making this available is the worship that God loves and desires.
Superficially religious greedy folks have ruptured the Covenant relationship with God as God abhors injustice and asks in the Law that people “love their neighbors as themselves” (Lev. 19:18) emphasized by Jesus as part of the Greatest Commandment (Matt. 19:19). Later in the verses just after the Lukan Gospel of the day, in Luke 16:17-18, Jesus says to the “money-loving” Pharisees who are sneering at him and didn’t get his story about the dishonest steward that the Law with its obligations to the poor still holds: “not one stroke of the pen in the Law will pass away”. They are held to God’s standard of justice.
God does not like ugly-especially directed against God’s most vulnerable people. God does not like sweatshops in Bangladesh that burn and topple down as hundreds work at machines where brand names are turned out cheaply for our consumption. Why do we buy those products? God, who has no Party affiliation, does not like the ugliness of Congress that blocks legislation that could allow someone with no insurance to get medical treatment. This year in Florida the State Legislature turned away billions of free dollars for health care for poor people who only have the ER as their medical care, just to defeat “Obamacare”. Even some of my own medical providers are frightening me with what I will lose under Obamacare. I know enough to know that they are wrong. I can still get my CT scan if needed. But they stand to profit if things remain as they are and may or may not take in less profits if the poor are also included in health care. It is about the profit margin of rich providers.
Here is a point of information for those who think all poor folks are covered by Medicaid as I so often hear: it is not so. The working poor are not covered and there are many, and we serve them, who live way under Medicaid standards and are still not eligible for it. Our church member Milly works cleaning toilets at a large store and also cleans offices by night. She is working and poor and she has, and can presently afford, no medical coverage. She needs every penny for rent and food for her family. She goes to work with excruciating migraine headaches and back aches, but she has no medical assistance. She simply cannot afford it. That is sin. In Florida the numbers of uncovered individuals are staggering. Yet, the Federally offered money for the poor was turned down. That, in my estimation, is mismanagement of God’s affairs, that all the sick can be treated (ER’s are expensive to users and tax-payers and and do not offer follow-up), and that is, therefore, sin. Similarly, all of the subsidized housing lists here and in many places are frozen. This is a denial of people’s rights and needs to have a place to live. They live tripled up and in cars and on the streets. That too is mismanagement of God’s affairs. We have maintained about three thousand people who are homeless in the greater Fort Myers area for several years now. So, it is not only our personal response to our neighbors that matters, and it does matter, but our response to systemic evil and inadequacy.
The poor are beloved of God .Those who exploit or neglect the poor are chastised by God. From what I have seen, I wish it would do some good. But Jesus offers love to all, love and forgiveness. In today’s Gospel even though the “mis-manager” lightened the debts of others for selfish reasons, he was forgiven and challenged to manage better. And we are challenged to love God and not our material things-to manage better. The generosity of Jesus in including ALL in God’s grace was often a problem for the religious who sneered at him and ridiculed him. They didn’t get it, God loves and forgives ALL. Let us do the same.
Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, ARCWP—Co-Pastor of the Good Shepherd Community, Fort Myers, Fl.