One of my favorite learning activities is to listen to great biblical preaching by seasoned good old fashion preachers. I’m not talking about the latest feel good, lights camera action preachers, I’m talking about those old school bible students that may not have a degree from seminary, but like Solomon they have asked of God the wisdom to teach through biblical exposition. Yesterday we celebrate the senior members of our congregation and in a society that exalts the virtues of the young and restless, we can learn much from those that have lived life as opposed to those that are living life. We were blessed to hear from a 97-year-old woman, wheel chair bound and physically feeble, her mind is as sharp as any biblical authority. Society may want to place our aged into a nursing home and visit only during the holidays, but as I grow older, I find myself wanting to learn from and gain perspective from these seasoned warriors more and more. The sermon was delivered by a Pastor that has been leading his Church for 51 years, and preaching for 69 years, and the simplicity of his message struck my heart and inspired me to recount his examples from a 42-year-old perspective.
In our business we often quote Robert Kiyosaki’s groundbreaking Rich Dad Poor Dad series. The contrast and the chasm between the Rich and the Poor seems to have grown ever greater in our current social and political turmoil. This phenomenon is not new, during the struggles of the reconstruction period, and the great depression, the feud between the” haves” and the ” have-nots” bubbled over Having been raised in an impoverished area, I grew up knowing and experiencing the frustrations of day-to-day living. My family had always been poor, and generational poverty can be a curse in the life of those shackled by its grips. At the same time, I had friends that lived a few miles away that were considered rich. Their families had generational wealth, and as a child I would often wish that I too could have my own room, and unwrap my first car on Christmas morning like many of my schoolmates. But their wealth caused its own issues that would manifest in the lives of my friends. Today this socio-economic chasm is often exploited by the media in order to pit people against one another for financial gain. We now see wall street protesters claiming that the wealthy are all greedy unethical misers that have corrupted our system for personal gain. On the other side we hear the wealthy claiming that the poor are voting in favor of unearned benefits on the backs of those that are actually producing jobs and commerce. The battle rages and all of the pundits on both sides of the argument provide nightly fodder that stokes the fire of discord in the nation.
It was in this mental state that I sat yesterday listening to a man preach from Luke 18th and 19th chapters. He has seen and experienced more about life than most so-called experts combined. Although his sermon went another direction, his words gave me insight into this current social, economic, and political dilemma.
In his slow and southern drawl he led us to Gospel of Luke:18:35, and introduced us to a poor blind beggar named Bartimaeus who sat by the side of the road begging. Jesus first encounters the poor blind Bartimaeus screaming for help as his situation was hopeless. Many would pass him by, and ignore his plea for assistance. Some undoubtedly saw him as a scam artist looking to redistribute the wealth of the nation to those undeserving. Others would have pity on him and give him a few pennies that would temporarily alleviate his hunger, but permanently leaving him dependent upon hand-outs. Still others simply passed him by without the courtesy of acknowledging his humanity. Interestingly enough Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, and began to make his desires for help known loudly to the objection of the pious leaders. Jesus being compassionate, commanded that the others help the poor man up and bring him to be blessed. In the presence of Jesus, Bartimaeus had a life changing moment, he was healed of his blindness, and empowered to join the work of Jesus’ ministry.
The minister then introduced us to a wealthy tax collector name Zacchaeus in Luke 19:2-4. Zacchaeus being a chief tax collector, had over time made sure that he not only collected for the Romans, but also for himself. Hard work and ambition had earned him wealth, but his desire for gain caused him to improperly steal from his fellow countrymen. His actions would rob him of his friendships and leave him on an island of isolation. Many would cross the street to avoid having to greet this man that they despised for his unethical ways. Some would only work to gain his trust so that they too could personally get a leg up on the people. Many would assume that his wealth was a direct result of his privileged raising, and never give him credit for his hard work and risk taking. This man too had heard the commotion that Jesus was causing, and the crowds that were drawn to his ministry. Being a short man he could not see Jesus so he climbed a sycamore tree so that he could get a view of Jesus as he passed by. Unlike the beggar, his pride would not allow him to yell out for help, so he quietly sat in the tree regretting that fact that with all his wealth he still needed someone to love, encourage and help him. Jesus then called out to him to come down from the tree quickly, because Jesus needed a place to rest from His travels. In the process of hosting Jesus, Zacchaeus had a life changing moment, and realized that his wealth was really a blessing from God for the purposes of helping the poor. He also repented of his thievery, and vowed to make restitution for his misdeeds. Forgiveness and restoration were granted Zacchaeus because of his willingness to come down to meet Jesus.
MSNBC commentators would starkly criticize Zacchaeus for his misdeeds, and generally lump every wealthy person in the same bucket of public disgrace. Fox News hosts would promote the idea that people do not need help, that not all blind people are really blind, and lump those that need help in the bucket with lazy welfare recipients that take advantage of the system. These two extremes square off nightly in a death match that never ends, and ultimately leaves our beloved nation more deeply divided. Sure there are Wall Street crooks, sure there are undeserving welfare recipients, but what did Jesus do? He loved people enough to meet them at their needs. He used Godly discernment to see individuals and not classes of individuals. To the poor man, He commands him to get up, and others to help him up. His healing leads the man to a place of independence and productivity. To the rich man, He commands him to come down from his prideful position and use his wealth as a means to bless his fellow-man. To both men, His example leads us to place of interdependence. To both men, His love overcame the foolishness of stereotypes and division.
For me, TEAM/LIFE provides a culture that meets people at their needs, and gives the less fortunate a team approach as a helping hand up and an entrepreneurial educational that leads to financial independence when followed. At the same time, the team approach requires the wealthy to swallow some pride and help build the community. Not to build bigger barns, but to share the fruit of their hands in a way that inspires others to chase their dreams of financial independence. And finally when either the poor or the rich makes mistakes, we have created a culture of grace that has room for forgiveness and restoration. Whether rich or poor, we have found hope in this opportunity, and together we can all achieve more. Rich and poor, both are welcome in this community, and by God’s grace we can learn to work together to re-build our nation as the beacon of hope and truth.