Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Down and Out

"Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24)

The disciples were "greatly astounded" by Jesus' proclamation. (v. 25) It was such an affront to think that the wealthy would or could be excluded from anything.
Not so different from our reactions and our world today, where we know all too well that money buys your way into any status, any position, any life that you want.

But Jesus says it is not so with the kingdom of God.
The world tells us the way to succeed is by moving up and getting in.
The direction of the kingdom of God, however, is down and out.

To be "down-and-out" is to be destitute, impoverished.
Surely, God can't want this for us, right?
After all, God wants us to have lives of abundance.
What form must this abundance take then?

God has a way of flipping a thing on its head, overturning the very systems and structures that we are told make the world go round.

Jesus answers the rich man, who had asked what he must do to enter the kingdom of God, by telling him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. The man "went away grieving, for he had many possessions." (vv. 21-22)

So, the easy translation of this:  money and material possessions are the great stumbling block for entrance into God's kingdom.

I have never been rich, and I probably never will be.
So, I could look at this exchange and be comfortable with my place in the kingdom of God.
No real threat for me to be excluded on the grounds of wealth and money.
I may not be destitute, but I am not wealthy.

But, if I am to examine myself fully, I have to ask myself, "In what ways am I rich?" "In what ways is my wealth (or better yet, my avoidance of poverty) keeping me out of the kingdom?"

Wealth, for me, might include success or self-importance. 
I could claim some success in life:  a good education at fine institutes, wonderful training opportunities, being affirmed by the people of God in my call to ministry, credentials in my career and my profession. All this wealth could make me feel pretty important.

The world has us believe that the way to go is up, always up--bigger and better is the name of the game. Not only by amassing possessions, but perhaps in pursuing a secure and stable career; keeping up appearances as smart, funny, interesting, distinct; succeeding in business, in academics, even in our faith.

We are told to make our way to the top. We are encouraged to make a name for ourselves, make a place for ourselves at the center of everyone's attention.
I confess to this temptation. My personality is such that I enjoy entertaining others, being out there, receiving praise and applause and popularity for it.

Except, when I get to the center, I've left the kingdom behind in the periphery.
When I am clinging to some place of importance, I forget that the kingdom of God requires me to be displaced. 
When I find myself climbing up and up the ladder of life, I miss Jesus along the way.

For Jesus descended the ladder of life, the rungs of society, all the way to the end--when the Son of God found himself a destitute, naked criminal sentenced to crucifixion.

Jesus made his way down the ladder of success and out into the margins of society.

It is there, in the dark corners of our world, that the good news brings about hope.
It is there, amidst the impoverished, that Jesus announced, "The Kingdom of God is near."
It is at the end of the line that we find the Messiah, the Holy One, in our midst.

No, God does not take delight in seeing us in misery or in abject poverty.
Instead, God wants us to move in a new direction, one which the world counts as failure, as worthless.

For it is when we move in this direction, that we find our treasure.
It is when we displace ourselves from lives of conformity and comfort, when we get up and move ourselves both down and out that we find God in our midst.
It is in the dark corners of our world that God is moving.

In what ways must I move down and out to join God at work in the world?
How do I resist the way of Jesus?
How do I avoid poverty?
What notions of wealth and success do I need to rid myself of in order to make my home with and among the poor?
Can I move, re-direct, and displace myself from a place of privilege to a place at the fringes of society?

God, move me down and out. Redirect me toward the dark corners so that I may find and usher in Your kingdom come. Amen.

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