Good News for the Poor

Reading: Matthew 11

After John was arrested by Herod, he sent a couple of his disciples to Jesus to ask: “Are you the one?” I can empathize with this question. John was a miracle child, born into an influential family. Even though John’s life choices were to become a desert prophet, masses of people from all walks of life followed him into the desert. By every measure, John proved he was a man of great influence.

John’s role in the Gospel is to introduce Jesus to the world. When John’s disciples notice that Jesus is becoming more and more recognized, they encourage John to compete. John tells them: “He must increase, I must decrease.” John gives up his fame and influence because he believes that Jesus is the one the world has been waiting for.

This is not just a loss of fame — John was arrested because his preaching offended people in power. Eventually he would be killed because those in power were offended by him. Something about the message that prophets bring that leads the powerful to kill them. John did not merely retire because Jesus surpassed him — John would give his life. One cannot blame John for looking for assurance that he sacrificed everything for the right cause.

Jesus comforts John by sending back this message: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

This message is similar to what one reads in Isaiah 61 and may be a direct quote from a translation of Isaiah into Greek. By sending this message, Jesus attaches himself to the message the prophet Isaiah gave — a message that caused the prophet to be sawed in half.

Good news for the poor and the oppressed is often received as bad news for the oppressors. If we look back at the prophets at the time approaching the Babylonian captivity, we get a good idea what this might be: Oppression goes against the Law God gave to the descendants of Israel, and the kings and other leaders oppressed the people of Israel anyways.

The prophets suggest the reason that Israel and Judah fell is because they disobeyed God’s law, specifically God’s law about oppressing the poor and the powerless. They preached God is on the side of those who suffer under the powerful, however, if God is on the side of the oppressed, God is against the oppressor. When the prophets talk about justice and punishment, those who will receive punishment for their acts of injustice receive this as bad news. In the case of Isaiah, this Good News for the poor means the end of David’s kingdom and the death of a nation.

We know that John was killed because Herod did not appreciate his prophecy. Jesus was killed because those in power heard the good news for the poor and received it as the bad news that their power would end. Jesus died because those leaders who wanted to hold onto power by any means necessary were sinful people — Jesus died because of their sinfulness.

This part of the Gospel can be difficult for good church people living in relative comfort. We miss the part of the message that is Good News for the oppressed. Christ came to save us from our sins, and oppression is a sin problem. This sin problem is still a big part of our world. Too often professing Christians choose to celebrate rather than condemn sin.

Pastoral letter, June 27, 2020

June 27, 2020

Friends:

Matthew 6:19-34 is one of the more difficult of Jesus’ teachings for me to put into practice. Jesus preaches to the people who gathered at the mountain to hear him telling them that they are not to worry about anything. He starts by telling the people not to store up treasures on Earth, because earthy wealth does not last. He continues telling the people not to worry about what to eat, what to drink, what to wear, nor even about tomorrow.

If I have a bad habit it is worrying. I worry about bills, I worry about when my car will wear out and it needs replaced. I work in insurance claims, and when my workday is over, I think about the car fires and accidents that I heard about during the day, and worry about the people who I helped fill out the paperwork to start a claims process.

The terrible thing is that all my worrying accomplishes nothing. I will never talk to the people who filed a claim again. Worrying about bills won’t keep them from coming, nor will worrying make payday come on Wednesday instead of Friday: To quote scripture, I cannot change a white hair to black through worry. When Jesus tells people to stop worrying, I’m need to hear this for myself.

Even though there seems to be so much to worry about, we also have so many blessings. We have been discussing how we can give aid to those who need help surviving in these tough times – and we received a grant to give direct aid. In other news, I was recently published in the Barclay press devotional Fruit of the Vine, my reflections on the “Lord’s prayer” can be found on the week of September 13th.

We are planning a short outdoor Bible study and BBQ Sunday, July 12 at 11:00 AM. We hope that our communities can safely open more and more in the coming weeks and months. I am eager to meet again in person, and I look forward to seeing you in a couple weeks.


Your Pastor,


Michael Jay

Pastoral Letter

May 7, 2020

Friends:

It has been difficult for all of us to face COVID-19. Some of us are essential workers. Some of us have entered places of employment when we know coworkers have been infected, and I believe that every one of us knows someone who has been infected. We either personally mourn, or we mourn with friends who have lost somebody to this illness.

It is difficult for those of us who want to attend funerals or visit a friend in the hospital. We know that it is not safe but we also know that we need community. It is difficult to comfort one another from a distance.

I am pleased to share that in spite of this difficulty, we have managed to engage with the world around us. In this crisis, we have helped Hispanic Friends with technology to allow more of them to meet virtually. Members have made an effort to make sure those who knock on our doors asking for food are not sent away empty handed. We have welcomed people outside our community to our virtual Sunday School. Even when the doors are locked, we are still a Christian community. I want to thank everybody for the efforts you take to help one another and our neighbors. I believe that this is valuable, and a right way to live our faith.

Indiana announced that places of worship may be opened starting on May 8, 2020. Our governor stated that those who attend religious services can act as a control group to show whether or not it is safe to re-open the economy. I do not wish for us to serve as the canary in the coal mine. My place of employment has had confirmed cases of COVID-19 so I would not attend until some time has passed to confirm that I do not carry the illness. We will continue to monitor the situation. Like everybody I am anxious for life to return to normal.

I do trust that God is with us in the difficult times. I pray we will all be sustained and comforted by our faith and we will continue to find ways to be a community even while we cannot meet in person.

Your Pastor,

Michael Jay