Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Moderator’s Musings

I have chosen for my theme this year Extend Charity. My scripture text for this theme is Matthew 26:40. This verse is a response to the righteous for their actions towards the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger and foreigner, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. Most of us have heard these scriptures as judgement and an admonishment to do good. In my more pessimistic periods of ministry as a chaplain for the State of Illinois, I viewed these verses as a merit badge checklist of good works that needed to be earned to assure one’s admittance into heaven.

Earlier this year, as part of a stewardship awareness for the church I serve, I led a Bible study based on the book “Money and Possessions” by Dr. Walter Brueggemann. A secondary resource was the book “Grateful,” written by Diana Butler-Bass.

Dr. Brueggemann’s book looked at the role of money and possessions in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Throughout each chapter he examined the economy of the empire vs. the economy of God. Scripture is our reminder of how God wants us to act and behave. Rev. Butler-Bass’s book examined gratitude as a response to receiving things. She also compared the expectation of gratitude from a secular viewpoint as compared to a viewpoint grounded in Christ.

The judgement mentioned in Matthew 26 is about consequences of behavior. I wonder what those who did not provide food, drink, water, clothes, and compassion thought of those in need. Did they see them as scamming the system, looking for an easy way out? Throughout scripture from the beginning to the end, God’s emphasis is on being a neighbor. There are many references to caring for the widow and the orphan, the lame and the sick.

Rev. Butler-Bass walks her readers through the gratitude maze. It starts with a benefactor bestowing gifts and favors on a beneficiary – often a superior making an offering to an inferior. If the recipient does not show an appropriate amount of deference, that person is deemed to be an ingrate.

God – and then Jesus – attempts to turn the worldly view of gratitude on its ear. In the parable of the guests, Jesus suggests that those invited to a meal be those from whom we cannot expect repayment, noting that the pagans invite peers so they can be repaid.

Extending Charity is more than giving to the local food pantry, singing carols at the local nursing home, and supporting agencies that meet the needs in our communities. All of these are important and need our contributions. However, extending charity is also how we act towards one another in our church and our community. How do we care for and interact with those we do not know and who do not act like or think like we do? Do we label them and give them titles that demean their humanity?

As we enter into the Advent and Christmas season, let us not forget that God calls all people his children. If God sees the worth of all, regardless of their circumstances, can we do no less?

- Blaine Miner