Deuteronomy’s Dream for the Poor

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 15.4-5, 7-11
4 …there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God …

7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. 

Matthew 26.11
11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

Reflection: Deuteronomy’s Dream for the Poor
By John Tillman

Matthew 26.11 is just one phrase of many words of Jesus that have been misquoted, taken out of context, or abused in history. People have used this to imply that poverty is intractable and action against it is ineffectual at best and against God’s will at worst. This false teaching is one of the more damaging ones to spread in the history of the church.

Jesus never implied opposing poverty means opposing God’s sovereignty. Instead, Jesus directly referenced Deuteronomy 15.11, including its command to be openhanded toward the poor.

Deuteronomy makes an extraordinary promise that “there need be no poor people among you” (Deuteronomy 15.4) but follows it up with realism, saying, “There will always be poor people…” (Deuteronomy 15.11)

God proclaims the possibilities of generosity while acknowledging the grim reality of greed. Through following God, we can open our hearts and hands, maintaining idealistic visions and actions without losing sight of ugly realities. Christians can look the darkest realities of poverty in the face and confidently say, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” 

“If only you fully obey the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 15.4)

The dream of Deuteronomy 15.4 was fulfilled (for a short time) in the early church. It was said of them, “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4.33-34) These Spirit-filled believers fulfilled Deuteronomy’s proclaimed possibility about the poor.

All systems controlled by humans eventually become corrupted and the Acts 4 church is no exception. Racism slips into the distribution of food and the highest levels of the church leadership must get involved (and get honest) to solve it. Corruption in systems run by humans is inevitable. If the church’s own system faced accusations of inequity, how much more can we expect inequity to be a concern in secular systems? However, these concerns are not a reason that we should abandon our calling in this area. 

At the heart level of each individual and at the highest levels of our churches, denominations, and governments, Christians must acknowledge that the poor are our responsibility and are one way that God will judge how well we are helping his will to be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6.9-10)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me. — Psalm 69.6

 – Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 15 (Listen – 3:20)
Psalm 102 (Listen – 2:45)

Read more about Spiritual Indicators
God holds his people responsible for the welfare of the poor, the foreigners, the widows, and the orphans.

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/spiritual-indicators

Read more about He Became Poor
The reasons God gives for his just acts of judgment against Israel and Judah…always include offenses related to oppression of the poor.

The Shema and The Lord’s Prayer

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 6.3-9
3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Matthew 6.9-13
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: 
“ ‘Our Father in heaven, 
hallowed be your name, 
10 your kingdom come, 
your will be done, 
on earth as it is in heaven. 
11 Give us today our daily bread. 
12 And forgive us our debts, 
as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
13 And lead us not into temptation, 
but deliver us from the evil one.’

Reflection: The Shema and The Lord’s Prayer
By John Tillman

Many people today pray daily using The Lord’s Prayer which Jesus taught his disciples in the New Testament. Jesus and his disciples however, already grew up saying a daily prayer. It was a prayer taken from Moses’ speech to the people about to enter the land and was, in Jesus’ day, said twice daily. Jesus answered using this prayer when he was asked what the greatest commandment in the law was. (Mark 12:28-34; Matthew 22.36-40)

This prayer is called, “the Shema.” The Shema takes its name from the first word of the prayer. The Hebrew word shema is sometimes translated to listen or hear. In this prayer, and elsewhere in scripture, hearing and obeying are intrinsically linked in the Hebrew language. Shema implies not just hearing words but carrying them out. 

In The Lord’s Prayer, action is also implied. Praying “your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven,” is not intended to be a passive wish with no participation on our part. In both the Shema and The Lord’s Prayer, we are expected to engage in concrete actions once we stop praying.

We will pray today, combining these two prayers from scripture. Before you rise from prayer, ask God to guide your feet and hands to enact his word.

Hear, Listen, Obey
We ask you to hear us, God, but we need to hear you.
You alone are God, our only Father in Heaven
Your name is holy as we are to be holy.
Father, Son, and Spirit are one, as we are to be one.

You alone are the provider of our bread.
You alone are the forgiver of our debts.

In return, Lord, we love you with all our heart, showing your love to others in forgiveness
In return, Lord, we love you with all our soul, opening our inner being to your indwelling
In return, Lord, we love you with all our strength. The strength of our body and mind, we give to you for your service and will.

Tie your Word to us that…
In your strength, may we resist temptation.
In your love, may we rescue the falling.
In your Spirit, may we speak the gospel with our words, carry the gospel with our feet, and enact the gospel with our hands.

Video: (Shema — The Bible Project)

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and reveal myself to him.” —- John 14.21– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 6 (Listen – 3:13)
Psalm 89 (Listen – 5:29)

Read more about Lewis on Prayer Without Words
For many years after my conversion I never used any ready-made forms except the Lord’s Prayer… — C.S. Lewis

Read more about Public, Prayerful, Persistent Protest
Daniel prayed in defiance of an unjust law. He was guilty before the law of the land, but blameless before God.

God of the Weak and Doubtful

Scripture Focus: Matthew 28.16-20
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

From John: In a world in which people doubt the evidence in front of their eyes, perhaps it is a little easier for us to understand that the disciples doubted even after seeing Jesus. Certainty is elusive in a world in which many conspiratorial voices are attacking the concept of absolute truth. This repost from 2019 reminds us that honest doubt is the first step to faith just as the discomfort of conviction is the first step to the comfort of Christ’s forgiveness and restoration. Do not despair in doubt. Do not despair in conviction. Turn to him. 

You are weak. 
He is strong. 
You may sink. 
His arm is long.
He will raise you up.

Reflection: God of the Weak and Doubtful
By John Tillman

Some of the details that ring the most truthfully from the scriptures regarding the resurrection of Jesus, is how long it took the disciples to fully believe and understand what had happened. They were incredulous. They did not trust their eyes that saw or their hands that touched. They couldn’t believe it. 

We sometimes skim over the many mentions of the disciples’ doubt looking for examples of strong faith to emulate. We should emulate faith. This is the purpose of the great chapter of faith in Hebrews and the descriptions of faithful moments in the lives of many throughout scripture. But we shouldn’t overlook the importance of the presence of doubters among the disciples. 

If God placed examples of faith in the scripture, he also placed doubt in the scriptures. Stories of faith come from doubt. When God shows us a story of the faithful, he points us to where he is calling us. When God shows us his doubtful children, he comes to where we are, puts his reassuring hand on our shoulder, and claims us as his children as well.

The ones who touched with their hands experienced doubt. The ones who saw with their eyes struggled to believe. Even up to the moment of Christ’s ascension into Heaven before their eyes, doubt was among them.

It was these doubtful few with whom Christ placed the responsibility of his most precious and vital mission. It is to this confused assemblage of rebels and failures, that Christ entrusted the Gospel.

Oh you of little faith…
He accepts and encourages you today. You who doubt his care. You who doubt his provision. You who doubt his presence with you. You who doubt that you are loveable, that you are valuable, that you are called, that you are his precious child… He calls. He loves. He holds out his hand, and trusts the gospel, to all of us doubters.

Christ did not allow Peter to sink in the waves when his faith was too weak. He will extend his loving hand to you as well.
He did not turn away the father who struggled to believe. He will not turn you away.

Thank God, that he is the God of the weak and the doubtful.
In doubt hold out your hands.
In weakness cling to him.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62.6

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 29 (Listen – 4:45)
Matthew 28 (Listen – 2:39)

Read more about When Liars Meet The Truth
Whatever situation we find ourselves in or however the world views us, we can be assured that God’s presence is near. 

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/when-liars-meet-the-truth

20210127

Read more about How He Loves Us
God declares his love because he knows his people have doubts.

Blessings of the Dispossessed

Scripture Focus: Genesis 26.26-31
26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” 
28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.” 
30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully.

Matthew 25.34-40
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Reflection: Blessings of the Dispossessed
By John Tillman

Despite Abraham’s treaty with Abimelek, (Genesis 21.21-34) Isaac has difficulties with Abimelek’s government and people. 

Isaac is unfairly treated; he is forced by violence to move on; he is even relocated by government order. The closest (but still imperfect) modern parallel is the treatment of indigenous populations. 

Native Americans, and other indigenous communities, uniquely know what Isaac’s experience was like. All across the world, indigenous people faced powerful governments that continually violated treaties and moved native peoples off of the land they had been living on.

Rich Mullins wrote about this in, The Howling, a song of lament and faith.

“Cause I can see a people dispossessed 
Broken and brave in the face of so much fear 
Driven from their homes by the greed of a nation 
Whose treaties were as good as litter 
Along the trail of their tears” 
— Rich Mullins, The Howling 

Non-Western Christians all across the world today also know this type of persecution and suffering. In many places, Christian communities face violence or relocation, either from militia groups or under the authority of their governments. 

Even in his suffering, Isaac blessed the land that he would one day inherit by digging wells that would water the land long after Isaac moved on. Eventually, Abimelek came to Isaac because he recognized God’s blessing on him and Isaac was able to confront Abimelek regarding his mistreatment and gain redress.

Actions of faithfulness and engaging with the difficult work of peacemaking will bring blessings to those around us. Avoiding violence and speaking for the truth will demonstrate that God is with us even if we must suffer for it.

We have been promised by Jesus that we will have trouble in this world. The level and severity of that “trouble” will vary. We may be targeted. We may be slandered. We may be “moved on” from places we feel we belong. Perhaps we will see partial justice in earthly kingdoms. Indeed, we are commanded to work to this end. But we also know that justice will only be completed in the coming Kingdom.

We are, in a sense, passive sojourners, like Isaac. We make our way the best we can in a land not yet submitted to God’s kingdom that we know is coming.

May we sojourn humbly in faith. May we enact justice and peace. May kings come to us, recognizing a source of God’s blessings.

Music: Rich Mullins, The Howling (Live performance) 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth. — Psalm 67.3-4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 26 (Listen – 4:31)
Matthew 25 (Listen – 6:04)

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
What we say and how we say it matters because…Sticks and stones start as words and words start in our sinful hearts.

Read more about Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus
Abraham, by God’s command, prayed for Abimelek, blessed him, and lived under Abimelek’s rule, making a treaty with him.

The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel

From John: Headed into this weekend, we look back at this post from 2019. Christ’s banquet and his forgiveness will include those whom none of us would expect. Therefore, we cannot fail to invite any and all to come to drink and eat freely.

Scripture Focus: Matthew 22.8
Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.

Reflection: The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel
By John Tillman

Meals during Christ’s earthly life were an important cultural ritual. They were more than just fraternity, but pedagogy.

When God wished the Israelites to remember forever what he did for them in the Exodus from Israel, he didn’t have them sit for an exam, but for a meal—the first taste of the first covenant. The Passover Meal is the source of the second covenant as well, for Christ’s last meal before the crucifixion was this same instructive dinner.

Today’s parable also provides a unique picture of the gospel. In Matthew and Luke, the king angrily describes his initial guest-list of no-shows as being undeserving of attending the wedding. These unworthies are described as being more concerned about their businesses and fields. Profit takes precedence over a relationship that should be a priority—a royal relationship.

It is hard to imagine turning down an invitation to an earthly royal wedding. It is not so long ago that most of the world stopped to view one. But we do turn down our King. We turn him down. For work. For divertments. For pleasures. For money. For lusts.

But our great king still calls for his banquet hall to be full. He sends out his servants to the far places, the poor places, the places where the sick gather waiting to die. He takes all comers. He takes us all.

God sets his table for scoundrels, shaking hands with undeserved trust. He polishes the silverware for the impoverished, sending spoons and dishes home with the leftovers. He welcomes the wanderers, washing their feet as they enter. He dresses the wounds of the oppressed and broken, staunching their bleeding and soothing their pains.

This is how we, the undeserving, motley, scandalous louts that we are, find ourselves with our feet under Christ’s table. Christ invites all to the banquet. We will surprise someone by being there, and be surprised in return.

None of us deserve to come. Not those first invited, and not those brought in from the highways and hedges. We do not choose who dines at Christ’s banquet. For if we were honest about our own sinful hearts, we would not choose to allow ourselves there.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 23 (Listen – 2:34) 
Matthew 22 (Listen – 4:56)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 24 (Listen – 9:42) Matthew 23 (Listen – 4:53)
Genesis 25 (Listen – 4:18) Matthew 24 (Listen – 5:59)

Read more about Unity and Diversity :: Worldwide Prayer
Unity cannot be achieved by defeating others but by embracing them.

Read more about The Beautiful Feet of Lepers
This is the gospel—that terrorists can be healed and saved and the rejects of society can bring the news of salvation and the testimony of victory unimaginable to their city.

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