(God and Poverty) Leviticus 19; 23 This sermon examines the Old Testament Law involving gleaning laws. In these laws we once again see God’s concern for the poor, and what we should do as his people. Hickory Lane Christian Church Washington Courthouse OH Rob Hoos
Introduction • A few years ago, when I was a preaching intern at Plainfield Christian Church, I had the opportunity to travel with some of the members of the church to New York City in order to help out with the summer outreach programs of Forefront Christian Church in Manhattan. • Upon arriving at our hostel, we unloaded our luggage, and the boarded one of the city busses to meet our group leaders in one of New Yorkʼs many parks. • When we met them, we found that they had an opening activity for us to engage in to familiarize us with the city, and to help us become more comfortable in the area we would be working in. A scavenger hunt. • Involved in this hunt was a number of landmarks, and stores, and streets and churches, enough that we could get used to how things are laid out. • Also included in this list was something that would help us to leave some of our first marks on the city, buy a flower, and give it away to someone else, to find a homeless person, and to give that one something to eat. • Stuff like that. It was just to encourage those who came from the church to get out of their comfort zone and reach out to these homeless. • As my partner and I wandered around trying to win the scavenger hunt, we came upon a homeless man sitting on the side of the street.
• When he saw us he asked, “Can I have a few dollars?” • Seeing this as a genuine chance to help this man in a small way, and a way to complete a portion of the scavenger hunt, we began to look around for some place where we could get him some food. • Directly across the road from where he was sitting was a bar. • Now, I didnʼt want to presume anything, but I found it ironic that this homeless man had decided to sit straight across from a bar, but I ignored it. • My friend and I walked into the bar, ordered some food, and waited for quite some time while they filled the order. • When we got the food, we went out of the bar, brought the food to the man, and he began to look through the food. • His face looked disappointed and I was thinking, • “Does he really not like the food we brought him or something? • What is going on? • Why does he look like he has rejected this gift of food?” • Finally he opened his mouth and said: “Well, thatʼs great, but can I have a few dollars.” • Now, I donʼt know the situation of life where this man found himself, and thought I tried not to judge his intentions it was hard for me to assume the best about a man who was sitting across from a bar wanting some money, and who was not satisfied with food, but still wanted the money. • Of course, the conclusion that I and likely all of you have come to is that this man was not really interested in food, but he was interested in getting some sort of alcohol.
• And all the joy I had in getting him some food, and being able to be Jesus to him through this act of kindness was dashed by the pain in realizing what this man really wanted. • And I found that this experience only furthered the stereotype I have in my head about poor people, especially homeless people. • What comes to your mind, and I mean the first things that come to your mind, when you are confronted by a homeless/poor person? • We have a huge number of conceptions and beliefs about the poor, and how they got into the stat that theyʼre in. Tell me right now, what is it that you think about? • Do you think he just wants it because he wants to buy drugs or alchol? • Do you think he is out begging because he spent all of his money. • Do you think that he is lazy, and is not trying to get a job? • Do you think that this is something that he has chosen for himself? • In all honesty, these are the things that we begin to think about when we find ourselves dealing with the poor and the homeless. Many times, before we even know them we make the assumption that they have an addiction to drugs and alcohol. We assume that they are lazy, or crazy, or potentially dangerous. • First of all this is not true. • If we are honest, there are some people who are homeless and poor because they have had tragic events occur in their lives. • Maybe they have lost their jobs, or families. • Maybe they came home from the war and didnʼt have anything to come back to.
• There is a lot of reasons why someone might find themselves in this kind of a situation. • Transition: Undoubtedly though , some of these thoughts and feelings we have about them have been confirmed to us. • Letʼs face it, the guy who I met on my scavenger hunt was not doing anything to help the case for homeless people everywhere. • Many of the prejudices we have are founded on actual events, and truths. • But there is something else that seems to influence the way we look at the poor.
The Land of Opportunity • I think that some of these thoughts come as a result of our culture, and how we have come to think of our country. • America is called the land of opportunity, and indeed, we have seen many people change their situation drastically by escaping poverty, or misfortune, or some other circumstance to become what our culture considers great. • People here pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, they drive themselves forward and try to gain wealth and affluence. • This is the place (we think) that anyone can get a job, and work their way up in the world to the place where they can take care of themselves and their family. This is the land of opportunity. If you care to work for it. • So, when we see people who are struggling to get by, or maybe they are not able to get by, we make assumptions about their character, or the reasons that they are where they are.
• They must be lazy, • they must have addictions, • they must be defective in some way. • There is something wrong with them. • Additionally, we feel taken advantage of because of the reality of our own lives. • We work hard for our money. • We take time away from our families and children. • We put ourselves in work environments that we may love or hate, for hours on end to make money to be able to afford a roof over our head, clothes on our body, and food in our stomachs. • And here is this person that we see as being lazy, or addicted, or deficient who is asking us for money that we have diligently worked for, and that we could spend on ourselves. • It is no surprise to me that in this land of opportunity, where success is made by our own hard work that there is such a difficulty in dealing with the poor, and indeed, many people never do much about the poor, and the homeless.
Israel and Our situation • I do not often like to draw parallels between Israel and the United States of America. • So often, we have attempted to identify ourselves as Godʼs people (whether consciously or unconsciously). • But sometimes, our experiences do give us reason to consider their perspective, and what God has said to them. • So it is with caution that I want to start talking about Israel.
Israelʼs Past • As you may or may not know, the Jewish people were not always inhabiting the land of Israel. • Their beginnings were of more humble origins. They were slaves. • They were constantly in want, and troubled by their oppressors. • The first chapter of Exodus uses the terminology: afflicted with heavy burdens, oppressed, treated ruthlessly, slaves, bitterness, hard service. • They were poor, suffering, slaves to the Egyptians. • They had nothing. • When God brought them out of the land, he had promised to bring them to a better land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the promised Land. • In this land they would experience the antithesis of Egypt... abundance, peace, and plenty. • When Moses was speaking to the Israelites on behalf of the Lord, he spoke about this new existence with the following words: Deuteronomy 15:4-5 4 However, there should not be any poor among you, for the LORD will surely bless you in the land that he is giving you as an inheritance, 5 if you carefully obey him by keeping all these commandments that I am giving you today. • This seems like an impossible reality, like something that is not real. • God speaks to them and tells them that because of how good the land which he is giving to them is, that there will not be any poor, if they keep the Lordʼs commandments.
• Though we would think that God is unaware of the impossibility of this, we see just a few verses later a clarification. 7 If a fellow Israelite from one of your villages in the land that the LORD your God is giving you should be poor, you must not harden your heart or be insensitive to his impoverished condition. 8 Instead, you must be sure to open your hand to him and generously lend him whatever he needs...11 There will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore, I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to your fellow Israelites who are needy and poor in your land. • God recognizes that they will not obey his commands and live in this utopian world, this promised land where there are no poor or needy. • Therefore, he makes provision for the poor. • Here we see God speaking about poverty saying that because they will never actually keep the commands of God, there will always be poor people, and that they need to keep their hearts open toward these people. • As we began to discuss two weeks ago, the Old Testament law is in some ways a reflection of Godʼs attitude toward the poor. • One of the laws of that we find, which reflects Godʼs attitude toward the poor also appeared in the story of Ruth. • That is, Godʼs law about gleaning.
Gleaning Laws • Gleaning, simply put, is the ability that people have to go through a field which does not belong to them, and pick some of what is growing there for food. • Letʼs look at these sections which talk about gleaning in Leviticus 19 and 23.
9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. Again in chapter 23 it says... 22 “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. • Simply put. God commands the Israelites, his people, to take a very specific course of action when it comes time for the harvest. • When you are harvesting, God commands them not to be meticulous, in the way that they gather the crop which they have worked for and watched over this whole time. • In fact, he is telling them to purposefully leave some of their harvest. • Now, this seems a little difficult, doesnʼt it? • Farming, raising a variety of crops was one of the major modes of employment, wasnʼt it. • Many people probably farmed in one way or another, so this isnʼt just something that applies to a few people in the community, but something that applied to the vast majority of the Israelites. • Additionally, let me ask you a few questions. • Who planted the crop? The farmer. • Who made sure the crop received everything it needed to grow? The farmer.
• Who pulled out the weeds that grew with the crop and attempted to choke it out? The farmer. • Who chased off the animals who tried to consume the crop? The farmer. • Who has earned the right to harvest from his work? The farmer. • Yet, here is God, speaking to these families who worked for a long time to produce this crop, and saying to them, I want you to leave some of your crop behind. • I donʼt want you to consider the whole of the crop to be yours for the taking. • Do not gather everything. • Leave the edges and do not be meticulous to get everything. • I know you worked hard for this harvest, and I know you may feel you have the right to all of it, but some of it is not for you. • It is for the poor, and the traveler.
Is this unfair? • This does not necessarily seem right to us, does it? • Here is someone who has not worked for the crop, but they get to freely eat of it, and here is a man who has labored hard for the crop, who does not get to keep all of the fruits of his labor. • Some would suggest that this is unfair.
Being Godʼs People • For these Israelites, part of being Godʼs chosen nation was reflecting the care that God has for those who, for whatever reason, are unable to take care of themselves. • The poor who have no resources, the widow who is helpless in her culture, and the sojourner who has no friends or relatives to care for him.
• These people, who are relatively or totally helpless, God has extended compassion. • And so to be a member of Godʼs community, these Israelites are told to extend a similar compassion. • In this instance, it involves leaving some of what you have earned behind for the sake of others who need it. • This is part of being a member of Godʼs community. Period. • Notice also the motivation that God gives here. Why should we do this, because I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD.
OT Pitfalls... • It is often difficult to look at the Old Testament and draw application forward into our lives for a number of reasons. • First of all, we understand that the Old Testament laws and regulations were done away with in the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. • So, how does this apply to our situation now that Christ has come. • Besides most of us are not farmers, so what in the world would this mean for a Christian today?
The Principle • Even though this might not be directly applicable to us today in the sense that we are not bound by Jewish Law, and we live in a totally different time period than the Jewish people did with different realities regarding life, the principle of this Law stands as authoritative to us even as Christians in the 21st century. • The promised land may have been a land of plenty, where theoretically (according to God) there should not be any poor.
• But, God knew that there would be, and so he provided for ways for these poor to be taken care of. • One of the characteristics of Godʼs people is this care for the poor through the keeping of various laws designed to help the helpless. • Gleaning, one of these laws, involves using something that you have earned to care for those who are helpless and poor. • The principle is that even in a land of Plenty, Godʼs desire for his people is to care for the poor through using what they earn to make sure the poor are taken care of.
Spanning the Gap • As we were discussing earlier. One of the problems we face here in the American Church is the lack of motivation to give to the poor and needy. • Reasons why we may not give... • This is because not only of our distrust toward them and how they will spend the money we give them, but also the belief that there is no reason for them to be poor except their lack of work ethic, or addiction to various substances. • We do not want to give them money that we have worked for and earned so they can go and waste it. • We earned it, and we ought to spend it on ourselves or our family. • At least that is what we think. • When we look hard at this biblical principle, and bring it over into our day, it would suggest that Godʼs desire for his people is to care for the poor by giving them out of that which we have earned.
• If we look at this Old Testament Law in this light, then it immediately spans the gap of time and culture and hits us where we live. • If this is true, then God is asking you and I to use part of what we earn to support the poor and needy of church and our community. • This is a fairly difficult thing to hear... but it is aligned with the teachings of Jesus which we often ignore. • The difficult ones which hit us in our heart and our wallet.
Jesus Sheep and Goats... • Jesus, one day is teaching, and begins to speak about the coming of the Son of Man and the judgment that he will bring with him and he says this... 31"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32"All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation 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; 36naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to 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'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
41"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' 44"Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' 45"Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46"These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." • Notice what occupies a great portion of this text. • Jesus is interested in how they treat one another.
• Notice, having perfect church and sunday school attendance is not on here. • Notice, that many things Christians often associate with a good Christian person are not listed here.
• Look at what is though. Did you feed the hungry, did you give drink to the thirsty, did you clothe the naked, did you care for the stranger, did you care for the sick, did you visit the prisoner. • Cause when we care for others in this way, we are really reflecting one of the chief concerns of Christ, and doing part of what it means to look like Godʼs people, the sheep.
Application • Gleaning is a way to demonstrate this care. • To take part of what you earn, or what you have, and to use it to help those in need. • And I think that it should be done in the spirit of the gleaning in the Old Testament. There was no judgment on the one who did the gleaning, there was no application process, there was no condemnation. • There was only a field full of food that had been left for them. • I pray that God enlarges our hearts to care for people in the same way that he does. • I pray he changes us so we use the resources he has given us to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to care for the sick and the stranger, and to reach those in prison. • And may we set aside some of the money we earn, or the resources we have for the purpose of joining ourselves with the will of God, and caring for those who are not able to care for themselves.
• May God make us sheep.