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Posts Tagged ‘widows’

Any change, any redirection, any assessment of the present requires a stop. Plain and simple.

Isaiah 1:16b-17
. . . stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

When our high energy Boston Terrier, Rocky, is over the top and we are trying to settle him down, it has to be cold turkey. We have to stop throwing the toy or stop engaging him in any way. That little dog is addicted to the high of chase and retrieve. He is not able to stop himself. He would probably keel over in exhaustion before he would stop if we didn’t make him stop.

There are stories in the human world that are not that different. They call it intervention.

So, based on this scripture, here’s the way it might work:

  1. Stop doing what you’re doing.
  2. Learn a better way.
  3. Seek justice.

It makes sense really because the process of learning a different way or better way to act, behave, operate in our world will reveal the injustices that proliferate in our society. The better way is littered with the shredded souls who tried and failed, who went back to the old way, who could not master themselves or the demands of change.

Everyone needs help after the stop. Just the learning alone is treacherous.

My daughter is an ESOL (English as a Second Language) learner. Even after 5 1/2 years in this country, she struggles with the nuance of the language and the vocabulary that is unique to a variety of subjects. But, she is determined all the same. She stopped the downhill pull in high school and decided she would attend community college. But the challenges did not stop. And as she plugs along, she has experienced unfair treatment and mockery by students and teachers alike. We are working together to remedy this, but it’s a slog.

In the bigger picture, Isaiah writes, once the path toward justice is found, then we are strengthened and we can take what we have learned about stopping, learning and seeking justice to reach out to others, those others oppressed by the powerful, the disengaged, the blind proud.

Orphans are at particular risk. Without love, how do they survive? What choices will they make to get what they can get, to show the world, to play the odds.

Jesus said the poor will always be with us [Matthew 26:11], but must the orphans be relegated to this statement as well?

If every family of moderate means or every single adult would adopt just one orphan, what would happen? Start there. We are without excuse in this country. Even if we don’t have the courage or interest in the orphans of the world, shouldn’t we, at the least, adopt our own?

In Old Testament times, the poor of the poor were the widows. So much depended on the willingness of families and children to care for them, but often, they could not. There was no legal provision for them. And although most widows fair much better in our society financially (unless there was nothing to begin with), they are still in need of emotional support. I know I have stumbled here as well, intending to reach out, but getting too caught up in my own world.

Isn’t that the way of it? My own world, my little sphere, my own boundaries.

Isn’t it time to just stop and take a breath, to look around myself, to assess the way, to learn something new?

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Culture, culture, culture. Is there any doubt that Paul is writing out of his time and place? In these verses, Paul lays out some very specific parameters and rules in order to be on the “widow list.” What did they get for being in this list?

I Timothy 5:9-10
No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband [dead or alive], and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

According to the Amplified translation, the list or roll was for those women who would, from that day forward (assuming they could stay on the list), would receive church support. They would be cared for and loved. God forbid if a woman was 59 or 58. Would they bend the rules? What is her husband was an abusive clod? What if her children, despite her efforts, ended up in jail? Who decides what is hospitable?

If there are women out there who met all of Paul’s rules, I doubt very seriously that they would need to be on the widow list because individuals would be reaching out to them for all their good deeds, help, and foot washing [personal service]. Outside of money, the women on Paul’s list seem to be strong, healthy, and full of spiritual insight. They would be loved and appreciated already.

Sorry, but I think the women on the widow list might need to be different in today’s world: homeless, abused, neglected, lonely, shamed, lost, addicted, sick, or hungry. They need strategies for survival and recovery. They need patience and forbearance. They need unconditional love and wisdom.

The widow list is not like Santa’s list, where only the “good kids” get the stuff. Like the movie, Cider House Rules, where the list was made by people who had never walked or understood the shoes of those who lived in the Cider House, so are Paul’s Widow List Rules. I find him insensitive and downright clueless.

But perhaps the really sad thing is that we all make “Widow lists.” We judge the ones around us and compare their circumstances to the list in our heads. Is this person deserving? Should I give this homeless person a dollar or will he/she squander it away?

I wish I could remember her name, but there is an amazing British woman who has served in China for many years as a missionary. I will never forget one of her teachings that chided us well-meaning helpers saying that Jesus only asked that we give and serve the poor, not second-guess what will be done with with the gift. Such an idea goes against everything we assume: shouldn’t I be a steward for what I give? I don’t know the answer to that.

But today, I’d like to throw out my lists and see what happens.

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There’s probably not a pastor or Christian fund raiser who hasn’t used the phrase, “it is more blessed to give than receive,” but it seems everyone has focused on the monetary piece of this and missed some other crucial possibilities. Giving is not limited to dollars and cents.

Acts 20:35
In everything I [Paul] did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “

To be honest, I can’t even find a place where Jesus actually said this phrase in the gospels. That’s a bit problematic for me but for argument’s sake, let’s assume Paul wouldn’t make that part up.

But what else is he saying? I hear him emphasize the importance of hard work and how he and his followers met their own needs and still had enough to also meet some of the needs of others.

Paul gave what he had and in this case, I’m thinking it was his strength, his knowledge, his dauntless faith, as well as the fruit of his labors. As a former Pharisee, he was probably a good student. He knew what it meant to study and then to teach. He was smart. He was committed. He was zealous. When he became a follower of Jesus, he practiced and worked as a tent maker. He worked.

In Paul’s time, some people could not work. Some people were sick (both physically & mentally) and could not help themselves. Widows and orphans were alone in the world and needed support. People were caught in the cycle and web of poverty and despair. Any different from today?

Paul believed that those who can work, must work and share with those who cannot. But, again, it’s not just the money, it’s the work itself… the labor, the strength to do what must be done.

I am a high energy person. I know this. I can usually get a lot done in a day. My parents, my mother in particular, brought me up with a strong work ethic. I have worked at some kind of a paying job since I was fourteen when I lied about my age and washed test tubes and urine bottles in a medical lab (back in the day). Since then, I have been a candy salesman, a waitress (several times over), a bookkeeper, a bartender, a filing clerk, an office temp, a secretary, an administrative assistant, a toy salesman, a Realtor, a teacher, an actress, a model, a spokesperson, a mascot, a director, a playwright, a magazine writer, a director of a nonprofit agency, a manager of a dance company, a manager of a theater company, a speaker, a trainer, a photographer, an entrepreneur, a web master, a librarian, and a branch manager.

But work is not just physical labor, there is also the work of my mind and my spirit. Writing is work. Speaking is work. Thinking is work. Planning is work. Problem solving is work.

And then there are other non-paying jobs like washing dishes, mowing a lawn, cleaning a house, photographing an event, planting a garden, driving a car, cooking a meal, and raising children.

If I am capable of doing any of this work, then I am capable of giving from the fruit of this work (money) or I can give the work itself. There is even more power in giving my self and my time. I can be present. My spirit, my time, my strength, and my energy are probably my most precious commodities… even more so than the dollars I make with my knowledge and labor.

Yes, it is more blessed to give… of oneself… that to receive… of another. Here I am Lord, send me [Isaiah 6:8].

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Acts 6:3
Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility [feeding the poor] over to them.

We each have unique abilities and it’s important to know what they are and how they can be used to serve the greater good. But have we narrowed our vision too much?

Some have used this story about the apostles calling for the choosing of the seven as an excuse for leaving the mundane tasks of service to others. In some churches, these are the “deacons,” whose task it is to handle the day to day needs of the church: they are the worker bees.

This mindset has created hierarchical structures and divisions. The apostles, although concerned about their own call to teach and proclaim the gospel, were also concerned about the needs of others. They knew it was their responsibility, as leaders, to ensure that the needs of all were met. This is how they came up with selecting/anointing seven additional leaders whose criteria for leadership was the same as their own: wisdom and the full presence of the Holy Spirit.

These seven were not “below” the apostles nor was their job description less important. They were filling an important role in the body. If there are people going hungry in our congregations, our neighborhoods, or even our cities and towns, then this role has been lost. And of course, we know that’s true.

If every church cared for the poor, the widows, and the orphans within its geographical reach, all of their basic needs would be met. Instead, the church is more concerned about the mortgage on the building, the color of the carpet, and the cost of benefits for the staff, etc.

Leaders in the church: make sure all of the needs of your poor are being met and if they are not, then stop what you are doing and get it done. And if the body of believers in a particular church are well off, then it should adopt a church family in the poorer area and meet the needs of their poor, their widows & orphans, together.

Idealistic? maybe. I would love to see a map where every church is pinpointed, large or small. I think, at the very least, the U.S. population would be well-covered with such an abundance that there would be enough for others around the world.

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