Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Great Equalizer

Evil exists where ever people oppress each other. Perhaps the greatest evil is when people are oppressed in the name of religion. One of the places the church has sought to oppress is in scientific advancement. If it were up to the church we’d still believe the sun revolves around the Flat Earth. We would all have a life expectancy of maybe 35 years, most of our children wouldn’t have made it past age 5, no medical research would ever have taken place. Performing anatomical research on corpses was considered heresy, even witchcraft. If the church had its way in our past, there is no way the testing made available today through our doctors and agencies such as lifeline would be possible - and these tests help our doctors extend our lives and improve the quality of our lives.

One way to fight the oppression of science and medical research in the name of religion is to speak out publicly. Today, the 189th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, some 586 churches in every US state and five nations are participating in Evolution Sunday. Over 10,000 clergy have signed a letter stating that religion and science can and should co-exist. The letter and information on the Clergy Letter project is available on Awareness Table.

Jesus is the great equalizer. Who stood on level ground to speak to oppressed and oppressor - comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Healing all who came near with the power that flowed out from him.
Poverty - I have some disturbing Numbers. 37 million Americans are poor. Not “can’t afford a 46 inch HD TV” but “Can’t buy food and pay the rent” poor. A large percentage of America’s homeless persons actually have jobs - often minimum wage jobs. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of minimum wage earners are not teenagers working part time during high school. ¾ of the minimum wage earner work full time, 1/3 of those are the sole support of families, earning about $10k a year - $6k below federal poverty level for a family of 3. $8/hour brings a family of 3 up TO the poverty level. (California’s minimum wage is $7/hour. We pay our preschool teachers $8/hour) Corporate CEOs average 821 times that - over $8million per year - about $4k per HOUR!

Blessed are the poor, for you will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Some Christians hear these words, and the words Jesus spoke when the woman with the alabaster jar anointed him “The poor will always be with you” and believe that we don’t need to find ways to alleviate the dire conditions under which so many of our brothers and sisters here and world wide must try to survive. Some even preach a pie in the sky kind of gospel “you’re poor now, but you are going to be rich in heaven.” Others, like us, do great work in providing food and shelter to the poor. But is this enough?

Poverty, systemic poverty, has a profound and negative affect, not just on the poor, but on all of us. There are people who are praying for our safety because this church is located in the middle of one of the most violent gang communities in Southern California.

Violent, criminal, Street gangs have existed as long as there have been cities. The desperately poor, the hopeless, the children who grew up without parents, banded together in family groups, caring for each other as there was no one else to care for them. They preyed on those around them, anyone foolish enough to come to their neighborhoods or so poor they to have to live there. Human Life meant little to them, as they know their lives mean nothing to the people who keep them there, generation after generation living in extreme poverty. The only real differences between the street gangs in Ancient Rome or Dickens’ London and the Street Gangs in our city are the quality of their weapons and the addition of racism to the reasons for their violence - Hispanic and black gangs are pitted against each other, for each sees the other as a threat to their livelihood. Seeking a way to end to gang violence, to give hope and family to those hopeless, family-less children, is Gwen’s new passion.

Jesus is the great healer. The one whose name means “God Heals” Who came to teach us about love, directed us to react to hatred with love, to violence with a kiss, Who came to heal the world.

Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Just preaching the gospel is not enough -we must live it. If we do not work against the evil of oppression, we are participating in it. When we leave here today, let us seek to be on that level ground along with Jesus, speaking and acting in his name with love for all persons, as healers, as active workers against oppression of every kind. As the power flowed out of him to heal all who came to him, so let it flow out from us in his name, to make the wounded whole. For He is the balm in Gilead.

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