Thursday, February 09, 2006

Prayer- Poor People’s Day Feb. 8, 2006

Opening Prayer- Poor People’s Day Feb. 8, 2006

Trinity United Methodist Church, Atlanta Georgia

My great grandfather was a Jewish rebbe, a man who had been identified as holy, as spiritually gifted. He taught the young boys Hebrew and sat right next to the rabbi on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. He did this in the Ukraine in Russia in the small very poor rural ghetto where he lived until the Czar’s soldiers began to regularly terrorize the Jewish people there, and he did this when he came to America and settled in Boston, Massachusetts. His was the gift of piety.

My grandfather, his son in-law, was a different sort of a Jew. He was religious in his own way, in the way of being a revolutionary, a reformer. He got off the boat at 15 or 16 years old and then become a labor organizer, one of the founders of the lady’s garment maker union in this country. He knew poor and he knew being treated badly and he did something about it. His was the gift of action and a passion for economic justice.

That doing something about the poor and their suffering is all over Jewish scripture. It is unavoidable. It is unmistakable. It calls us to be righteous.

In the Hebrew Bible, in Deuteronomy, we are told “ if there is among you a poor person, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother ( or sister) but you shall open your hand and lend that person sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.

Take heed lest there be a base thought in your heart and you say ’ the seventh year, the year of release is near’ and your eye be hostile to your poor brother ( or sister) and you give her nothing, and she cry to the Eternal against you, and it be a sin in you. You shall give freely and your heart shall not be grudging when you give.”

And in the words of the prophet Isaiah- “ Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked to cover him and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily, your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Eternal shall be your rear guard.. If you shall pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desires of the afflicted, then shall your light rise out of the darkness….”

Sharing bread with the hungry

Sheltering the homeless poor

Healing the afflicted

And not just through momentary charity, but through justice- the fair distribution of the bounty of this world-

Psalm 82 asks us to “ defend the poor and the orphan, deal justly with the poor and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” We all know who the wicked are today, making decisions, passing laws that hurt and hinder.

It is with these words of ancient scripture that we bind ourselves for the education and action we are about this morning, this afternoon, tomorrow and every day.And in doing so, we will also be working toward tikkun olam, repairing and perfecting the world.

May it be so. Amen and Shalom.

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