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The Beggar

Sermon - 7/22/07
Michael Kennedy
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Ephesians 2:1-10

You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christóby grace you have been savedó 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of Godó 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

 

Time-what is it?

Simone Weil, the French mystic, speaks of time as a sign of God's patience. God waits and waits-waits for us to see God's presence in our lives, waits for us to acknowledge this presence, waits for us to come to God.

Always, time flows on; time to repent, to return. The Hebrew word for repentance has a two-fold meaning: it means "return," the return to God; but, it also means "answer," the answer that the God who seems silent in our lives awaits from us.

Time is a succession of "nows." God's hope is that one of those "nows" will be sanctified by our repentance.

The succession of prophets sent to and rejected by humankind is evidence that too many "nows" of history have been wasted-and yet time and the divine waiting continues.

Time, itself, has become a sign of the God who is "rich in mercy" as Paul tells us in the letter to the Ephesians.

We avoid the message of time with many subterfuges. One of these is to see God as a sporadically indulgent rich one from whom we hope to receive things or blessings. God is seen as the wealthy one and we are the beggars. We ask for this and that-and wonder if God exists when our wishes do not come true.

All of this playacting is a subterfuge which reverses the reality of the situation. The reality is that God is the beggar.

Time is, then, the sign of the beggar's presence at the gates of our lives. That is a sticking image-time as the sign of a patient beggar.

The Hindu poet, Tagore, has a collection of sings called the Gitanjali. Song number 50 is especially beautiful. It sings of one who has gone from door to door all his life begging. One day the beggar sees, in the distance, a chariot. The chariot is coming his way. The beggar wonders who is this approaching king. The chariot draws near and the beggar thinks that his days of begging are at an end. He waits for the gold to be tossed in the dust at his feet. Instead, the chariot stops and kingly person steps down. He meets the expectant beggar and holds out his right hand and asks: "What have you to give me?"

The beggar is stunned. He reaches into his sack and reluctantly brings out the tiniest bit of corn and gives it grudgingly to the stranger. The song ends with these words:

But how great my surprise when at he day's end I emptied my bag on the floor to find a least little grain of gold among the poor heap. I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all.

This song is wonderful description of the God of Jesus. We have made rich by the lavishness of God's grace. And God is there, waiting throughout time, begging from us who thought that we were the beggars.

The cross is the enfleshment in history of the beggar God. The hands outstretched, the body totally vulnerable, the lips pleading with us: "My body . . . my blood, given for you. Do this in memory of me. Be the good which nourishes each others' lives. I beg you, be this for each other. Do this in memory of me." The God of Jesus is the beggar; it is we who are wealthy because God gave everything for us and in so doing God has become the beggar in our midst.

We might not be sure of this image, are we? It is hard to see God as a beggar-but maybe by trying to do so we can see better how much God loves us. After all, who are we God should give all for us? And what have we to offer this divine beggar? We think so little of ourselves that we have become obsessed with self; we are so insecure about our own worth that we erect thick walls all around ourselves and will let down the drawbridge only with great reluctance,

Who are we that God should give all for us? What do we have to offer? We fail to realize how wonderfully made we are, we fail to recognize the gift that is our life. All we see is the triteness of our lives, a triteness that is everywhere. Getting up in the morning, getting the kids off to school, getting our selves to work, coming home to fix dinner and go to be, and then starting all over again the next day-it is all rather trite. And it is the same for all of us-whether we are the President or the most obscure person in the land. Triteness marks human life. But, the message of Jesus is the triteness of human life somehow touches eternity. If the flowers of the filed, the sparrows of the air, and the hairs of our heads are noticed by God, what of our lives?

In the letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul tells us that Jesus is the evidence of the richness of God's mercy. We equate mercy with pity-but mercy is very different from pity.

The Hebrew scriptures have no one word for mercy, it is a concept that involves many words. One of these is "rahamin." Rahamin comes from the same Hebrew stem as the word for womb and it is often translated as tenderness. It refers to the instinctual relationship of parent to child, the relationship that would bring a parent to say, "No matter what he/she do0es, he/she is my child." God has rahamin for Israel-it is never withdrawn because the parent cannot deny the child. There is a life blood flowing through the veins of both parent and child which cannot be forgotten or ignored.

In Jesus, the rahamin of God is known to be for all humanity. It is rahamin that makes the father scan the horizon for the prodigal son; it is rahamin that moves the Samaritan outcast to help the wounded man on the road to Jericho; it is a divine rahamin that sends a Son into the world; John speaks of this divine rahamin when he says, "God so loved the world that God gave God's only Son."

Jesus came, not out of pity, but because of the tenderness of God. God sees in us a worth and dignity we do not see in ourselves. There is an image of God in us which, no matter how many times we forget, God never forgets. Jesus is the definitive sign that there is a limitless caring for and tenderness toward our lives. Jesus is the definitive sign of the richness of God's mercy.

This mercy is for us-we have God-given right to claim it. God is begging for us to do so, God is begging for us to give our all. Each of us can give much. We can love each other-God begs this of us; if we fail to do so, our love will not enter creation and we have closed an entry of God into the world. We can forgive each other-God begs this of us; if we fail to do so, our forgiveness will not enter creation. We can have hope-God begs this of us; if we fail, darkness threatens our creation. We can be just---God begs this of us; if we fail, harshness reigns.

God is looking to us and begging for us to turn to him and find peace. This peace will only come if we recognize our riches and respond to this beggar God.

And time continues as a demonstration of God's patience. God is there begging at the gates-it is for us to respond. Don't miss the opportunity.

Truly, it is the opportunity not just of a lifetime but of an eternity.

Think again of the words of Tagore:

But how great my surprise when at the day's end I emptied my bag on the floor to find a least little grain of gold among the poor heap. I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all.

Isn't this a powerful image of the end of our lives?

We take the bag of important things we have been carrying through a lifetime and empty it on the floor and begin to sort out its contents. What will we find? Many of the things we had thought important really are refuse. But there, among the refuse, will be bits of gold, brilliantly shinning in the penetrating divine light. We look closely and see that those bits of gold represent everything that we had given to the beggar God.

It is true that the only things we can take with us in death are what we have given away. There will be tears-we will weep in sorrow because we did not have the heart to give God our all, but we will weep in joy that the beggar God has seen in us a richness we failed to see in ourselves. Then we shall know the truth of the words of Ephesians because we will be the beneficiaries of the "great wealth of God's favor."

 


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