Poverty in America: An Opportunity for the Church

Poverty Rate from 1959 - 2009 According to a report that was released last Thursday by the census bureau, the poverty rate rose to 14.3 percent during 2009 from 13.2 percent the previous year, that’s 43.6 million people in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase.

On top of that, the number of people without health insurance reached its highest level since such data has been collected — from 15.4 percent to 16.7 percent from 2008 to 2009, or 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009.

Will American Christians continue our adulterous love affair with consumerism or will we do something to help those in dire need on the margins of our society? While iPad sales show no sign of slowing, one in five children in America are living in poverty.

When Jesus initiated his ministry, announcing that he was inaugurating the Kingdom of God, he said,

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
(see Luke 4:14-20)

Jesus calls his followers to follow him in this ministry. And he wasn't kidding; he was very serious that true discipleship means caring for the poor. In Matthew 25, he separates the “sheep and the goats”: the sheep to their destiny of “eternal life,” and the goats to their destiny of “eternal punishment.” The criteria that Jesus uses for this eternal judgment? The sheep cared for those Jesus identifies himself with and cares for, and the goats did not.

I want to be counted in with the sheep, to whom Jesus says,

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (see Matthew 25:31-46)

The Kingdom of God cares for the poor. The gospel of Jesus reaches out to those who need God’s compassion, and shows by our actions that God is saying, “This should not be so. My people will change this. Here is a picture of the age to come.”

Will we see this as our opportunity to shine God’s glory on those who hurt?

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