Saturday, November 8, 2008

9 November 2008

Deuteronomy 9:1-29

Blessed brothers and sisters, you who are called out to serve the Lord, the Torah portion for this week begins with a warning, “Do not say in your heart, saying it is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me to inherit this good land, but because of the impiety of those nations that the Lord will destroy them before you.

This is a lesson that we must take to heart. God did not give the people of Israel the land because of their holiness, but because the people there before practiced evil deeds. God did not give us this land because we were especially holy, but because of the impiety of the nations here before us.

Let us take the lesson to heart. These United States have been blessed for much time. A reflection, I believe of the attempt to build a society based on basic Christian precepts. Some of our colonies were founded on religious precepts, such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Most of the colonies had state churches, and often the first thing done upon landing was a Thanksgiving service to God. Most of the founding fathers were Christians, and even the deists among them approved of the reading of the Bible for building a moral society. We know from reading the Bible, that blessing of nations relates to their obedience. This is not just by accident. There are spiritual laws laid out, which must be obeyed. Just as ignoring the law of gravity can result in death or injury, so nations that disobey the spiritual laws lay themselves open to the results of violating these laws.

In Daniel 9, Daniel confesses the sins of his people. In 2008, the church and our nation need to confess their sins. Abortion, racism, materialism, greed, lack of respect for authority, drugs, alcoholism, have all made inroads on our society, and the church remains strangely quiet relating to many of these sins. I join with Pastor Chuck Swindoll in inviting each of you to consider the sins of the nation, and repent of your participation in them, and repent of them for the nation. It is time for us as Christians to take action, beginning with prayer on each of these evils. Gross materialism, and living on credit, has taken out not only much of the economy of the USA, but has damaged the world economy as well. We have been so busy getting what we wanted, that we have not considered the ultimate cost. In the New Testament, we are told that greed is a form of idolatry, yet we have made it a national obsession. I think the Amish have it right. No cars because they become a status symbol . My thirteen year old car gets me where I need to go. No need to break my budget to get a new one, and when it gives up the ghost, I’ll just replace it with another old car.

In Honduras, I was occasionally shocked. The street kids begging were treated like trash, but worse was to go to the beach. Here all the rich people with their jet skis, and kids begging food on the beach because their parents couldn’t feed them. I just do not think I could do it. Waste money on what is essentially a toy, knowing so many people didn’t even have the basic necessities. Now I do not think the Bible tells the government to be responsible for these people who have nothing, but we as Christians do have the responsibility. Jesus commands us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to heal the sick. In fact he says, that he who has two coats should share with the one who has none.

In the Tanakh we are given some basic guidelines which while they cannot be literally followed today, give us an idea. The widows and orphans were not treated as charity cases. The corners of the fields and second pickings were left for them. They still had to earn it by going out and reaping. In James or Peter, we are told, if someone refuses to work, don’t feed them. In other words we are not to take a way a persons basic dignity. In Jewish writings on Tzedakah, a great point is made in attempting to help the poor without them knowing that they are being helped or who helped them. Again, we are to save a person’s dignity. When a person lives on charity, they often come to believe it is owed to them, especially if the government is involved. If we truly desire to help others, then we need to give at least 10% to the church, and to be sure we are in a church which has deacons and deaconesses who look out for those in need. In early Christian Rome, it was the church who helped the poor. In Memphis, it was the church who ministered to the sick in the Yellow fever outbreak. Princess Elizabeth of Hungary, Sister Claire, and others were know for ministering to sick that no-one else could bear to be with.

So, if we are indeed called out to be saints, we must like Daniel confess the sins of our nation, every day. We should listen to what God says about it, and then we are to act, that first act being for our leaders and our newly elected leaders, that they would truly follow God, and help address the problems by dealing with the real root, which is sin.

Please join me in spending at least ten minutes a day praying for our nation (or your nation if you do not live in the USA)

Shalom b’Yeshua haMoshiach

+Mar Michael Abportus
Pastor, Congregation Benim Avraham


arnie draiman said...

nice blog. you wrote: "In Jewish writings on Tzedakah, a great point is made in attempting to help the poor without them knowing that they are being helped or who helped them."

just to clarify, yes, Judaism does talk a lot about preserving dignity. but, according to maimonides, the highest level of helping someone certainly includes knowing who they are. see the list:

There are eight degrees of giving Tzedakah:
1. The highest degree is to strengthen the hand of a Jew who is poor, giving that person a grant or loan or becoming a partner or finding a job for that person, to strengthen the person’s hand, so that the person will not need to ask for assistance from others…

2. A lesser degree, is one who gives Tzedakah to a poor poor and is unaware of the recipient, who, in turn, is unaware of the giver. This is indeed a religious act achieved for its own sake.

Of a similar character is one who contributes to a Tzedakah fund. One should not contribute
to a Tzedakah fund unless he or she knows that the person in charge of the collections is
trustworthy and wise and knows how to manage the money properly…

3. The [third], lesser, degree is when the giver knows the recipient, but the recipient does not know the giver. The great sages used to go secretly and cast the money into the doorway of poor people. Something like this should be done, it being a noble virtue, if the Tzedakah
administrators are behaving properly.

4. The [fourth], still lower, degree is when the recipient knows the giver, but the giver does not know the recipient. The great sages used to tie money in sheets which they threw behind their backs, and poor people would come and get it without being embarrassed.

5. The [fifth], still lower degree is when the giver puts the Tzedakah money into the hands of poor people without being solicited.

6. The [sixth], still lower degree is when he or she puts the money into the hands of a poor person after being solicited.

7. The [seventh], still lower degree is when he or she gives the poor person less than he or she should, but does so cheerfully.

8. The [eighth], still lower degree is when he or she gives the poor person grudgingly/with a feeling of pain/unhappily.

(Mishna Torah, Laws of Gifts to Poor People, 10:7-14)

this is danny siegel's translation ( i prefer to translate #8 as 'giving via sadness/pain'.

we can discuss this more.

arnie draiman

Mar Michael Abportus said...

Thank you for your comments. You are indeed correct that giving or helping a poor person to find a job is the highest level of charity. This is reflected in the Torah teachings about not harvesting the corners of the field, or goiing back for second harvest, which allowed the poor to work for their food. May we learn to do the same, instead of the government enslaving people with give away programmes.


Mar Michel, OSL