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God’s commitment to the poor is our commitment, too



Moving mountains of poverty

By Chip Hardwick | Presbyterians Today

Two women carrying cinder blocks.Psalm 68:1–10, 32–35 is a lectionary text for May 24, the seventh Sunday in Eastertide.

In his book “Breaking the Code,” Bible scholar Bruce Metzger says that different types of Scriptures engage us in different ways. Revelation primarily engages our imagination. Paul’s letters like Romans develop our intellect. Old Testament law connects with our will. The Book of Psalms largely meshes with our emotions.

In the lectionary reading for May 24, we can see many emotions in and behind Psalm 68. There’s an underlying frustration right from the start: Let God rise up, let God’s enemies be scattered (verse 1). Why hasn’t God saved us? By the third verse, the tone has brightened with a call to let the righteous be jubilant with joy. This moves quickly to awe in verse 4 (God rides upon the clouds) to gratitude in verse 10 (in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy) to wonder in verse 35 (Awesome is God from your sanctuary, the God of Israel).

Amid all of this joy, the psalmist calls God to act on behalf of the poor and downtrodden. Our author calls God the “father of orphans and protector of widows” who “gives the desolate a home to live in.”

The Scriptures are filled with stories of God’s care for those Jesus called the least of these. God calls Israel from all the peoples of the earth not because they are the most impressive of all the tribes, but because they are the least of all people. Israel’s law reflects God’s care for the lowly. Prophets repeatedly highlight God’s concern for the poor. Mary’s Magnificat looks forward to God’s work to lift up the impoverished and weak.

I’m sure that if Jesus showed up in person in our churches this spring, one of his first sermons would be about these priorities of our God. (I’m sure our attendance would go up, too, with the Son of God in the pulpit!)

The God who makes a way where there seems to be no way can live up to this commitment to the poorest among us in so many ways. Our God who created the universe with a word can surely snap two fingers together and turn our world upside-down, ending structural and individual poverty. Yet, God seems to be betting on us as the best means to demonstrate care for the least of these, attacking the societal structures while also caring for the poor nearest our front doors.

Almost two decades ago, I was part of a team that went to Honduras to assist local experts with construction in areas destroyed by a hurricane. One of my least favorite tasks was to help move concrete blocks. A chain of more than 20 of us would pass the blocks across a dirt road, through a weedy path, up and down a ravine, and on to the staging area next to the home being built. We were humbled as we watched a young woman who would be moving into the home carrying two blocks at once — in flip-flops. Meanwhile, our sweat wore us down while passing the 50-pound blocks from person to person for what seemed like hours. We tried to remember that the soreness we would feel was a sign of discipleship and not just a measure of how out of shape we were.

On the third day of block-chucking, a college student on the team said, “Hey, isn’t there a Scripture that says God will move a mountain if we pray hard enough? Why don’t we start praying that God will move that mountain of concrete over to the house?” He was right. God did say that. But the next person to pipe up had an even better insight: “Guess what? God is using you to move that mountain!”

God uses us not only to go on mission trips to help move heavy concrete blocks. God uses us to move the mountains of poverty in our communities. Be it in Honduras or elsewhere, God still gives the desolate a home to live in. As God uses us to do this work, I pray our emotions will move with the psalmist’s, from frustration into joy, awe, gratitude and wonder. 

Chip Hardwick is the transitional synod executive of the Synod of the Covenant.

Discussion questions

  • What emotions do you experience as you focus on Psalm 68 or Psalm 23 or other psalms that are meaningful to you?
  • How do you see God’s commitment to the poor in the Scripture? What about in the life of your own congregation?
  • How is the Spirit guiding you to take steps to tackle the mountain of poverty in your neighborhood?

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