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Justice for the Poor Participant's GuideLove God. Serve People. Change the World.
By Jim Wallis Sojourners Wallis
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Sojourners
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSESSION 1
"Burger King Mom": Being Poor in America
The poorest of the poor are shut out of American life.
She was working at the drive-in window at the local Burger King, busy filling orders for Whoppers and fries and Cokes and large shakes. But whenever there was a lull, she'd go right to the corner table. Three kids sat there with books and papers and pencils out. They were doing their homework at four in the afternoon. And she was obviously their mom - likely a single mom, helping them with their homework between cars and customers. She's typical of many people in this country - often women with children - who are poor. She was invisible. You wouldn't notice her. And that's the problem.
Given her low wages, this single mother was no doubt balancing more than fast food and homework - perhaps deciding between paying the rent or buying winter boots for her kids. She has become an icon for the Sojourners community. We call her "Burger King Mom."
Why is Burger King Mom important to us as Christians? She exists in both the red and blue states, but neither party is much interested in her or her family's issues. She is part of the low-income demographic that is most unrepresented in American politics, with the lowest levels of both voter registration and turnout and a high percentage of immigrants.
Most Americans believe that if you work hard and full-time, you should not be poor. But the truth is that many working families are working full-time, and many low-income breadwinners must hold down multiple jobs just to survive. With stagnant wages in a difficult economy, more and more people and their children are simply being left out and left behind. When work no longer supports a family, the existence of a genuine "opportunity society" and the ethic of work itself are at risk.
The truth is that hungry people are going without food stamps, poor children are going without health care, elderly are going without medicine, and schoolchildren are going without textbooks because of war, tax cuts, and a lack of both attention and compassion from our political leaders. The poorest of the poor have been shut out of American life and our country has been divided into two separate and drastically unequal worlds: the affluent majority and the impoverished class; the "we" and the "they." In other parts of the world, the poor are even more desperate.
To be a Christian means to identify oneself with the good news that Jesus preached, namely, the gospel of the kingdom of God. Jesus' inaugural sermon in the little town of Nazareth made clear how, why, and to whom his message was such good news: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19).
One of the central themes in Scripture is the subject of wealth and poverty. It pervades the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The Bible is strong in its emphasis; the Scriptures are stunning in their clarity. As followers, we must reconnect with our original calling to bring good news to the poor. When we lose our proximity to and our relationships with poor people, we lose the essence of the gospel that Jesus preached.
As your group studies what the Bible says about poverty, keep these questions in the back of your mind: What do you think Jesus meant when he said that we will always have the poor with us? What happens when we put that claim in its broader biblical context? Why must Christians serve the poor? How can we restore the integrity of the Word of God in our lives through prioritizing the needs of the poor?
WELCOME (1 MIN.)
The Bible is filled with lessons on how people of faith should treat the poor - with compassion, mercy, and solidarity, for we all need the mercy of God as we live and work on this earth. In this session, through a study of Matthew 25, we see that God's heart is for the poor, the widow, and the orphan.
VIDEO TEACHING (20 MIN.)
Poverty and justice are important to Christians because ...
Matthew 25:31-46 is "good news" to ...
To be a true follower of Jesus, one must offer good news to the ...
When Christians lose proximity to and relationship with the poor, we lose ...
GROUP VIDEO DISCUSSION (15 MIN.)
1. Why does the message of Matthew 25 continue to be subversive to dominant social, political, and religious structures today?
2. What is Jesus' mission statement, according to his "Nazareth manifesto" declared in Luke 4:18-19?
3. Some people say that when the Bible refers to the "poor" we should interpret it as a reference to spiritual poverty. What is lost with this interpretation?
4. Some argue that the passage in Mark 14:7 in which Jesus says "For you always have the poor with you" means that Christians don't need to worry about the poor in this lifetime. What have you been taught about this passage? How does Jim Wallis interpret it? How does Wallis' interpretation fit in the context of the overall biblical message?
5. Why is it significant that Jesus was poor and homeless when he lived on this earth? How would Christianity be different if Jesus had been born into wealth and prosperity?
GROUP BIBLE EXPLORATION AND APPLICATION (15 MIN.)
6. Read: Luke 4:18-19. A significant moment in Jesus' life and ministry, he specifically states that he has come to the earth to preach good news to the poor, release captives, and free the oppressed. If you read the gospel through the lens of this message, how might your view of Jesus' ministry change?
7. What are other moments in Jesus' ministry where he focused on the poor and the oppressed? Are there instances when he addresses wealth, prosperity, and power? Does he ever praise or commend these things?
8. Read: Matthew 25:31-46. According to this passage, how can Christians directly serve Jesus? Has ser vice to the poor been emphasized as central to Christian conversion by the leaders in your church? What teaching have you received about the importance of ministry to and with the poor?
9. If you didn't know anything about the Bible and were trying to determine what is most important to Christianity in America right now, what would you say? Where would you get your information? After reading Jesus' "mission statement" in Luke 4:18-19 and reading Matthew 25, what do you think the Christian church's mission statement should be? How can that be made clear to all?
OPTIONAL GROUP ACTIVITY (8-15 MIN.)
Time permitting, break into groups of two or three and briefly discuss a time when you or someone you know was struggling with financial problems. Do not reveal how you or your friend were able to overcome this challenge or how people responded. Just give the context. What led up to it? What were the thoughts and emotions involved? Next, discuss how you might have responded to one another's situations, had you all known each other during that time. Then share how people actually responded to the real situation.
In the full group, address any of the following questions:
For those who were shown great compassion, how did it feel to receive such a warm response in your time of trouble? For those who were not shown compassion, how did it feel to be neglected in your time of need?
What are some principles of compassion that you can extrapolate from the stories that you shared together?
Who are some people in your community (the homeless, struggling small-business owners, refugees, recent immigrants) who are as vulnerable as those in your stories? How might Jesus' mission statement be "good news" to them? How can your small group be living "good news" to them? Brainstorm three concrete ways in which your group can build relationships with vulnerable members of your community in big and small ways.
Can your group commit to initiating, partnering with, or deepening these relationships during the weeks of this study? Remember that relationships are two-way streets. Dialogue means opening yourself up to listen to the heart and story of another, should they decide to share it with you.
CLOSING PRAYER (1 MINUTE)
The aim of this Bible study is to reveal more deeply God's heart for the poor. God knows our love for God through how we love the poorest, most vulnerable among us. Not only are we given the privilege as Christians of loving the poor, but we are also invited into deep relationships across economic lines. It is through these relationships that we discover the genuine good news of Jesus' message. Pray as a group that our affluence may always be set at the ser vice of the needy and that our poverty always opens us to the good news of God.
Excerpted from Justice for the Poor Participant's Guide by Jim Wallis Sojourners Wallis Copyright © 2010 by Sojourners. Excerpted by permission.
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