Ministry WITH the poor: it's about relationships
Dear friends in Jesus Christ:
On the day that I went to work on this column the morning Psalm from the daily lectionary was Psalm 41. The first verse reads like this according to the NRSV "Happy are those who consider the poor, the Lord delivers them on the day of trouble." The Common English Bible puts the same verse like this "Those who pay close attention to the poor are truly happy! The Lord rescues them during troubling times."
This issue of The Current invites us to "pay close attention to the poor." You know well our church (The United Methodist Church) has embraced four particular areas through which we can live out and into the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. One of these focus areas is Ministry With the Poor. You will find it rich in data and story that typify ways in which you are engaging the poor and addressing poverty in your local communities. There is no end to the good work that you are doing to near and far.
To be in ministry with the poor is biblical. When i say biblical I do not refer to something that shows up in the Bible once or a few times. I mean something that is threaded through the word of God in scripture consistently and persistently. I do not believe that it is possible come to be a mature Christian and a grown-up church apart from knowing our neighbors and being in relationship with them. Among our neighbors are the poor no matter how invisible we allow them to become. Many Christians and lots of congregations do good stuff for the poor. We are charitable. But ministry with the poor puts the emphasis on the with. It goes beyond good deeds and moves toward relationships. Relationships that are healthy assume mutuality and embrace that everyone has something to contribute (tangible and/or Intangible) to the other. Life giving relationships are about giving and receiving.
To be in ministry with the poor is to be a Wesleyan Christian. In the earliest part of our movement John Wesley and his colleagues set the template for us in so many ways. The early Methodists were encouraged to and marked by their engagement with the poor. This included the expectation and practice of not just giving to relieve the dire circumstances of the poor but being among them in ministry and community.
Could it be that by taking the Bible seriously, Jesus as essential, our heritage as shaping and current reality as a compelling call that we might find the life and robustness that sometimes eludes us by being in relationship and ministry with the poor? The Palestinian peasant, Jesus the Christ, who the scriptures say "became poor for our sake" awaits us to summon the courage to join him in ministry where he promised he could be found.
By: Bishop Gregory V. Palmer On 10/26/2011