Reigning CompassionPosted: November 23, 2014
SLIDE 3: ETERNAL PUNISHMENT FOR PEOPLE LACKING COMPASSION?
The troubling question our Parable raises this week is would a good and compassionate God consign people to eternal punishment, because they had failed to show compassion? Personally I am all in favor of seeing Christ in one another, especially those who are in need, but I have trouble with this God who is always going around punishing people. Oh, I know there is a kind of wishful thinking in this idea that people get their just desserts. Sort of like the Hindu concept of Karma. What goes around comes around, and eventually comes back to bite us in the butt. There needs to be some kind of accountability, right? Rather than consigning people to eternal punishment, however, I sort of like Ann Schoup’s view of judgment. Ann Schoup was here a couple of Sunday’s ago, when United Church serving as a neutral pulpit. I knew Ann as part of a clergy support group in the South Suburbs of Chicago twenty years ago.
SLIDE 4: VIDEO TAPE REPLAY OF OUR LIVES
Ann’s vision of judgment is that each of us is invited to sit with Jesus and watch a video tape replay of our lives – talk about punishment. And I can imagine sitting with Jesus embarrassed as all get out watching me pass by people in need and Jesus saying, “You know Bob I was really disappointed when you did that. That was me you didn’t help.” But beyond that kind of accountability I just can’t buy the ending of our Parable this morning: “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink’”. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment. . . .”
SLIDE 5: A LITTLE BIT OF GRACE
I don’t know about you, but I’m with Snoopy on this one. Maybe there is accountability, but maybe we reap what we sow, but somehow, “I’d like to see a little more margin for error!” — a little bit of grace.
SLIDE 6: ANGRY PUNISHING GOD NOT CONSISTENT WITH THE LOVE OF JESUS
In my mind a good and compassionate God may still insist on accountability but punishment not so much. Now I am open to argument on this point, but the angry punishing God doesn’t seem consistent with the love of Jesus.
SLIDE 7: ARNOLD ABBOTT
And that brings me to the news. Arnold Abbot a 90 year old Florida resident, has been arrested with two local pastors in Ft. Lauderdale Florida for feeding the homeless. This has been all over the internet so you have probably already seen the story, but if you haven’t let me bring you up to speed.
Arnold Abbott grew up in Massachusetts, and entered the University of Pennsylvania as a pre-med student before the World War II. After Pearl Harbor he volunteered for the army and served as a combat infantryman in North Africa and Italy. After the War he attended the University of Pennsylvania where we earned a degree in journalism. He also became interested in politics and he helped to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 convention, when the regular Mississippi delegation walked out of the convention, because the credentials committee wanted to seat two African American delegates with them.
SLIDE 8: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR FUND
In 1970 Arnold and his wife Maureen moved to Florida. Maureen was a hunger activist who cared for the poor and homeless. When she died in 1991 Arnold established the “Love Thy Neighbor Fund” an interfaith charity that reaches out to the poor and homeless in Broward County, Florida, as a living memorial to his wife. For twenty-three years the “Love Thy Neighbor Fund” has reached out the homeless offering food and opportunities to get off the street including a chef training program to help the homeless become employable. Many formerly homeless and addicted persons have testified that the programs of the “Love Thy Neighbor Fund,” saved their lives.
In 1999 the City of Ft. Lauderdale tried to stop the twice a week public feedings in the parks of the “Love Thy Neighbor Fund.” They were afraid the presence of the homeless in public places was bad for tourism. Undeterred Arnold Abbot took the City of Ft. Lauderdale to court and won an injunction. Early this year the Ft. Lauderdale passed a series of ordinances designed to drive the homeless out of the City, “People are restricted from camping, panhandling, food sharing and engaging in other ‘life sustaining activities.’”
SLIDE 9: FEED THE HUNGRY ANYWAY
Arnold Abbott says he will take the City to court again, but in the meantime he will commit civil disobedience by continuing to feed the poor in public spaces. Since then Arnold and two local pastors have been arrested and finger printed three times for feeding the poor. As Arnold reported one of his arrests this way: “One of the police officers said, ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” recalled Arnold. “It’s man’s inhumanity to man is all it is.”
SLIDE 10: THESE PEOPLE ARE MY PEOPLE
Why does Arnold insist on feeding the poor and homeless? In his own words, “Because these are my people and they deserve to be fed. These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. They don’t have a roof over their head. Who can turn them away?”
SLIDE 11: I’M NOT AFRAID OF JAIL
On the prospect of going to jail for breaking the law Arnold says, “I’m not afraid of jail. I’m not looking to go, but if I have to I will. I appreciate all of your concern for my safety, but I have faced the Klu Klux Klan on many occasions, and I have no fear of spending the night in the Ft. Lauderdale jail. I thank you all, and I pray that we all stay strong. We shall prevail!”
SLIDE 12: DOING FOR OTHERS IS DOING FOR OURSELVES
Now like the Jewish carpenter we all claim to follow Arnold is Jewish. And like Jesus Arnold believes we are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves even the poor, difficult, dirty, and mentally ill neighbors. When we feed our poor homeless neighbors we are feeding ourselves. As Jesus added in our Parable even though you do it for one of the least of these you have done it for me. And when we can begin to affirm that we are all part of God, we do it for ourselves.
SLIDE 13: WOULD A COMPASSIONATE GOD PUNISH?
Now I would like to return to the troubling question our Parable has raised this week: “Would a good and compassionate God consign people to eternal punishment, because they had failed to show compassion?” I think Arnold Abbott’s story contains a clue to an answer for our question.
SLIDE 14: DROP THAT PLATE RIGHT NOW
The first time the City police intervened to stop the public feeding of homeless people, four police cruisers, and six officers showed up and one of the officers shouted, “drop that plate right now,” as the other police picked up trays of food and dumped them directly into the garbage with lines of homeless men and women looking on.
SLIDE 15: I THINK THEY FEEL A LITTLE GUILTY ABOUT DOING THEIR JOB
The second time the police intervened, Arnold applauded the officers from being more courteous in their enforcement of the law, and while issuing a citation, Abbott and his two ministers in crime were allowed to continue feeding the homeless. As Arnold said, “The police were very gentle this time. I think they feel a little guilty about doing their job.”
SLIDE 16: SERVED THE FOOD BEFORE FINGERPRINTING
On the third occasion the police issued Abbot and Pastor Black a citation, they were allowed to serve the nearly 100 homeless who had gathered at Ft. Lauderdale Beach. The Police recorded the act of charity with video cameras and then escorted Arnold away from the crowd to fingerprint him and issue a third citation. Wary of public backlash, however, the law enforcement officials decided not to place Abbott and the two pastors in handcuffs and haul them off to jail again. Now maybe it was the presence of cameras and reporters, but the Ft. Lauderdale police have been less aggressive in their enforcement of the new laws, and Arnold Abbott has filed suit for the court to uphold its 1999 injunction against the City of Ft. Lauderdale.
SLIDE 17: IS THERE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO CONVICT US?
I don’t believe a good, loving compassionate God needs to punish the Ft. Lauderdale police or City Council. They are doing it to themselves. This also puts a new light on the old question, if we were charged with being Christians, would there be enough evidence to convict us? I truly hope so, and we all need to think about that as the mercury in the thermometer is dropping. The City of Huntsville, First Stop, Grateful Life Community Church, Foodline, and United Church through Alix’s ministry all make an honest effort to reach out to the poor and homeless. Right now Alix is collecting blankets and other warm clothing to distribute in the homeless camp.
SLIDE 18: WE ARE ALL ONE IN GOD
As Jesus said, “God is One, and we are to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. Maybe together we can all recognize that because we are all one in God, what we do for others we are doing for ourselves.