Study Guide: The Story of a Lifetime

Sunday August 14, 2011 | Sandra Unger

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Sandra Unger guest speaks this weekend and tells a story of poverty and how to make a difference. She tells an all too familiar story of hope lost and continuing the cycle of poverty. Walking us through the biblical commands, Sandra points out how important it is to help the poor, but with something more important than money.

Extended Summary:

Loving the poor is difficult. Whether it’s preconceived notions or problems dealing with individuals in the past, it’s simply not easy to help the poor. And yet, God commands us to do so. In this sermon, Sandra Unger gives us four thoughts about helping the poor.

The first thought is that money is not the answer. This may seem contrary to most logic, as poverty is defined as lack of wealth. One would assume that if you give a person money, they would be able to get out of poverty. However, the problem lies in financial literacy. Having money is like reading–if you’ve never read a book, then someone giving you a book won’t help you read. In a similar way, if you’ve never had money to manage and spend wisely, then someone giving you money won’t teach you financial literacy. Money does play a role in helping the poor, but teaching others how to use that money in wise ways may be a more important factor.

The second thought is that the poor simply need someone to care about them on an individual basis. A relationship feeds a poor person more than giving them some money for food ever will. When a person feels cared about, they are more likely to care about their lives and where they are headed. When we care about other people, it shows God’s love through us. But here’s the tricky part, we can’t care about a large group of people, we can only care for individuals.

Loving the poor in general may be an excuse for loving nobody in particular. Loving the poor in general is safer than loving individuals. There is no messy relationship stuff that gets in the way. There are no late night phone calls or someone you care about asking for help when a person loves the poor in general. Sure, they may give some money to an organization to help, but money alone isn’t the answer. It takes time and relationship to foster true change.

The third idea is that God has asked us to take care of the poor. The western, protestant mindset of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” doesn’t work when people are mired in a chronic situation, and especially doesn’t work when they can’t afford boots. As Sandra lists in her sermon, caring for the poor honors God and he responds to it. In fact, it shows that people’s lives are intertwined with the poor. How we respond to the poor is how Jesus interprets our response to him. When we love the poor, we love Jesus. But we can’t love the poor as a group without loving the poor as individuals, in relationship.

The final idea that Sandra shares is that loving the poor is not easy. It will stretch you. It will make you uncomfortable. It will challenge a lot of your thinking and how you live life. It will require sacrifice. It’s scary. But that’s exactly what Jesus does to our lives. He comes and shows us truth and living as God would have us live, and it’s not easy. Anyone who tells you it is easy is lying. But rather than backing down from the challenge, we should embrace it as God has embraced us. We’re not easy to deal with either. Yet God stepped down from divinity to humanity, and surely we can step across socioeconomic lines.

These four thoughts on helping the poor do not come with a sigh of relief. It’s difficult being called to helping the poor, and it’s even more difficult to for relationships with people from a different background. But we don’t have to do it alone. As a community, we should step together and individually, but corporately, begin a relationship with those who are in need. To paraphrase Karl Barth, God is on the side of those who are oppressed and poor. We should seek to stand with God wherever he is, and not back down when it gets scary.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. In your past, how have you helped those who are in need and poor? Was it more of a general helping or an individual helping?
  3. What in this message struck you as something new, if anything?
  4. Loving the poor is difficult. What makes it so difficult?
  5. Is God calling you to act upon this message? What would be a good first step for you or your small group in fulfilling that call?