This week began the budget hearing at the state house.
Ahead of these hearing the NH council of churches sent out a letter to different elected officials asking them to reconsider some of the cuts they are proposing especially the cuts to the poor, handicapped, and elderly.
Since I represent the Lutherans on the NH Council of Churches I received a copy of one of the letters we got back in response to our letter.
Stella Tremblay a representative from Rockingham district 3 wrote a lengthy and inflammatory response to our letter.
I do not have time to read the entire letter but her opening couple of sentences was this, “I am absolutely astounded how “social justice” has crept into the NH Churches. A concept that was introduced by a communist/socialist ideology.”
The letter goes on to say that the poor are simply breaking the 9th commandment by coveting what the rich have.
My first response was going to be to write a very…well clear letter about how much I disagree with her ideology, theology, and Biblical interpretation.
However, I decided that such a letter would not really help the matter in fact it might make things worse by entrenching both of us in our own positions.
A letter would have been satisfying but it would have also been inflammatory and it would have been a short cut to the hard work that lies ahead of us as we try and come up with a budget that is just and responsible.
This morning we see Jesus involved in a similar struggle against the devil.
Jesus is being tempted by the devil to take a short cut.
In order to accomplish his mission all Jesus needs to do is turn stones to bread, be serviced by angels, and bow down before Satan.
In order to entice Jesus into doing these things the devil quotes scripture, offers ideological sounds bites, and theological twists.
What can we learn from this encounter that Jesus has with the devil?
One lesson is that we cannot skip the hard parts of life.
There is no magic wand to fix what is going on around us.
I saw that this week when I went to the hearings on the budget at the capital this week.
Our elected officials are in a hard spot.
They have to either cut services or raise taxes.
I really did feel for them.
Because none of those options seems very appealing.
One thing was clear from the time I spent listening to people against the proposed budget cuts, both from the Governor and the House of Representatives, we are going to cut services for the most vulnerable.
The blind, crippled, handicapped, the addicted, home bound, homeless, and seniors.
All of these groups were represented in some way by the people giving testimony.
We heard one heart wrenching story after another.
In the face of such hard decisions I think it is too easy to merely spout political ideology.
Because it goes around the fact that these cuts will hurt real people.
It is too easy to simply say, “It is not the role of government to take monies from those that work and give to those who cannot or will not.” (as Rep. Stella Tremblay stated in her letter.)
It is too easy to say that because she is not the pastor who has a line outside the door with people who are hurting.
I hear the stories.
I see the desperation on the faces of people struggling to make a go of it.
It would be easy for me to suggest that all they need to do is find a job.
I got a job, I got a house.
Jesus in his temptation finds out this same truth.
There is no ideology/theology except that of really living.
Jesus does not accept the devil’s deals because he knows that he is called to a life of service to others and trust in God.
He is not here to rule over the world, but rather to love the world and the people that are in it.
He is not here to do magic tricks that show us how to avoid real problems, but rather to touch the people with those problems.
All of Jesus healings are about him touching something that someone else said was unclean.
He is not here as some social fixer of poverty, but to live with those that suffers from hunger, and to be one of them.
Jesus refuses the short cut; instead he takes the hard road of self sacrifice and ultimately the cross.
I have come to believe that political rhetoric and ideology are really just short cuts to the hard problems we actually face.
Easy to say this is the problem it is a lot harder to be living in the problem and with problem.
Easy to say that we need to feed the poor a lot harder to live with the poor, and help them on a daily basis.
What I have discovered is that the poor are like everyone else.
Sometimes they are liars, so is everyone else.
Sometimes they are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they need in life, so is everyone else.
Sometimes the poor are generous and loving, so is everyone else.
Sometimes they teach us about God, so does everyone else.
Sometimes they take the short cut instead of doing the hard thing, so does everyone else.
That is sometimes our problem we take the short cut.
We call names instead of trying to understand what the other person is saying.
We quote scripture instead of trying to see God through someone else’s eyes.
We throw away people instead of offering forgiveness.
We grab for power instead of reaching out in love.
But all is not lost because we have Jesus Christ in our lives.
Jesus who teaches us the real way to life is through services, through the cross, through living more fully into our humanity.
And this is what amazes me about so many people in churches I have been blessed to be a part of that so many people are willing to go out of their way to help.
People are willing to put aside their personal needs in order to meet the needs of others.
It amazes me when people are willing to listen, to comfort, and to befriend.
It amazes me when people show up time and again not because it is convenient or easy, but because they believe in love, forgiveness, and charity.
Perhaps the best example of this is the earthquake/Tsunami in Japan.
There is no easy way out of such a tragedy.
There is no political ideology that will solve it.
There is no theology that will explain it.
There is only living through it.
There is only banning together and beginning step by step to clean up and heal the wounds.
There is only gathering by the graves to cry and commend our loved ones to God.
There are no short cuts in life, only the real experience of living.
There is only living in a life with all the complexities of sin and redemption, of brokenness and grace, of life and loss, of rich and poor.
So today I can say that I do feel for Representative Stella Tremblay because she is in a very tough position.
I pray that she will have compassion on those whose lives will be forever changed by the decisions she makes as an elected leader in our state.
I pray for those who are less fortunate, the blind, lame, mentally handicapped, and homeless.
Their lives because of these cuts will be harder.
I pray this day that our country will become more compassionate.
Most of all I want to encourage all of us not to take the short cut.
Not to rely on ideology, theology, or even clever quotes from the Bible.
Instead follow Jesus.
Follow him into the wilderness, and into the conflict of human life.
On the Sundays of lent Jesus will have encounters with a Pharisee, a woman of ill-repute at a well, heal a man born blind, weep over the death of his friend, and face his own death at Golgotha.
In each case through these encounters Jesus will change lives.
Not by easy answers, but because he entered into the hard parts of people’s lives.
Jesus today is in the hard part of your lives.
Jesus is in the struggle of whatever you might be facing.
Jesus does not offer us slogans and bumper stickers instead he enters a real life, with real conflict, and real people with real problems.
So this lent let us follow Jesus as he gives up his life so that we can see the glory of God in all the complexity and relationships of our lives.