Today we are going to talk turkey about turkey.
Ah, turkey. I love turkey. Or should I say, I love to eat turkey. If you have ever spent time around turkeys you know that they are not intelligent birds. That was an understatement. They are amazingly stupid. Ben Franklin lobbied to get the wild turkey made our national bird. I am happy the Bald Eagle won out. When I was growing up, to call someone a turkey is usually seen as an insult. But if anyone has ever shown up at my door with something turkey, I am not insulted. We will get back to the turkey in just a minute.
God’s mission of ministry for the church outside of the church’s walls is clear and strong. I a passage of scripture that is a description of the final judgment day, Jesus said some very interesting things. Take a look: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46 (NIV)
Many religious people of my day have believed and taught that salvation is all about what you believe and if you said the correct prayer. Jesus seems to be saying that what we do and how we treat others is very important. We are talking about eternity.
My observation is that the church and people in general have abdicated their responsibility to care for the poor to the government. I believe that to be a mistake. I will admit that I am not a big fan of big government. In my lifetime government has shown itself to be clunky, inefficient and not to be trusted. But instead of taking care of each other, we give the government the job of caring for the poor, the homeless and the sick and when they do a poor job of it we complain and criticize the government. So let me say it again and clearly – IT IS NOT THE GOVERNMENT’S JOB to take care of people in need. And since it is not its job, they don’t do it well.
The failure of the government’s War on Poverty makes my case. The War on Poverty is the unofficial name for legislation first introduced by President Lyndon B. Johnson during his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. I am old enough to remember this and how excited the country was that poverty was going to be eradicated. President Johnson proposed it in response to a national poverty rate of around nineteen percent. The speech led the United States Congress to pass the Economic Opportunity Act. The legacy of the War on Poverty policy initiative remains in the continued existence of such federal programs as Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America, TRIO, and Job Corps. The war on poverty officially ended with the Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which, as claimed President Bill Clinton, "ends welfare as we know it."
Even after declaring a WAR on Poverty, there has been almost no progress since the 1960s. The official poverty measure (OPM) was 14.2% in 1967; by 2012 it was 15.0%. I think that ranks as a failure. I am sure there are many reasons for this failure. Both political parties spend inordinate amounts of time and money blaming each other. Some of the reasons for the failure are: As is true with most government programs, money is eaten up in bureaucracy; help is not effectively delivered at arm’s length; the government, obviously, is ineffective in doing such work; money is helpful in the short term but fails to make lasting changes.
So let’s get off the governments back. The church of Jesus Christ was established and called to change the world: Help people understand and know God; Enable people to grow in their relationships with God and grow to spiritual maturity; Help meet the basic needs of those struggling; Feed the hungry, house the homeless, minister to the sick, strengthen the weak, protect those who are endangered. Giving money is a good thing. It helps and enables the church to meet immediate needs. But money alone rarely changes lives.
Lindenwood Church has a unique opportunity here in Memphis. We are located in a town that is known to have much need. That makes the job easier. We don’t have to go out in search of ministry. It is right here on our doorstep. But the task is difficult. Doing such ministry takes an investment of money – plus. Plus investment of our time, talents, energy, and in building relationships
As promised, back to turkeys. I few weeks ago I learned a new term from listening to Bill Courtney – Turkey People. Bill was the volunteer coach at Manassas High School here in Memphis. His program not only turned the team’s won/loss record around, his investment in those young men changed many lives. During his final season with the school a documentary was filmed, “Undefeated”, that won an Academy Award. He has since written a book, “Against the Grain.” In his talk he told about his first year with the team. Around mid-season he noticed that about half of the team was buying into what he was saying and doing. When he asked one of his players what the problem was, the kid said, “They think you’re a turkey person.” Cortney said that didn’t help since he didn’t know what a turkey person is. The player explained that “a turkey person is someone who comes down to the neighborhood around Thanksgiving or Christmas and brings us a turkey. We take the turkey because we are hungry. But they really haven’t helped us. The players are trying to figure out if you are a turkey person or if you are in it for the long run.” Turkey people could be called “One hit wonders”. When I worked with inner city kids in Louisville they called such people Limousine Liberals – people who showed up I big fine cars, passed food out the window and drove away.
People want to know if we are in it for the long haul. For too long the church has looked to the government to do our job. Instead of helping people we write checks, write indignant letters, participate in marches and hold candlelight vigils. Nice things to do but are they really effective? Not really. Doing these things just gives us the freedom to think we are doing something significant. Don’t get me wrong – giving money is great – it really is. But if we want to see lives changed we are going to have to invest our money and our time and our energy in relationships over the long haul.
When I stand before the great judgment seat, I don’t Jesus to call me a goat, or a Turkey Person. How about you?
Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved