Trapped!

5,700 feet underground is enough to stir up anybody’s latent claustrophobia. Although I suppose that if you’re used to being that far down and are doing it for a living (as miners do), it’s pretty much old hat to you. Unless, of course, your way back up to the surface has been blocked, as was the case this week with South African miners in the Harmony Gold mine west of Johannesburg. They were digging over a mile underground when apparently a magnitude-2.4 tremor shook a large rock loose, tumbling it into a metal cable, causing a spark that ignited combustible material into an underground fire, trapping eight men in that subterranean dark. Several years ago in almost the same place in South Africa I descended 742 feet into a gold mine  in a small elevator with other tourists (the certificate of proof is still on my study wall)—and trust me, I was more concerned about getting back up to the surface than enjoying the chilled-air sights of that abandoned mine! I can’t imagine the concerns of these miners this week trapped so much farther down. Although on this Black History Sabbath, it may not be so difficult to imagine a vast swath of this nation and this world’s populace trapped in the deep shaft of poverty. It is pointless to remonstrate that some of those trapped are bound by circumstances that they themselves have created. Shall we therefore consider them unworthy of our concern, unfit for compassionate intervention or at least acts of unselfish charity? Nonsense. The fact is that more and more Americans are being trapped by the economic vice that is squeezing more and more of us from the middle class into the lower class, the poorer class. The college educated represent the fasting growing demographic of those now applying for food stamps in this nation. A record one out of 6 Americans is now on food stamps (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/2014/0204/Does-slicing-8-billion-from-food-stamps-cut-to-bone-or-just-trim-some-flab-video). Shall we conclude that it really is none of our concern here in the rural St Joseph River valley? Let the inner cities find their own escape from entrapment. Let Congress cut $8 billion from the food stamp program or argue over the entitlement programs (as they did this week). What’s it to such fervent “We have this hope” Adventists like you and me? Maybe everything. Commenting on Jesus’ familiar words in His final parable about the sheep and the goats and “the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine” (Matthew 25:40 NIV), Desire of Ages makes this startling observation: “[Jesus] represented [the judgment’s] decision as turning upon one point. When the nations are gathered before Him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and the suffering” (637). Black and white, red or yellow, it doesn’t matter—the unfailing standard in the final judgment will be what we have don e or neglected to do for Jesus “in the person of the poor and the suffering.” Period. Which means that all of us gathered today in worship are under the obligation of Christ’s compassion toward us to in turn live out that compassion toward those we clearly know are trapped beneath the surface of this life and can only be set free if we will volunteer, if we will give, if we will reject racial stereotypes for the sake of living out Jesus’ radical love. Right now. Right here. Amen.

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