7/14/2019 Half-Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on 7/14/2019 Half-Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Season     5th Sunday after Pentecost

Date        07142019

Scripture    Ephesians 2: 4-9

        Luke 10:25-37

Prayer    Loving One, grant us the grace to hear your message this morning             with ears that are open and ears that are eager.  May the words of             my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing to you, our             Creator.  AMEN

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.”

Research by the Barna Institute bears this out.  Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.”

A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.

So, it’s not surprising that, according to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better–by one percent.

Just to be perfectly clear, particularly to those who might doze off during this sermon, “God helps those who help themselves” appears nowhere in the Bible.

Where?   No where.

It has its origins about 400 years prior to Jesus in Aesop’s Fables, in the story of Hercules and the Wagoner.

The wagoner’s heavy load leads him to distress because he gets stuck in the mud.
If you’ve ever been stuck in the mud (don’t read ‘stick in the mud’ although maybe this is true at times too for some of us :-)), you know that things can get really bad really fast.

So, the wagoner cries out to Hercules for help. The demigod Hercules (Heracles to the Greeks) replies:

“Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.”

It comes from Greco-Roman myth.

But after Benjamin Franklin used this slogan in his publication of Poor Richard’s Almanac, it has become part of the American ethos ever since.

Thus, many people believe it to be in the Bible or based on something from the Bible.

While the phrase is not in the Bible, it is a half-truth.  What I mean by that is there are several verses that suggest that work is a good thing.  

Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

Proverbs 12:11 – He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.

Proverbs 12:24 – Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.

Proverbs 13:4 – The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.

2 Thessalonians 3:10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

However, if you read any of these, there are none that actually say “God helps them who help themselves.”  What they actually say is that, to live in community with other people, to grow crops and make a living, however modest one must work.

If you ever hope to move out of mom and dad’s house, you have to work.  If you want to eat, you have to work. If you want to share the produce of the communal farm, you have to work.  If you want to buy a car, a boat or much of anything, you will probably have to work.

However, the idea that God helps those who help themselves suggests that God prefers people who work hard.  It is the language of privilege.

In actuality, the Bible tells us that God loves the poor, the sick, the hungry, the needy.  God loves the stranger, the ones seeking asylum, those who live in fear. God loves those.

And God shows his love for 

    the ones who are destitute, desperate, deaf and blind, 

    those who were born poor and have worked but can barely survive,

    people who scrimp and save, yet are robbed and beaten and left on the side     of the road, or along the shores of the Rio Grande, 

God shows God’s love by sending the Church, the people of the Church, to pour oil and wine on their wounds, and bind their wounds.

God sends the Church to put them in their car and take them to the nearest shelter or medical facility and even pay the bill.  

The Bible is clear that there are some people who are incapable of helping themselves.  That is when God commands his people to take a special concern for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the needy and the despairing.

In a very real sense, the biblical truth is that God helps them who cannot help themselves.  

I think of the people I have known over my lifetime who have felt unloved and worthless.  To them, God says, “You are my beloved child. You matter to me.” God says this to everyone.  It is the undeserved work of God in our lives and it is called Grace. You cannot earn it, buy it or work for it.  It is free. To EVERYBODY. Because God helps those who cannot help themselves.  

Thanks be to God who helps those who pray and work.  Thanks be to God who helps those who cannot help themselves.  AMEN.