May 21, 2017 Sermon Easter 6
Feeding the Hungry—Lament, Anger & Hope
Today, we are part of a global day of prayer to end famine. Today, we join our voices with followers of Jesus and with people of goodwill all around the world in a call to end famine.
The statistics are stark:
• 14 million people & 1.6 million children are in danger of starvation in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen, Kenya, Ethiopia;
• Over 20 million people in all are in danger of drought and famine;
• In 2017, over 100 million people require lifesaving food assistance, and the world is not responding quickly enough;
• There is conflict in all these areas;
• Local churches and global aid agencies are overwhelmed by the need of the people.
What do we do with this kind of news? How can we possibly handle this? These statistics make us feel so helpless. All week long, my heart was hurting as I prepared this sermon, as I thought about it, as I read. And the pain in my heart is as nothing compared to what these people are going through …
Last week, I preached that God is with us in every circumstance of our lives. I believe that with all my heart—but when I’m faced with this kind of pain and desperation, I wonder… If God is with us … then where are you? Where is God when children are starving to death?
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, asked the same kinds of questions. There is a remarkable scene in his novel Night. It is set in a concentration camp, and three prisoners, two men and a child, were about to be hanged.
“One day, as we returned from work, we saw three gallows… The SS guards seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual. To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows…
“‘Where is merciful God, where is He?’ someone behind me asked. The three chairs were tipped over… We marched past the victims. The two men were no longer alive… The child, who was too light, was still breathing… And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death… Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’
“And within me, I heard a voice answer; ‘Where is God? This is where God is—hanging here on this gallows…’”
Where are you, O God? When a child dies on the gallows? When a black child is shot? When children are starving? When indigenous youth lose all hope and kill themselves? When men and women and children are killed in the civil war in Syria? Where is God?
I don’t know. There is no easy answer.
And yet we need to wrestle with this kind of question. Let me share with you how I struggle with it …
I begin with lament. I lament all the ways in which we can be so cruel to each other. I lament all the ways in which human beings hurt or kill or oppress others. I cry out to God, wondering how it is possible that people who have been created in the image of a loving and compassionate God can forget their identity. I lament a world in which so many turn their backs on those who are suffering.
This kind of lament is a powerful theme throughout the Bible, and throughout the history of the church.
When we lamentlike this, people of faith dare to believe that we find God here … hanging from the gallows, lying in the street with the black child who has been shot, bleeding in a high school or a theatre where a shooter has just run wild, in the streets of Mosul or Aleppo, in the cold waters where a boatload of refugees has just overturned and people are drowning, in the hopelessness of northern indigenous reserves and villages, in the drought in Somalia and Kenya. Here is God …
It would be easier in many ways to say that God is not present in these places. But we affirm deeply that God is here. Here is where we find God.
On this Global Day of Prayer to end Famine, I lament a world where some of us can eat as much as we want while others starve; where we can just throw food away because it is a couple of days old while others can’t find any food. I lament the injustice of a world where we regularly run water down the drain while others cannot get enough clean water for a sip a day. I will lament.
The second step for me is that that lament often turns to anger. What is happening is not right. There is something terribly wrong with the world that this should be happening.
We find the same kind of anger in the Old Testament prophets in which they call God’s people to account for how they treat one another. A good example is found in Amos 4: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’ The Lord God has sworn by his holiness: ‘The time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fish-hooks.’”
We see it in Psalm 50 which I chose for today … “I will bear witness against you, for I am God, your God …”
Over and over again, the prophets called God’s people to care, to live with compassion, to love each other, to make sure that every single person was cared for, and that no one went hungry, that no one had too little, and that everyone shared in the wealth of the universe.
God wants from us not just our worship. God wants from us a faithful life. Isaiah 58 proclaims, “This is the fast I want, this is the worship I want—to loose the bonds of injustice, to set oppressed people free, to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house.”
Now I haven’t called anyone “a cow of Bashan” … yet. But I am angry when I see so many of us spend so much of our money and time and energy—and I include myself in this—on stuff, things that are shiny and pretty to have, but don’t have any real lasting value… things which distract us from the important things in life, things which distract us from life in all its abundance.
God have mercy on us …
I am learning to spend less and give more … but it’s still not enough. It’s hard … but it is so much worth it.
Then I move to hope. That hope, for me, is based in Jesus’ command to us to love one another, to care for one another, to live together in wholeness and peace.
In Matthew 25, Jesus says to the church, “I was hungry, and you fed me.” And the church asks, “When were you hungry?” And Jesus responds, “Whenever you did this for the lowest, the smallest, the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.”
It’s not just a nice thing to put on a bulletin cover. This is a command for the church. We, who claim to be people of God, cannot ignore this command. We need to honour what our God calls us to do and how our Lord God calls us to live. This is how God judges our lives—have we loved the poorest, the least of these brothers and sisters of Jesus?
The source of my hope is that God’s Spirit is at work in the hearts of God’s people, moving us to prayer and action. Let me be very clear that my hope is not based in our ability. My hope is based in this, that God is at work in our lives, moving us to prayer, moving us to action.
The only question for us is this: “Will we be open to God’s spirit moving among us?” Will we be open?
Then, finally, out of that hope, I give. Generously. I won’t tell you the amount … but today I am giving 5% of my monthly take home pay for this. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just throwing money away … but I trust PWRDF deeply as it works with partners on the ground. I trust that my money will reach those people where it will do the most good.
Today is a global day of prayer. Ion this way, our prayer–words become paryer–acts. Words become actions of feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, housing the homeless and setting oppressed people free, reaching out with grace and compassion and generosity.
We pray today … we act today … on behalf of people who are our brothers and sisters. In their faces, sometimes gaunt and emaciated, we see the face of Jesus.
Today, more than ever, the church needs to pray. Today, more than ever, the church needs to act. Today, more than ever, the church needs to give.
Our final hymn this morning is by Herbert O’Driscoll. In the last verse, we sing, “The love of Jesus calls us in swiftly changing days to be God’s co—creators in new and wondrous ways; that God with men and women may so transform the earth that love and peace and justice may give God’s kingdom birth.”
It’s another way of speaking about the 3rd and 4th Marks of Mission: To respond to human need by loving service; and to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
The love of Jesus calls us.
More to the point, the love of Jesus compels us.
Because as Elie Wiesel discerned, this is where God is found. When we see these starving people, we see the compassionate heart of God.
God’s compassionate heart beats for the life of the world, and God’s compassionate takes my broken and hurting heart into itself, and healing … slowly, but inexorably … begins.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
May 21, 2017 (6th Sunday of Easter) — Global Day of Prayer to End Famine
Matthew 25: 35