4th SUNDAY OF EASTER, B,
1 John 3:16-24
Today is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday, but this year I want to focus on the reading from the first letter of John as I did three years ago. The opening line echoes the Gospel reading this morning: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
Then comes this haunting question: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”
I say haunting, because so many people in the world live on about $2 /day. And even in this great country, where we use so many of the world’s resources, the number of people going to bed hungry at night is shocking! And that number is still growing. What’s worse is that so many of them are children.
One of the problems with quoting facts and figures about people in need is that the problem just seems so overwhelming we’d like to forget it. So first remember that no one has to solve all the problems or even any one problem on a large scale. Think globally, but act locally. Do what you can for the people around you. And better yet, do it with them rather than for them.
Sara Miles wrote a book about her experiences in starting a food pantry at an Episcopal church in San Francisco. This pantry is free and open to anyone – no ID, no proof of income required. She set it up on and around the altar of the church and staffed it in the beginning with volunteers from the congregation. Soon the people who came to the pantry began to take over the volunteer jobs. This pantry went on once a week and was possible because there was a distribution place providing the food that also was staffed by volunteers.
The book is titled Take this Bread, making rather clear the connection in her mind between the pantry and communion. The pantry formed community in many strange and interesting ways. Sara Miles was an atheist for the first 46 years of her life, so it’s a fascinating read on many levels. She will be the key speaker at our Clergy Conference starting tomorrow, so I’m sure you’ll hear more about her.
Beyond thinking about doing good with people rather than for them, let’s also consider the purpose of our giving. I’m assuming that our purpose is a Christian one, rather than serving our own egos, but am looking beyond that. Do we give just to make up for the shortage that the other party has or are we giving to change the system that created their shortage in the first place?
Giving to make up their shortage is good, and its impact is immediate. The problem is that we probably have to go on giving for some length of time. You know the old saw, give a man a fish and he can feed his family today; give a man a pole and teach him how to fish and you feed his family forever.
This is what makes solar cookers, or micro loans, or giving animals more effective and more appealing than stocking a food shelf. And of course, if we think that solving the world hunger problem is overwhelming, can you imagine what it might take to change the systems, the governments, and the politics on the ground that created the hunger in the first place?
Jesus directly confronted the powers and systems of his day that kept the poor folks in their place, and we know what happened to him for his trouble. Still, I want to remind all of us that we have a weapon that was not available to Jesus. We have a vote, and we do not put ourselves at risk when we exercise this power. Whether we think of the School Board, the County Board, the City Council, the state legislature or the national elections, we have a voice in what happens here.
We have the chance to vote for those people whom we think will do the most good. Yes, but the most good for whom? For me? For my family? Or for the whole community, the whole state, or the whole nation?
Are we willing to give up some stuff, like a little more tax money, in order that others have a better chance? Do we only support those politicians who will make our lives easier, or do we support those who will consider all of society? Do we support what’s good for the schools only so long as we have children in school, or do we always support what’s good for the schools, because that makes a better community?
Yes, I know, Jesus said, “The poor will always be with us.”
And I’d say there will always be criminals, whether of the smash and grab sort or the Wall Street sort. However, I’m convinced that the numbers of both would be much less if the middle class were larger.
This week David and I went to a meeting with the director and two employees of an organization called “Ruby’s Pantry.” This is an outreach program of a 501C3 non-profit that distributes leftover food to rural communities from large corporations, which would otherwise have been throsn away.
Ruby’s Pantry is open one day a month, staffed entirely by volunteers. Anyone can come, and the people who come to the pantry pay $20 and will receive somewhere between $70 and &150 worth of food. Of the $20, $18 goes to the non-profit organization that collects and distributes the food, Ruby’s Pantry. The rest stays in the local community and is used for benevolence, as determined by the sponsoring church or non-profit.
We are exploring the possibility of bringing Ruby’s Pantry to I. Falls. It just so happened that the night after our meeting I stumbled upon a documentary on PBS about how much food is wasted – not just by individuals, or school lunches or restaurants, but by the food growers and the chain of companies that bring the food to market.
It was astonishing! It was shocking! I saw a truckload of perfectly healthy bananas thrown away because they did not meet the standards of the grocery chain being supplied – standards of appearance, not health or ripeness (they didn’t have the right curve to them!). Examples of celery, where so much is cut off right in the field, but cannot sell what’s cut off for the cost of the labor to pick it up and haul it away. Crops that are plowed under at least serve some purpose, but anyone who has checked out the dumpster at a local supermarket knows that large quantities are tossed.
This documentary made me realize that Ruby’s Pantry not only benefits the people who get their food, it benefits our society by making use of what would otherwise be wasted.
“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” AMEN