We had family around for lunch the other day.
My three year old grandson went straight to the freezer and helped himself to an ice-cream. Helen intercepted him in time and told him to wait until after lunch, only to have him plead, ‘But Grandma, I NEED it now!’
Whoever invented the refrigerator with the freezer section at the bottom has a lot to answer for.
Of course, we can easily mistake our needs for our wants and justify our wants as our needs and in the process accumulate piles of unnecessary baggage, both around the girth and in the garage(s)!
As I was driving home from preaching at a Sydney church last Sunday I heard on the news about a report just released by ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Services). There are now one in seven Australians living below the poverty line of $400 per week. The statistics are grimmer for children and grimmer still for people from non English speaking backgrounds.
My work brings me into daily contact (mainly via email) with Christian leaders who serve communities in Africa and Asia where people live on less than a dollar a day, where children, in frighteningly large numbers, suffer from water-borne diseases, malnutrition and starvation. Some of these children don’t reach their next birthday.
While the famine in South Sudan deepens, the predictions of another Horn of Africa catastrophe are gathering pace and frequency.
Who is responsible for the care of these precious people, created in the image of God, born into a world of suffering and starvation, of neglect and indifference?
What responsibility do I bear?
What response should we make?
I am often confronted by the following multiple choice question:
a. Is poverty the result of poor management by an incompetent God?
b. Is poverty the result of negligence by an indifferent God?
c. Is poverty the result of cruelty by a malevolent God?
d. Is poverty the result of oppression by a sinful humanity?
Each time I come up with the same answer. Often I hear people offer different answers.
The prophet Isaiah, as does James’ letter (James 1:26), identifies the difference between true and false religion:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen . . . .
Is it not to share your food with the hungry . . . .
and if you spend yourself on behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed . . . . (Isaiah 58:7-10)
God, speaking through his prophet, gives us words that have a heavy touch of responsibility and a light touch of liberty. He doesn’t call for austerity, abstinence or self-denial. He doesn’t even call for fasting, because the fasting he chooses implies sharing what we enjoy with others.
There is a delicious irony here. God’s ‘fast’ is about sharing the abundance of what we have with those in need of what we have - and what we have in such abundance.
It is not about going without but sharing with.
While it will certainly involve moderation and simplicity, it is about eating in a way that others can also benefit from our abundance. In this way the gifts we have been blessed with multiply and others are blessed.
Not self-denial but shared indulgence.
Not grim austerity but joyful generosity.
Not guilt-driven spare change but grace-filled sacrificial giving.
Embedded in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray is the petition:
Give us today our daily bread (Matthew 6:11)
Give us each day our daily bread (Luke 11:3)
Brian Rosner in his book, ‘Beyond Greed’ states that:
(Martin) Luther took the fourth request of the Lord’s prayer, ‘Give us today our daily bread’ as a call to shun greed (page 26).
For many brothers and sisters in our world today it is a ‘prayer of faith’ - and a prayer for survival!
‘Poverty Lines’ and ‘Bread Lines’ will vary from one country to another and one context to another. Need in this country is real and requires a loving generous response, as does the desperate needs of people in many parts of the world, a good many of them our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I often hear, ‘Charity must begin at home.’ To this I couldn’t agree more. The New Testament reminds us of that, albeit in another context (1 Timothy 5:8)
The very saying implies that it doesn’t end at home. It begins there and reaches well beyond.
I have often been conflicted by the confident observation of King David in Psalm 37:25 when he says:
I was young and now am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.
Does not the answer, and resolution, to my conflict lie in the compassion and generosity of God’s people for whom the petition in the Lord’s prayer has been overwhelmingly answered? David even hints at this a little earlier in the same Psalm quoted above:
But the righteous (by grace, in Christ) give generously.
How may this part of the Lord’s Prayer be answered? How may the prayer’s answer involve us? How may God answer the prayer through us?
Perhaps it depends on which side of the thin bread line we are on?