Thoughts on this Sunday's Sermon
From the First Lesson: Isaiah 25:1–9
O LORD, you are my God;I will exalt you, I will praise your name;for you have done wonderful things,plans formed of old, faithful and sure.2For you have made the city a heap,the fortified city a ruin;the palace of aliens is a city no more,it will never be rebuilt.3Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;cities of ruthless nations will fear you.4For you have been a refuge to the poor,a refuge to the needy in their distress,a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,5the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;the song of the ruthless was stilled.
Three strips of bacon once taught me an important life lesson.
Not thick sliced bacon nirvana or sprinkled with brown sugar and cracked pepper and slowly cooked in an oven, no. Just your run-of-the-mill breakfast special at any motel with a bed and a breakfast promise. Three measly slices. Austere even..
Our family had saved box tops and earned enough points to trade them in for rail tickets so that we could visit Washington, DC for our summer vacation. The place where we stayed offered breakfast and I remember asking for an extra order of bacon – I loved bacon and as a growing teenage boy I couldn’t get enough of it. $1.70 was too much of an impact on our budget, so I had to settle for the special. No extra bacon for me. Dad was firm on that. I resented it. Thirty years later I can remember that breakfast.
I thought we were poor, but I was wrong.
I remember Christmas not too many years later. I wanted a camera to replace my old 126 pocket camera – you remember – the one with the flip-flash. So I asked for a 35 millimeter single lens reflex. A real camera. A cool camera. One that the other kids could see and think that I wasn’t some poor dork. Well, Christmas arrived and when I unwrapped the last box there sat a Polaroid instamatic. Big and boxy and noisy and definitely to my teenage thinking not cool. Just another thing for the kids to point at and make fun of me. My face must have said it all. It broke my mom’s heart. I fled the room, pajamas and all, trading the warm fire for the freezing temperatures of our porch to weep alone. Single handedly I had ruined Christmas for our entire extended family. You don’t forget those things, either.
I thought we were poor, but I was wrong.
We collected milk jug caps and traded them for baseball tickets and grew our own vegetables, lettuce and green pepper and radishes and green beans and tomatoes and more. And we all worked when we were old enough – flipping burgers and delivering papers and babysitting.
We couldn’t afford $1.70 for extra bacon, but we were not poor.
I got to eat breakfast as I did every day. Captain Crunch and Cheerios and every sugared cereal imaginable and toast with butter and cinnamon and lots of other good stuff – eggs and bacon and pancakes and waffles.
That $1.70 is almost twice as much as 1.2 billion people live on for an entire day in this world of ours. That’s “B” as in billion. The cows in Europe receive over $2 a day in subsidies. Dare I even ask if a cow is worth as much as two human beings?
Every day, 800 million people go to bed hungry. Every day, 28,000 children die from poverty related causes.
That’s the world. What about here in this country. Well three years ago 35.5 million people—including 12.6 million children—lived in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. At the time, this represented more than one in ten households in the United States. Imagine what this figure is today. This week. Today. All folks have to do is to volunteer at our food pantry to understand how the dangers of hunger are rising in our local community.
Two years ago, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that requests for emergency food assistance increased an average of 7 percent. The study also found that 48 percent of those requesting emergency food assistance were members of families with children and that 37 percent of adults requesting such assistance were employed. Unemployment, high housing costs, poverty or lack of income, and high medical costs led the list of reasons contributing to the rise.
Almost half the cities surveyed in the Mayors' report (45 percent) said they are not able to provide an adequate quantity of food to those in need. And 63 percent of surveyed cities reported they had to decrease the quantity of food provided and/or the number of times people can come to get food assistance. An average of 23 percent of the demand for emergency food assistance is estimated to have gone unmet in the survey cities, up from 18 percent the year before. I shudder to think what these figures are today, now that the housing bubble has burst and the economy is the fastest roller coaster ride around.
In our first lesson Isaiah reminds us that God is not blind to the injustice of poverty. That God is not deaf to the pains of hunger. That God is not impotent with respect to the problems that seem to overwhelm the wisest and most powerful people on the planet.
“God has done wonderful things,” Isaiah declares.
Not God did wonderful things once or used to do wonderful things (but is finished now and they have no bearing on the present) or might do wonderful things sometime. God has done wonderful things and is doing wonderful things. Plans formed of old are coming to fruition. The past is manifesting into the present. What plans? Plans for the powerless and poor, the broken and forgotten. Plans for the suffering without a voice. Plans for the hungry and the forgotten. The nameless.
Cloaked in our own fear of the future and perhaps even an uncertain present we run the dangers of circling the wagons, of navel gazing, of forgetting whose we are.
O LORD, you are my God;I will exalt you, I will praise your name;for you have done wonderful things.
Try praying that while watching CNN this week or CNBC or MSNBC.
The elevator that is the Dow Jones Industrial Average has discovered some floors that it hasn’t seen in five years. Banks are throwing up their hands. We don’t want to praise God. We don’t want to remember the poor. We want to know that our retirement isn’t going to go up in smoke or that we are not going to go from serving at the food pantry to surviving on it ourselves.
I have spent time in my adult married life leaning on a food pantry to get by, of being qualified for and using WIC (Women, Infant and Children) coupons to help feed our family. Been there done that. And fear of that can certainly drive us to forget whose we are.
That the plans of old have come to fruition in Christ Jesus. That the Kingdom of God has broken in to this world. That God’s call to us to proclaim and live into the reality of the Kingdom sounds even louder in times of fear and uncertainty because that call is the one true thing that you and I have . Our only real possession. One promise not subject to the whims of economic indicators.
Our response is faith and to be faithful.
To exalt the God who called us into being and ransomed us from our sin.
To declare the wonderful things that God has done.
To outshout the fear.
To overwhelm the uncertainty.
To serve the poor more diligently, more lovingly, with greater enthusiasm.
To live our God’s call to justice in imitation of Christ Jesus.
To not weep over $1.70 worth of bacon, while there are hungrier ones to feed.