As I read this morning’s gospel with its easy moral, “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing] will be given to you as well” I began to imagine how very differently it must be heard in places around the world who have so very much less than we do.
Earlier this week, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro spoke to the Economic and Social Council special session on the global food crisis. Due to the increase in the price of rice and wheat over the past 12 months – an increase of 74 per cent for rice and 130 per cent for wheat – another 100 million people will be driven into deep poverty bringing the total number of persons facing acute food shortages to more than 930 million.
Eight years ago, at the 2000 UN Millennium Summit, 189 heads of states (including the United States) committed themselves to a set of eight time-bound targets – the Millennium Development Goals - that, when achieved, would end extreme poverty worldwide by 2015. In 2008, we are just beyond the half way point to 2015 and all progress made to date on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger – the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals – all progress, according to Secretary-General Migiro, will be “virtually wiped out” because of this food crisis.
I wonder how 930 million hungry people might hear Jesus’ words today? Do not worry about food or thirst or clothing but strive instead “for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” How do the guests of the food program in Wildwood hear those words today? And in light of these 930 million hungry people how are we to hear Jesus’ words anew?
Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation’s Executive Director, Mike Kinman, reflected on this question in his newsletter column this week. Father Kinman’s words struck a chord with me and I’d like to share them this morning. He writes
“'Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink.’ Well, thanks a lot, Jesus! Easy for you to say. In fact, easy for me to say! Even in the worst case scenario I can imagine for my life, the truth is I am never going to starve. Because even if I lost everything, I have family and friends with means and privilege who would never let that happen to me or my family.
But I am a person of privilege. What about the 854 million people who suffer from hunger every day. Where is the Good News for them? Aren’t these words of Christ’s just a slap in the face? And then it hit me: The answer to that is up to us.
There are times when the words of Christ are for our ears, and there are times when the words of Christ are for our lips. And there are times like this, where they are for both.
‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink.’ These words convict and liberate me at the same time. They convict me in the life I lead surrounding myself with much more than I need to survive. They convict me of my life of wasting energy and resources worrying about tomorrow. They convict me of not trusting the abundance with which God has surrounded me.
At the same time, Christ’s words liberate me. They free me to recognize that I don’t need to lead a fearful life. That I don’t need to spend my time, energy and resources building up security for myself. That I can live a life of joyfully letting go of my wealth knowing that if I ‘strive first for God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, all these things will be given to (me) as well.’
And freed by Christ’s words in my ears, I can go to the world’s hungry with Christ’s words on my lips and say, ‘Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will drink -- because I’ve got your back!’ ‘Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will drink -- because I have enough for both of us.’ ‘Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will drink -- because God has charged me with the joyful privilege of fulfilling that promise in your life.’
This Sunday's Gospel only makes sense if we hold it in one hand and the stories of rampant hunger in the other. It's the difference between feel-good, pop religion and a call to conversion that will open our hearts and heal the world.
Christ's words are difficult to hear, because they do convict us. Christ's words are beautiful to hear, because they will liberate us. But most of all, when we let Christ's words enter through our ears and change our hearts and finally emerge on our lips, they are a song of hope ... for us and for the world.”
“I’ve got your back!” “I have enough for both of us.” “God has charged me with the joyful privilege of fulfilling that promise in your life.” What can one person do? What can one congregation do? The answer to those questions – What can one person do? What can one congregation do? – form the backbone of the ONE Episcopalian Campaign to be active participants in the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals.
Many of you took part in our Lenten series that looked at the complex issues of poverty in depth. During that series, each session concluded with the question, “What can you do?” and the answers were provided in 4 categories: (1) organize; (2) advocate; (3) pray; and (4) educate. One of the items of feedback we received after the series ended was that folks felt that there were not enough concrete ideas or that it didn’t seem like some of the suggestions – like writing a letter to the editor – would really making an impact on the problems. And perhaps that is one of the areas where we often get stuck. My small action will do so little. . . so, why bother?
Why bother? Just ask Aubrey Clark. She is a six-year old girl in Georgia wanted to help the children she had heard about at St. Marc’s School in Haiti who went to school hungry each day. At first she thought about sending food but quickly realized that the packaged meals might be inedible by the time they arrived in Haiti. So she decided it was better to send money. Aubrey and other children from her church now sell hot cider on the Parish Hall porch on the first Sunday of each month. On the very first Sunday in business, Aubrey’s cider project raised $60 - enough money to feed three children for an entire school year.
Why bother? Just ask Jane, a parishioner at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Honoye Falls, New York. Inspired by a sermon preached by The Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell in which he said, “Nobody has to do everything, but everybody needs to ‘do something’” and that it costs only 37 cents a day to feed a person, Jane went to a local Chinese take-out restaurant and asked if she could purchase carry out containers. She labeled each with a reminder that 37 cents a day can save a life and gave a container to each family at her church asking them to put 37 cents a day into the container and return the container to the church at the end of the summer. The money that was collected was shared with Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation and Joining Hearts and Hands, a group the parish supports in Kenya.
Why bother? Ask Gail and Dory from St. Barnabas who bought 10 hoagies at our sale yesterday and wanted none of them. They wanted us to give them to people who were hungry in our community. Why bother? Ask the volunteers who came to St. Barnabas at 6 a.m. yesterday to make 480 hoagies – including those 10. Why bother? Ask Gail at St. Mary’s who had the idea of distributing them to families living at a Rio Grande motel. And why bother? Ask Anthony, a volunteer at the Furniture Annex, who agreed to deliver the hoagies to tenants at the motel. A handful of people, working together, for just a few minutes, fed 10 people one meal.
Why bother? Because one person, one congregation can perform a relatively small action that will have a dramatic impact on the lives of others. One person, one congregation at a time, we can help the world get back on track with the Millennium Development Goals, ensuring that poverty and hunger are, indeed, eradicated by 2015. As Father Kinman wrote, “There are times when the words of Christ are for our ears, and there are times when the words of Christ are for our lips. And there are times like this, where they are for both.” Let our prayer be that one day soon, all will be able to say that what we eat, what we drink, and what we wear is enough and to know that all has been provided by the grace of our God who works wonders of abundance in the smallest of human actions. What can one person do? What can one congregation do?
 “Progress towards Millennium Development Goals at risk of being wiped out, warns Deputy Secretary-General in remarks to special meeting on global food crisis,” ReliefWeb 20 May 2008, accessed online on May 24, 2008.
 Mike Kinman, “"Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink," What One Can Do -- The EGR Newsletter, May 23, 2008 (received via e-mail).
 The curriculum we used for the series was The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations and The ELCA Washington Office, God’s Mission in the World: An Ecumenical Christian Study Guide on Global Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals (Augsburg Fortress Press, 2007). It is available online from Episcopal Books and Resources.
 “Haitian Hope Project,” St. Francis Episcopal Church in Macon, Georgia accessed online on May 24, 2008 and John Mark Parker, “Aubrey Cells Cider,” Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, November 14, 2007 accessed online on May 24, 2008.
 Dahn Dean Gandel, “What One Person Can Do,” Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, August 24, 2007 accessed online on May 24, 2008.