It’s hard to get through a day without hearing something about Occupy Wall Street and its many incarnations. With all the attention, the media coverage, and political pundits pontificating, an important fact can easily be crowded out… in addition to poor economic growth, we now know that a record 46.2 million Americans currently live in poverty.
Let me preface the conversation by saying that it doesn’t matter if we identify as conservative, liberal, moderate, or fed up. As a bumper sticker explains – “God is not a Republican and neither is he a Democrat.” You see, God doesn’t belong to anyone. Everyone belongs to God. Everyone.
What can today’s lessons teach us about poverty and need? The word “poor” appears over two hundred times in the bible. The bible often gives voice to the problems of the poor.
Listen to the Psalm’s heartrending lament:
Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.
Who is making this lament? Chances are that many of us have given up a lot to be here in grad school, in order to get a seminary education, and become leaders in the church. Some of us may have even taken a vow of poverty showing solidarity with the least of God’s children.
Some of us have given up well-paying jobs and feel some financial need. That said, most of us are not truly poor. Most of us are living comfortable lives with decent food and shelter. So when we hear this lament, this cry for help, is it for us or someone else?
Who today is experiencing the scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud , crying out for mercy? It could be the record 46.2 million Americans currently living in poverty. It could be any one of the 1.4 billion or more in developing countries living in extreme poverty. It could be the man in church on All Soul’s day by himself in the pew, trying to hold his head up, weary and looking for warmth and solace.
Today I want to re-focus our attention on the needs of those among us, within our borders and without, living in need of hope. I want, with God’s help, to strengthen the hands of the faithful, arouse the conscience of the careless, and restore the penitent to right relationship.
You who faithfully serve the common good, your works are evidence of your love. You have been faithful in seeking justice, making strangers friends, setting up homeless feeding programs, serving at food banks, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting nursing homes and institutions. You have responded to these cries for mercy. You know that the Lord requires justice, kindness, and humility. You don’t boast, and probably believe you are not doing enough. You do realize it is both privilege and obligation to love.
When we serve, we see ourselves and Christ reflected in a mirror, ministering to others ministers to our own need for connection and meaning. Our own problems often diminish and our outlook on life brightens. May God continue to strengthen us.
Perhaps some of us have worked hard in the past. Years ago I was part of a team that helped start a homeless breakfast program, but after a while I got involved in other things. I was tired. I got distracted. I confess I sometimes need a wakeup call from God.
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, God pricked Paul’s heart to sound an alarm. The Thessalonians had done great things, but after a while they found themselves sidetracked, perhaps they were tired, distracted from God’s work for them. So Paul tries to arouse them:
… let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
Paul invites us to get off the sidelines and get back into the game… to fight the good fight. That’s what the armor is for… the work of God. We can all do something. The law of love compels us forward.
In another place, Paul explains that putting on the armor of God involves living honorably, not focused solely on our own good, not spending time quarreling over politics or pointing fingers, but to do something to make someone’s life better. Paul asks us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. In faith, to reach out as Christ reached out… to use our hands to restore hope to the poor… letting love arouse us when we are careless, and restore us to right relationship… reminding us of the good we have done and the good we have left undone.
Paul reminds us that when we wear the breastplate of faith and love, we will need the helmet the hope. We all need hope. It saves us from despair, from thinking our contribution doesn’t matter. Robert Kennedy once said that “Each time we stand up for an ideal, or act to improve the lot of others, or strike out against injustice, we send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Hope allows us to be generous when we ourselves live in fear of foreclosure on our own dreams. It’s said that generosity is a sure sign of the kingdom of God. God is present in generosity. God is present in hope. God is present in our love. Amen.