Loosening the Chains of the Materially Poor
Eradicating extreme poverty, hunger and preventable illnesses
Bible Readings : Luke 19:45-47, Luke 8:43-48
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Last Sunday we were given a Lenten challenge to pray more, to give to those in need and to fast in the spirit of Isaiah 58 – to loosen the chains of injustice. But when the issues of extreme poverty, hunger and preventable illnesses are so large and complex, it can be overwhelming to know what to do? This Sunday, we will explore some of the teaching and example of Jesus as well as some practical local examples which might help us in our Lenten journey.
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Welcome to part three of an input series looking at how we might be able to loosen the chains of injustice in relation to the materially poor – to the people who do not have enough to live. Part 1 was the sermon last Sunday and second input was part of the large group bible study last Wednesday (which was excellent by the way). If you missed it, here is a 2 minute catchup…
This Lent, Kevin and I gave us the challenge of focusing on the traditional Lenten spiritual practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And we are using Isaiah 58:6-7 to shape our approach to these spiritual disciplines. Let’s hear them again: (this is God speaking)… 6 “The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. 7 Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives (or those who are close to you).
On Wednesday we delved deeper into this idea of helping those who are materially poor, those who do not have what they need to live and thrive – such as food, clean water, shelter, access to education and healthcare, equality etc. We watched some great videos that challenged us as Christians to consider our role in creating and solving this problem.
So during these 6 weeks of lent, the challenge is to pray more, to become more aware of issues of injustice, to look for ways to make a difference and to give of our blessings or resources to help others. How have we gone so far? Many of you nodded last week when I said were you ready to come on this journey, so how have you gone?
Don’t feel too guilty, I have also struggled to find the time and the space to focus on these spiritual practices. But we need to make sure that this Lent is not just about good intentions.
At the Bible study I quoted Oscar Romero who used the analogy of a house on fire. He said that a lot of people might feel concerned about the welfare of the house owners, but how would we react if it was our families home? We’d do anything to make sure they were ok, even at the risk of getting hurt. Romero’s challenge when it comes to helping the materially poor, is how do we as followers of Jesus move from being concerned, to be committed to making a difference. Is it about seeing Jesus in all people, especially the poor?
One of our readings today was about the woman who reached out to Jesus and was healed. Luke tells us that she had suffered with bleeding for 12 years but that no one could heal her. In the Mark version of this story we read that spent all she had, but things had got worse (Mark 5:26). There is some debate about whether the reason no-one could heal her. Was it that a the medical knowledge was not that advanced and a treatment for her particular problem was not yet discovered? Or was it because she had no money, therefore the treatment was withheld because she couldn’t pay? Or even worse, did the many doctors take advantage of her desperation (and maybe her gender) and exploited her out of her money without healing her, because healing her would have stopped that flow of money.
That wouldn’t happen that way, would it? Surely that sort of exploitation wouldn’t happen in today society, would it? And yet the statistics tell us that over half the world does not have access to the essential healthcare that people need.
On Wednesday night at the bible study, I did a bit of a review on the eight Millennium Development Goals and how the world did over the 25 years that they ran. As I worked through each one, I was noticing the feeling of the room getting heavier and heavier, that people were feeling overwhelmed with the enormity of the problems of the materially poor.
As I went through the statistics – 830million people living in extreme poverty; 99% of women dying in childbirth being from developed countries, and on and on – I was looking around the room and you could see people internally thinking … what can we do? The problem is too big. The need is too much. We want to move from being concerned to being people of action … but what can we possibly do to help.
That is the question for the sermon today, but to be honest, I and Kevin and the worship planning team were struggling with the question too. What can we do as committed, considered people of faith to help those who are materially poor?
Well, a simple way to start is by contributing to or supporting groups or other organisations who are already working in this area. We can donate food to food banks, or sponsor a child through compassion or world vision, or financially support one of the many Christian or other NGO’s who are working with or sharing with those who do not have enough.
At our worship planning meeting, we recognised that it is important for us to be supporting local groups or organisations – such as FUSION or the women’s shelter at Hornsby or Exodus foundation. And of course The Dish of St John’s – a service feeding the homeless and needy in Hornsby which our church supports and has a number of volunteers helping at.
I asked our team who were serving at the Dish a week ago to put together a short video for us. Here is Isaac, Rach, Trevor and the rest of the team:
If you wish to help with the Dish, either cooking beforehand or serving on the night or joining the management board – talk to Lara or myself or Kevin and we can help make it happen.
Helping those who do not have enough can also be something simple and spontaneous. I heard this story this week of a bloke at the hospital café standing behind a woman who was looking through the coins in her purse. He just felt a prompting that she was probably taking a break from sitting with a sick loved one and trying to work out what she could buy for dinner with the money she had left. He quietly said to her, “I’ve got you covered. Order what you want, I’ll pay” and said that you could see the relief wash over her. Sometimes we just have to be looking for those moment when we can help.
It is the same with the floods or the war in Ukraine. Yes, we can give to the Red Cross or other known agencies but we might also come across personal situations where we can also help. For example, who personally knows someone who has been impacted by the floors – have a chat with them after church and ask if there is a way to help.
Yes, trying to break the chains of injustice of the material poor is a huge and overwhelming, but maybe we can loosen the chains a little through our acts of generosity and almsgiving.
But I need to mention a potential trap that is so easy to fall into when it comes to helping those in need. In our good intentions to try and make a difference, we can rush in think that we know exactly what a person needs and what will be most helpful for them. We will talk more about this next week, but when we helping those who are materially poor, it is also about helping them find their voice. Asking them what is most helpful for them. UnitingWorld has a rule for any mission trip that insists on a the first part of any mission trip being just being with those in need, to simply listen.
One last point to explore – our other Bible reading, Jesus in the temple. This is a key Lent reading as we heard in the reading, this disruption of the temple is often seen as straw that broke the Pharisee’s camel’s back – that set them on the path to kill Jesus.
But my question is, why was Jesus angry? Jesus had been in the temple many times throughout his life – from hanging out with the priests as a child, through to Jesus visiting and teaching at the temple throughout the gospels. He would have seen the markets before – what made him so angry this time?
John’s gospel talks about Jesus reacting to it being made into a marketplace, but in the other three gospels, including our reading for today, Jesus refers to it being a ‘den of robbers’. Maybe Jesus was reacting to the systematic injustice of the temple system. You see, you were not allowed to bring your own sacrifice but were forced to buy from the temple at inflated prices – and you could only buy with temple money and charged for the money exchange. This unjust system was basically making the poor even poorer – so was it the system that Jesus was reacting to and standing up against.
This type of exploitation and discrimination still exists. Many of those who have plenty seem to have no trouble rigging the system to take from those who have little. In one of the videos we watched on Wednesday night, Trevor talked about how we need to admit that our modern economic system exploits people and exploits the environment – and as Christians we should be standing against this.
I think we can stand against systematic injustice of the materially poor in two ways:
- Awareness. We need to be more aware of the issues of systematic injustice against the materially poor. How do we get clear, correct up to date information on issues? How do we make sure we are hearing about issues from diverse views and especially the quiet voices that aren’t easily heard? And how do we find ways of communicating this information with others.
- Advocacy – how do we stand against injustice systems. How can we use our voice or position of privilege or power to help level the field a little? People who work in this field say that two things are most effective:
- Writing to politicians. Seriously, they say that politicians take social media with a grain of salt, but a letter from a constituent is something that they still read and are required to respond to.
- Economic pressure. I know that it has now been unfairly labelled cancel culture, but companies don’t like it when they are called out for systematic injustice – especially if it is combined with a conscious decision not to participate or purchase into that system anymore.
I am not sure if this has been helpful or not? I said up front that I also struggle with finding ways that I can be helpful and be an advocate for those who do not have what they need to live. But I want to try. I want to be more helpful. I want to be a clearer voice for a more just system. I want this to be part of my Lent offering to God.
Or to reword the quote I had last week from Leela Ramdeen
This Lent and Easter,
I want my baptism to mean something;
I want to be transformed
I want God to stir within me a hunger and thirst
for justice and peace;
I want to live by every value for which Jesus stood.
Or at least try.
So, this lent, this Easter,
I am going to try to overcome indifference and recognise
that I am God’s instruments to build a better world.
For all people – especially the materially poor.
Is that something you are feeling or thinking too?
God is passionate about this too, and is willing to help us.
So let go – lets continue on this journey together.