Tag Archives: poverty

SERMON SEGMENT By Cynthia Robles, Final Year MA Diaconal Ministry Student

From a sermon preached by Cynthia Robles at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Dubuque, IA using the gospel text Matt. 25:31-46 

In a Seminary class on Ethics, we read a book called Lest Innocent Blood be Shed about a community in France during WWII that took in Jewish immigrants that were fleeing from Germany. The church in their town of Le Chambon had engraved over the door the words, “Love one another.” In watching a short clip from a movie about these people, when asked why they put themselves at risk by giving German immigrants refuge, they looked at the camera and said, “It’s what we do.” It was as if they wondered why one would ask such a strange question. The truth is, “Love one another” was not only written on their church, but also written on their hearts. It was woven into the fabric of their being.

As I thought about this, I began to see how this way of thinking is so similar to how I feel being called to a ministry of Word and Service. I cannot tell you how many times I am asked, “Why not become a Pastor?” I say, “I know it is not my call. My call is to Word and service.” When explaining this call to some of the men in the “Almost Home” shelter [At St. John’s] last week, one man said, “After all, it is about getting the word of God out there.” I said, “Through actions, right? And he nodded his head, yes.

As I have pondered my call to service, I wondered where it came from in my life. Was there something that happened that made me begin to think this way or is it just who I am? I tried to figure it out, because this sense of call is so strong for me. It came back to thinking about the great role models I had in my life. My Grandparents and my Dad. From the time I was small, I can remember going to church every Sunday, many times with my grandparents.

However, what I remember most about them was their home, only blocks from St. John’s here on Jackson Street. You could show up any time of the day or night and be welcomed. Not only would you be welcomed, but loved. They would give you something to eat or drink or even a warm bed in which to sleep. Their home was the place we gathered during the holidays, small, but filled with laughter and joy. If they knew they weren’t going to be home, we knew where the key was and we were still welcome to come in. If the light was on, you knew they were home and you were welcome. Although they did not have the words “Love one another” written on their home, it was certainly written on their hearts.

The Greatest Commandment written in the Gospel of Matthew is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In today’s gospel the sheep depict God’s people. They participate in God’s mission. They have responded to Gods call and respond by expressing deeds that manifest God’s Kingdom in a sinful world. Jesus identifies with the poor and desperate. On the other hand, the goats, which have not welcomed the proclamation with positive response, are condemned. They have not “served” Jesus. Disciples live lives of service among those who are living on the margins. This is what is difficult about this text and what I think we all may wrestle with a bit. We know that we do not have to do good works to earn our salvation, but here God is condemning the ones who do not serve.

“Perhaps Jesus says in this parable what he has been saying all along through his teaching and actions and what he will soon say: that God loves us and all the world so much that God has decided to identify with us fully and completely. “We recognize God most easily in the face of our neighbor, meet God in the acts of mercy and service we offer and are offered to us, and live in the blessing of God as we seek to serve as Christ served.”[1]

Two years ago I was asked to resign from my job. I had been in management for over 25 years and for many years worked at making a difference in a community as a Parks and Recreation Director. Once I resigned, I did not know who I was, because I found all my value in my job. It was who I thought I was. Once that was gone, I thought I had nothing. This was a very dark place. I felt like I had no worth, like I was powerless. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.

Each night there are men who walk through the church doors of “Almost Home,” many who have no job, many who fight addictions and come hungry and thirsty and cold. Many of you may have been through something in your life that has brought you to a dark place, and if you think back, this is where you may have seen Jesus. In this darkness and in this powerlessness we find power, not in ourselves, but in Jesus, the one who has given us this gift of Grace, by living and dying on a cross for you and for me. Because God did this for us, we are justified by Grace through our Faith and because we are given this gift of salvation we are free to serve our neighbor. I know this is true, because I have felt suffering in this life and I am here today to preach the Gospel as a broken, but saved Child of God. I am claiming my baptism, I am living out my Christian Vocation, and I no longer find value in what I am doing, but I find value in what has been done for me. All of you have value too, because this Grace is for you, saints and sinners. I look in the eyes of the men who walk through these doors each night and see Jesus, because Jesus says when you feed the ones who are hungry and you give the ones who are thirsty something to drink, clothe them and give shelter to the ones who need it, you have done this for Jesus. So, I ask, what do you have to give? You have what has been given to you….LOVE. You can love one another, just as God loves you.

And, just as important is a community that loves. When we love one another it spreads. You can see it here in the ministry that is connected to this building that you steward so well. I have seen volunteers from the community who have come forward to open the doors and show hospitality to the men in the shelter, and the neighbors who come to find clothes for the winter months to keep from freezing in their homes where many cannot afford heat. The men from the Shelter help those neighbors and I heard them bless one another over and over. Students from Wartburg made winter hats for the men. The young lady who we heard from at the beginning of the service has a mission in this life to make this community a better place by loving others. She has coordinated with several families to bring food for the men who are hungry, “And God said, let the Children lead,” This is the gospel in action; we have God’s love woven into the fabric of our being, in St. John’s and in this neighborhood community that God has given to us as a gift. Pure gift.

So, let us share this gift with others, tell the story of what has been done in the name of the one who loves us. We are sent out to tell this story to ones who may not ever hear it. “Mission itself becomes redefined when we consider the move outwards as a move towards God!” [2]”The community is sent out from the Lord’s Supper as body of Christ only to discover that the body of Christ is already waiting for the community in those suffering in the world.”[3] This is what I call discipleship; this is what we do. You can do this here or like my grandparents, in your own home, or in your work, or on the playground, in whatever you do. Let us etch the words over our door: “Love one another” and imagine then, that it will be etched in our hearts.

“I know that I want to have a door in the depths of my being, a door that is not locked against the faces of all other human beings. I know that I want to be able to say, from those depths, “Naturally, come in, and come in.””[4]

 

[1] “Christ the King A: The Unexpected God | …In the Meantime,” n.d., accessed December 4, 2014, http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/christ-the-king-a/.

[2] “Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46 by Dirk G. Lange,” accessed December 4, 2014, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=173.

[3] “Christ the King A.”

[4] Philip P. Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There, 1st edition. (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994), 287.

INVESTING IN EDUCATION TO ELIMINATE HUNGER by Christa Fisher, 2nd year M.Div.

Hunger is the result of an inadequate income.  People with money are able to purchase food while people without money struggle with hunger.  In order to eradicate hunger we must ensure all people have the means to purchase food.  Because education is understood to be the key to leveraging economic status, education is vital to the fight against hunger.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 the median weekly income for adults without high-school diplomas and adults with bachelor’s degrees was $471 and $1066, respectively. [1]  Over the course of one year, the difference in earning potential between an adult without a high-school diploma and one with a four-year degree is nearly $35,000.   This is a significant, life-altering amount of money.

Much like the gap in earning potential, a similar division exists in educational attainment between low–income and affluent students.  The truth is that poverty itself impedes students’ educational success.  Robert Balafanz, in his white paper Overcoming the Poverty Challenge to Enable College and Career Readiness for All sums up the often invisible but severe impact poverty has on educational performance.  “The impacts of food scarcity, housing instability, and insufficient access to medical and dental care are clear. If a student is hungry, without a home, suffering from untreated ailments or in need of glasses, it is difficult for him or her to focus on school work.  Poverty also brings with it an increased exposure to violence and the lived experience that life is capricious which further shapes student behavior directly.”[2]

Many educators and administrators, aware of the burdens inflicted upon low-income students, are working in innovative ways to help students achieve their full potential, such as early intervention reading programs, individualized curriculums, and intensive summer school programs.  Additionally, educators recognize that one-time interventions are insufficient.  As children change and develop so to do the obstacles they face regarding their education.  In the earliest years a child, not having exposure to early-educational opportunities, may have underdeveloped math and reading skills.  As a middle-school youth, the same student may be relied upon to care for his or her younger siblings or elderly relatives, resulting in less time for studies.  During high school the same student may feel pressure to abandon his or her education in order to acquire a job and earn money for his or her family.  Individualized supports must accompany students through the years.

Despite their success, these innovative college-readiness support programs are in jeopardy.  In 2011 many states experienced drastic cuts in educational funding.  Wisconsin, for example, passed a two year $834 million cut in K-12 educational funding[3].  This cut is the equivalent of an average per pupil funding reduction of $555.  Supposing an average class has 25 students, a $555 per student cut would total a $13,875 reduction per classroom.  Additionally, almost 900 young children will lose access to Head Start programs.[4]  Teachers and districts are doing more with much less.  Yet, given past and impending funding cuts, schools will have to continue eliminating vital programing – programs which, for many children, are their only means of escaping the cycle of poverty.

The Feeding of the Five thousand, a story found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, speaks to the Christian responsibility to eradicate hunger.  Having just delivered a lengthy sermon of hope and blessing to a crowd of more than 5,000 people, the disciples ask Jesus to send the people home as the people are hungry and day is ending.  Jesus, responds, “You feed them.”  His response is not a suggestion and it allows for no exceptions.  The disciples, having recognized the hungry, are commanded to address the pain of the people.  After Jesus blessed the small amount of loaves and fishes, the disciples were able to satisfy the appetite of the entire crowd.

Our situation today is not much different.  Our nation is faced with a hunger epidemic with 1 in 6 people experiencing chronic hunger.  The numbers are staggering and often we feel unequipped to tackle the situation.  Yet, like the disciples, we have been called and endowed with the resources necessary to care for our hungry neighbors.  We can eradicate hunger, if only we take Christ’s word and ministry seriously and use our gifts to benefit the poor.  We can contact representatives and ask them to invest in education for all children.  We can contact our school boards and advocate for the programs which serve the needs of low-income students.  We can volunteer in our communities at a local food pantry, after school program, or within a school itself.  We can use our gifts to feed the poor by supporting them in their efforts to end the cycle of poverty.

RESOURCE FOR MORE INFORMATION

Jonathan Kozol speaks to the class and race disparity within the US educational system in his book The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, available through Crown Publishing Group.

To learn more about the impact of poverty on education as well as solutions to this problem, read Robert Balfanz’s Overcoming the Poverty Challenge to Enable College and Career Readiness for All:  The Crucial Role of Student Supports, available online http://new.every1graduates.org/publications/reports/


[1] US Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Education Pays.  January 28, 2013.  http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm

[2] Balfanz, Robert.   Overcoming the Poverty Challenge to Enable College and Career Readiness for All:  The Crucial Role of Student Supports. http://new.every1graduates.org/publications/reports/

[3] Hetzner, Amy and Richards, Erin.  Budget Cuts $834 million from schools.  WS Journal, March 1, 2011.

[4] White House.  Impact of March 1st Cuts on Middle Class Families, Jobs, and Economic Security: Wisconsin.  February 24, 2013.   http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/sequester-factsheets/Wisconsin.pdf

SORTING THROUGH HUNGER MYTHS by Christa Fisher, M.Div. Middler

This past summer, while hosting the ELCA World Hunger Table at the Dane County Farmer’s Market, I met many people who questioned our mission of eradicating hunger.  It wasn’t the extent of the hunger epidemic they doubted – more than 1 billion people  are food-insufficient – rather they were skeptical of our ability to achieve our mission.  The question I commonly confronted was “How can ELCA World Hunger successfully reduce hunger when the demand for food far outweighs the supply?” This question is based on two faulty suppositions about the causes of hunger – overpopulation and an inadequate food supply.

There are many widely believed myths about hunger, yet the reality is that hunger is caused by poverty.  People are food insufficient when they lack the resources necessary to purchase or grow food for themselves or their families. While overpopulation and climate change may exacerbate global hunger, they are not primary causes.  People with financial means have access to food, regardless of their family size or the severity of weather in their local community.  Reducing poverty is fundamental to the fight against hunger.  Therefore, ELCA World Hunger’s anti-poverty ministries, such as increased access to education, job training, and micro-loan programs, are core components of our anti-hunger initiatives.

Holly Poole-Kavana of the Institute for Food and Development Policy debunks the top three hunger myths, demonstrating poverty to be the predominate cause of the global hunger epidemic.

Myth1: Not Enough Food to Go Around

Reality: Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world’s food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,200 calories a day. That doesn’t even count many other commonly eaten foods – ­vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish.   The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food.  Even most “hungry countries” have enough food for all their people right now.  Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products.

Myth2: Nature is to Blame for Famine

Reality: While human-made forces are making people increasingly vulnerable to nature’s vagaries, food is always available for those who can afford it.  Starvation during hard times hits only the poorest. Natural events rarely explain deaths; they are simply the final push over the brink. Human institutions and policies determine who eats and who starves during hard times. Likewise, in America many homeless die from the cold every winter, yet ultimate responsibility doesn’t lie with the weather. The real culprits are an economy that fails to offer everyone opportunities, and a society that places economic efficiency over compassion.

Myth 3: Too Many People

Reality: Birth rates are falling rapidly worldwide as remaining regions of the Third World begin the demographic transition – ­when birth rates drop in response to an earlier decline in death rates. Although rapid population growth remains a serious concern in many countries, nowhere does population density explain hunger. For every Bangladesh, a densely populated and hungry country, we find a Nigeria, Brazil or Bolivia, where abundant food resources coexist with hunger. Or we find a country like the Netherlands, where very little land per person has not prevented it from eliminating hunger and becoming a net exporter of food. Rapid population growth is not the root cause of hunger. Like hunger itself, it results from underlying inequities that deprive people, especially poor women, of economic opportunity and security.  (www.foodfirst.org/node/1480; April 9, 2006)

Christa, besides being a student at Wartburg, is currently employed as the ELCA World Hunger Intern for the ELCA South Central Synod of Wisconsin and this article was written as part of her work for the synod.

To learn more about the myths and root causes of hunger checkout World Hunger: Twelve Myths, 2nd Edition by Francis Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, and Peter Rosset (New York: Grove Press, 1998).

More information on ELCA World Hunger’s anti-poverty ministries can be found at http://www.elca.org/Our-Faith-In-Action/Responding-to-the-World/ELCA-World-Hunger/Stories.aspx

“THE BIKE RIDE”: A POEM by Carina Schiltz, MDiv student

AUTHOR MINI-BIO: Carina was inspired to write this poem by her work at a local elementary school.

“The Bike Ride”

Dearest child who cried today:

I can’t tell you your life is going to be better.

When your mom came and rode away with you on the bike
all I could think about while you sobbed was
the air flowing in and out of your lungs
as the sobs built to a wail
rolling over all who heard it
but tried so hard not to.

I have no idea how she balanced you
or balances her life–
her reality.

I live in utter privilege
and it makes me sick that I cannot escape it.
Instead I add to it; I encourage it
I bow down in homage to it.
I am bound to it and it separates me from you–
your reality

How I wish I could duck my shoulder
and crash into that barrier
pulverizing it; shattering it into something smaller:
perhaps a mirror where I could see you in me
and I in you–
but sin prevents us; society prevents us; I prevent us.

You have challenges ahead of you I cannot begin to imagine
and you are five.

You cannot even zip up your own winter coat yet.
As I helped you today your huge eyes bored into mine.
Will you remember tomorrow?
Will I?
Will we remember that my eyes looked at you in love?

Your braids bounce against your face as you run and play tag.
Even during the game your countenance is so solemn.
I hardly see you laugh or smile.

Once in awhile–how my heart flips when I see it–
your face breaks open to reveal that you are still a child
still find wonder
still grasp the joy of realizing that somehow,
life
is
good

But today,
your face crumpled instead.

You instantly start to cry when your mother
does her best
to transport you from here to your home in 25 degree weather
driving a bicycle and clutching you to her through the dark streets:
I curse my own warm, empty car.

How hollow is my drive home
as I imagine your tears freezing to your face
on your night journey past neon-lit bars
and vacant front porches.

How universal is your story?

I pray you rest well tonight;
that someone tucks you in
tells you they love you that you are important
that you can change the world.

You changed mine.