Sermons

Summary: We think that we must protect what we have, and do not see those in need as brothers and sisters in disguise. But God puts back in our sacks more than enough when we walk on a mission of mercy and a journey of faith, caring for the hungry and needy.

Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC, October 16, 1988 (World Hunger Sunday)

Somehow, when our whole orientation is consuming and enjoying and entertaining ourselves, we pay no attention to anything beyond today. What we have today we use, and assume that tomorrow will take care of itself. And so for years this family had enjoyed prosperity; they had achieved some degree of success in the business world, they had made a tidy profit selling their goods and produce, they had, just because of the sheer size of the family and its holdings, accomplished some stature in their community. No one really was prepared for the thought that this particular family, which seemed so close-knit, which gave the appearance of success, should be pinched.

But they were. They came upon some hard times. When the skies turned blazing hot, when the refreshing waters of the little seasonal streams dried up, and when the price of food began to edge upward, they began to hurt. Too many mouths to feed and too little to do it with. Where was the ample pantry of last year now? Where the fine feasts and the sumptuous pig-outs they had enjoyed? It was not particularly easy to adjust to new circumstances; in some sense the prosperous have a harder time adjusting to poverty than do those who are already poor, they have to adjust their thinking before they can adjust their budgets. Those of us who grin and speak of living in a style to which we would like to become accustomed speak vigorously of not being able to make it on forty thousand, fifty thousand, but it's all a matter of expectations and of desires. Most of us spend up to and beyond our means and if the means shrinks the desires don't. If what I have shrinks, what I want does not shrink at exactly the same time.

And so this family, this powerful, influential family, had not properly prepared for the emergency. Maybe it would not have even felt like an emergency to your average inner city family; maybe to those who habitually water down the soup and stretch the bologna and pick up government cheese it would not have been a crisis. But to folks whose standard of living had been on the comfortable side, now there was a real crunch. Now not only was it likely there would be no more fashionable clothes, no more posh transportation, no more indulgent entertainments … not only was it likely there would be no more extras, but now it seemed that even the very basics were in short supply. Food itself was running low. Mother Hubbard's cupboard was indeed bare and this powerful clan took steps. This family was never without some recourse, and so they moved to do what they had to do to survive, as most of us would when our families' futures are in jeopardy. However much you and I may fear crime and hate drug dealing, however much we may be revolted at the thought of prostitution or of gambling, still we do have to see that when people are up against the wall sometimes the pride goes down the drain, and self-respect takes a back seat to sheer survival. I do not excuse these things, I do not condone muggings and illicit dealings, but I can at least see that if someone thinks he is desperate why he may resort to this tactic.

But this family in question, these sturdy scions of society, these once-prosperous, once-successful pillars of strength, they now did what they had to do. Using the resources that remained and dipping down into their pockets and their credit, off they went to another place to buy food. Knowing that in a distant place there was enough, they hurried off to supply themselves and stave off starvation.

And as it was that late one afternoon after days of traveling and nights of fitful sleep, they came to the city where the food could be had, if you brought the right price. Confident of their resources, well aware that even if their own land had failed to produce food and if their own business had fallen on hard times, that still they could depend on their wits and their negotiating skills, they appeared before the official in charge of selling the food. Those of us, you see, who have grown up in a certain echelon of society are just used to having our own way. We expect that others will sit up and take notice when we walk into the room; we, because we are who we are ... because we are citizens of this country, because we are members of this class or this race, because we are middle class and not hard-core poor, because we are educated and not ignorant, because we live in a good community and not in the slums. Some of us just think of ourselves as in charge of our lives and destinies and we expect others to serve us. Even when we come with our hands out and find ourselves in some kind of need, we good middle-class upstanding citizen types just expect others to do what we want and when we want it.

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