Summary: The clear demand of Jesus, seen against the spread of hunger in our time, is that we make lifestyle changes and that we understand that the Gospel calls for outward obedience as well as inner faith.
First Baptist Church, Gaithersburg, MD, March 9, 1980; with minor alterations at WHBC radio, June 28, 1981; Calverton Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD, Oct. 10, 1982; First Baptist Church, Camp Springs, MD, March 11, 1984; Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC, Oct. 13, 1985)
If today is an average day, statistically speaking, if this is a day much like all other days around the world, then in the time it takes for me to deliver this sermon, something like 140 persons will die of starvation. In this short span of time, about 140 people will find that their tired bodies, unable to feed upon themselves any longer, unable to find any food of lasting substance, will pass into eternity. Don’t start looking around and counting; the 140 will not include you!
Now some wit in the congregation might want to suggest that we shorten the sermon and thus save some lives, but I believe you know what I am getting at. I am talking about the appalling numbers of people in our modern world, our sleek, technologically sophisticated world, for whom the basics of life are absent. Totally absent, not just in somewhat short supply, not just across town at another supermarket than the one we normally use, not just temporarily out of stock, but totally absent.
The statistics of death and of hunger are truly staggering, and I suspect I could regale you with these the entire morning. I will not do that, but I do think we need to be sensitized again and again about this reality. We need to understand what hunger in this world is and what it means in a spiritual sense.
Listen: Each morning as the sun comes up there are something like 203,000 more mouths to feed than there were the day before. Living as we do in a county that was one of the first to achieve zero population growth – that is, to achieve a balance between the number of births and the number of deaths – it is a little hard for us to imagine the astonishing rate at which the world's population is increasing. And the tough part about this is that it is increasing more rapidly in those nations which are already starving than it is in the more developed portions of the world.
Listen: in India alone it is estimated that 30,000,000 people are to be classified as starving, as persons who will shortly die, because they do not have enough food even to sustain the barest thread of life. On top of that, another 60,000,000 are to be classed as malnourished; they will live, but they will pay a terrible price in order to stay alive. Because of poor nourishment, because what they have been able to scrape together to eat has been inadequate, they will have brain damage and will not live up to their potential; they will be subject to a variety of debilitating diseases and parasites and will therefore be unable to work, they will not be productive of enough in food or goods or services to feed themselves and their families and thus they will perpetuate and deepen the cycle of hunger. 60,000,000 malnourished in one country alone.
But that is only one nation. Listen: the United Nations estimates that 460,000,000 people come under the heading of acutely hungry, or permanently hungry. These are not folks who need to wait until they can grab a Big Mac and large fries; they are permanently hungry. These are not individuals who got down on their luck for a few weeks and had to exist on pinto beans and boiled rice; they are people who lack protein, who are missing vital nutrients, They are in some instances people who in order to raise funds are actually selling their own children, and they have to hurry to do so lest the child die before he or she can be sold! These are people who, in one village in Ecuador, rejoice when a child is stillborn, for at least that infant has become an angel in God's heaven without having to undergo the suffering of acute starvation.
But that, of course, is a little exotic. That happens in other places; that happens with other people, other cultures. That is far away and remote, and we are not fully equipped to understand it. Listen: Elsie DeFratus was an elderly widow living in St. Petersburg, Florida, just a little this side of heaven, right? The aim of the American dream, a sunbelt retirement. But Mrs. DeFratus, after paying her rent and her utilities, could budget only an average of 65¢ per day for her food. And as prices rose, she had less and less to eat. When they found her one morning her frail body had shrunk to only 76 pounds. The coroner's official diagnosis: malnutrition.