G2A #9: "What Are You Going To Do About It?" – Luke 4-5; John 5
Earlier this week I attended a “Hunger Awareness” luncheon benefiting The Sharing Place - a material assistance agency in Lawrence Township.
The irony of having a luncheon to raise funds and awareness of hunger issues is not lost on me. While I served on the board of directors of a relief agency in Western Kentucky we tossed around the idea of having a fundraiser in which we promised to provide food with their donation but then not serve food, in order to really raise awareness of hunger issues. However, as fundraising ideas go, we all knew this was a really bad one!
The featured speaker at this week’s luncheon was a representative of an international corporation based in the Indianapolis area. This for-profit organization has a goal of addressing the issue of food security–the concept that our planet is not currently capable of producing the amount of food that will be necessary to feed the Earth’s population, particularly as we look towards the projected population of 9 billion by the year 2050.
The speaker gave a fairly polished speech in which he highlighted the problem, cited research, had engaging visual aides, and inspiring quotes. He assured us that the solutions to the problems of hunger and food security will come from inspired individuals and corporate innovation.
However, beyond the ideas of inspiration and innovation, the presentation lacked any concrete ideas of ways to solve the problems of hunger and food security. This bothered me.
The lack of concrete ideas or practical steps bothered me because it fed into my insecurity as a preacher. As a preacher I often wonder if I’m failing to provide practical steps we can address the problems of the world. As a preacher I am called to proclaim the good news of inspiration; I like to think of myself as innovative. Indeed, inspiration and innovation are essential; but they are worthless without action.
Perhaps the luncheon presentation would not have bothered me so much if not for the fact that it came on the heels of the news that comedian and actor Robin Williams committed suicide, that an unarmed African American young man was murdered by a police officer in St. Louis, that Middle-East religious extremists funded by extortion and oil profits are systematically and brutally murdering anyone who stands in their way–especially Christians, and so on.
Yes, inspiration and innovation are necessary tools to address the pervasive problems of debilitating depression, fear of the other, terrorism, and the unequal distribution of wealth and the Earth resources. But all the inspiration and innovation in the world aren’t going to make a bit of difference unless real people take real steps to affect real change.
It’s not our calling to feel sorry for people who live with depression so debilitation that they contemplate, attempt, and even succeed in ending their own lives. Rather, we are called to actually reach out to individuals who are suffering. We are called to nurture an environment in this church where honesty about our struggles and personal demons creates a place of healing without fear of isolation and shame. We are called to sit with someone in the darkness and gently remind them of the healing presence of Christ, without judgment, condemnation, or shame.
It’s not our calling to lament or cast blame for the amount of violence in our world today. Rather, we are called to identify the parts in our own lives and institutions where violence festers and grows. We are called to combat our fear of those who are different than us. We are called to see the other as a beloved child of God.
It’s not our calling to despise and hope for the annihilation of those who use an extremist and warped understanding of their religion as justification for murdering people of other faiths, cultures, and nationalities. We are called to pray for these enemies. We are called to see the ways in which we use our own faith as justification for hating, undermining, and exploiting people of other faiths, cultures, and nationalities.
It’s not our calling to rely on the inspiration and innovation of for-profit corporations to ensure that there is enough food on this planet so that everyone can have enough to eat. As people of faith we are called to grow and serve food to the hungry. We are called to stop hoarding food while others are starving. We care called to live simply so that others can simply live.
Inspiration and innovation are essential to solve the problems facing our world; but they are worthless without action.
God did not take on human flesh as Jesus Christ to provide us with warm, fuzzy feelings; nor simply to provide inspiration and innovation. Rather, God's flesh and blood existence established practical steps that people could take to make the world a safer, more equitable, and more affirming place for all people.
Jesus did not calm the storm in order to gain attention and show off. Jesus calmed the storm in order to prove that peace and confidence is possible in the midst of fear.
Jesus’ compassion towards the stranger, sick, immoral, and outcast was not a marketing or public relations strategy. Jesus’ unconditional compassion is a life-changing truth that extends to the parts of our own lives that are strange, sick, immoral, and outcast.
We, as believers in the way, the truth, and the life, have been given incredible freedom through our forgiveness; we have been equipped by the creating and redeeming Lord to move beyond our sense of worthlessness and inadequacy to work towards creating a safer, more equitable, and more affirming world for all people.
I’m reminded of a parable by Søren Kirkegaard. He describes a town where only ducks live. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in the proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes its place, then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible. He reads to them:
“Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles! No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings and you can fly like birds!”
All the ducks shouted, “Amen!” And they all waddled home.
Jesus was not a cheerleader, a motivational speaker, or a hawk of corporate innovation. And Jesus was certainly not a waddler.
Jesus was a revolutionary, an activist, a do-er, a difference-maker.
This is a call to action.
– pick up the phone and call someone who you suspect might be dealing with depression, and offer words of kindness and hope;
– turn off the partisan, inflammatory 24-hour TV newscasts and radio programs that stir up irrational hatred and fear;
– pray for those who seek your harm;
– think someone who you may have injured or offended and seek forgiveness (even if you think you were in the right);
– learn about how your food choices impact the world and strive to reduce your impact on the earth’s resources so that others can have enough;
I would like you to think about one concrete, real-life, practical action you will take that God could use to positively impact the world. I’d love for you to share it with me, but even if I don’t know what your one concrete, real-life, practical action will be, I will certainly be praying that you will find the strength, courage, and confidence to see that idea transform into a powerful and graceful action.