Sharing Food with the Hungry
Preacher: Catherine Staziker, Cathedral Reader (2006-2010)
18 March 2007, 15:15 (Lent 4)
Isaiah 58: 6 – 7 (Year C)
“Set my people free” and Isaiah’s proclamation
Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice. Let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry. Open your homes to the poor.
have set the theme for our Lent programme here in the Cathedral this year.
We have reflected on these words in relation to human rights, building a better world, and Adrian reflected in our broadcast service, two weeks ago, on injustice. Next Sunday marks the 200th Anniversary of the 1807 Act to abolish the slave trade.
Just what did those abolitionists do?
They took on the political and economic establishment of the day. They went against the culture of the day. They endured pain and suffering for a cause which their Christian consciences told them was right. They knew that their Faith and Trust in God was of no value without a practical response. A very able priest, Thomas Clarkson, campaigned tirelessly with the abolitionists and, as a result, was hindered in preferment by no other than his Bishop!
Those who campaigned were not critics who condemned slavery from their armchairs. They were active. They were “doers” who demonstrated their Christian faith in the most practical way possible. And we commemorate their courageous work in bringing about a different and better reality, despite the opposition, not only from society but from the Church. The passion of these Christians for justice and love of their neighbour and their loyalty to Jesus really did bring about a momentous change.
The high profile of this anniversary and the surrounding publicity should be seen as a great beacon of hope to Christians. It demonstrates what can be achieved and built on when people take the Christian Gospel seriously. To take the Gospel seriously, and speaking out as a result of this, comes at an enormous cost, even death. Think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero, not to mention all the unnamed Christians whose faith has led them to fearless action in the cause of justice. Think of Jesus Christ on the cross.
So what about Jesus? What did he say?
The whole of his teaching can be summed up in the words “Love your neighbour as yourself
Convinced of God’s mission and calling for him, he took Isaiah’s proclamation to the extreme, fully accepting the consequences of his actions. He was courageous and outspoken. He talked, when we might have kept quiet, He offended powerful people whom we might have cultivated, and cultivated powerless people who could do nothing to advance his career.
He gave up emotional and physical comforts, for the insecurity of life as an wandering preacher. He acted and spoke against the culture of his day. He fought for justice.
This is the way the Church is called to be. This is the way WE are called to follow. This is not without cost.
So, what are we going to do to make a difference? Make a difference to the lives of people
who live in conditions of enslavement today People who live in extreme poverty and hunger?
More than 12 million people still live the lives of slaves, in bonded labour, in child labour, or by being trafficked as prostitutes. Every day 24,000 people die as a result of hunger.
How are we going to bring about justice in our suffering world?
Jesus’ axiom “Love your neighbour as yourself” sounds rather less daunting than Isaiah’s decree but, in fact, it boils down to exactly the same thing. The dignity, love and care of people is what matters, and especially those who are vulnerable.
Yesterday my gardener arrived unexpectedly and before he went outside asked what I was working on. “Sharing food with the hungry,” I said. Interestingly he came back an hour later having thought about this – “very patronising phrase”, he said.
But what he missed, and what we often miss, is that in feeding the hungry, in looking after the poor and the vulnerable, we are called to share with the “blessed” – this is what Jesus called this group of people. People rejected and let down by the rest of society.
In fact, true sharing has to be two-way. On the occasions when I’ve been there for someone in need, I have often felt at the end of the encounter that I am the one who needs to say “thank you.” The spirit of love and sharing is hidden in poverty, brokenness and grief.
Henry Nouwen says that
“without this mutuality of giving and receiving, mission and ministry easily become manipulative... When the giver receives and the receiver gives, the circle of love, begun in the community of the disciples, can grow as wide as the world.”
May our prayer and our hope today be that one day all who pray for their “daily bread”, might receive it.
Let us pray
O Love, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others;
open my ears that I may hear their cries;
open my heart so that they need not be without comfort.
Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,
nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
and use me to bring them to those places.
And so open my eyes and my ears today that I may live and work to serve you and my neighbour. Amen