Preach from Church Action on Poverty Sunday // 11th Feb 2018 // 10 & 11.15 services at TRINITY
available to listen here
So – Church Action on Poverty Sunday
But this is Lewes right?
You could be forgiven for thinking that Lewes is home only to those who can afford the exorbitant house-prices and to shop at Waitrose every week, as many assume.
Sometimes when I talk about some of the things we are doing here I get comments like, oh but Lewes doesn’t have to deal with poverty does it? or homelessness? it’s such a rich area?
You might be surprised to know that research done in 2016 suggests that over 20% of children in the Lewes district are living in poverty.
And yes we might say ‘well compared to inner city or really deprived areas that’s not much’ but frankly even 1% is too much if you ask me.
But if we put that that statistic into figures for actual lives that means across our district around 3865 children living in poverty.
Now, yes of course poverty here does not look like the pictures we see of people starving, or refugees living in tents, in other areas of the world, but it still has a big impact on those living around us.
For example, according to Department for Education statistics, by the end of primary school, pupils receiving free school meals (available only to those from very low-income families) are estimated to be almost three terms behind their more affluent peers.
Children from low-income families are more likely to die at birth or in infancy and are more likely to suffer chronic illnesses during childhood, or to have a disability.
Link: effects of poverty: http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/impact-poverty
And it’s not just about children, if they are living in households with low enough income to be classed as ‘in poverty’, then so are their parents or carers. And this is happening right here on our doorsteps, in our communities, not in a foreign land but perhaps even with our own neighbours, friends, or those we worship with on a Sunday.
So what does this mean for us, as Christians, as a church and as neighbours?
Well we know the bible talks about loving our neighbour and helping the poor but what should that actually look like? Here’s just a couple of examples:
In Luke 3:11 John the Baptist tells the crowd who ask: what should we do?
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
And in Isaiah 58 God talks to Isaiah in a vision, saying:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
One of the focus points for this Church Action on Poverty Sunday is to think about those on the margins. Because Jesus went to and was there for and made a point of being with those on the margins or edges of society, didn’t he?
He healed those who were thought to be ‘unclean’ – not just from a distance but he was with them, touching them, being compassionate towards them.
He refused to stone the woman caught in adultery along with the temple leaders, – as most of society then would have agreed was the right thing to do, the right punishment. Instead he acted with love, and with peace and challenged their right to judge her.
He went to supper with people like Zaccheus, a tax collector and a dishonest one at that, that people truly hated and yet Jesus chose to go to his house to eat with him and we can read how that transformed Zaccheus’ life.
And then today we come to the Canaanite woman. It’s such an interesting story this one, challenging really – because not only does Jesus seem a bit harsh – uncharacteristically so, but she seems to question Jesus and he appears to change his mind.
So what’s going on?
Well we need to remember when reading this that Jesus came first for the Israelites. His calling was specific, and through Jesus, God is at last fulfilling his promise that the longed for kingdom is beginning to appear. So, in going against that Jesus would have been speaking against God’s plan, almost implying God had made a mistake. Israel has to hear the news first and then and only then, would his word, and his new life, be brought to the rest of the world.
BUT, what we are seeing here with this woman, is the future breaking in to the present. Jesus knew the gospel would be for all people, but at the right and appointed time. We read in the great commission at the very end of Matthew’s gospel, after Jesus has risen that he tells the disciples to:
go and make disciples of all nations….
So we know it is coming, just not yet.
And we know Jesus has withdrawn, perhaps to rest – in Mark’s account of this story he suggests Jesus was trying to get some time to himself:
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.
And then this crying woman appears.
Please, help me?
She’s crying out, desperate, her daughter is sick – can we imagine what she’s going through? Her daughter needs help and she believes Jesus is the only one who can help – she’s not going to give up easily. She keeps on crying out – the disciples are clearly getting a bit fed up by now and want him to send her away. Finally Jesus responds – and I don’t see this in an angry or authoritative way, I see it with his usual compassionate, but perhaps a weary tone, almost an apology:
But.. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
She humbles herself further, perhaps recognising his compassion, his love, in his response and kneels before him – throwing herself on his mercy
Lord help me
He replies: (compassionate….)
It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs
This is tough isn’t it, calling her a dog?
an insult? Yes but perhaps not quite as strong as we might think, dog was a slang phrase used by the Jews of the gentiles.
Perhaps he’s saying (calm worried tone) but my hands are tied, this is not what I’m here for – you are not who I’m here for. I’m here for the Israelites…
And then – she gives him a way in – is she being clever? Or is it the desperation – I’ll take anything, even a crumb? Or perhaps she’s humbling herself as far as she can, receives what could be an insult and embraces it for herself? Or does she just get it completely:
If Israel is the promise-bearing people, then Israel’s Messiah will ultimately bring blessing to the whole world. The dogs will share the scraps that fall from the children’s table.
Wright, Tom. Matthew for Everyone: Chapter 1-15, Part 1 (p. 201). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
And in that moment it’s like Jesus suddenly recognises he can do something, she has such great faith, that is enough and he heals her daughter.
Tom Wright describes the situation as:
The disciples, and perhaps Jesus himself, are not yet ready for Calvary. This foreign woman is already insisting upon Easter.
Wright, Tom. Matthew for Everyone: Chapter 1-15, Part 1 (p. 201). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Here she is, a woman from the very edges of the world he inhabits, they share nothing in common, she is a Canaanite – hated by Jews (and the feeling was mutual), an enemy almost, and yet he listens, he hears her voice, what she needs and he responds.
And more than that – Jesus saw people as they were, as beloved children of God. It’s not them and us, it should just be ‘us’.
So what about us? What are the things around us that we know one day will be healed in God’s kingdom? What about the situations of injustice? Of chains and slavery? What are those things that will one day we know will be turned around, but that actually we are responsible for calling into the present? Just like the Canaaanite woman…
Can we imagine a time when no one needs to go hungry? When no one needs to come to a foodbank just to survive? A time when no one needs to sleep on the street? Or to sit at home in the dark and cold because they can’t afford to put the heating on?
Well, why not imagine that now? Let’s listen to those voices crying out for help and actually listen like Jesus did to the woman. And then respond. Pulling a little bit of God’s future kingdom into the now.
Jesus made those who were overlooked visible, and he gave them hope. This Canaanite woman the disciples wanted to send away, Jesus saw past their desires and gave this woman and her daughter a new life.
When we listen to the voices from the margins, we need to see both pictures. The now and the not yet. We had Paul young from OTF come a few weeks ago to talk about homelessness and someone pointed out there are such deep needs, that is providing a meal or a sleeping bag just exacerbating the problem? His response was, we’re working on the longer term stuff, the things that can address the underlying problems, to get people off the street once and for all. But that takes time, so in the meantime we address the immediate needs. Food, shelter, warmth etc
And when we listen to those in need we need to do the same. Address the immediate needs? Support the foodbank that can help people in immediate need for example, but we also need to work towards a society that won’t need foodbanks, or homeless shelters, or befriending schemes…
When Jesus was with people on the margins he did just that. Look at his life and what he did – he fed people, healed them, listened to what they needed, but he also knew the bigger picture. Gave them a hope, showed them the kingdom, the promise of an amazing future.
Our churches are called to follow Jesus’ example: to listen to voices from the margins and make them heard so that things can change. That’s what Church Action on Poverty’s campaigns and projects are for.
So for us here in Lewes, Who are the people on the margins today and how can we reach out and be open as Jesus did? How can we listen to them and hear their needs?
Firstly, let’s recognise that we’re all the same, we are all children of God, whether we know it or not. We are in this together – not as I said earlier, them and us – just US.
You know this week we had an informal memorial for a young man who had died from an overdose. A tragic loss that hit our street community hard. On Friday night a group of us gathered to remember him. We were in that moment united – those in smelly unwashed clothes, and others in Boden. The heroin addict alongside the vegan. A grieving mother, drunks, a Buddhist, a Vicar, united in that moment. It was so powerful.
Why does it have to take things like that for us to realise we are all the same. And let’s not kid ourselves. it really doesn’t take much to slip off the radar, to drift into a life we never thought we would… an illness, losing a job, it can happen so easily to any of us.
At a conference I was at last year the speaker (Chuck Parry) said that
“Love is the ability to connect, to find the amazing things in each other…”
Everyone has amazing things within them, if we just take the time to look and to listen.
So see people for who they are. And if we can’t understand a situation, let’s not pretend we do. We have to be with people to know what they need. We’re good at assuming things aren’t we? So for example, if you’re going to take a cuppa to someone sat on the street, why not ask them first what they want? What if they don’t like coffee!? I have heard attitudes like ‘well they should be grateful for what they can get’ – that’s not very loving or compassionate is it? And if someone offered you a coffee and you don’t like it, you’d ask for something else, would you mind if I had tea instead…?
Or the foodbank – Neil mentioned this last week in our family service – please don’t take baked beans and pasta to a foodbank locally – they are inundated with them! And also don’t just empty your cupboard of what you don’t want. Find out what is needed – ask your local foodbank what they are short of.
Toiletries, nappies, deodorant, sanitary towels. Essential items to help someone maintain their dignity.
And that’s some of the immediate needs locally but what about the longer term?
When you are with people what are you hearing that they need? Does someone need help getting work, do they need mental health support? Can you help direct them to professional help or advice?
Or is it the structures that are not working? – Neil suggested last week we could write to our councillors or MP about some of these issues – I know one person had a response! Well done Ian – did anyone else bother?
Or maybe the systems just aren’t in place to help people – what can we do to help put them in place? Do we have a role in that as individuals or as a church?
///// coming to end…
So let Jesus be our example – let’s not be afraid of being with those on the edges of our society. Spend time with people who might be struggling, and then listen to them. Really listen – hear what they are saying, like Jesus heard what the Canaanite woman was saying even though she didn’t fit with what he was called to do.
Then, respond from that place of listening and understanding, pulling a little bit of God’s future kingdom into the now.