The Hungry at Our Door

The local news website We Are Iowa reported yesterday that business is booming at local food pantries. When business booms at the mall, I suppose that is a good thing overall (aside from the spiritual morass of consumerism). When business booms at the food pantries, it is disconcerting because it means there are more and more folks who just can’t make ends meet. We started our own food pantry here at Holy Trinity so folks would have one more day a week to access help. We have seen a steady increase in clients for the pantry and our assistance program.

Now, before you wonder about whether these food pantry “customers” deserve the handouts, or are “worthy” of such grace, I would point you to the sculpture of the homeless Jesus on the bench below. The only way you can tell this is Jesus is by the nail scars in his feet (hard to see in this photo). The caption says it all. Jesus stands with the poor, the hungry, the disadvantaged, and even the undeserving. I am as undeserving a character as you’ll see and I have enough to eat. So, as the meme says…

 am-worthy-poor

I expect that this trend toward busier food pantries will continue until our culture, our nation, our leaders manage to pull our collective heads out of… um… ah… the sand about the economy. Look at the way costs associated with living have grown since 1978:

inflation-comparison-growth-1975-2012

Note that food prices have grown 243% in that time period. Now look at what you and your neighbor have likely seen when it comes to paying for that food:

income trends since 1978

If you are fortunate enough to fall into the top 5% of wages, your wages have grown 52%. If you are with 90% of your neighbors and friends, your income has risen only 16%. When it comes to the growing hunger problem, as one former president liked to say, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Today’s food pantry shopper is not always indigent, living in their car or receiving government assistance. They are, more and more, middle class moms and dads caught in a world where only a handful of folks get better off and the paycheck – which never seems to get bigger – just won’t buy the food the kids need.

We help the hungry in our community through the HTLC Food pantry, support of DMARC and the network of food pantries they support. We help with the Love Lunch program in Ankeny that makes sure hungry kids get lunch in the summer and we work with Backpack Buddies during the school year. We support the ELCA World Hunger Appeal – one of the most efficient hunger organizations in the world – to aid, assist and advocate for people as close as Des Moines and as far away as Africa and Asia. But it looks like we are going to need to push to do more, my sisters and brothers. Especially since the hungry at the door are becoming, more and more, our neighbors and folks who sit in the pew with us in worship.

In Matthew 25, Jesus blesses those who saw him hungry and gave him food, even though they had no idea it was Jesus. They didn’t recognize him because he comes to us laying on a park bench, in a soup kitchen and at the food pantry. That we feed any who show up means we heard Jesus’ command to love. That we feed the hungry at the door means we feed Jesus himself, every single time.

The Worthy Poor?

Jesus said, “…for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)

As the thunder thunders and the rain falls outside, I find myself thinking about this verse from Matthew. If you have water in the basement or a lake where you backyard used to be, you may not think of rain as a blessing right now. Sunshine? Absolutely. Precipitation? Not so much. The point of the verse is that good things (sunshine) and bad things (more rain) come to people regardless of their worth or standing; no matter whether they earned them; and in spite of whether they are good or bad people – however we determine that. Maybe the reason that the verse sprang to my head as the drops fell against the window was because I also have had on my mind the response to poverty in our culture. All too often I hear things like, “We should support the poor, as long as they deserve the help;” or “We don’t want to create dependency in these people and help them too much, after all, they made their bed…” It is a fallacy that there are worthy and unworthy poor people, just as it is a fallacy that there are worthy and unworthy rich people. The sun and the rain fall on everyone.

I encountered a good article on the subject by Scott Dannemiller – check it out: There’s No Such Thing As The Worthy Poor | The Accidental Missionary.

poor jesus statue

Jesus is the one who reminds us how wrong we are when we start judging the worth of other people. The statue of “The Homeless Jesus” (you can only identify the body on the bench by the wounds in the hands and feet) is pulled from Matthew’s gospel too. When we see people who are worthless, Jesus is incarnate in and through them. That’s what he said. “As you do to the least of these you do to me.” “I was hungry and you… I was in prison and you…” The artist has a series of such works:

thumbs_jail-ms-new-thumbnailthumbs_thumbs_whatsoever_you_do

http://www.sculpturebytps.com/large-bronze-statues-and-sculptures/religious-statues/statues-of-jesus/

You see, you can’t dismiss anyone because Jesus died for them and is united in death and resurrection with them. We are all unworthy. It is Christ who grants us worth by sharing himself with us.

Ever since I first saw the Homeless Jesus, I have thought that the forsaken figure should be on the bench in the north side of our church. It would remind us that we don’t only meet Jesus inside the church, but we often walk right past him on the street in the guise f a person we deem unworthy. Today, we would look out and see Jesus on the bench in the pouring rain. I think of that and my heart breaks. Jesus on that bench beckons us to come out in the rain and walk in his reign with him.

We are a congregation that proclaims our “open arms.” Today, that has to lead to a wet embrace. – Peace to you.