What does life look like post graduation from graduate school? I am about to find out!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

God Help the Outcast

I got the opportunity to preach today for the first time in a very long time. It went great. Here's the text of my sermon for those who weren't able to be there in person! Scripture texts are Genesis 1: 26-30 & Luke 14: 15-24

In the beginning, God created everything there was to create in just six days. From the waters to the skies to the land beneath our feet and the trees that tower over us. Yes, God made everything. And yet, God entrusted us with the land that God had created. God told us that it was ours to preside over and take care of. God believed that we were capable of taking care of the land, the trees and the animals. God believed in us.
So, that begs the question then? How have we done with taking care of the Earth that God has entrusted to us? Are we doing a good job of taking care of it? If God were giving us a grade, would we get an A or an F? Or something in between?
Well, I don’t think it is any secret that we definitely won’t be receiving an A rating anytime soon. With all the global devastation that has been caused by humankind over the centuries, it almost seems like we would receive a failing grade. Climate change, extinction of species, polar ice caps melting, the destruction of the ozone layer, food waste, landfills and the list goes on and on and on. 
So, yeah, we aren’t exactly doing the greatest job of taking care of our planet. That’s pretty clear. But how are we doing at taking care of each other? In our passage from Luke, we hear Jesus tell the parable of the great banquet in which guests were invited to dine with the host of the dinner but they each declined for various reasons. Angered by this, the host instead asks his servants to bring in all the homeless, the disabled and all those who wish to have a meal to eat of his feast. 
It’s a pretty powerful story and one can easily picture that banquet table filled with guests of all ages and disabilities. I live in the Tenderloin so it would be as if I walked around the streets of the Tenderloin and invited all the people I saw on the street to come have dinner at my house. All the drug dealers, the addicts, the homeless and the mentally ill gathered at my house for dinner. Something tells me my roommates would probably not be ok with this idea!
How does this relate to what I’m talking about today? It gets to my larger point that we have a problem with food. Specifically, with the ways in which it is distributed and the ways in which people can access it. Did you know that enough food is produced every day for every single person on the planet to have enough to eat? So why is it that 42 million people just in America are considered food insecure, meaning they have to skip meals or go without eating sometimes? If enough food is produced to feed all the people who need it, why are there still people who hunger? 
This church has a long and proud history of being involved in these issues of food inequality, food scarcity and food justice. Our new food pantry is but the latest way that we as a congregation are dealing with these issues. If only that were enough, though. Sadly, it is not food pantries alone that can solve the problem of hunger. Volunteering at soup kitchens and food pantries and homeless shelters and other programs is not enough to solve the problem. It requires support from both the state and the federal government. 
Last week, the White House announced a new federal budget and it was immediately subject to controversy. Among the many things facing cuts are both Meals on Wheels and school lunch programs. A supporter of the proposed budget said that the cuts were because those two programs don’t see results, whatever that means. In his best selling book, God’s Politics, author Jim Wallis says “Budgets are moral documents. They clearly reveal the priorities of a family, a church, an organization, a city or a nation. A budget shows what we most care about and how that compares to other things we care about. So when politicians present their budgets, they are really presenting their priorities.” So, we now know what our new administration’s priorities are: war, the military and a wall. And we also know what their priorities are not: feeding the elderly and the poor. 
Our Lenten theme this year comes from the prophet Amos who says, “let justice roll down like waters.” Amos was very critical of his country for their treatment of the poor, the downtrodden and the destitute. Jesus also makes it very clear that we are to love and support those who do not have the same benefits and resources that we do. And in the creation story, we hear that God tasks us with taking care of God’s creation which means not just the plants and animals but also each other. The Biblical witness is full of times when God expresses what theologian Gustavo Gutierrez calls God’s preferential option for the poor. This means that God and Jesus often shows up in ways that highlight the poor and downtrodden and that God has a special affinity for the poor. We can see this all throughout Scripture; in the Prophets with their wailing against the nation of Israel for how it treats its poor; in the Gospels with Jesus and his ministry to the outcast and downtrodden and in so many other places all throughout the Bible. We see and hear how God’s love is especially for the poor and unlucky, the weak and the odd. 
Thus, as Christians, it is part of our very calling to speak out against cuts to programs like Meals on Wheels. It is an act of justice to stand up and declare that any budget that cuts out meals for seniors or children is unjust and unChristian. It simply is unconscionable that anyone could think that this budget reflects anything approaching Christian values. A program that helps millions of seniors eat and brings them a visitor or two is not something that should just be cut and taken away. These programs provide a vital service to society. Their results? Keeping seniors alive and fed and giving them some company for a few minutes every day. For many seniors, the meals on wheels delivery people are the only human interaction they get all day. To take even that away from them is not just cruel, it is inhumane and we must be willing to call it that. 
But lest you think this sermon was only going to be about #45 and his cruelty, let me pivot a bit to talk about the wider issue of food justice and how it impacts our lives everyday. Did you know that around 40% of all the food produced is never eaten? Did you know that 23 million people live in what are known as food deserts meaning that they have to walk at least a mile in order to find healthy, affordable food options? There’s so many things wrong with both those scenarios. It seems radically unfair that so many people do not have easy access to fresh, healthy food and must live on unhealthy, high sugar meals that only cause them all kinds of health problems. Meanwhile, those of us with access to fresh, healthy food either don’t buy it or do buy it but then are forced to throw it out due to lack of use. 
Both of these are a problem and let me emphasize that one is not worse than another. Both represent a failure to appreciate and support God’s creation. And both also do not extend the hospitality that Jesus tells us to extend toward our neighbor. Cutting Meals on Wheels, wasting food, letting people live in food deserts are all ways that we, as Christians and as people, fall short of glorifying God and appreciating God’s creation. This isn’t simply a problem of our country’s administration or our elected officials. This is a problem that all of us have been complicit in, in some way. And that means that it is up to all of us to address the problem and fix it. 
What does that look like exactly? Well, many times it can and does look like volunteering at your local food pantry or donating food to the food bank. It can look like offering to make a meal for your local homeless shelter or volunteering to serve meals with Meals on Wheels. But there’s so much more to it than that. Real change, the kind that lasts and makes a real difference comes not just from volunteering but from activism. We have to be willing to take bold steps no matter how uncomfortable they might make us. I’m not going to stand up here and tell you what specific actions you should be taking because that comes off as shaming and I certainly don’t want that to be what comes across in my message today. However, there is more that all of us can be doing to address the structural problems of food inequality and food insecurity. What that might look like is going to be different for each and every one of us based on our abilities, our skills, our interest levels and our time commitments. 
My main point is that all of us can contribute something to the conversation around food justice. And as followers of Jesus, all of us should be doing something. Can you march or participate in a protest on food justice? Can you write to your congressperson and ask them what steps they are taking to address hunger in America? Can you provide a meal for your local homeless shelter? Can you boycott businesses that aren’t paying their employees a living wage? Are you willing to shop at your local farmer’s market rather than a big chain store? I’m not suggesting that you need to do all of these things. Nor am I suggesting that you need to do any of these things as there may be some way you can contribute that I didn’t mention. What I am saying is that our Biblical witness calls us to do the work of justice no matter what that may look like for us. All of us can do something, no matter how small or insignificant it may appear to be to us. Trust me, it will make a huge difference to someone else. 
God entrusted us with God’s creation and God believes in us still and in our capacity to fulfill God’s promise on that. We can still choose who we want to invite to the table and who we want to stand up for. God’s preferential option for the poor is the clarion call we should heed to help the poor and the outcasts. The ones that society has cast aside are exactly the ones that we should be helping the most. We can do nothing less as Christians. I leave you with the words of Oscar Romero who served as the Archbishop of San Salvador and was assassinated 37 years ago this very week. He says, “There are not two categories of people. There are not some who were born to have everything and leave others with nothing and a majority that has nothing and can’t enjoy the happiness that God has created for all. God wants a Christian society, one in which we share the good things that God has given for all of us.” May we strive to make it that kind of world. 

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