So, our Gospel reading presents us with a bit of dilemma. Last week, Jesus told us not to worry about the future, because God gives us what we need for today. And right after that, in the part we didn’t read, which comes right before today’s Gospel, Jesus said that God takes care of the lilies in the field and the birds in the air, and so God must take even better care of us, who are children of God. Which is all well and good. As I said last week, God gives us “this day our daily bread” as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.
But today we have Jesus following all of that up with “sell your possessions, and give alms.” Which is kind of a puzzler, don’t you think? If God gives each of us our daily bread––Martin Luther himself was very clear to point out that God gives this daily bread to both the righteous and the wicked, to everyone, whether they ask for it our not––so if God does this, why do we need to sell what we have and give alms? Jesus is clearly acknowledging that there is a population that is in need of alms and charity, but if God is giving everyone their daily bread, why are there people out there who don’t have any? If God is truly caring for God’s creation, as we say God is, why are there starving people in the world? If God gives us what we need for daily survival, graciously and as a gift, why do 3 million children under the age of 5 die every year due to malnutrition and starvation? God gives everyone their daily bread, so why do more than 66 million children go to school hungry every day? How come, in Canada, 1 in 6 children go to school hungry because there’s not enough food in their house for breakfast? What’s going on?
Well, there are two possible answers. One possibility is that God does *not* in fact give daily bread to everyone. And there are a good many people who think this way, and can we blame them? When you hear that God will take care of you and then you find yourself desperately searching the house for change to see if you have enough to buy supper for your family at the dollar store, which, by the way, I myself have done in the past, then you begin to doubt the church’s proclamation that God gives us our daily bread. It’s easy to believe God sends your bread when your tummy is full, and your fridge is, too. Less so when you contemplate sending the kids to bed early so you don’t have to explain why there’s no bedtime snack even though supper was only PB&J sandwiches. So that God does *not* give daily bread to everyone is one possible answer, considered by many hungry people. But I don’t think it’s an answer that will satisfy us, here, today.
There is a second possible answer, although I’m not sure it will make us feel any better. The second answer to what’s going on with this disparity between food given and food eaten is this: maybe God *is* giving daily bread to each and every person on this planet, but somehow it’s being intercepted. God is giving it, but some people are taking more than their fair share. They’re taking what belongs to someone else. God’s will is being thwarted. By us.
Now, I don’t think we like to hear this. I think that most of us think that we are generally good people. None of us are actively out there stealing food from poor people. We’re not hijacking delivery trucks or torching agricultural fields, and we’re not responsible for setting market rates on food. We’re good people. But... Martin Luther (him again!) tells us that obeying the Ninth Commandment, the you-shall-not-covet-your-neighbour’s-house commandment, means that “we do not try to trick our neighbours out of their inheritance [daily bread, in this case] or property or try to get it for ourselves, ... but instead be of help and service to them in keeping what is theirs.” (The Small Catechism) Luther is basically saying that we obey the commandments when we help our neighbours to receive their daily bread, which they’re given to by God, and that we disobey the commandments when we don’t help. Which means that, even though we don’t steal food from the tables of others, if there are people around us going hungry and we’re doing nothing about it, we’re still breaking the Ninth Commandment. We are the reason that people aren’t getting their daily bread. We are the reason Jesus finds it necessary to command us to sell our possessions and give alms.
Because there is actually enough food on the planet to feed everyone. Everyone could have three healthy meals a day. This is a reality. It does mean, though, that we in Canada would have to drastically scale back our own food consumption. Do we really need to go back for second helpings at the buffet? Do we really need dessert? Do we really need cookies or cake with our afternoon tea or coffee? (Do we really need coffee?) How much food do you throw out a week because it went bad in your fridge before you got the chance to eat it? I really appreciate that the other congregation brings plastic tubs of bread and pastries from Cobs Bread to share with us, but really––those tubs should be outside the doors of the church, not inside them. My kids don’t actually need those very tasty sticky buns that I like so much. There are people who walk by the doors of our church on Sunday morning who are in far more desperate need of that bread than we are.
Now, I know that the answer to world poverty isn’t as simple as all that. “Don’t waste food because there are starving children in other countries” is not actually a sound global food policy. Distribution of food and access to it are issues, for example. But while we should be realistic about the complexity of the problem, we also should not make excuses. We in North America consume more than our fair share. Of everything. Of food. Of water. Of clothing. Of energy. Of consumer goods. We just do. And we keep silent about it because of the cost to ourselves. We don’t advocate for restrictions on food consumption because it would mean giving up our oranges in the middle of winter. We don’t push for stricter global emission reductions because it would mean rolling blackouts year round. But Jesus is talking to us when he says, Sell your possessions and give alms. And we are like the young rich man in the Gospel of Matthew who, when Jesus says that, walks away sorrowful because he has so much to give away.
And so we try to play down what Jesus says. We say, “Oh, well he doesn’t really mean sell every single thing. He just means the extras.” Or we say, “Well, God will make things right when the kingdom comes for real.” We get uneasy, for a bit, and then we numb that uneasiness with more consumption––there’s some irony for you––and we remember that God loves us no matter what.
And here’s where I’m stuck. Because it’s true that God loves us no matter what and forgives us. But it’s also true that because of the First World, or the Global North, or the privileged West––whatever you want to call it, because of us, people are starving. So how do we live in this tension, knowing that even though our sin of taking more than our fair share and breaking the Ninth Commandment and thwarting God’s daily bread is forgiven, it still brings about the death of others? What does God’s love and promises and forgiveness have to do with all of this? What do we do? With our over-consumption of food, and goods, and energy, what do we do? What do I do, in my too-large house, with my two cars? Well, I fret, and I worry, and I drive a Prius, and I donate to the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank, and I feel guilty, and I judge myself, and I try very hard not to buy more than we need, and I pray. And I’m sure that you do similar things. And I know that it’s a start, but is it enough?
The hard truth is that it may not be. There are 66 million children who won’t have eaten breakfast today. But there’s one more thing Jesus tells us to do, and it’s the one thing that can strengthen our wills to obey the Ninth Commandment and protect everyone’s right to God’s daily bread. Jesus tells us to love. Love your neighbour as yourself. God loves us, showers love on each person in the world, just as God does daily bread. But some babies, and children, and even adults, even though God has given them enough love, have not felt that love because someone else has taken it away. Someone has intercepted that love and twisted it into hate, and then that is all the baby, or the child, or the adult experiences. There are so many people in the world who have not experienced love, and I would argue that it is the lack of love that has led to the lack of food and daily bread. But we can love. If there is one thing we can share, it’s love, because if there is one thing that the more we share it the less afraid we become, it’s love. God’s love. God’s love for us, expressed to us through Jesus Christ, is so gracious and so abundant and so overflowing that we can share it with every single person we encounter. We can open our hearts and love every person we meet with God’s love, because we know that we have more than enough for each person to have in abundance. The more we share it, the more there is! And in receiving and then sharing God’s love, we are given the strength to sell our possession, to give alms, to reduce our consumption, to act so that others receive their fair share. To act, in faith, as Christians. That is the power of God’s love––it created the world, it redeemed the world, and it strengthens us to restore the world.
Jesus means what he says, “Sell your possessions and give alms.” And so this sermon ends on a somewhat sorrowful note. We know what needs to be done, and we know that we will likely never fully obey Jesus’ command to us, and that people will die as a result. But we have hope. Hope in the power of God’s love to transform hearts and strengthen wills, and faith that God showers that love on each of us, without limits, so that one day, we too might be fully transformed and that not only might God “give us our daily bread,” but “God’s will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Thanks be to God. Amen.