Yesterday’s sermon was really an interview sandwich.
Yeah, the message had an opening, followed by an interview with Sue Bruce of Loaves and Fishes, followed by a concluding challenge.
Here it is. Food Network Solutionists with this bottom line:
Move on what you are moved by.
The message led to another one of our Radical Impact Projects — this time, our congregation left church with empty grocery bags that they will return next Sunday filled for distribution by Loaves & Fishes.
Well, it’s interesting to think of those things that MOVE us, isn’t it? Those situations or presentations that stir up emotions, that make us either supernaturally buoyant or righteously indignant. Some things move us to tears. Like there’s no reason this should, since I didn’t even go to college there, but it does:
Or the the I Have A Dream speech on the MLK weekend, the Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! from President Reagan, the “Never give up” from Jim Valvano just weeks before he died. All of those and I get a lump in my throat, a verklepmf in my spirit. I am moved. Emotions stirred, passions risen, adrenaline flowing.
And then other things, don’t they, move you towards a righteous indignation. When your team gets cheated. When you see a documentary about human trafficking. When you see the next atrocity by ISIS. When you see a child abandoned or a pet abused. And in those situations, your emotions get stirred and passions rise and adrenaline flows, but in an altogether different direction. And yet in all those scenarios, the question becomes: what do Solutionists do when MOVED BY something? Especially when that which moves them calls out for some kind of intervention, some type of restitution?
Which brings us back to Nehemiah, the original Solutionist. By way of reminder and/or introduction: the section of the library is memoir, the year is 445 BC, and the first problem needing his solution is rebuilding the wall of a city in ruins. Yet in the middle of the flurry of that activity, a secondary problem crops up. (Isn’t that the way it always works? You work hard to fix one thing and in that process something completely different breaks?) Take a look at Nehemiah 5:1-2:
Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. 2 Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
Doh! What’s going on? Well, a lot of people in the area have taken time away from their family farms to help Mr. Nehemiah (!) rebuild his precious wall! They took FMLA but there was no social safety net! So with no one to work the farms, the families in question were left without any food. On top of that, look at 5:3:
Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
So a famine had hit even IF all the families were working. Which they weren’t.
And then, worst of all, look again at 5:1, 5:5, & 5:7:
Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews.
5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”
7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!”
“Own people.” The Jews – a beleaguered minority just trying to get back on its feet – were cheating each other! There was a duel between the haves and the have-nots and, predictably, the haves were winning. Only in this case their victory came through charging usurious interest rates. The have took advantage of their oh-so-vulnerable brethren by offering sub-prime mortgages cluttered up by confusing loan documents, and the result was a mass of foreclosures. The irony, in 445 BC, was that this was exactly the kind of mistreatment of the poor that led to the Babylonian exile 150 years earlier . . . which was when the wall got torn down in the first place. So even though the exile is over and they’ve been brought home, they are repeating the same sinful oppression that got them punished in the first place. Oy vey! All in all, what a mess: Nehemiah wants to build a wall & now he discovers that he has got to quiet a rebellion.
Which is why 5:6 means everything to me:
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.
When I heard . . . I was very angry. You know what that means? He WAS MOVED by it! He heard the cries, assessed the situation, and he felt the mess of the people. His emotions were touched, his adrenaline began to pump. Like you when you see something about human trafficking, like you at the film where the starving children have distended bellies, like you when a pet’s abused, he was moved. Which is why we’ve got to see what he does next, right? What should he do? What would we do? Establish a study committee! How Methodist would that be?! Set up a consciousness raising tour! Build a web site! Start a think tank! Even: begin a prayer vigil. Nope. None of that.
Instead, look at what Nehemiah does in 5:7:
7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them
I pondered AND THEN I did. His next step required only the briefest of reflections. He didn’t need to study, to analyze, or, dare I say it, even to pray. He uses his unique powers of persuasion to rally people and then to get them to DO. Look at 5:11-12:
11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.”
12 “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”
So: we’re going to stop usury, we’re going to start feeding, we’re going to make the changes we need to be making to fix the situation. And what I love most is the short distance from emotion to action, from feeling to doing, from indignation to correction, from diagnosis to delivery. Here’s the deal: Nehemiah WAS MOVED by the plight of the hungry, vulnerable Jews. But he didn’t stop with what he felt. He moved on what he was moved by. And that’s the idea today for all us would-be solutionists in the house: Move on what you are moved by.
See: Nehemiah didn’t raise awareness. He raised an army. He didn’t wring his hands. He opened them. He didn’t feel sympathy. He embodied helpfulness. There was such a short synapse between what he felt and what he did, and that brevity summarizes his whole genius. And here’s why I like this story about food in the middle of a memoir about a wall: because even though we are beginning an expansion here (and it will involve walls!), we have an issue in our fair city that doesn’t deserve our sympathy; it mandates our generosity.
And here is where I interviewed Sue Bruce, who let us know that:
- Loaves & Fishes served 78,000 Charlotteans last year, enough to fill Bank Of America Stadium, and 48% of those were children;
- The average monthly income of their clients is $1,027.
- One in four North Carolina children are “food insecure.” That puts our state in the bottom 10% in the nation.
And listen: in the wake of all that, your sympathy never feed a single person. Your emotion never filled a plate. Your adrenaline never poured a glass. Your generosity does. You judge yourself by your intentions; hungry people tend to evaluate you based on your actions. So this week, I don’t want to raise awareness here. I want to raise an army. I don’t want you to wring your hands; I want you to open them. In Charlotte, NC, we are no so much dealing with distended bellies as we are with disrupted hopes and diminished brains. That’s what hunger-as-a-way-of-life does: robs you of your hope by inflicting injury on the brain. So it’s not like people are dying on the streets here; but we have an opportunity to make an enormous difference in their future. Not with our sympathy. With our generosity. Move on what you are moved by.
Because get this – you are related to a lot hungry Charlotteans by blood. You don’t necessarily share Jewish heritage like Nehemiah’s Jerusalem haves and have-nots. No, but a lot of the folks we’re talking about in this city – especially the children – are victims of forces beyond their control. And they are Xns. That’s how you are related to them by blood. It’s not a matter of nationality or neighborhood but the Nazarene. Just like Nehemiah rails against the leaders, asking “how can we treat our own people like this?” that’s what we’re faced with today. Christians who HAVE food have an opportunity to share it with those who DON’T.
Because we don’t want to be like that Methodist of an earlier generation who was known for starving the people who worked for him while stuffing the visiting preachers who came to his estate. Nope, there’s too much at stake for that. More at stake than just hollow stomachs. There’s the reputation of the Lord.
Which Nehemiah also alludes to in 5:9:
9 So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?
See, Nehemiah knew that not only was the reputation of his people at risk, but the name of his God was as well. When the people of God are hungry and marginalized, then the name of God is as well. And the flip side is that when God’s people shorten the distance between diagnosis and delivery, when they stop wringing their hands and start opening them, then the fame of God grows. We don’t engage simply for the church’s reputation or even for our own but so that God’s name will be known through our actions. Move on what you are moved by.
And because this is so elemental and so vital, we are making it simple for you. Not easy on you. Simple for you. Here’s what we’re going to do this week. We’re going to become solutionists for the scourge of local hunger. Working with our friends at Loaves and Fishes and our partners the scouts, we’re going to hand out these empty grocery bags with these instructions on them. That’s today. What you do is after taking an empty bag today you return it next Sunday filled. The sheet will tell you what kind of food products to include. It’s not easy. It is simple. It doesn’t take a lot of reflection. It is saturated in action. I’m not asking you to feel a bunch of sympathy for hungry children. I’m asking you to put feet on the sympathy you already have. I’m asking you to move on what you’ve been moved by. Just like Nehemiah. Take it home empty. Bring it back full. Not complicated. But not easy, either. Move on what you are moved by.
Because the bottom line in 2015 is the same as Nehemiah 5. We can be solutionists. It’s interesting. In the aftermath of WW2, the Allies had to establish orphanages throughout Europe. And here’s what’s fascinating: at most of those camps, the children were well-fed. But they could not sleep well at night. They’d been through so much trauma and uncertainty, that they were restless and afraid. And so an Allied psychologist came up with an ingenious idea: give each child a slice of bread at night – not to eat, but to hold. (Now: if they were hungry and ate it, another would be provided.) And the results were pretty astounding. The children began to rest peacefully. The sensation of holding the bread gave them a sense of security and hope. Let’s give that same security and that same hope and that same bread to the children of our city. Move on what you are moved by.