Once every three or four months at my church, I get to give the communion meditation. This is a short speech to prepare the congregation to take communion. It’s supposed to focus on some element of what communion is or how communion is tied to the fulfilling of certain promises in the Bible or how our remembering our Lord’s life, death and resurrection informs how we live our lives. Last Sunday was my week. I’d like to post a weekly meditation whether I get to deliver it at church or not, but here’s last week’s (slightly edited) to get started:
Have you ever sat down and tried to define poverty? What it looks like? What it means to be poor?
I’m reading a book right now called ‘When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself’ by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.
In their attempt to define poverty, the authors survey people in North America and the Western World. We Westerners tend toward a focus on the material, so in our answers we generally focus on purchasing power, income level, things like that. However, when the World Bank conducted a survey of the poor in the Majority World, their focus was elsewhere. Here are some of their definitions and descriptions:
“For a poor person, everything is terrible–illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.” — Moldova
“When I don’t have any [food to bring to my family], I borrow, mainly from neighbors and friends. I feel ashamed standing before my children when I have nothing to help feed the family. I’m not well when I’m unemployed. It’s terrible.” –Guinea-Bissau
“When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family.” –Uganda
Material things like food and water are mentioned, but the answers the materially poor around the world gave themselves focused more on psychological issues: the feelings of shame and of worthlessness, feelings of failure and hopelessness.
And so the definition that these guys offer in their book is this: “Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of ‘shalom’ in all its meanings.” The Hebrew word ‘shalom’ means peace, but not just a peace that’s the absence of war or turmoil–not a neutral peace–but a peace involving completeness, fullness, well-being.
So poverty is the result of the absence of that in our relationships. And the authors apply this principle not just to the materially poor around the world, but to everyone’s relationships: our relationships with ourselves, with our communities, with the environment and with God. You can be poor in all these areas in different ways because each of these relationships can be broken. And because if that’s what poverty is, then to alleviate poverty is not a matter of wealth transfer from rich to poor, but a matter of fixing what’s broken in each of our lives.
The obvious question, then, is how do we fix the brokenness? How do we alleviate this poverty that affects all of us on some level?
We know intuitively that the best solution to broken relationships is reconciliation. To understand where we might start in reconciling our broken relationships, consider 2 Corinthians 5:18-20: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
So it’s to reconciled relationships that I call you this morning. Not by your own effort, but by God’s work of reconciling us to him in Christ. In Christ, he does not count your sins against you. In Christ, you can offer this freedom to others as Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through you. So this morning, let’s eat and drink reconciliation to God together as people who have every right to be poor, but who find themselves continually feasting in the King’s banquet hall. And may the same grace that reconciled us to our King give us the power to seek the shalom of our brothers and sisters and the world.
I didn’t get to show this video, but it’s a good two-minute intro to the idea of poverty alleviation through relationships: