One book at a time, we can change the narrative, change, the statistics, change some lives…
My church heard the call issued by our conference Poverty Taskforce to make an impact on generational poverty through literacy. All year, some of us have volunteered as reading buddies at Hillis Elementary and we have worked since Christmas to try to purchase FIVE BRAND NEW BOOKS for every student there.
It has been shown that having less than 25 printed items in a home is an indicator of poverty.
Prisons are built based on literacy at the third grade level.
And because a love of reading sparks imagination, creativity, and helps students succeed.
Last Thursday, our church delivered all 2,346 books to the school and the students got to pick out their own in a free book fair. It was one of the most amazing things I have experienced in my life.
It is hard to imagine the impact that one day and those five books will have, but I know and trust and believe that each one is a seed planted that will change a life.
Thankyou, Immanuel UMC for your generosity. Thank you, Hillis and especially Erin McGargill for helping us and being open.
My friends and family play this game called “Would You Rather…” It sets up silly and sometimes serious scenarios and you have to decide which of the two you would rather do. It’s good for parties… it’s good for car rides…
And it’s good for getting to really know someone.
Would you rather live in a place that was always very hot or a place that was always very cold?
Would you rather swim in a pool of marshmellows or a pool of M&Ms?
Would you rather go without the internet or a car for a month?
Would you rather be poor and work at a job you love or be rich and work at a job you hate?
With our children in just a minute, we’ll talk about how King Solomon is faced with a “would you rather” question of his own.
God comes to Solomon in a dream and basically asks what is the one thing that he wants to receive… what is the one blessing that he wants to sustain him for the rest of his life.
Would you rather have wealth or power or love…?
Or would you rather have something else?
Solomon quickly answers with the one thing he both wants and needs… “Give me your wisdom so that I can help your people.”
If you are anything like me, when faced with a kind of “would you rather” question about the one thing I want or need, my thoughts first went to the things that I need in my life for daily sustenance.
And because we live in a world that is run by money… maybe that is what I would ask for.
But how much? How much money is enough?
Enough to provide daily bread for my family?
Enough for a rainy day?
(For our time of confession this morning), I want to invite you to turn to a neighbor and answer this question:
How much do you need to provide daily bread for your family? Or to put it another way, what does it cost to put food on the table for one week in your home?
How much do you need to provide daily bread for your family?
It is a question we all wrestle with…
whether in Norway
or Des Moines.
Today, as we think about our daily bread… as we think about breaking bread with people all across the world today, on World Communion Sunday, the stark differences between what is available and what is needed in these various places across our world is astounding.
The needs and concerns that any given family have are so varied.
I recently joined the Board of Directors with DMARC, the Des Moines Area Religious Council. Today, one of their major focuses is on food distribution in Central Iowa.
And what I have learned is that the need that surrounds us, right here in Polk County is great. Many families… many working families… don’t have enough to put daily food on their tables.
Solomon was King David’s son and when his father died, he became the ruler of the land. He wasn’t a perfect person and he often was focused on things other than God.
But God came to Solomon in a dream one night with a simple offer: “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”
Whatever you wish.
He could have asked for palaces of gold, or a thousand wives, or to rule the world…
But he found himself in this new position of power and responsibility and he had one request:
“Give me, your servant, a discerning mind so that I can govern your people, so I can tell good from evil, and so I can take care of your people.”
What amazes me is that Solomon didn’t see this one wish, this blessing from God, as a “I” request… what do I want or need.
He saw it as an “US” request… what do we, God’s people, need.
He asked for wisdom.
He asked to be fed, not with the daily bread of grains and wheat, but with the daily bread of the Word of God.
He asked for something that would bless all the people.
Today, we are kicking off our month long series focusing on John Wesley’s simple advice for our finances… that we should earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can.
And I think that as we start to explore Wesley’s advice, he starts in the same place as Solomon.
Over the next few weeks we will discover that he encourages us to find joy in the money we make, but to do so in ways that benefit the well being of others and ourselves.
He will encourage us to be frugal, to not be extravagant or wasteful and to save as much as possible.
But the goal of both of these is always in service of the third…. To give all we can.
To make a difference in the lives of other people.
To serve God by feeding the people, visiting them in prison, taking care of the sick, giving clothes to the naked.
Wesley encourages us to do just what Solomon did…. to shift our focus away from what me and my family needs and to think bigger…
What do God’s people need?
What kind of wisdom and discernment and truth is required in order to take care of one another?
What is needed, here in Polk County, in order to survive?
Above is a basic budget that details the cost of living in this county in Iowa… a comparison of the basic expenses that a family needs in order to provide a simple home and daily bread for their family. (from www.iowapolicyproject.com)
As the demand for food pantries and assistance in our community has skyrocketed in the last few months, I was wondering why until I saw this chart.
If you look at the final column, you will see that a family of two working parents with only one child needs to make at least $44,639 a year in order to meet these basic expenses.
That means that together, with both working, they each need to make at least $10.50 an hour.
The minimum wage here is $7.25.
If you work full time on these wages, you simply cannot make ends me. It is impossible.
So I wonder what it means to ask for daily bread and daily wisdom in Polk County, Iowa today.
I wonder what it means to ask for daily bread in Mongolia and Ecuador.
And I pray that God would give us the wisdom to ensure that every family has enough, as we gather around the table this morning to break bread.
Yesterday, our family was boating on the Cedar River and we pulled into this little cove we like to visit. Often, in the summer, it is full of people, but since it was cloudy and cool with sprinkles here and there it was calm and peaceful.
Another boat pulled up with two little girls inside… twins, five years old.
They hopped on the shore to play in the sand, but that water was just too tempting.
First their toes dipped in.
Then the ankles.
And then there were squeals as they ran back to the safety of the sand.
After a few minutes of this back and forth, they held hands and jumped in together.
They reminded me of mornings at my grandparent’s lake house.
We’d start out the day by putting on our swimming suits and after a rushed breakfast we’d run down to the dock and dip our toes in.
But the water was so cold that early in the morning none of us was ever brave enough to do it on our own.
The only way we got wet before noon is if someone pushed us in…
or if we grabbed someone else’s hand and we did it together.
Today, we, too, are diving in.
We are diving into a series on prayer.
For some of us, prayer is as scary and daunting as the ice cold waters of a lake. We like to dip our toes in, but we run back to the safety of the shore as quickly as possible.
Others of us are more familiar with prayer. We make prayer part of our daily lives like swimming laps at the pool.
But here is what I have learned about prayer… just as I have learned about diving into the waters… it is always easier to do with a friend.
And, as Jesus taught us in the most basic prayer, it is something we are supposed to do together.
In fact, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he taught them a very simple prayer without any singular personal pronouns.
Let’s say that prayer together… Our Father…
Not once we do we say, “I” or “me”… it is always “us” or “we.”
And that tells us a little bit something about our faith and our life of prayer together.
OUR FATHER: It’s not my father… it’s our father… we are brothers and sisters
GIVE US TODAY OUR DAILY BREAD: our faith is based around the table… we pray for daily doses of love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, but we also practically pray for real food and sustenance to be given to our brothers and sisters. And we become Jesus to one another when we provide food and assistance through our food pantry and when we pray for hunger relief.
FORGIVE US OUR SINS: not just personal sins, but corporate sins: economic justice, our greed, ignoring the cries of the needy. In Iowa, there are 117,000 children living in poverty. And it is a sin that we have allowed that to be a reality. God calls us to respond to the needs of others and when we turn our backs, we need to confess that sin and act.
As the United Methodist Church of Iowa, we are committing ourselves to respond to poverty and reach out to help support and educate our young people. Our Bishop has challenged us to donate 500,000 books to children in poverty and to commit to 1,000,000 hours of reading to children who are in the most need in our communities. And we will be talking about ways to engage in this work in the coming weeks and months. Together, we can help change a child’s story. Read More Here
AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO SIN AGAINST US: read the story of Farmer’s Chapel UMC, forgiving their arsonist and inviting them to worship (pages 20-22)
SAVE US… DELIVER US… We are in this together. We pray for one another, we hold each other accountable. We watch each other’s back. Like recovery groups that provide partners and support, a place where you always know there is someone else on this journey with you, we are that for one another.
Matthew 18: When two or three are gathered, I am there…
Turn to your neighbors. As two or three people, I want to invite you right here and right now to pray for one another. You don’t have to have a specific prayer request in mind, but turn to each other in prayer and lift up those who are closest to you right now…
On the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, a lot of people are talking about dreams today.
Dreams for racial equality. Dreams for unity. Dreams for access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Dreams for our children. Dreams for reconciliation. Dreams for a future with hope and freedom, love and peace.
As I read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech again today, I was struck by how focused on the American experience it was. Never before in my reading had I noticed how every word is intertwined with a sense of national identity and a prophetic reality check on our history and at the time, present conditions. Or rather, I had always taken that piece of the address for granted. The American experience encompassed my worldview. This country is my country. It is the place of my hopes and dreams. This is the place where they are realized.
Only, in the last year, my eyes have grown wider.
I’m dreaming different dreams.
I’m looking beyond borders to the needs of my brothers and sisters half a world away.
And so I read those words in a new way today.
Today, I’m thinking about the injustices of a world in which WHERE here we live determines IF we live.
In my work with Imagine No Malaria, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to get my friends and colleagues and brothers and sisters in Iowa and the United States to think about the lives of folks who do not live in this place.
I am trying to help them understand the “fierce urgency of Now” – the need for action, the need to take the momentum in our global fight and step on the accelerator so we can truly overcome this global disease that is taking so many lives.
Our fight is not necessarily against racial injustice, but we are battling a disease of poverty. We are working desperately to overcome systemic problems of access to care and education and resources. We are working with those whose very fight with the disease keeps them trapped in the poverty that puts them most at risk.
In our work with Imagine No Malaria, we have placed our feet firmly in the promises of Ephesians 3:20… that God will do far more than we can ask or imagine by his power at work within us.
So we are raising our voices and dreaming prophetic dreams, too.
We imagine a world in which WHERE you live doesn’t determine IF you live.
We imagine a world where mothers tuck their …children in at night under bed nets and no longer worry for their safety.
We imagine a world where 655,000 deaths a year are prevented because we have taken action against malaria.
We imagine a world where illness and death do not keep families from fulfilling their dreams for education and work and stability.
We imagine a world where United Methodists from every nation stand together, united, to overcome disease by putting God’s abundant resources into the places where they are needed most.
Our work does not end with our imagination any more than the dream of Dr. King ended with the words said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
God works through us… in us… God accomplishes great things because we stand up and speak out and choose to turn our words into actions.
Just as his speech was a call to action and solidarity, a call to “never be satisfied” until the dream is fulfilled, I am spurred on to keep going, to keep preaching and speaking and working until we watch those deaths from malaria diminish to zero.
The work of the United Methodist Church in Imagine No Malaria is not the same challenge as overcoming oppression and injustice. It will not lead us into clashes of power and the resistance we find will not be water hoses and dogs and hatred… but we still have to work together. We still have to be willing to step out of the comforts of our position in order to give sacrificially to make the dream a reality.
We still have a kingdom dream, a dream of brothers and sisters of all hues living full and abundant lives, working together, praying together, struggling together.
We dream not of a nation, but a world, united by God’s love and sustained by God’s redeeming power.