Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Poverty Rates and A Holy Meal

   Last week, it was reported that Georgia had the third-highest poverty rate in the country at 18.7 percent, with more than 1.8 million people counted as poor.  Last year, according to Census Bureau figures, Georgia’s poverty rate reached its highest point since 1983, as stubbornly high unemployment and the housing crisis put intense pressure on strained finances. The figures include 61,000 more Georgians than a year earlier, and left our state with the third-highest rate among US states (read more here in the AJC). I serve a church that is growing people who want to change these numbers for the good.
   Jesus said the poor will always be with us (see Mark 14). Why? Is it because some will always make bad choices that move them into poverty? Is it because there will always be circumstances, beyond our control, that will strain what people have in the moment? Is it because our competitive human nature will always create systems that result in winners and losers, even when entire households are counted as the latter? We don't know, exactly, but one ancient Rabbi did suggest our sins contribute when he said, "If thou shalt obey the words of the Lord, there shall not be a poor man among you: but thou wilt not obey; therefore a poor man shall never be wanting among you" (Rabbi Ibn Ezra).
   The first New Testament churches included those who were lacking in material possessions or monies. It was among entire crowds of varied peoples that the Spirit gathered the first converts to the teaching of Christ as the crucified and resurrected Son of God. The historical book, Acts, tells how members within the church would share with each other because not everyone had enough on their own.
   Later, as the church continued to sort through how its life together will look and operate, we read Paul's first words on celebrating Holy Communion. They are recorded as words of sacred practice and brilliant theology. He is instructing the church that every person should be included. It seems some people would rush to the meal they shared as a part of worship in order to eat first and have plenty, which left others out (see 1 Corinthians 11). There in the middle of Paul's instructions that shape how we still today celebrate this sacrament, we find poor people. They are always with us. Often, they are us.
   On this first Sunday, when the global church celebrate World Communion Sunday, may our eyes be opened to how connected we are, how best we can include each other, and how poor we remain apart from the grace of Christ. I encourage you to be present in worship this Sunday to celebrate.

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