Sunday, 21 August 2011

'...the least of these...'

Pentecost 10 year A Sermon 11   
Title slide
‘If you suddenly found yourself without family, food, shelter, or money…
long would it take you to find all of these, given the actual circumstances of your life?’

blank slide
How long to find some food…

What about a place to sleep

And once you recover from the shock of losing everything…
How long to find something to do to earn you some money…

Well here’s a challenge from a South American pastor who works with people in that situation.

Egypt slide
Now having heard what Claudio has to say let’s listen to the Old Testament reading set down for today.

Exodus 1:8 - 2:10  [Michael Hyndman reads]
Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us
and escape from the land."

Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

Shiphrah and Puah slide
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah,"When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live."

But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?"
The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them."

So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his
people, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile,
but you shall let every girl live."

Levite woman slide
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months.

Basket slide
When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river.

Moses found slide
His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it.

When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him,
"This must be one of the Hebrews' children," she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Yes." So the girl went and called the child's mother.

Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, "because," she said, "I drew him out of the water.

[Diane resumes same slide]
Suddenly at the tender age of three months… as far as baby Moses is concern…
there’s no family, no food and no shelter. So when we consider Moses’ circumstances
against what we heard in that video…who in Moses’ story needs a friend?
Who acted as friends? Was Pharoah a friend?
What about Shiphrah and Puah?
What about Pharaoh’s daughter?

Here’s another question…do you think the welfare of Hebrew children… was a political issue in ancient Egypt?
Did people take sides? Did they vote with their feet?
And where was God in all this?

Child and fridge
In the past few weeks, the welfare of New Zealand children has grown into a major political issue…and those advocating for the poorest children in our land…say the problem
isn’t due to the policies of one political party…but to decisions made by successive governments…
over the past 25 years.

The sad thing is that when we hear stories of kiwi kids having red soup for tea and
coming to school without breakfast…sometimes our reactions are harsh …
we want to find someone to blame…Have you ever heard anyone say…
‘some people just shouldn’t be allowed to have children’…or
‘well if they didn’t spend so much on alcohol and cigarettes …then others ask enraged…
'how come investment bankers get millions in bonuses and tax cuts…
when kiwi kids are going hungry?' 

Others will blame the government of the day.
But did they raise their voice during the last elections?

Regardless of the causes
I hope we can all agree on one thing… like baby Moses
no kiwi kid is responsible for their own poverty.

I hope you’ll also agree that were we to model our communities on the early church… we’d be pushing for collective responsibility to ensure all children…regardless of circumstances…
have the best possible opportunity to thrive.

OECD slide
The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development which embraces 25 industrialized democracies including New Zealand…assesses its members on six dimensions of child well-being.
Reveal all
Material well-being… Health and safety…Educational well-being…Family and peer relationships…Behaviours and risks and their own subjective well-being. And the OECD says there
are significant inter-relationships between these dimensions

And as you can see… material insecurity… is only one measure …
but it has a predictable impact on the others five… particularly when poverty is intergenerational.  

We can easily see how our children’s emotional and physical health would be affected by poor nutrition… as well as their achievement at school. And we can surely intuit… how a life of poverty could affect their aspirations…their self-understanding and their relationships…

but what we’re only beginning to understand is our deprivation impacts on our children’s
risk taking behaviour and prospects for employment. It’s not just about whether children are clothed, housed, fed and protected but whether they’re disadvantaged in ways that make it
difficult or even impossible for them to ever participate fully… in the life and opportunities of the world around them.

Even the OECD wants to know if children feel loved, cherished, special and supported…within
their family and community… and whether families and communities are supported
by public policy and resources. And believe me there are children… right here in our mountain paradise… who don’t feel loved and cherished and supported.

There’s a sense in which the ecology of childhood is changing. Even here where few are
materially disadvantaged … childhood is being reshaped by powers and principalities whose motivation certainly isn’t… the best interest of our children.

In our recent Acts series we learned a the key difference introduced by the Christian community
to the caste system of the Roman Empire… was equality… between Jew and Gentile…
slaves and free…men and women… as far as the Body of Christ was concerned…equality meant sharing resources and giving everyone the same status, and the same welcome…
as Paul said 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism'…

And though Christians can be found from Stewart Island to Kaitaia…our impact on community
life needs a bit of a fire lit under it because right here in the land of the long white cloud…
children live in deprivation…without the basics …good food and warm clothing…
children turn up to school cold and hungry and unable to learn…failure in their families or at
school can lead to feelings of worthlessness and affect their confidence
for years to come.

It’s time for the Christian community to re-gain a degree of understanding and control and
direction over what’s happening to all kiwi kids in their most vital and vulnerable years. It is our  prophetic calling to do this. In the past it would have been great if we’d acted to prevent the widening gap between rich and poor.

But today we must act …not just because we’re compassionate and merciful…
but because we’re now afraid [pause] of the future nightmare… that could come from ignoring the children in our nation…

London message slide]
Examination of the root causes of recent violence in England has given us all a wake up call.
During the riots… a young British blogger named Umair Haque wrote,
‘The convulsions of violence that wracked London and other British cities… seem to have
exploded overnight…but I'd bet those of us living here know…that fuse has been long burning.’[i]

Wracked from end to end by riots and looting, England is starting to admit the existence of
hidden fault lines in the culture…underneath news chatter about police brutality and parental responsibility… fear is emerging… that some kind of social contract has been ripped up.

Haque writes…If you accept the possibility there are many kinds of violence —
not merely physical,…but emotional, economic, financial, and social… Maybe the real social contract being offered by our society goes something like this: "Some kinds of violence are more punishable than others. Blow up the financial system? Here's a state-subsidized bonus or bailout. Steal a video game? And you're toast."

…and there are many kinds of looting. There's looting your local supermarket — and then 
there's… looting a bank, a financial system, a corporation...or an entire economy.’ [pause]

The bedrock of the early Christian community…
was shared property and possessions…shared wealth
As Dr Luke wrote…
‘All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.’ And Luke reports that people like Ananias and 
his wife Sapphira…disgraced themselves… by hoarding stuff just for themselves.

Meanwhile the Roman Empire was saying…look…
power comes from looting, plundering , and enjoying the rewards of conquest.  Maybe the same could be said of the powers and principalities operating before the recessions of 87 and 08.

Our young blogger calls it 'the logic of opulence'… centred on more, bigger, faster, cheaper,
nastier, now. And he thinks this glittering, unattainable feverish dreamseems to have driven
the rioters mad. As one told the Guardian newspaper, "Why are you going to miss the
opportunity to get free stuff that's worth loads of money?"

He believes…‘when the rule of law is visibly and easily flouted by the rich…it usually ends up…
being seen as laughable …by the poor.’ And my friends… the eye of this perfect storm… is
extreme income inequality…

England’s rioters were mostly children…like the children in our news this week … some of the rioters went to school hungry when they were younger. Do we want our cities to be places where
so many young people feel they're finished before they even start?

Homes without work are a huge predictor of future problems. In the UK as in New Zealand…a perpetual trade deficit means there just aren't enough jobs to go round.

Girl slide
The problems of youth underemployment, marginalization, and inequality are so pervasive…
more and more economists are pointing to a lost generation…predicting social instability…
across the board… And if we didn't know what a lost generation looks and feels like before
well, we sure do now.

And so here's the challenge…for New Zealand and for the world…to create an ecology of
childhood that reflects the ideals of Jesus Christ… a true sharing of resources …and friendship…for children whose mothers have opted out…
for sons of single mums without any healthy male role models…for girls who need to learn what
it’s like to be safe around men…Christians in New Zealand need to rise to this challenge…
so a lost generation may be found.

So let us ask ourselves is poverty in New Zealand hidden, or are we just looking the other way? Are we… our brother and sister’s child’s keeper and friend? And will we be a friend
to kiwi kids at the polling booths in November?  Can we ask ourselves what the ecology of childhood would look like were New Zealand truly Godzone? And how could we transform it by what we demand from our leaders?

As a church here in the Upper Clutha we’re trying make a difference through our family
connections manager, Kathy Dedo, our two mainly musics and our mentoring programme for year tens at Mount Aspiring College.

slide NZCCSS And you may not know it… but it’s the mission of the New Zealand Council for Christian Social Services… to advocate for policies and services that build strong families and communities.

Our own Presbyterian Support is part of them…You can tap into any of their resources on line or ask me to help you get them.

As an individual Christian there are many ways you could be a friend to for a child outside your family through Presbyterian Support?  You could be a Buddy or a Guardian Angel…did you know outside of Government… Support is the largest provider of social services in New Zealand.

kids can slide
Another way you can share friendship and resources is to sponsor one of the twenty thousand
kiwi kid’s on the KidsCan list.  Official charity for the All Blacks…KidsCan’s trying to level the playing field for our children…providing  the basics most of us take for granted.

River slide
My prayer is that with the help of the Holy Spirit we won’t look the other way …that we will hear the call to be a friend…as we live the way of Jesus.  Let us pray…