Keeping Perspective: Financial Crisis and Famine

Sermon notes from 19 October 2009 

 Epistle:  (2 Corinthians 9:6-11):     This I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of  necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness remains forever.” Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and      multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.

The cheerful giver –  What can we do to receive God’s love?   Be a cheerful giver.

It is easy to be a cheerful giver when the economy is good – we give from our abundance, and we give and it doesn’t hurt to give because we have more than enough.  Giving from our abundance often allows us to give generously to some extent because it doesn’t change anything in our lifestyle – we are giving a small portion of the abundance and have plenty left over to enjoy ourselves. 

But God does not teach us to give only when things are good for us.  God encourages a generosity even when times are tough, even when the economy has faltered. In times of economic crisis –  God still loves the cheerful giver.  The concern for others doesn’t stop because life has become financially tight.  The command to love – to be concerned about others – doesn’t stop because of a financial downturn, for the financial slump is exactly the time when generosity is most needed. 

The love of God awaits those who show generosity, bountiful giving, liberality. 

In the book THE HUNGRY ARE DYING, Susan Holman writes about the Christian response in 4th Century Roman Cappadocia when famine struck.   There had been a severe draught followed by famine.  In the agricultural economy of that time, this was not only a food disaster, but also an economic disaster like our current wall street fiasco.  And the response to try to solve the problem is very similar to what is being offered today:  tax relief was asked for all of the agricultural workers who were brought to near ruin by the draught.  The Roman tax system required for a region to come up with a certain amount of tax money – who they taxed and how  was up to the region.  Farmers bore an unusually high responsibility for paying these taxes in the agricultural economy.  But farmers had no money to pay taxes due to the draught and rather than try to shift the tax burden to others who were facing famine, the bishops appealed to Rome to forgive the tax debt.  Also it was decided that the local grain reserves which normally were to be shipped to Rome would be opened to the local residents to ease starvation.  In this we see the 4th Century Roman Empire attempting to do the same basic maneuvers that modern governments are doing to stave off financial disaster.

 As the famine spread, the church tried to help those who were suffering from hunger and the lack of food.   The rich had money to purchase and store food.  The Church appealed to the rich to open their storehouse – not to give away the food – but to sell it.  The Church offered to buy food form the rich to give to the poor.  But the rich afraid of the dread effects of the draught and famine were not willing to sell their stores of food.    There was not cheerful giving, nor were the rich willing to abandon their stinginess and hoarding ways.  Stinginess and greed are different sins – the stingy hold on to what they have even when they have an abundance while the greedy want to accumulate more even if they have too much.   The Cappadocian Famine was a time when the Church appealed to those who were fortunate to have some food to be givers – even if they couldn’t be cheerful.  St. Basil the Great said in a sermon in 304AD:  “Yet, one must add, such misfortunes of life by trial also produce spiritual maturity, that both poor and rich may be tried by difficulties, and each is rigorously tested by patient endurance.  Such trials prove, especially in times like this, whether the afflicted one is philanthropic, aware of community  identity, thankful, not blaspheming the reversal by letting life’s turbulence turn their thinking upside-down.”

Our own current economic crisis comes in a year when there was already a food crisis forming in the Third World.  While Americans fear their shrinking net worth and retirement funds, they are not yet reduced to the problems caused by the draught and famine which struck Cappadocia in the 4th Century.  The Christian response to such disaster was to remind people that God loves the cheerful giver, not those who are fortunate enough to be able to purchase and hoard food.

The scriptures however warn of even a worse famine than a food famine – “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,  “when I will send a famine on the land-  not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11).

The crisis of a famine of hearing the words of God, is certainly described in Jesus Parable of the Sower where he says that people cannot understand his words. 

Gospel:   (Luke 8:5-15):   Then the Lord spoke this parable:   “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. [6] Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. [7] Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. [8] Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” [9] Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. [10] He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’

Jesus spoke in Parables to challenge us to seek out not only the word of God but its meaning.  The parables are a challenge which says that a literal reading of the scriptures is not enough.  If you hold only to the literal meaning of the text, you will not have understood God’s meaning and you will be in the famine of which Amos prophetically forewarned.   The Parable of the Sower is not self-explanatory – we like the disciples have to seek out its meaning or suffer the famine for God’s word.

Why is the sower so careless with his seed – sowing it on rocks, on the walking path, where birds can eat it?   He is not careless, he is generous.  “…your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).  Christ’s sower is a generous giver and distributes freely to all.