Most loving God, as your desire for mercy for the poor is unrelenting, may we be unrelenting in our pursuit of mercy for all; as your compassion for the suffering of the poor knows no limit, may our hearts overflow with compassion for all; as you long for justice for the poor, may we strive for justice for all. Open our eyes to the structures of oppression from which we benefit, and give us courage to accept our responsibility, wisdom to chart a sound course amid complexity, and perseverance to continue our work until it is finished. Breathe your life-giving Spirit afresh into your Church to free us from apathy and indifference; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Prayer by the Rt. Rev. Jeffery Rowthorn)
On this Super Bowl Sunday, as we along with many others participate in the Souper Bowl of Caring, collecting money and food items for those who can’t even afford a cup of soup, we not only think about those in need in our country but around the world.
In 2010, Bono of U2, wrote about the role of the MDGs in our world, he said, “The United Nations’ “Millennium Declaration” pledged [in 2000] to “ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people,” especially the most marginalized in developing countries. It wasn’t a promise of rich nations to poor ones; it was a pact, a partnership, in which each side would meet obligations to its own citizens and to one another.”
We have been such a partner. Teaming up with the Diocese of Lebombo in Mozambique, I have seen first hand the transformation taking place in communities in which we and others have partnered.
Our own Bishop Ian Douglas wrote about such support networks and the role of the MDGs. “As Anglicans then, as members of a family of 38 regional or national churches, in 164 countries with close to 80 million members, the Anglican Communion is one of the single best networks to foster and advance the movement to achieve the MDG’s.”
The MDGs aren’t just goals for governments or churches, but they are goals of life for all the people.
Again in Bono’s words, “The 2000 gathering agreed to specific goals on a specific timeline: cutting hunger and poverty in half, giving all girls and boys a basic education, reducing infant and maternal mortality by two-thirds and three-quarters respectively, and reversing the spread of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. All by 2015… If the M.D.G. agreement had not been made in 2000, much less would have happened than has happened. Already, we’ve seen transformative results for millions of people whose lives are shaped by the priorities of people they will never know or meet.”
In my small tour of Mozambique, I saw a nursery school built, wells dug, medicines distributed. I saw many different people who benefited from our connection and also the enormous need that still remains. But that wasn’t all, with such help with the basics of life, I was blessed to see new churches in the works, new Christians too, priests pastoring the people and administrating the sacraments, catechists teaching about the faith, parish nurses keeping the faithful healthy. Even in the midst of such need, there was a deep faithful joy that was alive with the Spirit of God.
Our partnering with Mozambique in those MDG, we are doing the work of our faith. Again in Bishop Ian’s words, “too often we Christians working to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals hide our light under a bushel. We neglect to name our motivation in the MDG’s as an outworking of our faith in Jesus Christ and God’s saving work in the world.”
We have joined in that Godly work, and recently, we raised somewhere around $1700 for mosquito nets to help combat malaria through the Diocese of Lebombo and its churches and people.
But even as we celebrate such achievements, we need to remember that there is much work to be done. A recent NY Times article said this, “Out here on the endless swamps, a harsh truth has been passed down from generation to generation: There is no fear but the fear of hunger. With that always weighing on his mind, Mwewa Ndefi gets up at dawn, just as the first orange rays of sun are beginning to spear through the papyrus reeds, and starts to unclump a mosquito net. Nets like his are widely considered a magic bullet against malaria — one of the cheapest and most effective ways to stop a disease that kills at least half a million Africans each year. But Mr. Ndefi and countless others are not using their mosquito nets as global health experts have intended. Nobody in his hut, including his seven children, sleeps under a net at night. Instead, Mr. Ndefi has taken his family’s supply of anti-malaria nets and sewn them together into a gigantic sieve that he uses to drag the bottom of the swamp ponds, sweeping up all sorts of life: baby catfish, banded tilapia, tiny mouthbrooders, orange fish eggs, water bugs and the occasional green frog. “I know it’s not right,” Mr. Ndefi said, “but without these nets, we wouldn’t eat.” Across Africa, from the mud flats of Nigeria to the coral reefs off Mozambique, mosquito-net fishing is a growing problem, an unintended consequence of one of the biggest and most celebrated public health campaigns in recent years.”
The article goes into the deep and complex ways that hunger and malaria live out in people’s lives. I know in the diocese there, there is a lot of education that goes with giving the nets to families. One wonders if we need to raise funds for fishing nets too so families don’t have to choose between fish or mosquitos. (Fish Nets regularly go for $50 – and most families are leaving on or near a $1 a day.)
As we listened to scripture this morning, it is the prophets who remind us of our responsibility not to neglect the poor, whose words still inspire us today. As one author put it, “Prophets envision and proclaim how God’s goals for the world are relevant to the world we live in the present.” (Steven Harmon)
It is Moses who reminds us that it is we who asked for these prophets, prophets who are raised up among us who help us see what God is calling us to do.
We have talked about MLK Jr. and his role here in the US. Well before the MDGs, I think of his words to us: “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, quality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.” Sounds like a call to support the MDGs and to reach out to people everywhere.
One of those raised up in Africa was Wangari Maathai. In 1971, she received a Ph.D. and became the first woman in either East or Central Africa to earn a doctorate. She grew up in Kenya, Maathai sought to end the devastation of Kenya's forests and lands caused by development and remedy the negative impact that this development had on the country's environment. In 1977, she launched the Green Belt Movement to reforest her beloved country while helping the nation's women. "Women needed income and they needed resources because theirs were being depleted," Maathai explained to People magazine. "So we decided to solve both problems together."The movement is responsible for the planting of more than 30 million trees in Kenya and providing roughly 30,000 women with new skills and opportunities. Maathai also challenged the government on its development plans and its handling of the country's land. An outspoken critic of the Kenyan dictator, she was beaten and arrested numerous times. What had started out as an environmental movement quickly became a political effort as well. "Nobody would have bothered me if all I did was to encourage women to plant trees," she later said to The Economist. “But I started seeing the linkages between the problems that we were dealing with and the root causes of environmental degradation. And one of those root causes was misgovernance."Maathai was given the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for "her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace." In her Nobel speech, Maathai said that picking her for the renowned peace prize "challenged the world to broaden the understanding of peace: There can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space."
As Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people there were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, even helping the one who was possessed to be free and live a new life. Our call is to do likewise as followers of Jesus, who has taught us to see the need around us and respond, to help bring new life to those battling disease and poverty.
May we continue to do so be it here in Monroe, with our neighbors in Bridgeport or New Haven, be it Kenya or Mozambique. May the life-giving Spirit of God breath afresh into the Church to free us from apathy and indifference, to serve the world in Jesus name. Amen.