************ Sermon on Exodus 22:21-27; Deuteronomy 24:19-22 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on November 7, 1999

Exodus 22:21-27; Deuteronomy 24:19-22
"God's Laws About the Poor"

Topic: World Hunger
Date: 11/1999.101
Title: World Hunger Facts

This week Egyptair Flight 990 crashed off the Atlantic coast killing all 217 people on board. Last September Swissair Flight 111 crashed off of Nova Scotia killing all 229 on board. In July of 1996 TWA Flight 800 crashed in the Atlantic killing all 230 people aboard.
What would be your response if you were told there were 300 such crashes every single day? I dare say that you, with the American people would demand action. You would demand safer planes. You would demand better and more frequent inspections. You would demand that the planes' manufacturers be put out of business.
Did you know, every day the number of people dying from hunger-related causes is equivalent to the crash of 300 jumbo jets filled to capacity. Yet, very few people get upset about this or demand action.
Every 60 seconds there are 30 people who die from hunger and related diseases.
One in five people in the world are hungry.
One in eight people in the United States are hungry.
There are 100 million children living on the streets of the world's cities.
(World Hunger Facts for 1994 from various sources)

Maybe you say to yourself, "I shouldn't feel guilty or bad about this. After all, I do what I can for world hunger." Again, let me put things in perspective:
Topic: World Hunger
Date: 11/1999.101
Title: What Was Spent

During 1994 the average North American family gave less than the cost of a hamburger and fries to alleviate world hunger.
Consider also the Western World's spending habits:
* $50 billion on cigarettes in Europe per year
* $35 billion on business entertaining in Japan per year
* $32.2 billion on toys and sporting goods
* $31 billion on beer
* The average American pet owner spends $1,500 a year on his pet while the average annual income in India is $260
* 99 major league baseball players make $3 million or more annually
(World Hunger Facts, 1994, from various sources)

I God's Laws
A When we look at God's laws we see that He has a great concern for the poor.

We first see God's concern for the poor in the Law of Charging Interest. God says:
(Ex 22:25-27) "If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. (26) If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, (27) because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate."

God is not talking about commercial loans here. In our society people take out commercial loans to buy a house, finance a car, purchase a dairy, or to keep a business operating.

Instead, God is talking about a loan to provide for basic necessities. In our culture with our social safety-net of welfare, aid for dependent children, WIC, and so on we cannot imagine anyone taking out a loan to buy bread for the table, clothing for the body, or shoes for the feet. Yet, that is what happened in Israel. When that happens, says the Lord, when someone poor is forced to take out a loan so he can buy his children something to eat, you are not to charge interest. And, you are not to keep past sunset the cloak he gave you as collateral.

The concern of the Lord's people must be to HELP the poor, and that is accomplished by lending without interest. Meeting the needs of the hungry has priority over personal gain. The rights of the poor and hungry to be fed takes precedence over the rights of the rich to make a profit.

To use the theme of this World Hunger Sunday, God's Law of Charging Interest is designed to change the face of hunger.

B A second law that shows God's concern for the poor is the Law of Gleaning. Listen to this law:
(Deut 24:19-21) When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (20) When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. (21) When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.
You know what God is saying? God is saying that a part of each crop belongs to the hungry: the alien, the fatherless, the widow. The farmers of Israel were not allowed to go through their field or vineyard or orchard a second or even a third time what was left there was for the poor.

We see an instance of this in the story of Ruth and Boaz. Boaz was a rich farmer. It was harvest time for his barley. Ruth, with the other poor, worked the fields behind his servants. Whatever they dropped or missed belonged to gleaners like Ruth. In fact, Boaz even commanded his servants to purposely drop and leave some behind for Ruth. By gleaning, Ruth was able to collect enough grain to bake a couple of loaves of bread.

To use the theme of this World Hunger Sunday, God's Law of Gleaning is designed to change the face of hunger.

C A third law that shows God's concern for the poor and hungry is the Law of the Tithe. Listen to this law:
(Deut 14:22,28-29) Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year ... (28) At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, (29) so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
By law, the Israelites had to give ten percent of their income, a tithe, to the Lord. Ten percent of the tithe was offered as a sacrifice to the Lord. Do you know what happened to the other ninety percent? This portion of the tithe was meant for the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless, and the widows.

How do we compare next to what God demanded of His Old Testament people?
Topic: Giving
Subtopic: Of Tithes
Index: 2123
Date: 10/1986.23
Title: Welfare Tithe

Did you know that if every church member in the United States were to suddenly lose his/her job and went on welfare, and yet were willing to tithe from the minimal amount received from public assistance, giving to the nation's churches would immediately increase over 30%!
According to the latest statistics, the average charitable giving in the United States is only 1.7 percent of adjusted gross income. The average among Christians is not much better: only 2.5 percent.
Topic: Giving
Subtopic: Of Tithes
Index: 2123
Date: 12/1986.27
Title: Convenient Debts

A man received a sharp letter from one of his creditors demanding payment. He wrote back to the firm and said, "Dear Sir. Every month I take all the bills I have and put them on the table, shuffle them, and pick out six, which I pay. Now, if I have any more trouble out of you, next month you'll be out of the shuffle entirely."
Have you shuffled God out of your giving?

Someone once told me that there are three kinds of givers in the church of Jesus Christ the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb. To get anything out of a flint you must hammer it. And then you get only chips and sparks. To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it; and the more pressure you use, the more you will get. But the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness. Which kind of giver are you? God's will is that we be like the honeycomb:
(Deut 15:7-8,10-11) If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. (8) Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs ... (10) Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. (11) There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

To use the theme of this World Hunger Sunday, God's Law of the Tithe is designed to change the face of hunger.

D A fourth law which shows God's concern for the poor and hungry is the Sabbath Year Laws. In the seventh year, called the Sabbath Year, all debts are to be canceled. This is what God says:
(Deut 15:1-4) At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. (2) This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the Lord's time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. (3) You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you. (4) However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you ...

In the seventh year any Hebrew who became a servant or a slave is also to be set free. Again, listen to the Word of the Lord:
(Deut 15:12-15) If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. (13) And when you release him, do not send him away empty handed. (14) Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. (15) Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.

In the seventh year (the Sabbath Year) and in the fiftieth year (the Year of Jubilee) crops were not to be planted or harvested. What grew in the field or vineyard or orchard could be eaten by anyone who was hungry.

To use the theme of this World Hunger Sunday, God's Sabbath Year Laws are designed to change the face of hunger.

E God's laws show His concern for the poor and the hungry. He built concern into the very fabric or structure of Israelite society. And, He wants His people to share His concern.

More than once God told Israel why He wanted them to share His concern. First, Israel was to remember they were slaves in Egypt; remembering this they were to show compassion to the less fortunate now. Second, God told Israel to remember how He redeemed them from Egypt; in response, the very least they should want to do is help out the poor and hungry.

Of course, we have the same reasons and more to show compassion. First of all, we need to remember that at one time we also were slaves slaves to sin. Second, we need to remember how God redeemed us in and through Christ. Don't forget that He Who was rich became poor for our sakes; He left the glory of heaven and took on a servant nature, being born in the likeness of man and dying on the cross for our sins. Out of thankfulness for this grace we want to respond by feeding the hungry and helping the poor. And third, we have the personal example of Christ. He showed compassion to the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden. More than once we are told to imitate Him. God want us, like Him, to change the face of hunger.

II What Can We Do
A What can we do? First of all, we need to see from a different viewpoint. Many people do not see the poor and hungry. They either look right through them, or they are blind to them.

Last year some of our youth went to Mexico. Others went to Honduras. These trips were a real eye-opener for our young people and the adults with them. They saw that people in Mexico and Honduras do not have many of the things we take for granted. They saw houses in worse shape than the barns we keep our animals in. Imagine having electricity only 2 or 3 hours a day. No fridge, freezer, or cupboards full of food. No running water. No bathroom in the house. No police or fire department. No garbage pickup. Once you go through an experience like this your eyes become open to the plight of the poor and hungry.

We need to open our eyes so we see the poor and hungry not just in the third-world but also in our city, our state, and our country.

I came across a passage from Anton Chekhov's play called "Gooseberries" that speaks to this:
Topic: Self-Indulgence
Index: 3198-3199
Date: 12/1986.20
Title: Gooseberries

Behind the door of every contented, happy man there ought to be someone standing with a little hammer and continually reminding him with a knock that there are unhappy people, that however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show him its claws, and trouble will come to him -- illness, poverty, losses, and then no one will see or hear him, just as now he neither sees nor hears others.

B Second, we can pray. Go through a newspaper or magazine and pray about specific situations you find there. There is always news about war, famine, drought, flood, hurricane, typhoon, and so on. Each one of these disasters brings suffering, hunger, and poverty. Pray for the relief organizations that respond to these disasters. Pray for peace. Pray for those who are rebuilding their lives that they will build wisely. Pray for justice so there will not be such a large gap between the rich and the poor.

C Third, we can give. This morning our boys and girls gave through the Peter Fish so that the poor and hungry could have food and water. This morning we had the chance to give toward the work of CRWRC through the offering. In your bulletin you will see a note about a web-site that I e-mailed to many of you. The web-site informs us that every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger; three-quarters of the deaths are children under 5. Simply by clicking on a button you can send a single serving of food to a starving person 2 cups of rice, wheat, maize or other staple food.

The bottom line, congregation is this: God wants to change the face of world hunger. And, He expects us to also work at changing the face of world hunger. So that those who are hungry are fed. So that those with dirty water have clean water. So that those with no roof over their heads have a home and a bed. So that those without adequate clothing or medical care or public services can enjoy the same blessings that we do.

As God's people let us work together to change the face of hunger.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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