Thursday, October 27, 2011

Asking the Government for Help

Thursday, October 27, 2011 -- Week of Proper 25, Year One

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 990)
Psalms 50 (morning)      //     will [59, 60] or 103 (evening)
Nehemiah 1:1-11
Revelation 5:11 – 6:11
Matthew 13:18-23

There is an old story that a reporter once asked the notorious bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, and he answered, "because that's where the money is."

From exile in Persia, Nehemiah mourns the condition of his homeland in Jerusalem. His people suffer there from poverty and want.  The nation's infrastructure has crumbled.  The people are vulnerable, and portions of the urban landscape are in ruins. 

Nehemiah raises his voice in prayer to God. He asks God's blessing upon a plan that he is formulating. "Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the side of this man!"  The man is King Artaxerxes.  Nehemiah is the cupbearer of the king, a position of some authority as a royal advisor. Nehemiah will use his influence to urge the king to use the considerable resources of the royal treasury for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the restoration of its people.

I can hear the voice of the 5th century BCE version of the Tea Party objecting to Nehemiah's proposal.  Why spend tax money to help those people?  Their plight is their own fault. It should be their problem to solve, not the government's. We need less government spending not more. Don't listen to Nehemiah!

The scripture narrative praises the decision of the king to underwrite and support the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the restoration of its people's prosperity.  Nehemiah is one of the great heroes of the Hebrew Scriptures.

When people are suffering and vulnerable, and when the protective structures of society have crumbled, it is right that we, like Nehemiah, expect the government to respond. It is right to spend taxpayer money and the resources of the treasury to relieve misery and to restore opportunity.

We have to ask the government to help us solve big problems, because that's where the money is.

Our church has several food ministries, including a lunch program we share with the Methodist church across the street, to feed lunch to around 130 people four days a week.  But all of the food from charities across the country amounts to only 6% of the food administered by federal food programs, mainly food stamps and school lunches. 

If the cuts recently proposed by the House of Representatives were to become law, poor people would lose three times as much food aid as they receive from all food charities combined in the U. S.

In August 2010, Congress paid for a bill providing financial aid to states by cutting $12 billion from future food stamps benfits.  In one small action, Congress took away more food from the needy than what can be mobilized by all U.S. charities in two years.

Nehemiah offers a model of Biblical leadership and practical effectiveness.  When we need to address big problems, we should pray to God, and then we should make a plan to address the need by going to the place where there are resources to solve it.  That's how we can solve our generation's big problems -- through adequate, just and progressive taxation that underwrites investment in well-run public programs administered openly with effective oversight.

That's the story of Ezra-Nehemiah.


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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
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Our Rule of Life: 
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Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 9:01 AM, Anonymous Jane said...

My father never tired of telling the story of how the government saved our family's life in the 1930s when we got $8 a month from the government program for food and medicine. We were also on a program that helped us buy a horse and farm equipment. Every dollar of this second grant was repaid by my parents when my dad went to public work in 1943.

As you say, sometimes only the government has the resources to help people who will otherwise not make it.

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for your story from your father. My maternal grandfather was appointed postmaster in his little town during the depression. It was a life-saving vocation for my mother's family.

I'm bothered that our government has not undertaken job creating stimulus programs during this recent downturn, with 9% unemployment. Obviously the "job creators" in the private sector aren't creating jobs -- U.S. corporations are sitting on record levels of cash and not investing them (at least not in U.S. jobs). It seems to me, to pull out of this depression we need put more people back to work. God knows our infrastructure needs attention.



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