The Cry of the Powerless
Nehemiah 5: 1-19
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Here in the United States, one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the world, more than thirteen million children live in food-insecure homes. And yet, Americans throw away enough uneaten food each year to feed twenty-five million people. In any given year, more than ten million men and women are victims of domestic violence. One in ten elderly people experience neglect or abuse. In 2016, twice as many people died by suicide as by homicide, and the number of those who take their own lives is rising dramatically. Violence is a plague on our culture. How can this be?
This week we celebrated the anniversary of our independence as a nation. Most of us enjoy a quality of life that people in other less fortunate countries might envy. Yet, not everyone can say that life in the United States is wonderful. What is our response to their cries for justice? For help? For relief? Let the government take care of it, right? It’s easy to pass the responsibility along to a larger, more powerful entity than ourselves, yet the “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” that Lincoln spoke of at Gettysburg places the responsibility of seeking justice, offering help, and ensuring relief on each of us. When we abdicate our responsibilities as citizens to government, that nameless, faceless, taxpayer-funded behemoth, we deserve what we get in return: politicians who look out for themselves and their special interests, not for the interests of the nation as a whole.
Nehemiah had led his people in rebuilding the wall and gates around Jerusalem. The problem with everyone working on the wall was that people could not do their regular jobs. Farmers weren’t growing grain, so there was no grain for people to buy. They had to borrow money to buy food and to pay the king’s taxes, and lenders were charging exorbitant interest rates. This created an economic crisis, resulting in families having to sell their children into slavery to pay their debts. They went to Nehemiah, crying out for help. He was understandably angry at this news, and after taking some time to ponder the problem he confronted the nobles and officials with their wrongdoing, ordering them to give back what they had unfairly taken from the people and take an oath to do right. The people praised God, and everything happened as Nehemiah commanded.
The Haitian people have a proverb: “dèyè mòn gen mon,” which translates to “beyond mountains there are mountains.” As you solve one problem another presents itself, and the cycle of problem and solution continues. When we look at the problems our country and our world present, we might feel hopeless. Addressing one crisis just reveals another. Will the cycle never end? Perhaps we rely on government to solve the problems of poverty, food insecurity, and violence. Perhaps we turn to the church for help. Trouble is, if we all have the same attitude toward the church that we do toward government, we’ll get the same results. As citizens of this country, we are corporately and individually responsible for its success or failure. As the church, we are corporately and individually responsible for the mission of Jesus here on earth. He warned that the poor would always be among us and charged his followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the prisoner, and show kindness to the immigrant. And share the good news of salvation offered by Jesus. Yes, let the church do it. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, with hearts turned toward the powerless, we as a body and as individuals can offer life, hope, and light to a world so desperately lost in death, despair, and darkness.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (nursery provided). Discovery Hour classes are on summer break.