This morning a young woman called the church office asking for financial assistance. The call wasn't all that unusual. People reach out to churches all the time when they're in crisis. Some churches have limited resources to hand out but smaller churches like mine have fewer resources.
We knew where to direct this young woman. There are agencies that our church supports financially and with volunteers, and there are other community resources. It turned out the young woman I was talking to was a 10th grader trying to help her family find shelter. Sadly, none of the agencies we referred her to could help. There isn't enough funding to help everyone. We ended our conversation when she hung up the phone crying. I don't know where she spent the night.
The new poverty census figures came out yesterday and the numbers held steady. Every year since President Bush took office poverty rates have increased and in the year since he promised to combat poverty in the aftermath of Katrina the best he can say is that life is not worse. He did nothing to help anyone lift themselves out of poverty and he continues to advance an economic program that cuts from programs that could have benefited that teen-ager who asked me for help today. Instead of help for those in poverty the president gives tax breaks to the richest of the rich in America while millions search for food and shelter. Children walk the streets in America so that the president can reward his taskmasters with even more wealth.
It surprises me that the president and I worship the same God and even claim the name Christian. How could he read the Bible and walk out of worship services to campaign for economic policies that benefit the wealthiest at the expense of the least of these? Does the president simply listen to the worlds of scripture but then dismiss them as being irrelevant to his world? Many people do this and words from James 1:22-26 (NRSV) offer a corrective lesson the president (and the rest of us) should hear:
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act--they will be blessed in their doing.
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
How many orphans, widows in their distress, homeless, sick and lonely did we turn away today in America? In a world of plenty that is a great sin against God. God will forgive us our sins but calls on us always to be "doers of world." Pray that the Holy Spirit softens the president's heart - and ours - so that we might do more. No 10th grader should be trying to find shelter for her family.