I woke this morning expecting to find news of the Commons debate of Food-banks, apart from The Mirror whose article criticised the terrible behaviour of some MP's who laughed at tales of fights over the bargain shelves in supermarkets there was nothing. Nothing not a peep, despite that fact that there has been an exponential rise in the number of people needing help from food-banks the media has nothing to say. Not a peep! Social media is a bit different, a number of folk in my news streams are questioning the seeming lack of national interest, but then how can you be interested in something when you know nothing about it!
As I was pondering and praying about this one phrase began to echo in my head; " for our sake he became poor"- a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 8: 9, it speaks of Jesus who left the glories of heaven to be born in poverty, all this to reveal the love of God to us. He is still revealing that love today, I would like to tell you some stories...
At North Shore Methodist Church in Blackpool we run a drop in called the Comfort Zone, it is more than a drop in, it is becoming a community and the folk who come are genuinely our friends. Yesterday R spoke to us of his baptism, he started coming because he needs food, plain and simple, he had reached such a low ebb in his life that drop ins and food-banks were the only way he could eat. Over the last few months, and with no cajoling or bribery R has come to see God revealed in the volunteers, and we now see God revealed in R. A few weeks ago he was wandering around the Chapel with tears rolling down his face, he was happy and sad, and he was praying for folk worse of than himself and there are as he rightly pointed out a good number of those. His baptism was his response to the fact that he had come to know himself as a valued and valuable human being, not a government statistic or a problem to be solved but an individual who is both created and loved by God.
S & P came looking for warmth and a listening ear, she is pregnant and they lived in a tiny draughty bedsit, its broken window frame let in the cold and damp. Social Services could not let them keep a baby in those conditions, and the first response was to leave them there and remove the child to safety. Thankfully with support and help from one of our miracle working volunteers they have found a new flat, a new Social Worker has worked out a support scheme for them and things are looking up. They too are beginning to know themselves to be valued, loved and accepted! It is changing them! It is the message that is changing me!
Yesterday T came in in a terrible state, he wept, deep gut wrenching sobs as he told of how his benefits had been cut, he is now forced to live on less than £10 per fortnight because the Job Centre have sanctioned him AGAIN! Why was he sanctioned , quite simply because he had not applied for 50 jobs in the last week. This lovely gentle man has health issues, there are days when he is in so much pain that he can't get out and about, on that level of income ( if you can call it that, it is less than pocket money) he cannot possibly afford the internet or a phone, and a newspaper is an unnecessary luxury. The bus fare into town is out of the question so he is stuck. We do what we can for him with clothes, food parcels and a hot meal and a listening ear when he joins us. He shares himself with us, even managing a smile or two. On Monday nights he joins with a group of men in a Bible study discovering for himself and sharing with others the one who became poor that we might be made rich, and in that he is rich because he knows that he is valued!
Week by week we meet together, and week by week these meetings are revealing to me the heart of God, I am growing to know my true value lies not in things and qualifications but in simply being me valued and loved by the God that Jesus came to reveal to us.
Yesterday we sang Carols together and shared real and raw stories, our manger was not covered in soft hay, the rough wood was exposed, and our angels did not wear tinsel and white sheets but well worn jeans and ex-army combats. In that space God was with us, the one who became poor to show us not only our value but the value of each and every individual. I want to call to the government ministers to come out of their ivory towers and to meet these wonderful people that they so easily demonise, to hear the story of how sanctions applied led one man to hock in his phone in order to buy bread and milk, this meant he missed a text message so more sanctions were applied. I wonder if Iain Duncan Smith could even begin to look him in the eye!
All over the country people are awakening to the need, as well as the horrifying stories we have tales of generosity to tell, of boxes of fruit being delivered, of a young couple who spent a small fortune on sleeping bags, hand warmers and socks for us to give out, of a £200 voucher being sent as a surprise gift enabling us to stock up on needed supplies. This like the other stories is happening all over the country and is something to be celebrated, it is through acts like this that people are discovering their own value and having their hearts touched. When folk come into our community to help they quickly realise that the people that who access our services are just like them, this is not a group of scrounging alcoholics and druggies, these are people who are being squeezed and squashed by a cruel system that is de-humanising! We centre around the one who became poor for our sakes, and in him we find our common humanity. ALL ARE VALUED, ALL ARE LOVED!
What a strange world we live in, the consumer system of advertising and supermarkets continually creates a hunger within us, I am sick and tired of Christmas adverts telling me that my table needs to be laden with a surplus of fare, of spirits and wines that are essential for celebrations, of expensive presents that we cannot do without. I want to scream all this is a sham, and it is shameful. I am not saying that we should not celebrate, but rather that we do not understand the message unless we understand the God who became poor for our sakes. When I see people struggling under the weight of overloaded shopping bags and looking miserable, when I talk to a young woman who is weary and worried that she has not done enough I know that I must sing a different tune, I need to sing the song of the one whose hands not only flung stars into space but surrendered those same hands to cruel nails and his head to a crown of throns!
For our sake he became poor that we might become rich, rich in knowing who we are, rich in realising our value and worth, rich in accepting ourselves and one another! I believe that it is only in this realisation that we will find a fairer and more equal society. It is in this realisation that we are able to drop our masks, and in this way that we are freed to become something more. Yes there is a place for budgeting, sense and right living but that applies to all of us and I believe only becomes truly possible when we have a sense of our own worth.
For our sake he became poor, that we might become rich in him!
You know how full of love and kindness our Lord Jesus was: though he was so very rich, yet to help you he became so very poor, so that by being poor he could make you rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)