Perspectives on Poverty: Advocacy
Deuteronomy 15:7-11; 1 John 3:16-18
By Rev. Becky Schofield Motter
Does anyone know the name Horace Mann? He was an advocate who has had an impact on every one of our lives. In the 1800s, he lived in Massachusetts and led the common-school movement, which advocated for local property taxes to finance public schools. Mann also emphasized positive reinforcement instead of punishment. He advocated locally controlled, often one-room “common schools” in which children of all ages and classes were taught together and later he introduced the idea of age-grading system.
Think about the first job you got that was not in a family or friends business. Many of us we had to provide references, someone who could vouch for us. A coach, neighbor or Sunday school teacher advocated for us that we would work hard and be worth the investment to train in their business.
Health workers advocate for us to get tests or go to a specialist so they can help us get better. Individuals advocated for water and sewer lines in large cities so that we could live healthier lives together. Many of our laws involved advocates who wanted to make sure that we are safe.
Does anyone know the name Candy Lightner? She is the founder of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. She became an advocate because she did not want the mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents in this room and everywhere to experience what she did in the death of her child from a drunk driver. Representatives and Senators advocate for us as they debate issues for the state and national.
We don’t often consider the many people who have impacted our lives because of the way that they advocated for improvements in our society.
Would you be where you are without the many people who advocated for you in your life?
What would your life look like if those who advocated for you had not raised their voice?
As I have heard you talk about Pastor Larry and his ministry at St. Andrew’s and in Findlay; I have heard you describe someone who was an advocate. He noticed that there were many homeless people hanging out in the community, including here at St. Andrew’s. He took the time to listen to those who did not have a place to go during the day. And then he started a conversation with church members, the Community Foundation and other churches and those conversations helped to start the Day Center at City Mission.
I also heard that when there was some controversy in the community around a home that was purchased by the Adamhs board Pastor Larry believed in their mission and need. So he again took the time to listen and became an advocate that helped them to accomplish their need to acquiring a home.
In his advocacy he listened to people impacted by issues and challenges and after listening he started conversations with others who would also listen and help find a solution to the need they heard.
Our scripture this morning from Deuteronomy is part of a larger passage spelling out the laws of how the nation is to relate to one another concerning the land and slavery or bondsman. Part of this inclusion is because the nation is growing and they are seeing habits and traditions start to take hold that reveal the selfishness of humanity. We see in this section and in other parts of the entire book of Deuteronomy that there is a need to bring together conscious and laws. This passage reveals that God realized that legislation is required because compassion and goodwill were not enough to implore people to care for others when they were able to amass wealth.
In this section it referred to the seventh year, which was part of the law that if you had a slave, also translated bondsman, someone who owed you money and repays it by working for you, they were to be released in the seventh year. Reading further we learn that it is not simply being released, the master was to send them out with items to help them survive. They were to give them part of their herds of animals, grain from their storage, wine from the cellar and resources from their abundance. Essentially it is saying that this individual helped you to amass all those things while they paid back their debt, and you need to set them up for success in surviving as they leave your house.
This is interesting for us to consider our role as we encounter others who are in a challenging place economically. Part of what I hear the text saying is that we are to give the slave or bondsperson a hand up, not set them up for failure as they restart their life. Last week we heard that most people in poverty who seek assistance have hit an obstacle that they are having a hard time overcoming, loss of a job, medical bill, divorce. We can liken their circumstance to the bondspersons in our scripture who owed a debt and paid it off by working for the owner. And when their time came for them to be released they were to given assistance, it essentially said; give them what they need till they can get settled and provide them with the basics so they do not suffer.
Last week Pastor Jeff called our attention to the first sermon that Jesus preached as he went out into the synagogues. Jesus used a scripture from Isaiah which said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Jesus came to be the advocate for those in society who had no voice. He was intentional in encountering those on the fringes of society. He spent time with them, listening to them, and asking them what he could do for them. Jesus knew what they needed, but he gave them value and worth by listening to them.
We also hear from the prophet Micah (6:8): He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
For many years I have had a quote on the end of my emails which is from a German theologian by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He lived during the time of Nazi Germany and spoke out against the practices and policies of the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer said “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Bonhoeffer lived this quote as he worked to end Hitler’s reign of terror. We are called as Christians to address issues of injustice in our community, our country and our world.
In my years of ministry I have encountered many souls who have come to the church for assistance because they feel like they are at rock bottom. They have humbled themselves to come through the door and tell someone they hope might care about them and reveal what they have not wanted to tell anyone, that they are in need, that they cannot do it on their own, they have to be depended on someone else’s mercy. Most would prefer not to do this, but they are at a point where they do not know what else to do. They hope and pray they will be met with mercy and grace. Not someone telling them what they should do differently, but rather someone who will listen and maybe offer something to get them through the crisis, over the obstacle and be gracious in the process.
When you are in that place of trying to survive, how do you recognize and tell someone the system needs to change? How do you go about overcoming the obstacle in the system when it is too big for anyone person to overcome? When you are just trying to survive till tomorrow there is no way you can think about what is wrong with the system.
And even when the system is better than most, it is still flawed. There are always people that end up in the middle of the donut, someone who makes just a little too much money, someone who slips through the cracks. I had a professor who was talking about the phrase we coined in this country that “you just need to pull yourself up by your boot straps.” He went on to say, “what if you do not have any boot straps?” That saying presumes that everyone has boot straps, but the reality is, not everyone does. Resources are not shared evenly in most places in the world and none of us chooses the family, socio-economic class, or country we are born into. Do you remember that phrase, “but by the grace of God, go I,” that person could be you, you could have been born in that position, you could have that challenge.
I imagine some of you are countering in your mind that some people work the system and you are right, some people do. And I know there are times I have been taken advantage of. But I learned something from a spouse, who rarely came to church, of a former parishioner when I did his funeral. He said something to the effect of, he would much rather care for 10 people and be taken advantage by one than to not help those 10. For someone who did not go to church that sounded rather Christ like to me.
This morning we have with us Julie Brown who is the executive director of Hope House, whose mission is to: eliminate homelessness and alleviate poverty in Hancock County through individual and community education, affordable housing and advocacy.
- How do you define advocacy?
- Can you give me an example of someone who cared about an issue, became an advocate for someone and brought change for them and others in similar positions?
- Please share with us an example you are aware of where advocacy has helped on a community level.
- What are some ways that any of us can be an advocate for an issue or situation we feel passionate about or that God might be revealing and encouraging us to be an advocate?
Thank you, Julie for taking the time to share with us during our service and we are also grateful to you and your staff for helping us to understand the bigger picture as we consider this issue during our interactive learning experience in our Sunday school hour. We encourage everyone to attend this morning and hear a special guest.
What might change if there were more advocates around the opioid epidemic?
What would change if there were more advocates around affordable housing in our area?
What might change if there were more advocates around transportation, childcare, the ability to earn a living wage?
What I hear as I come to understand advocacy is that first we have to be a good listener. That is what I see modeled in the life of Christ. He listened to people and asked them about their need. He did not presume that he knew, even though as God he really did. He gave people value, worth and respect by allowing them to give voice to their need.
Christ is our ultimate advocate. That is what we heard in our 1 John passage today. Jesus went to the cross to be our advocate to face sin and death. To die what we should have died, to take on what was our own, to do what we will never be able to do. Christ advocates for us and offers his death and resurrection that we might have hope, peace, grace, mercy and new life. As Christians, people who claim Christ, who accept the offer of new life, we are called to be Christ-like and advocates for others in this life. May we take steps to live our lives in the example of Christ and allow others new life when we give them the voice they may not have. Amen.