Bishop says ending poverty is question of relationships, faith



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Bishop says ending poverty is question of relationships, faith

By Jenna De Marco | June 16, 2010 {1185}

How to end global poverty and the question of whether that goal is even possible were key topics of discussion at this year’s Florida Annual Conference Event, which convened June 10-12 under the theme “Transforming the World by Eradicating Extreme Poverty.”

Bishop Peter Weaver asks laity and clergy to snap their fingers every second. Speaking in time to the beat of their snapping, he said it takes only a matter of seconds for a child to die of preventable causes (estimates vary from three to 60 depending on the cause). But it’s “not about the beat,” Weaver said. “It’s about the hearts of children that stop beating.” Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1476. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Bishop Peter Weaver of the New England Annual Conference says it is possible and offered a unique perspective on how to make that mission a reality.

Eradicating poverty, he said, begins with eliminating the poverty of relationships and faith. It’s depravity in those two areas, he added, that builds walls between the poor and the rest of society.

Weaver shared that assessment June 10 during the gathering’s communion service in a message titled “Feasts, Gates and Chasms.”

Referencing the parable of the rich man and the beggar in Luke 16, Weaver compared the experience of the world’s impoverished people to the poor man Lazarus, who felt earthly hunger, but received heavenly blessings after death.

By contrast, the rich man in this Biblical story enjoyed earthly feasts and treasures, but endured eternal suffering. The rich man’s life mirrors today’s materially wealthy, but spiritually bankrupt, majority, Weaver said.

“Somebody within the sound of my voice has thought about heaven and what’s going to happen after this life when we are the ones who had it so good — most of us. Are you one of those?” Weaver said. “For we are the ‘feasted folk.’ ”

Weaver also suggested that Lazarus’ material poverty reflected the rich man’s spiritual poverty and “the extreme poverty of our neighbors in 2010 in Florida and around the world reflects our spiritual poverty.”

Members get ready for worship through the music of the praise band from McCabe United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg before Weaver shares the evening’s message. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1477. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

The so-called gap between the rich and poor is getting wider, Weaver noted. While half of the world’s population survives on $2 or less each day, consumer products are multiplying exponentially, he said.

“Now there are 24 million consumer goods on ‘Amazon.com’ alone,” Weaver said. “You can spot them at most of the garage sales around here.”

In “The Message” Bible, theologian Eugene Peterson translated the rich man’s behavior as “conspicuous consumption,” Weaver said, and people engaging in it often struggle in the face of such a challenge as ending poverty.

“We are the feasted folk with … gates on our consciousness,” he said. “We get so obsessed with our conspicuous consumption (that) we are consumed by it ourselves.”

These gates create a “chasm” defined by the feasted folks’ narrow attitudes toward the poor and a lack of meaningful relationship with them, Weaver said.

The question now is, “How do we unlock our own gates and fling them wide open as God did in Jesus Christ?” he said.

It can be done, Weaver said, by eliminating the extreme poverty of relationships with the poor, including narrowing the physical and emotional distance between materially advantaged people and those who are not.

Members take communion after Weaver tells them the “gates on our consciousness” must be unlocked so attitudes toward the poor can be broadened and those who are materially blessed can have meaningful relationships with those who are not. Only when this poverty of relationships and spirits is restored, he said, can there be an end to poverty. Photo by Angie Bechanan. Photo #10-1478. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“Most of us have a poverty of even knowing anything about the gifts and strength and spirit that the poor often have,” Weaver said. “Most of us have a poverty of courage about moving out of our comfort zone.”

After eliminating the poverty of relationship, the next step is ending the poverty of faith. This is about trusting that “God’s abundance will not dry up if we open up our bank accounts and church accounts,” Weaver said.

Weaver illustrated the point by telling the story of friendship that developed between two women in one of his previous congregations. One of them had a history of homelessness, while the other had financial blessings. As they gradually befriended one another, Weaver said, it was an example of “a new feast where chasms are bridged and gates become gateways.”

Then, as he reminded conference participants of the communion about to be served, Weaver recalled Christ’s forgiveness of sins and invitation to new life.

“Will we … come to the Lord’s Supper, where he might eradicate our poverty of spirit so we might be one with Christ in the mission of eradicating extreme poverty for the world?” Weaver asked.

Closing the resource gap

After Weaver’s sermon, Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker led the congregation in prayer for the mission offering, taken each year during the communion service.

A member prays after being invited by Weaver to “come to the Lord’s Supper, where he might eradicate our poverty of spirit so we might be one with Christ in the mission of eradicating extreme poverty for the world.” Photo by Angie Bechanan. Photo #10-1479. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Eighty percent will be given to the Methodist Church of Haiti for rebuilding expenses incurred as a result of January’s earthquake near Port-au-Prince. Weaver announced that the New England Conference would add a $15,000 check to the offering to assist Haitian pastors.

The remaining 20 percent will go toward “Florida Impact for the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger,” a multi-year, strategic plan to end childhood hunger in Florida. The partnership serves as an anchor around which more than 50 organizations — including the Florida Conference — are working collaboratively to make Florida the first state in the nation to end childhood hunger, Whitaker said.

The service concluded with Holy Communion, led by Whitaker.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.




Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011