Sermon by David Beckmann at Duke University Chapel


Remarks delivered October 1, 2017 at Duke University Chapel in Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

Thank you for inviting me to preach here at Duke University Chapel. And I especially want to thank the Bread for the World members who have come this morning.

Bruce Puckett urged me to be specific about actions we can take to help hungry people, so I’m going to talk about the two Bible passages we just heard at the beginning and end of this sermon. The middle of this sermon is going to be practical talk about hunger, the work of Bread for the World, and what you can do to help.

This is World Communion Sunday, and the passage from 1st Corinthians is about Christian communion. Paul repeats the words Jesus said at the first communion meal. The bread, he said, is his body broken for us. The cup is the new covenant which began with the blood he shed on the cross. 

The Christian experience of God’s embrace is grounded in the forgiving death of Jesus Christ, and our communion with other people is powered by God’s communion with us.

In Jesus Christ, we know that God loves each one of us–and everybody else. God’s love includes the people who make us furious, people on the other side of the world, different racial and ethnic groups, and certainly all the people who must struggle just to feed their kids.

Some of the first-century churches started their worship with an actual dinner that led into the Lord’s Supper. But in the church at Corinth, some people ate and drank to their fill while other people went hungry. St. Paul tells them that if they ignore the hungry people in their midst, their sacrament is sacrilege.

You can’t be connected to God and ignore hungry people.

Watch David’s Complete Sermon

Worldwide, there are about 800 million really hungry people in the world. In these families, many of the children die young, and people don’t have enough energy to be fully productive. In our country, one in six children lives in a home that sometimes runs out of food. The intermittent and relatively moderate hunger that usually characterizes hunger in America cripples young children for life and causes health problems for adults, too.

I think the most important thing to know about hunger is that the extent of hunger is declining. According to the World Bank, the number of extremely poor people in the world is less than half what it was in 1990. In the United States, the number of people in poverty has, roughly, been cut in half since the 1960s. So we have made progress, and more progress is possible. 

If you believe in God, this is something for which to give thanks. The great liberation from material misery that is underway is like the biblical exodus—an experience of our loving God in the world. And God is asking us to be part of it–to help move it forward.

There are lots of ways you can help to reduce hunger. You can help struggling people among your family and friends. You can give time and money to food banks or other community efforts. Some of you have made your careers in service to people in need.

Bread for the World is a Christian advocacy movement to end hunger. Bread for the World and our members help hungry people by urging our members of Congress to get our government to do its part. In fact, we can’t make dramatic progress against hunger in our country or worldwide unless we can get the U.S. government to do its part. Bread for the World includes Christians of all stripes, and we work in a bipartisan way.

I think the best way for me to explain Bread for the World is to tell you about two Bread for the World members, Pat Pelham and Dave Miner.

My story about Pat starts almost 20 years ago. She was a young mother in Birmingham, Alabama. In her prayers one morning, she felt a strong call to do something about widespread hunger in Africa. She didn’t know what to do, because she had young children, and her husband’s job was in Birmingham. Her pastor suggested she get involved in Bread for the World.

At that time, many of the poorest countries in the world were struggling with impossible debts, and some church groups were organizing a campaign to get some of that debt reduced. Birmingham’s member of Congress, a conservative Republican named Spencer Bachus, was chair of the House committee with jurisdiction over this issue. At my suggestion, Pat and several friends from her church came to Washington to meet with Bachus.

Surprisingly, they convinced him, and he became a champion on this issue. Over the next several years, they organized in lots of ways to give Bachus credit back home for what he was doing. Many people across the country weighed in with their members of Congress, and the U.S. government eventually supported international debt relief. 

The recipient governments were required to use the opportunity to take actions to reduce poverty, and a number of African governments dramatically expanded primary education. Over a ten-year period, the number of African children in school increased by 50 million. A whole generation of girls learned to read and write, add and subtract. About half the countries in Africa have sense then enjoyed continued progress against hunger and poverty. 

I do not see how debt relief for Africa would have happened if Pat Pelham had not responded to the call she sensed in her morning prayers.

Dave Miner is an anti-hunger activist in Indianapolis. He has worked for years to involve other people in service and advocacy for hungry people.

This year, President Trump and Congress are pursuing an unprecedented attack on virtually all the U.S. programs that help hungry and poor people in our country and worldwide. President Trump’s budget would cut $2.5 trillion from programs that help people of limited means in our country and internationally. 

$2.5 trillion is a big number. Dave decided to focus on just one proposed cut in the budget of the House of Representatives. They want to cut $150 billion from SNAP (food stamps). Dave calculates that this just this one cut would translate into the loss of 50 million meals for kids, seniors, and veterans in Indiana. So he has embarked on a long fast. He is giving up 50 meals–that’s 16 days of not eating–one meal for every one million meals that the House budget would take away from kids, seniors, and veterans in Indiana.

Dave’s fast is getting press attention, especially in Indiana, and he has so far been able to share his concern directly with his state governor and one of his senators. And I share his story with you, because Dave’s fast dramatizes for all of us just how dangerous the current political assault on hungry and poor people is.

You don’t have to fast for 16 days to let your members of Congress know that you want them to keep our country and the world moving toward the end of hunger.

It’s easy to communicate with them by letter or email, or to call their offices in Washington or here in North Carolina. If a group of concerned people get together, you may be able to meet with one of your senators–or a staffer–in person. If you are part of Bread for the World’s network in North Carolina, you will help to make our collective advocacy impactful.

So what can you do?

  • Connect with Bread for the World, either by filling out one of the membership brochures that you’ll find on a table at the back of the church or on our website,
  • A few minutes after this service, I’ll be meeting with some of Bread for the World’s members in this area. The Bread for the World people here in Durham organize a state Bread for the World convention every spring, and you might want to help organize next spring’s convention.
  • It’s also important to get involved in electoral politics next year. Pick a good candidate and help him or her get elected. Bread for the World will be trying to get voters and candidates from both parties to treat hunger as an important issue.

Finally, let me go back to the Bible. In the gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms, to take action. The son who professed loyalty to the father but didn’t actually do the work, didn’t please the father. We don’t need to be perfect; God is forgiving. But Jesus repeated to the Pharisees what John the Baptist had told them: the kingdom of God is coming into the world right now. Get with it. Make yourself part of it.

Scripture Readings

1 Corinthians 11:20-26:

20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Matthew 21:23-32

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 

25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of  righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

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