Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is co-pastor of Limestone Church, and a musician-composer. She has written a new hymn text presented after the article.
Today (Sept. 23) in the First Presbyterian Church in El Dorado, Ark. there will be a funeral for a 91-year-old Presbyterian elder named Frances Paschal Landers. The Presbyterian Outlook reported how her life was changed at age 58 when she and her husband went on the first of what would be 24 mission trips in Haiti:
“She made her first trip to Haiti in 1977, accompanying her late husband, Gardner, an ophthalmologist, on a medical mission trip. Together, they made more than 20 medical mission trips to the country. While there, she met Father Jean Wilfrid Albert, an Episcopal priest who told her of the many Haitian children living in poverty without access to education, and introduced her to some of the children. Returning home, Landers began raising money to provide schools for the children, speaking at churches and to civic groups throughout the region and helping to provide funding to build schools in the mountains of southern Haiti. The Haiti Education Foundation now supports 40 schools serving about 9,000 students.”
You can read more about this remarkable woman of faith in an inspiring article titled “The Power of One” on the Haiti Education Fund web site.
This Sunday’s lectionary gospel lesson is Luke 16:19-31, Jesus’ parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. Christian Reflection, the journal of the Southern Baptists’ Baylor University, recently did a special issue on global wealth and poverty that is online that includes a hymn by Presbyterian Carolyn Winfrey Gillette titled “If Only I Had Known” inspired by Jesus’ parable. We Presbyterians believe “effective preaching, teaching, and personal witness require disciplined study of both the Bible and the contemporary world” (Book of Confessions, 9.49).
The news of our contemporary world is filled with sad reminders that the world’s poor need more older Presbyterians like Frances Landers. Last week new census numbers reported that 43.6 million Americans live in poverty, more than at any point in the last 51 years, with one in seven Americans now in poverty (see Jim Wallis’ “Poverty is Not a Dirty Word”). Yesterday’s The New York Times editorial was “Missed Goals” about this week’s meeting of world leaders to look at their 2000 “Millennium Development Goals” (see Bread for the World web page on MDG):
“…The best news is that the share of people living on less than $1.25 a day seems on track to meet the goal of halving the extreme poverty rate. But most of those gains have occurred in China and other East Asian countries. Poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain way too high. The world is far behind on many other goals. Between 1990 and 2008, the mortality rate of children under 5 in developing countries declined only from 10 percent to 7.2 percent — far from the target of a two-thirds reduction by 2015. Maternal mortality declined only from 480 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 450 deaths in 2005. The 2015 goal is closer to 120. Enrollment in primary education reached only 89 percent in 2008, up from 80 percent in 1991. Nobody can know how much money is needed to meet these and other urgent development goals. But, in 2002, rich donor countries agreed that contributions of 0.7 percent of their G.D.P. were, at least, politically feasible. Today, only Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have met the goal. In 2009, the United States channeled 0.2 percent of its G.D.P. to aid…”
In 2006 at Massanetta Springs Bible Conference a Presbyterian minister named Tony Tian-Ren Lin preached a powerful sermon titled “The Ins and Outs of Sharing.” This preacher, then working on his PhD in sociology at the University of Virginia, told about a new book that had just been featured on the cover in Time magazine, The End of Poverty. The book’s author, “Jeffery Sachs, an economist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, also serves as the director of the UN Millennial Project, which seeks to end poverty around the world. His book offers some relatively easy and proven methods of lifting people out of poverty for good. It proposes that together we can end poverty in this generation. Yet as I finished reading his book I had a mix of emotions, I felt encouraged, hopeful, and terribly sad. I was saddened by the fact that in the currently most important book on ending poverty, Christians were not mentioned. Jeffery Sachs is an economist and he was writing from an economic development point of view. I am not criticizing him. But it’s more of a self-criticism. What happened to us that a very long and thick book prescribing the solution for the problem of poverty could be written with Christians out of the picture?”
Tony Tian-Ren Lin talked about what could happen if every Christian (or even most of us) routinely gave ten percent of our income to the church for its ministries of love and compassion. He quoted Ron Sider’s latest book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Tony writes, “According to Sider the average household income in the U.S. is $42,000-plus. If every American who claims to be a Christian tithed, we’d have about $143 billion a year. UNICEF said it would cost $70-80 Billion a year to provide food, healthcare and education for all the poor children of the world. Can you imagine if American Christians went to the UN and said ‘We’ll pick up the tab.’ We could pay for food, healthcare, and education for all the children in the world and STILL have $70 billion left to run our ministries here and send missionaries there. Imagine the implications of this if we as a denomination decided to do this. Imagine that every Presbyterian began tithing and PC(USA) began sending billions of dollars around the world to help the poor and the sick. Imagine that day when people around the world see the PC(USA) seal and immediately associate it with those who loved their neighbors as themselves.”
Biblical scholar Patrick D. Miller Jr. writes, “In a world that assumes … that things have to be the way they are and that we must not assume too much about improving them, the doxologies of God’s people are fundamental indicators that wonders have not ceased, that possibilities not yet dreamt of will happen, and that hope is an authentic stance” (“In Praise and Thanksgiving,” Theology Today 45.2 (1988), page 180). Carolyn Winfrey Gillette was inspired to write a hymn after hearing Tony Tian-Ren Lin’s sermon:
Giving God, We Pause and Wonder
Nettleton 188.8.131.52 D (“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”)
Giving God, we pause and wonder: What would happen if we tithed–
If we gave our gifts, Creator, hearts and hands all opened wide?
We might learn, by gladly sharing, Not to trust in things we own
But to risk– it’s part of caring– And to trust in you alone.
We could do abundant mission, Sharing Christ who claims and frees.
We could reach out with new vision In creative ministries.
No more bound by limitations Of what churches can’t afford,
We could learn with jubilation Whole new ways to serve you, Lord.
In each country that was struggling, We could build a thousand schools,
We could feed a million orphans And give countless farmers tools.
As we gladly shared your blessings, Then the world might want to know:
“See! How loving are those Christians! Who’s the One who makes them so?”
God, we know we cannot pay you For your love in Christ your Son.
Gifts and tithes are just a “thank you”– Ways to pass your blessings on.
We have learned that, in our sharing, We receive more than we give.
By your Spirit, make us daring, In this joyful way to live.
Tune: Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, 1813; Text: Copyright © 2006 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved. Copied from Songs of Grace: New Hymns for God and Neighbor by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (Upper Room Books, 2009). Used by permission.