Words of the prophets

KenWheeler
12/19/2011

Words of the prophets

The recent wave of protests that have arisen around the country and the world in reaction to the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor reminds me of why the biblical prophets gained prominence during the eighth century B.C.

That period of time was also a time of great economic disparity between the haves and the have nots and the disparity, not unlike this current time, was fueled by unbridled greed.

If you have been following my writing here on LivingLutheran.com many of you know that I serve in a ministry setting where there is a large population of people living in poverty. The depth of that poverty has increased over the last couple of years.

Milwaukee now ranks as the ninth poorest city in the nation. But more important than the latest and darkest statistics are the human beings who are represented by those statistics.

They are human beings who have lost hope, people who have turned to drugs or alcohol in order to dull the pain.

What I have come to realize and understand is the systemic nature of poverty. People don't desire to be poor. The majority of people living in poverty are poor because of circumstances and realities that are larger than themselves.

What ought not be lost on any of us in the Occupy Movement is what these people are angry about.

Righteous anger

It was what the prophets were angry about.

It is what we who are people of faith ought to be angry about, namely the growing poverty that we witness not only on our shores but also around the world, that is the result of the excessive greed of a few.

In a recent text study as we were mulling over one of the Advent texts, a colleague said, "I just see so much anger, so many people who are living in a place of despair." And the anger is legitimate.

People have been without a livable wage ever since the factories closed in the mid-1970s in this city. It’s dark!

No jobs and no prospect of a job. It’s dark!

Forty percent of our children will drop out of school by the end of ninth grade and some of them will end up on the street with no dreams and no place to go but a dead end. It’s dark!

Where do we find hope?

But hope comes when we stop defining life primarily in individual terms and begin to relate to each other and the world.

Those who have been blessed with great resources are asked to share those resources with the least of these, but more importantly we must challenge the structures and the systems and the value judgments that keep people in poverty.

Those of us who serve in this ministry have witnessed a significant increase in the numbers because the need has increased.

A few weeks ago we served almost 500 people a hot meal and we distributed another 200 bags of groceries out of our food pantry.

It is a blessing that we are able to feed people but the words that drip from the mouths of the prophets are words that call for the doing of justice.

Listen to Amos:

"Do you know what I want?" God asks. "I want justice -- oceans of it. I want fairness -- rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want."

I pray in this season of Advent that God will stir such passion in all of us.

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Ken Wheeler is pastor of Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee. He served 18 years as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.

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