Monday afternoon I met with a group of students at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh. It’s one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, founded by Episcopalians in 1867 to help educate people who had formerly been enslaved. One of the students asked me what my position was on child hunger. I said, “No.” “It’s wrong.” Any society that willingly permits children to go hungry needs to have its head and heart examined. Hunger saps the spirit as well as the body, but it’s especially horrible for children, for it destroys and diminishes their growing bodies and brains.
Jesus and the prophets are particularly clear about God’s intention for creation – the whole garden in which we have been planted is meant to be shared so that all can thrive. If one part of the body is hungry, we’re all going to be sick eventually. Deuteronomy challenges us to live in ways that bless the whole body, and encourage its flourishing: ‘open your fist, soften your heart, share what you have. Do this and you will indeed know what it is to be blessed!’
Jesus is just as clear: ‘if you want to be part of the reign of God, get with the program. Feed the hungry, respond to the pain and misery around you, or you will indeed find yourselves in hell – and it is a hell of your own creation!’ It’s unfair to goats, however, to compare them to miserly human beings. Goats have better instincts about taking responsibility for other members of their herd.
Did you hear the psalmist’s joyful image of what God has in mind? ‘You make the earth plentiful, you soften the ground and bless its increase, you crown the year with goodness and we can see overflowing abundance in your wake.’ There is abundance, if it’s not hoarded or squandered.
And yet there is hunger here in New Bern, there is hunger in each of the communities we call home, there is crippling hunger in our inner cities and rural areas, and on Native American reservations. Many of those places are food deserts, where there is little healthy food available within reach of the people who live there – only junk food. There is growing evidence that the kind of calories people have access to – their nutritional state – affects general health, lifespan, and behavior, and increases the likelihood of all sorts of physical and mental illness: depression, diabetes, aggression, reproductive health, and cognitive ability. It is abundantly clear that hungry children do not learn well, or learn at all.
Stop Hunger Now is designed to feed hungry children (and others) with nutritionally dense foods that can be easily transported and stored for use in emergencies. I would encourage you to think of it as a physical parallel to home communion – as sustenance for the body and soul in time of crisis.
There are plenty of other ways to draw the parallel between the heavenly banquet and the communion we celebrate at this table with how we pray and work for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Some congregations feed the hungry of their cities from the same table they use to celebrate the Lord’s supper. Some turn their lawns into vegetable gardens. Many open their doors to feed the hungry from their kitchens – and hand out bags of groceries. And increasing numbers are learning about how advocacy work with city, state, and national governments can help to feed the hungry and change the realities that keep some people in a chronic state of food insecurity.
Almost a quarter of the children in the USA live in poverty – and hunger is a frequent companion. Over 30% of the children in Washington, DC and New Mexico live in poverty, and over half in Puerto Rico.  Worldwide, 1 billion children (45%) are poor and hungry.
Packing emergency rations is one way to help, but the world needs sustainable ways to ensure an adequate food supply for all – that is what the reign of God expects. There are signs of hope and creative response. St. Vincent’s School for handicapped children in Port-au-Prince is considering a hydroponic system that would produce 800 lbs of organic vegetables a week – enough to feed several hundred children and enough more to sell in the local community, as well as provide job training for blind, deaf, and physically challenged children. Backpack programs in many school districts provide food for children to prevent hunger over the weekend.
What is your community dreaming up? How will you help feed the hungry world outside your door and across the world?
That gospel continues as Jesus says, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
 Matthew 25:34-35, 40