Promise and Pain: Service for world hunger

Call to Prayer: "If You Believe and I Believe," from Zimbabwe
[Available in RW 31, p. 41]


The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness,
for God satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

Hymn: "For the Fruits of His Creation," sung to the tune AR HYD Y NOS
[PsH 455, PH 553, RL 21; Tune PH 544]

st. l: all
st. 2: cantor, with all on the refrain
st. 3: all

A Litany of Promise and Pain

Voice 1: The eyes of all living things
look hopefully to you, O Lord.

Voice 2: You give them food when they need it.

Voices 1 & 2: You open your hand and satisfy
the demand of every living thing.

All: The eyes of all living things
look hopefully to you, O Lord.

Voice 3: More than 500 million people...

Voice 4: More than 500 million people ...

Voices 3 & 4: More than 500 million people are always hungry,
looking hopefully to the Lord.

All: The eyes of all look to you, O Lord.
Will you give them their food in due season?

Voice 1: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Voice 2: We shall eat our bread to the full
and live securely in the land.

All: Let us taste the goodness of the Lord!

Cantor: "Taste and see that God is good,
sheltering all who love his name."
[PsH 34:3]

Voice 3: Hunger, poverty and malnutrition
claim the lives of 40 thousand children
each day around the world.

Voice 4: These deaths are a silent holocaust.

All: The eyes of all look to you, O Lord.
Do you open your hand and satisfy
the desire of every living thing?

Voice 1: Ho! Everyone who is thirsty come to the waters.

Voice 2: You who have no money come, buy and eat!

All: We shall eat in plenty and be satisfied.
Let us praise the name of our God!

Cantor: "God the LORD sees all our needs;
he will answer us in grace."
[PsH 34:5]

Voice 3: Nearly 700 million people earn less than 275 dollars per year. This extreme poverty
causes hunger, disease, and high infant mortality.

Voice 4: They say, "Look, O Lord, and consider, for I am despised."
They say "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering?"

All: Lord, we hear the promise and the pain,
and we find ourselves in the gap.
God, we confess that we look away
and pass by on the other side.
We confess that we cover our ears
and pass by on the other side.

Hymn: "God of All Living"
[PsH 604]

st. 1: solo
st. 2-5: all

Voice 3: The problem is not that there
is not enough food to go around.

Voice 4: The problem is that enough food
does not get around.

Voice 3: There is enough for everyone's need.

Voice 4: But not enough for everyone's greed.

Voice 3-4: The people groan as they search for their bread.

All: We confess that we withhold our comfort
and pass by on the other side
We confess that we feed ourselves
and pass by on the other side.

Voice 1: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Voice 2: Give us this day our daily bread.

Voice 3: Whatever you do for the least of these,
you do for me.

Voice 4: Whatever you did not do for the least of these,
you did not do for me.

All: Deliver us from Evil.
Break those bonds that keep us
from bearing one another's burdens,
from being sister, brother, neighbor
to anyone in need.
Lord, have mercy
Forgive us our sins.
Renew our compassion.
Throw wide open our arms and soften our hearts
that we may no longer pass by.

Hymn: "Lord, We Cry to You for Help"
[PsH 261]

Scripture and Sermon (see box for suggestions)

Intercession for the Poor

[Refrain, sung first by cantor, then by all:]

Teach us to pray always and not to lose heart.
We pray for the millions of children who are living
in poverty.
We pray that they may receive the basic necessities of life.
We pray for orphans and children alone and lonely.
Give them comfort and love.

We pray for men and women
whose hard labor is without reward or joy.
We pray for women
who bear the greatest burden for their families,
who face the greatest obstacles to freedom.
We pray for their support and encouragement.

We pray for those in positions of power and leadership.
We pray for compassion, wisdom, justice, and mercy.
We pray for community development workers, for
bureaucrats, administrators, social workers,
deacons, preachers, and health workers. We pray that you will establish the work of our hands.

A Commitment to Justice and Mercy

Voice 1: Jesus is the bread of life and the living water,
nourishing all who follow him.

Voice 3: Receive his grace, learn from him,
and follow where he leads.

All: Thanks be to God! We will follow where our Lord leads.

Voice 2: Loose the chains of injustice,

Voice 4: Set the oppressed free and break every yoke.

All: Thanks be to God! We will follow where our Lord leads.

Voice 1: Share your food with the hungry and provide shelter for the poor wanderer.

Voice 3: When you see the naked, clothe them.

All: Thanks be to God! We will follow where our Lord leads.

Voice 2: Then your light will break
forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear.

Voice 4: Your righteousness will go before you
and the glory of the Lord will be
your rear guard.

All: If we spend ourselves on behalf of
the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then our light will rise in the darkness!
Thanks be to God! We will follow
where our Lord leads.

Hymn: "Sent by the Lord," from Cuba (see sidebar)


The Litany of Promise and Pain was read by two pairs of people who stood at opposite ends of the worship space with the congregation between them. Voices 1 and 2 spoke from one balcony corner; voices 3 and 4 from the opposite corner.

The prayers in "Intercession for the Poor" were read by three different people in the congregation who had been given microphones and simply stood to pray. The purpose was to emphasize that the "prayers of the people" really were coming from the people. These prayers were framed by the song "On the Poor," also called "Kyrie Guarany" after the Guarany people of Paraguay. The Guarany people have experienced much oppression and are scattered throughout South America.


This service was prepared by Roy Berkenbosch, who recently spent two years in Bangladesh as Field Director for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee. The service was a part of the Hunger Task Force report to the 1993 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church. Berkenbosch is now copastor of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.



Leviticus 25: This entire chapter describes the year of Jubilee as a structural deterrent against perpetual poverty, hunger, and displacement.

Matthew 25:40: "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Given the Old Testament background of Isaiah 58 and Proverbs 19:17, this passage promises surprise encounters with Jesus in our everyday world. If seeing Jesus on Judgment Day is to be good news for us, then we must learn to see him now among the poor and dispossessed of the earth.

Matthew 26:11: "The poor you will always have with you." Christians often misunderstand this quote, thinking that it describes the inevitability of hunger and poverty. A close reading of Jesus' source, Deuteronomy 15, suggests otherwise.

Luke 4:18: Jesus, in his inaugural sermon, preaches from Isaiah 61:1-2: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor." This passage reveals Jesus' concern for liberating people from the bondage of poverty and hunger.

Luke 6:21a, 25a: "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied... woe to you who are well fed now; for you will go hungry." The gospel comes in both the major key of grace and the minor key of judgment. Luke's rendering of Jesus' words promises a surprising reversal of affairs. The story of Lazarus and the rich man (16:19-31) elaborates this theme.

Luke 10:32: "When he saw him, he passed by on the other side." The familiar parable of the good Samaritan is always an occasion for comfortable Christians to reflect on how easy it is to "pass by" the needs of people who suffer from hunger.

Roy Berkenbosch ( is the Vice President of Student Life and Campus Ministries at The King's University College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


Reformed Worship 32 © June 1994, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.