Hungering for Righteousness
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Food is one of the cornerstones of God’s good creation. It nourishes and sustains God’s creatures. Its richness and diversity brings joy to many who delight in the bounty of gardens and grocery stores. But whenever food is hoarded, over-consumed, scarce, or withheld, it can also be emblematic of the brokenness of humanity. When access to nourishing food is lacking, justice is also lacking.
A few years ago, as part of an effort to hear and respond to God’s call to justice in our lives and in our corporate worship, Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Ottawa, Ontario, considered the theme of hunger in a series of worship services. We began just before Canadian Thanksgiving (the second Monday in October) and ended the Sunday after World Hunger Sunday (the first Sunday in November), thematically bookending our services with thanksgiving and remembrance of those who suffer from injustice.
Our morning services explored the biblical images of food and hunger, ranging from creation, fall, and redemption through kingdom work and celebration. Evening services followed a format that was new to our church: everyone gathered in our fellowship hall around tables for discussions that were led by guest speakers and church members.
Outlines of these services follow. Feel free to adapt them to your specific congregational, local, or national issues.
For our first service, we focused on God’s creation and providence of food. Food is a good gift, created to nourish and sustain us. Like any good thing, we need to cultivate a healthy relationship with it. Because food is necessary to human well-being, lack of food has a negative impact on the dignity of human beings created in the image of God. Hunger always has a human face and a human story. Food production is also a part of creation and requires good stewardship of God’s earth.
This service led thematically into Canadian Thanksgiving (the following day) in its emphasis on the goodness of God’s creation.
Genesis 1:1-2:3; Psalm 104
Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 125
Our World Belongs to God, paragraphs 10, 13
Westminster Confession, IV-V.1
“We Sing the Mighty Power of God” CH 128, PH 288, PsH 430
“All Creatures of Our God and King” CH 63, PH 455, PsH 431, SFL 86, SWM 14, TH115, WR 23
“We Bow Down” CH 154, SNC 42
“Lord Most High” SNC 47
For this service we looked at the causes and effects of hunger. In particular, we considered hunger from the perspective of human fallenness: greed, selfishness, conflict, sexism, and racism. We talked about the impact hunger has on those who suffer from it, including limited opportunities, undernourishment, disease, and despair.
Sunday evening provided a deeper exploration of the face of hunger. Members of our congregation shared their very personal stories of hunger. A Dutch immigrant who had lived through the “hunger winter” of World War II in the Netherlands told us of her experience. A Sudanese refugee described his escape from conflict, his trek to safety, and his life in a refugee camp, all on a severely limited diet. One of our deacons reminded the congregation that some families in our congregation and our community experience challenges in finding enough food to feed their families. Zakka Chomok of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee outlined the work of our denomination in Africa—in particular how the issue of AIDS is related to hunger. The congregation was challenged to consider hunger as a problem with complex personal, social, and structural causes.
Genesis 3; Psalm 10; Psalm 51
Canons of Dort, III/IV.1
Our World Belongs to God, paragraphs 15, 16, 17
Westminster Confession, VI
“O Christ, the Lamb of God” PsH 257, SFL 44, SWM 158
“Psalm 51” SNC 51
“Prayer of Confession 1” SNC 52
“Children from Your Vast Creation” SNC 58
“Perdón, Señor/Forgive Us, Lord” SNC 59
“In An Age of Twisted Values” SNC 61
In this service we examined Old and New Testament stories of salvation. In the Old Testament, the Exodus story recounts God’s delivery of his people from oppression. They in turn are called to look after those among them who suffer or are oppressed. In the New Testament, Jesus calls those he saves to “Follow me” and “Feed my sheep.” Likewise, our response of gratitude for salvation and God’s providence must be to impart grace to others. We have a biblical mandate to care for those in this world who are suffering and oppressed, to do justice and to love kindness.
On Sunday evening, we were joined by Jim Cornelius, executive director of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Jim helped us understand the landscape of hunger internationally and the work of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank in ensuring that people have food today and access to food in the future.
Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 67; Micah 6:1-8; 1 Peter 2:1-10
Belhar Confession, Article 2
Westminster Confession, VII-VIII
“Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak” CH 667, PsH 528, PH 426, TH 560, 561, WR 593
“Church of God, Elect and Glorious” PsH 533, SNT 233, WR 541
“Open Our Eyes, Lord” CH 633, SNC 80, SWM 179
“Our Cities Cry to You, O God” PH 437, SNC 266, WR 586
“You Are a Chosen Race” SNT 234
Week 4—Kingdom Work
This service focused on our calling to be prophets. We looked at our responsibility to usher in the kingdom of God by considering the importance of our work for justice. It is not enough for us to feed people today; we must work to change our society and our world to reduce hunger and eliminate the causes of hunger. God calls us to be advocates for the oppressed.
On Sunday evening we welcomed a representative of the Ottawa Food Bank as we considered the face of hunger locally. We asked ourselves questions like these: Who are the hungry in Ottawa? What are the gaps in our system of caring for the hungry? And what is our response as Christian individuals and as a Christian community?
Psalm 99; Amos 5; James 2:14-26; 5:1-6
Belhar Confession, Articles 3-4
Our World Belongs to God, paragraphs 42, 46, 52, 54
“Lord, You Give the Great Commission” PH 429, PsH 523, WR 592
“Will You Come and Follow Me” SNC 267, WR 350
“Here I Am, Lord” CH 589, PH525, SFL243, SNC268, WR 559
“O God, Your Justice Towers” SNC 272
“Go to the World!” SNC 294, WR 553
This Sunday was a day of gratitude, repentance, and expectation. We gave thanks to God for the gifts of food and nourishment, repented of the ways we have subverted and perverted what God intended, and acknowledged the “already but not yet” coming of God’s kingdom that will bring justice to all.
Our evening service included communal prayers and litanies to commemorate God’s providence of food and recognize God’s call to do justice. We ended together with a potluck, practicing hospitality together and sharing the goodness of food as a community.
Leviticus 25; Psalm 145; Luke 4:14-21
Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 58
“In the Lord I’ll be Ever Thankful” SNC 220, WR 448
“Canto de esperanza/Song of Hope” PH 432, SFL 82, SNC 282
“Let All Things Now Living” CH 794, PH 554, PsH 453, TH 125, WR 22
“Now Thank We All Our God” CH 788, PH 555, PsH 454, SFL 33, SNC 228, SWM 230, TH 98, WR 14
“I Will Exalt My God, My King” PsH 186, RN 78, SFL 26, SWM 34
“In the Power of God’s Own Spirit” SNT 65
“Jesus Sets Free” SNT 64
“No Night There” SNT 260, TH 548
Week 6—World Hunger Sunday
Hymn: “I Will Extol You, O My God” PH 185
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
O Lord, you preserve both great and small.
How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both high and low among the peoples of the earth
find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
In your light, we see light. (Adapted from Ps. 36:5-9)
“My Song Forever Shall Record” PH 209, PsH 593, RL 113, TH 99
“God of Justice, Ever Flowing” SNC 101 (Lenten stanzas 1-3, followed by Advent stanza 1)
Prayer of Confession
God of justice and grace, we come to you, hungry for your forgiveness.
We confess the brokenness of our world, manifested in hunger; the injustice that allows some to go without enough food while others have more than enough. We mourn the poverty that robs many people of their daily bread.
You are the Bread of Life. Empower us to share in that life by sharing your love and justice with others.
Help us to see you in the people we meet; your grace in the relationships we share. Help us to give bread, love, and hope to a world that longs for these things. Help us to move past our indifference, our selfishness, to practice your love. Help us to feed your sheep. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Our God is a God of mercy. Those who seek forgiveness will find it.
Our God is a God of plenty. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.
Our God is a God of abundance. Those who are blessed by grace are inspired to share.
Our God is a God of love. Rest in God’s love, and be transformed.
Hymn: “Song of Mary” (st. 1, 3-5) PH 212
Hymn: “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” PH 290
Hymn of Sending: “Bring Forth the Kingdom” SNC 123, SWM 236, SNT 20, SFL 154
God of all creation, we praise you for your gifts of beauty and plenty in a world that surrounds us with signs of your loving care.
We will answer your call to let justice flow like a river, “to deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.”
May your good creation become a banquet where all your children are fed and nourished and where your hospitality is practiced.
Guide us as we work for your kingdom; fill us with joy in your service. (Based on Ps. 72:12)
Hymn: “Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service” PH 603
Most of the confessions and catechisms used in this series can be found online, including the Heidelberg Catechism and the contemporary testimony Our World Belongs to God at www.crcna.org/pages/beliefs.cfm and the Belhar Confession at www.crcna.org/pages/belhar.cfm.
Stations of the Banquet
One of the resources we used in putting this series together was Stations of the Banquet: Faith Foundations for Food Justice by Cathy C. Campbell. In her book, Campbell offers an exploration of biblical images of food within the story of salvation while examining the reality of food insecurity today. These insights are complemented by theological resources and suggestions for practical action. Campbell re-visions the biblical story and God’s presence in ever-widening circles in the world through “stations of the banquet.” Each “station” considers spiritual challenges and practices.
For example, we considered the following spiritual challenges and practices as we planned our worship:
- Week 1: the spiritual challenge of limits and the practice of simplicity
- Week 2: the spiritual challenges of limits, property, and repentance, and the spiritual practices of simplicity, alms, tithes, taxes, and transformation
- Week 3: the spiritual challenges of witness, solidarity, repentance, sanctification, and discipleship, and the spiritual practices of lament, inclusion, transformation, praise, and joy
- Week 4: the spiritual challenges of faith, love, hope, generosity, and patience and the spiritual practices of prayer, compassion, humility, and Sabbath
Resources on Hunger for the Congregation
We put together resources for the congregation on issues of hunger locally and nationally so that they could learn more on the topic, either at church or at home. We also provided several opportunities for our congregation to get involved in combating hunger.
On Week 4, when we considered our call to be engaged in kingdom work, we provided the following list of different ways individuals and our congregation could get involved in working for justice in the area of hunger.
Donate . . .
- your time to an organization that works to combat hunger, such as the Ottawa Food Bank, Bread for the World, or Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.
- your money to a development agency or local organization, or buy a goat or another item to alleviate hunger in families across the world (see CRWRC’s gift catalog at www.crwrc.org).
- food to the Ottawa Food Bank or a local food pantry or soup kitchen.
- your used cell phones and printer cartridges to the thINK Food project.
Create . . .
- Plant a row in your garden for the Grow-A-Row program and donate it to the Ottawa Food Bank.
- Support the Canadian Foodgrains Bank in its local community growing projects.
Advocate . . .
- for fair social assistance policies and community employment programs.
- for your nation to meet its development aid commitments.
- write or meet with national or local government officials to express your support for these practices.
Relate . . .
- Share your story, your questions, and your thoughts with others.
- Listen to the stories of those who have been affected by hunger or who work to end hunger.
- Develop supportive personal relationships with friends, family, and neighbors that encourage giving and receiving a helping hand.
To find out more . . .
- Ottawa Food Bank: www.theottawafoodbank.ca
- The Mission: www.ottawamission.com
- Christian Reformed World Relief Committee: www.crwrc.org
- Canadian Foodgrains Bank: www.foodgrainsbank.ca
- Oxfam: www.oxfam.ca
- United Nations World Food Programme: www.wfp.org
- The Hunger Project: www.thp.org
- Bread for the World: www.bread.org
Note: You’ll want to research the organizations in your own community and provide information on local opportunities to work for justice.
Don’t forget to involve kids in hunger-alleviation efforts in your congregation and at home. Many of the action suggestions in the sidebar (p. 29) are suitable for kids as well as adults. Kids can
- plant seeds and weed a garden at church or at home.
- make posters or flyers to solicit donations of canned food for a local food bank or a church food pantry.
- help collect and bring food to a pantry.
- collect money for an organization that relieves hunger. CRWRC’s “Peter Fish” program is perfect for families. Fish-shaped banks are distributed before World Hunger Sunday. Daily devotions and giving suggestions help families or Sunday school groups focus on the needs of the world’s poor as they collect funds for CRWRC. For more information, visit www.crwrc.org and search for “Peter Fish.”
- write letters to government officials advocating for hunger relief.
- serve as Scripture or litany readers in worship services (visit www.ReformedWorship.org and search on “hunger” to find available worship resources).