This morning in Kirk there was a sermon based on the lectionary readings for today. Looking at the implied command of extreme generosity.
32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Our minister noted that we find this uncomfortable.
Firstly, we run a socail welfare system. We pay for the support of the poor, the handicapped and the needy through taxes. Secondly, we are not isolated from our families and our employment by our belief. We have a family (the original economic unit) and most of us can get a job. Finally, among the presbyterians, we have made caring for the indigent a job for a committee. There is not the personal need or the personal response.
Now, thinking about this, I considered the following.
- The welfare state is bankrupt. Most Western countries, if not in debt, have unsustainable policies around retirement. The simple fact is if you make it to 60 in good health, you have an excellent chance of making it to 80. Given that it takes most of us about 30 years to reach the point where we are making a reasonable income, we cannot support 20 years of retirement on 30 years of income. The retirement age will have to lift, or the pension lose value, or both. In addition, having one in five adults on a social benefit is not sustainable. We will have to go back to a smaller welfare state, or go bankrupt. This will mean that we will again see real poverty, not a statistical variation of income.
- Families are broken. And for this we can thank the tolerance of divorce, the functional removal of stigma for procreating outside of the marital bond, and the support of single mothers by the state and the family court system. In addition, there is a very strong pressure on young women to attend graduate school before settling down, which removes from their sights many young men who have but a job or a trade. There are a limited number of men entering the professions (I was talking to a law student after Kirk and she said most of her class are girls) and modern young women are not told the biological facts — that her peak fertility and ability to raise young children is in her 20s, that it falls off in her 30s, and conceiving after 40 is really difficult. This means that we have a lot of single people. And single people do not have a network that supports them, but the state.
- Redundancy is lost. Redundancy is seen as inefficiency. A simple example. I have both a heat pump (air conditioner engineered to heat not cool) and a wood burning stove. I really only need one of them on at any time. But… there are sacks of wood in the garage, and I need to get more. Because in winter, if the power is out, we will still be warm. In a similar manner, although I do not grill often, there is a gas grill on the patio and I practice roasting on it. If you only have the state as your backup, and it falls, so will you.
In these circumstances, the church will again become the social welfare system, the support network, and the network of caring. For the single, disabled, widowed, the very young, and the very old.
At present, our generosity (where I live) can safely go to the poor in other countries. (the “poor” in New Zealand have subsidized income and often get fat: high quality food is expensive but fat and starches are cheap. The really poor are malnourished — they cannot get clean water, or fat, or starches.
At present, we can support drilling wells and providing water. But we are rich. That never lasted. And when we, as a nation, are poorer, then the church must not merely set up committees to hamper the Spirit.