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Mar.30/14 sermon - The Economy of Love

posted Apr 1, 2014, 8:26 PM by Wesley United Church Regina

In our world we have a complicated relationship marginalized folk. This is nothing new as we can see from today’s reading from the fourth gospel. Jesus and his disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples ask what seems to be a very bizarre question. They ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” They were blaming his disability on some form of personal sin; either his own sin or his parent’s sin.

The tradition of the Jewish people at this time held that people with disabilities were afflicted because of someone’s personal sin. They blamed the disability on the person or their parents. This is unconscionable. At least today we don’t do that. We don’t blame people with disabilities.

Except we kind of do. We don’t actually blame people for their disability but people with disabilities have 37% higher poverty rate than the average population. So while we are not actually blaming people for their disability they still bear the brunt of the disability themselves. If ones disability means that one will inevitably live in poverty it doesn’t really matter whether we say that their disability is not their fault. The effect is the same. They are still often poor. Living with disabilities leads to poverty and I think there is a problem with that.

Part of the problem is that we have lost the sense of responsibility for our neighbour. Our society is organised around the individual and possibly their family. We say things like, “God helps those who help themselves”, which is not biblical but is in fact a saying from that champion of the individual Ben Franklin. We have distanced ourselves from the call we heard from the Hebrew Bible “to not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. We should rather open our hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” We have lost the idea that poverty is everybody’s responsibility.

And poverty causes so much harm in the world. Poverty is hard on your health. Poor people have higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and lung diseases. Living in substandard households that have mold leads to a much higher incidence of asthma and bronchitis. Poverty leads to higher suicide rates.

Part of that comes from the social isolation associated with poverty. Living in poorer neighbourhoods with higher crime rates leads folks to remain in their homes and avoid socializing. Also, many activities cost money leading to further social isolation. Being poor is really hard.

But it is not just poor people. Not only is poverty is extremely hard on the poor but it actually harms everybody. It even damages our economy. The people at Poverty Costs Saskatchewan say that the cost of poverty to the people of Saskatchewan is as much as 3.8 Billion dollars a year. They didn’t just pull this number out of the air. There is a lot of research supporting this. There are three areas that directly cost the province. They are social assistance, health and crime.

A single person on social assistance receives in Regina receives 455 dollars per month while a single person with one or two children would receive 865 dollars per month. While this can take off some of the hard edges of poverty it is not enough to help people extricate themselves from the cycle of poverty. In 2010, the Saskatchewan government spent 720 million dollars on Social Assistance. If we were able to lift people out of poverty we could save that money.

Poverty also leads to increased health costs. Each year, Saskatchewan spends 6.25 billion dollars on healthcare. However, the poorest 20% of the population accounts for 30% of the healthcare costs. The increased use of healthcare services by poor folk means that we spend an extra $420 million on health care. Similar calculations are used to estimate that poverty adds 50 to 120 million a year to our criminal justice system.

All this adds up to 1.3 billion dollars of direct costs. The other costs are called opportunity costs. If people were not living in poverty it is only common sense that they would spend more money. This means that they would pay more taxes like GST and PST. Also they would simply buy more stuff, spending more at local business. The folks at Poverty Costs say that these opportunity costs come to 2.5 billion dollars. Adding the direct costs with the opportunity costs takes us to the 3.8 billion dollars. I don’t want to bore you with numbers but I wanted to tell you that there is actual research out there showing how damaging poverty is to our economy.

My point is that poverty costs everybody. There are economic costs to poverty that affects everybody in the province. But we can do something about it. Of course the solutions are complicated, but by taking action we can help our economy. It is not as simple as increasing social assistance rates although that is part of the solution. I know it’s complicated, but it can be done. Poverty Costs and Poverty Free Saskatchewan have information on detailed strategies to eliminate poverty, so that we can end the drain on our economy.  We have economic reasons to take action to reduce poverty. Ending poverty will help the economy.

But that’s not the best reason for eliminating poverty. The best reason is love. The best reason to eliminate poverty is that we are called to love. We are called to love God, with all our hearts, all our mind, all our body, all our souls and to love our neighbour as ourselves. And if we do that we will not be far from the kin-dom God. We need to eliminate poverty because it is the loving thing to do. We need to respond in love.

What I’m advocating is an economy of love. That each and every decision made is based in love. That every time we make a decision we try to make the most loving decision. And again, I know it is not that simple. Sometimes we will try to make the most loving decision and we will make a mistake. Other times we will discern the most loving decision and it will be out of our reach and we will have to compromise. We still live in an imperfect world. But if we respond in each and every moment to the loving way possible we can eliminate poverty, we can create a better world. That’s what Jesus was talking about when he proclaimed the kin-dom of God. He was speaking of a different way of organizing our world, a different kind of economy, an economy of love.

And should we really be surprised that responding with love in each and every moment leads to our corporate well-being? Should we be surprised that if we always love our neighbour and always act on that love that we can eliminate poverty? It may sound like I am speaking of a kind of prosperity gospel where if we act lovingly then God will reward us with prosperity. But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying that God will intervene if we are obedient. I am saying that if we respond to God’s lure to love in each and every moment then we can create a better world. I’m saying that if love is at the centre of all our decisions then we can help create a poverty free Saskatchewan. I am saying that if love is our compass we can be co-creators of the kind-dom of God. I’m saying that if we respond in love it will take us into places where we’ve never been before and opens doors to worlds outside the lines. That if we love openly, love recklessly, love extravagantly then our love will colour outside the lines. That our love can lead to exploring paths few could ever find. Paths lead to an economy of love. Paths that lead to a poverty free Saskatchewan. And that’s good news. Amen.


Charles Plante,

Wesley United Church Regina,
Apr 1, 2014, 8:26 PM