At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
By the time you read this the general election may already be a distant memory, but as a I write campaigning is in full swing. Just yesterday there was controversy when a politician suggested that the typical users of food banks are not people ‘languishing in poverty’ but those with temporary cash flow issues. How we respond to and help people who are hungry, and the reasons why they are hungry, are still questions for us to consider. There are many factors – conflict, economic systems, inequality, climate change – and it can be hard to know how we should address these problems.
These same questions are also reflected in today’s reading from Acts. It’s such a brief story that it’s natural to want to fill in the gaps and ask questions. There’s debate among commentators over what events this refers to, and we don’t get much detail to go on. When exactly did this famine happen? Was there a gap between the prophecy and the reality, or did it follow very quickly? The answers to these historical questions are not clear. But what is clear is that, when the church in Antioch hears that their brothers and sisters in Judea are in trouble, they immediately want to do what they can to help. They send relief to the Judean church, hoping to protect them from hunger. We can see this as the church putting into action Jesus’ commandments to love another, and to ‘feed my sheep’.
Our churches today also often work to prevent hunger, whether through support for a food bank in the local community, or by raising money for organisations such as Christian Aid who work across the world. In doing so, we are helping to build the Kingdom of God; but to do that effectively, we need to go further than the church in Antioch on that particular occasion, helping not only our fellow Christians but all who are in need.
Gracious and merciful God, we know that there are many in our world who go hungry, and we pray for them all; we pray not only that they will they be fed, that famine will be replaced by plenty, but also that unfair systems that lead to poverty can be replaced with justice.
We pray for the work of all aid organisations and other groups who set out to help people in need, and build a world where all will know your abundant gifts. We ask too that you will guide us to do what we can to make that vision a reality. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Nick Jones is Minister at Heswall URC & St. George’s URC, Thornton Hough in the Mersey Synod.