Sermon: As Any Had Need

April 30, 2023

Acts 2:42-47
John 10:1-10

by Eric Anderson

The 2022 ALICE report for Hawai’i is out – ALICE is an acronym meaning “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” – in other words, people who work for a living and don’t make a living. I don’t think the name has anything to do with the famous song by Arlo Guthrie. These are the people who can’t get anything they want, even at Alice’s Restaurant.

According to the report, the Household Survival Budget in Hawai’i for a single adult is just over $35,000. For a family of four consisting of two adults, one infant, and one preschooler, it’s more than $100,000. That’s not poverty level. Poverty level is less than $15,630 for a single person and less than $31,920 for four people.

By the way, can you imagine four people living on $32,000? That just isn’t enough to pay for basic necessities: housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and communication (i.e., a smartphone plan). For four people, let me remind you, that takes about $100,000.

How many of Hawai’i’s people are not making ends meet in 2022? Statewide, it’s 44%. Forty-four per cent. Just over a third of those, 15% of the total population, are not just below the ALICE threshold but below the poverty line as well.

Fortunately, Hawai’i County has a lower cost of living. Our neighbors should be doing better, right? Sadly, no. On our island, just over 51% of people live below the ALICE threshold. Again, over a third of those – 18% of our neighbors – fall below the poverty line as well.

These folks struggle to pay their bills on time – and you know what happens when a bill isn’t paid on time. The cost goes up. 31% of Hawai’i Island residents living below the ALICE threshold suffer metal health issues like depression or anxiety. A quarter struggle to pay off debts or meet housing expenses. When spending exceeds income, they use what savings they have, they use credit cards, they reduce other expenses, they work extra hours, they sell their belongings for cash.

And remember, in the midst of ongoing Congressional debates to cut supports for poor people, that we are talking here about Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed people. The House bill raising the debt ceiling calls for employment requirements for public assistance – which is really funny, when you think of it. The current unemployment rate in the United States is 3.5%, the lowest in more than twenty years. These folks are employed.

A 2020 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that in 2018 12 million wage earning people were enrolled in Medicaid and 9 million in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 70% of those folks in both programs worked full time. 90% of them worked in the private sector. 72% of them worked in one of five industries, three of which were restaurants, department stores, and grocery stores.

Working full time and not just eligible for but enrolled in Medicaid and/or SNAP.

Do you recognize a couple of those industries? Grocery stores? Department stores? What did we call the people in those jobs during the early days of the pandemic? Essential workers.

Why are essential workers on Medicaid? Why are essential workers below the ALICE threshold?

We’ll have to go back to the myna’s question: when will human beings learn to share?

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Christians made an attempt at it two thousand years ago.

There is a lot of scholarly controversy about this. It’s clear that the practice of selling one’s possessions to put money into a common treasury came to an end, because we don’t do that today. At least, I haven’t. Some scholars don’t think it ever happened; they think that in writing the book of Acts, Luke put on the first century equivalent of rose colored glasses to emphasize the virtues of those early days. I don’t think that’s likely, however, for a couple of reasons. First, Luke didn’t just mention it and move on. He repeated it in chapter 4, and when Luke repeated things, he thought it was important. Further, in chapter 6, the expanding group of people relying upon a daily distribution from that common treasury demanded a new group of leaders. The first deacons were charged with making sure that everyone in the community received food. The office of deacon remains a part of church life to this very day.

Sharon Betsworth writes at Working Preacher, “However, just like the stories in Genesis, where the goodness given by God does not last, and the frailty of human existence breaks through paradise, soon this ideal community is marred by sin, in this case greed, power, and prejudice. Sapphira and Ananias sell some of their property, but instead of laying it all at the apostles’ feet as Barnabas did, they keep some for themselves (Acts 5:1-11).”

The concept didn’t fade entirely away, however. Dan Clendenin writes at, “A couple generations after Luke, writing from Rome, the theologian Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) summarized the appeal of Christian community: ‘We who once took most pleasure in accumulating wealth and property now share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed one another and would not associate with men of different tribes because of their different customs now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them and pray for our enemies.’

“And down in north Africa, Tertullian (AD 155–220) similarly wrote about the well-known and well-deserved reputation of believers for social generosity that built bridges of community rather than walls of separation: ‘Our care for the derelict and our active love have become our distinctive sign before the enemy… See, they say, how they love one another and how ready they are to die for each other.’”

Which would you rather have? The communities of which Luke and Justin Martyr and Tertullian wrote? Or the one in which half of our neighbors struggle to make ends meet?

I note with some despair that between our ancestors and ourselves, we have chosen. We’ve chosen the one we live in.

How do we choose differently?

We start by choosing the goal of a sharing society, one that looks more like the little community of first century Jerusalem and less like the Roman Empire that surrounded them, or the feudal states of Japan or Europe, or the caste systems of India, or the wealth inequality displayed in the United States of America. We can decide that we want something better than what we have now, something better for our ALICE neighbors and our impoverished neighbors, something better for the actual majority of people on our island.

We continue by discarding the falsehood that wealth and virtue are synonymous – or that they have much to do with one another at all. As George Monbiot has written, “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

I’m afraid that the purchase of a certain social network by a certain very wealthy person has not been marked by increasing virtue on that network or from the leadership of that network. Antisemitic posts rose by 105% in the months following the takeover. Press inquiries to the company have recently received automatic replies containing an image of… poop.

Wealth and virtue are not the same thing.

We have got to change the expectations we set for ourselves and for our children. “Keeping up with the Joneses” was always a bad idea. Keeping ahead of the Joneses – which is what the race for more wealth is really all about – is a worse one. The Joneses – the Fujitas – the Padillas – the  Andersons, even – are our neighbors. There is enough for everyone, or would be if 10% of the population didn’t hold over 68% of the wealth. Can we teach ourselves and our children that to share is a virtue and to hoard is a vice?

We’ll need to change public policy. Taxes in the US have, in the past, restrained the pursuit of wealth, essentially by taxing higher incomes at higher rates. Those policies have been changed repeatedly since the 1980s. The result has been more wealth in the hands of wealthy people.

Curiously, that hasn’t been of great benefit for our society as a whole. Recessions in the United States between 1945 and 2007 decreased Gross Domestic Product by no more than 3.7%. Prior to that, during the era of laissez-faire capitalism, recessions from the end of the Civil War up to the Great Depression caused declines in business activity of 9.7 to 38.1%. The bank restrictions and tax structure of the 40s and 50s stabilized the US economy until they were progressively undone in the 80s and 90s and the predictable result – because people predicted it – was the Great Recession of 2007.

They tried back in Jerusalem. It didn’t last. They were overwhelmed by circumstance and, let’s be honest, the perennial appeal of greed. But those few words, “as any had need,” they remain the goal for which we strive in the face of greed’s power and wealth’s allure. The disregard for the poor displayed by some Christians cannot go unchallenged. The worship of wealth by some Christians cannot go uncritiqued. And most of all, our neighbors whose labor leaves them uncertain of how to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table and their health provided for – their situation needs to improve so that any who have need find it satisfied.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

Pastor Eric does make changes in his sermon text during delivery. We think he got all the statistics right, though.

Photo by brewbooks from near Seattle, USA – Need …. Peace, CC BY-SA 2.0, Brewbooks writes of the photo: “Found these two rocks, labeled Need and Peace – on the top of Steamboat Rock. Steamboat Rock, a basalt butte that is located on north end of man-made Banks Lake in the Grand Coulee, North central Washington.”

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on April 30, 2023

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