by Dan Ruth
“You know you are a Lutheran when… even if you knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, you would still plant your apple tree.”
I ran across this image on the Lutheran Memes Facebook page this morning, and think it’s a wonderfully hope-filled statement, and appropriate for Lutheran World Relief. LWR’s work to “end poverty, injustice and human suffering” can often feel like a pointless swim upstream. The daily news is filled with new stories and statistics on hunger, drought, natural disasters and disease. It often feels as if decades — even centuries — of fighting poverty has not made an ounce of difference.
Take this statistic: in the late 1950s, nearly 1 billion people went hungry every day. Today, nearly 1 billion people still go hungry every day![source] The problems of the world can make us easily throw up our hands in despair.
Yet our Lutheran tradition and our faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ gives us hope that our work is not in vain. We do not deny the world’s brokenness and sinfulness, but we also do not give in to defeat. We live in a world where we are saved in spite of our sins, by grace alone, a world where see God’s kingdom already and not yet breaking in.
And so we Lutherans take the long view of history and salvation. We see through the statistic that 1 billion people still face hunger. We recognize that in the late 1950s, the world’s population was just 3 billion, and we were able to feed 2 billion of them. Today, the world’s population is over 7 billion. We are now able to feed 3 times what we could before! Rather than 2/3, we now feed 6/7 of the world population. What seems certain, hopeless — even impossible! — can be overcome by hope-filled planting.
Although we accept that suffering and death are certain, we have faith in God’s promise that, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). This hope and assurance sends us out into the world, planting our apple trees.