THE FOUR FREEDOMS---FREEDOM FROM WANT
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 23; Philippians 4:15-20
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
On these four July Sundays we are considering The Four Freedoms made famous by President Franklin Roosevelt. Today we focus on the third freedom, The Freedom from Want.
In our everyday dialogues with others we often speak of our wants. As a child perhaps it is a ball glove, a tea set, or for a grandparent not to be sick. In our teen years we want our first car. Latter still we want new clothes, a different career, a new front door for the house, or a back door out of a relationship.
If we are parents we want our children to not to experience the same difficulties growing up as we knew. In all of these we are thinking about things, or situations, or people, which we believe would make our lives better.
In President Roosevelt’s original speech, delivered to Congress and the nation in January, 1941 he stated this freedom with these words: “The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants, everywhere in the world.” President Roosevelt speaks of a “healthy peacetime life” for every inhabitant for every nation.
The biblical image that comes to mind is of every individual resting under his or her own fig tree. (Micah 4:4). One of the difficulties in the current Middle East situation is that there are many people, on all sides of the issue, who are trying to sit under their own fig tree, but others are saying, “But it is planted on my family’s land.” The freedom from want is not to have all our wishes and desire are met, but to meet those basic human needs identified by Abraham Maslov: air to breathe, clean water to drink, food, shelter, and at least some sense of security.
The freedom from want includes meeting our very basic physical needs but also essential spiritual and emotional needs as well.
Let us remember the time in which FDR spoke these words. Our nation was devastated by a great depression, we were facing involvement in the world war, domestic and international anxiety was a great height. The times were tough and life was hard for the overwhelming majority of people in our country and worldwide.
Freedom from want was to somehow address those impoverishing conditions that ground life to nothingness.
Norman Rockwall’s painting for this freedom depicts a family gathered at what appears to be a Thanksgiving meal as the grandmother and grandfather carefully place a huge turkey on the table. It is a picture of abundance. However the picture conveys the feeling that in this gathering is not only an abundance of food, but also love, care, and emotional strength for each other. Physical and emotional needs are met at this table.
President Roosevelt invited Carlos Bulosan to write the essay in The Saturday Evening Post that accompanied this picture. Bulosan was born in colonial Philippines. The rich, political elite economically impoverished him and his family.
At age seventeen he left for America. Here he started out as a farm worker, harvesting grapes and asparagus and working as a dishwasher. After many years of discrimination, starvation and sickness he developed tuberculosis, which made him lose most of the right side of his ribs and the function of one lung. Yet, in spite of all that, he also became a novelist.
In his essay we can hear much of his personal background experience coming through:
It is only when we have plenty to eat that we begin to understand what freedom
means. To us, freedom is not an intangible thing. When we have enough to eat,
then we are healthy enough to enjoy what we eat. Then we have the time and
ability to read and think and discuss things. Then we are not merely living but
also becoming a creative part of life. It is only then that we become a growing
part of democracy.
Bulosan points to the meeting of basic physical needs but also the spiritual and emotional needs as well.
Ernest F. Scott was for over thirty years a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He observed that what human want most of all is to know that their joys and troubles are heard. Perhaps as equally important as having our basic needs met, is to know that our life-situation is understood and shared by others.
Isn’t that what is said in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Why do we not want? Because we know that God shares the ups and downs of life with us. God makes us to lie down in green pastures, leads us beside still waters, restores our souls, leads us in right paths, is with us in the valley of shadows, prepares a table for us even in the face of our enemies, anoints us, and finally receive us when we are ready for our eternal home. We know that we are not alone and are known and understood.
Paul in his letter to the Philippians also reflects that same want, to know we are not alone and that we are understood and valued. Paul probably writes this letter from prison in Ephesus. He has already written them one thank you letter earlier, but here at the end of this letter he thanks them again. Paul knows one can never really say thank you too much.
The irony is that since Paul is in prison he really can’t use the monetary gift they have sent him, but he is grateful because his joy is in their love that has inspired their gift, the fruit of the Spirit that is in them. Paul likens their situation to that of a flower that is flourishing and fragrant again after a time of drought.
The Philippians have passed through a difficult time when they were in no position to help anyone, but now they are back to being able to share others’ burdens. He tells them that it is by their example and the power of Christ that he has learned how to be equally at home in times of plenty and times of want.
Paul states that what they have given to him has become not just a gift to him, but also an offering to God, and that God will supply their every want as well.
Our times today are not so different from FDR’s. We too are in a difficult economic climate around the world. Terror, war, and violence are constantly before us. There is a great deal of domestic and international anxiety. We to seek the freedom from want.
FDR gave a speech later to the United Nations that continued on the subject of freedom from want:
“The proposal that ‘want’ be abolished from this world would be pretentious, or
even ridiculous, were it not for...the discovery that beyond any doubt, we now
possess the technical ability to produce in great abundance the necessities of
of daily life, enough everyone. Freedom from want, everywhere in the world, is
within our grasp.”
President Roosevelt’s point is we can take care of everyone’s physical needs, if we would choose to make that a value and goal. Our faith tells is it is God’s will that both the physical and spiritual needs of all people be met. I believe we have the compassion, by God’s will, to do that. But will we?
Paul’s statement, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Jesus Christ,” is not just a theological speculation; Paul is speaking from his own experience. He has known the riches of God’s forgiving and transforming love for himself. He has also experienced that as he shared God’s love with others; he was all the more enriched in his spiritual life.
Further, he also saw the abundance of God’s love at work in the many Gentiles who came to faith because of his life and work. All these early Christians were far from wealthy, yet they had a richness of life that most of us only occasionally dream might be ours. If we trust that God supplies our every need, then we are freed to look to other peoples’ needs and help with them. We can address the issues of want in our world today, if we will open our spirits to God’s Spirit.
A few years ago Andrea and I attended a memorial service for a colleague in the ministry. He was my District Superintendent and Andrea was his secretary. He was a man who did not want for much. He was frugal. He would take light bulbs back to Home Depot because they lasted only four and half years but we guaranteed for five. His issue was economy, but also truth. They had promised five years!
Yet he was also an abundantly gracious. Gentle, loving, and generous person to all he met. He held strong ideas, but would always listen to others and never would belittle the other person or their ideas. Such freedom from want comes only by faith.
We experienced that from Walter Cronkite too. Here was a person who not only spoke to us, but also often spoke for us, one who cried publicly along with us at the death of a president. One who laughed and shouted and clapped and smiled for joy when we were able to land a person on the moon. A man who appeared to have no wants in his life because he was a simple person, a centered person, a focused person, a dedicated person. He made us feel like we didn’t want either.
Time and time again people of means say that what they have takes on a whole new richness and meaning for them when they learn to give to others.
Like Abraham and Sarah were blessed to be a blessing. John Wesley told his people that after they had taken care of their own needs, not their wishes and desires, but their needs, they were to give everything else to God’s work in the lives of others, and they too would be richly blessed.
Let’s find out!
The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want.
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH