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Celebrating Food and Faith Together (sermon notes)

SEASON OF CREATION 2021

For use anytime between September 1, 2021 and October 4, 2021 or at any other suitable time

Ken Gray, July 2021; Kamloops B.C.

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Video Media

If you would like to include video within your sermon, the following three options embody our title Celebrating Food and Faith Together. It takes a community to engage and assist other communities in need. Local community connects with global community. Those who grow food and replenish the land, those who link communities together in partnerships, those who facilitate distribution of food, all have a part to play in creating circumstances where true sharing can flourish, where lives are being saved, where the Creator’s abundance is celebrated and acknowledged.


PWRDF and Canadian Foodgrains Bank in South Sudan

In 2017 famine was declared in South Sudan. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank with money from PWRDF and others helped ADRA South Sudan feed 10,000 people. In this relatively new, independent African country (2011) civil and religious strife and a constant flow of refugees, all coupled with the impacts of climate change have challenged the Church. Despite these constant adversities, there is hope as communities are fed and helped to move forward hopefully and sustainably. The road however is long, and the struggle continues.


Growing in Uganda with Permaculture

PWRDF partner St. Jude Family Projects in Uganda is training community members in effective agriculture techniques, improving food security and health in the process. The message is  simple; food can grow anywhere when growers are given training and encouragement. Small projects can have big benefits. The number of women involved is significant and growing. They participate in a Super Women Programme.


St. Jude Family Projects – Biofertilizer

The St. Jude Centre for Biofertilizer research supports the sharing of knowledge to support food security and accessibility. Multi-national corporations who seek to profit, propose chemical (GMO) solutions for crop fertilization, or even coerce farmers into using their products. St. Jude’s develops and teaches about biological solutions which, once established, are sustainable year over year.


Textual Commentary

Here follow notes and reflections on the texts in the liturgy.

Collect

Holy God, gracious and merciful,
you bring forth food from the earth
and nourish your whole creation.
Turn our hearts toward those
who hunger in any way,
so that all may know your care;
and prepare us now to feast on the bread of life,
Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.  Amen.

Notes: This four-part traditionally shaped collect has us glance in two directions: First to God, Divine Presence, the Source of all being and all that is, abundant in giving and sharing, the One who draws us “further up and further in” (C. S. Lewis, Narnia Tales) to true communion, with God-self and with all creation.

Simultaneously, our hearts are turned to those who hunger, in all ways but including physically.  We can easily produce a list: First Nations members; climate refugees; the victims of dysfunctional families and abusive relationships; friends and neighbours to whom life has thrown a curve ball. Our prayer is really to notice, though not necessarily solve the problems of life and love at this point. To care is to be open to participating in the resolution of deprivation, as we are able, capable and called and equipped.

Prayer is open-ended. It is motivated through a divine pointing towards a future free of anxiety and abundant in all respects including the elimination of hunger.

A reading from the Book of Isaiah (55:1-2,5-7)

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare …
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Notes: Both preacher and activist can learn much from these glorious words from Second Isaiah. Repeat, and repeat again, stress the matter at hand: Come, repeated four times – all are welcome, all are invited, all are included. All who hunger, feed on food, and not just food, but good food.

All obstacles to nourishment are removed in this image of perfect abundance and sharing. There is no money required to influence a sale or gift. In fact, as we might waste money on non-essential stuff, (a distinction between needs and wants comes to mind), the absolute best of what is needed is constantly available.

Access however is frustrated by sin – foolishness, self-centredness, insecurity – such sins are forgiven so as to make the gifts accessible to all. What we do to ourselves and to others frustrates God’s giving self. As the hymn goes:
God, whose giving knows no ending,

from your rich and endless store:
nature’s wonder, Jesus’ wisdom,
costly cross, grave’s shattered door,
gifted by you, we turn to you,
offering up ourselves in praise;
thankful song shall rise forever,
gracious donor of our days. (CP 601)

God’s generosity is almost here hard to believe. Yet is belief what brings us together, heaven and earth, stranger and friend? Or is it trust?

Psalm (145:14-21)

Lord, you are faithful in all your words
and merciful in all your deeds.
You uphold all those who fall
and lift up those who are bowed down.
The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
You are righteous in all your ways
and loving in all your works.
You are near to those who call upon you,
to all who call upon you faithfully.
You fulfil the desire of those who fear you,
you hear their cry and help them.
You preserve all those who love you,
but you destroy all the wicked.
My mouth shall speak your praise, O Lord;
let all flesh bless your holy name for ever and ever.

Notes: Our attention is drawn to a much-loved verse:
The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord,
and you give them their food in due season.

Some argue that we cannot say the Lord’s Prayer with integrity: “Give us this day our daily bread” until all are fed with every kind of bread including physical nutrition. So the psalmist’s concern is justice, God’s justice worked out in the real circumstances of history and of people’s lives; in times of ease and times of challenge.

If justice is lacking, then we are lacking in our response to God, as God’s nature is just, and faithful, and merciful, and generous, and loving. If we forget these things, then regular recitation of the psalm reminds us; nudges us; challenges us, not simply to do more, but to trust God differently, as God’s nature is all these things. We live into this new and just reality as our imagination, our will, our commitment is reshaped by each recitation and outreach practice.

A sharp distinction is made between those who love God and those who are wicked. Choice lives and breathes within and about the individual, even the community. The acrostic form of the psalm which suggests wholeness or completeness (see Gospel below) recalls the injunction to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). We do so, even daily, as “justice flows on like a river” (Amos 5:24). The choice is ours to make; there is no coercion applied. With the gift of grace, comes responsibility and accountability.

A reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians (9:6-9)

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,

“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”

Notes: How many congregational stewardship programs have taken insight from these verses, especially: “God loves a cheerful giver.” The statement is true, if hard to sometimes find examples. We can ask ourselves what makes the practice of giving attractive? Even cheerful? We tend (at least this author tends) to think of giving as losing. Paul suggests the opposite. In any relationship of giving all parties benefit. Giving is a joy-filled practice. The opposite, stinginess at all levels arises from fear.

Writing to the Church at Corinth from a distance, having been told of turmoil and of a significant loss of innocence and confidence as an early Christian community, Paul speaks of gift, giving and the strengthening of community. The concept and practice of sharing seems to have evaporated. The poor have been left behind, again.

In our day we rightly critique the ways in which persons, churches, nations and global entities either share or alternatively hoard resources, technology, knowledge, and yes, food. We presently see this regarding vaccine sharing; we see reluctance within climate crisis conversations and negotiations; we notice with alarm the widening gap between the privilege of the insanely rich and the needs of the growing number of those  desperately poor.

We need an icon of generosity, and in God-in-Jesus we find one. God scatters Godself, love in all manifestations, here naming specifically the poor (God’s preferential option for the poor). Why? Because this is righteous behaviour, arising from the discovery that God is righteous. We also can act in righteous ways. This is Good News.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Matthew (15:29, 32-38)

Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down . . .

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.” He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people.

They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children.

Notes: All Gospel writers record the story of the feeding of the five thousand though only two, Matthew and Mark record the second similar though smaller event (Cf. Mark 8:1-10). Both identify similar details: Seven loaves and a small fish are shared; Seven full baskets are left over. All participants sit on the ground, which could be seen as people being “grounded” (cf. Grounded: Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution, Diana Butler-Bass). Seven is that wonderfully spiritual number, the number of days in a week, the number of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the number symbolic of completeness which is representative of all humanity and not just the Jews.

This story however is told in Gentile territory. This story is told with women and men together named. Between Matthew and Mark one difference is significant for our purposes. Knowing that people have come from far away and are hungry Mark has Jesus say: “If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way (8:3 NRSV). Matthew says, “I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way” (15:32 NRSV). The RSV sharpens the injunction: “I am unwilling to send them away hungry.”

There is a defiance in Matthew less strident in Mark. If the relationship between leader (Jesus) and follower is evolving as the Gospel unfolds, there is a commitment from Jesus to his followers, expressed in a shared meal to which all are invited and who must be fed, regardless of circumstance. Upon such grounding, the Church bases both its purpose and reality. Justice and commitment remain the norm and standard for an outreach and including based on a rigorous generosity.