SA Harvest near Two Wells, Nov 2014

An inconvenient truth

Week of Sunday July 26 - Pentecost 9
Gospel: John 6:1-21

A draft sermon:

How many people will die of hunger, or from diseases related to poor nutrition, while we are in church this morning, and having our monthly church lunch? Well, between 10 and 1.00 pm, between 1000 and 3,500 people, most of them children, will die of hunger and hunger related disease. (here, here, here) That's horrible statistic number one.

Here's the second horrible statistic: There is enough food for everyone in the world. "There is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life." So says the World Food Program. Oxfam says, "The world produces 17% more food per person today than 30 years ago." 

Here is a third unpleasant fact. This is not a problem of distribution. It's not that we can't get the food from Australia to Africa. We can get food to the International Space Station. This is all a matter of will. We nations, and we people, who are rich and powerful do not care enough about the lives of other people to give them the food, or to allow the development of their own adequate agricultural and social structures.

Now for the worst fact of all: In the face of all this, we are almost powerless. Even understanding the economics, the fear, and the hatreds that cause the injustices I have just outlined, is almost impossible. The tangle of human psychology that forms international politics is more than most people can understand. Finding the political will to unravel our relationships into a system of justice for all people is practically impossible. We are stuck.

We are all in this. We all benefit from the inequity between people and between nations. An example: A clergy colleague tells me he is upgrading his Mercedes Benz to a new model. It appals me that he is proudly sharing this on social media. So I feel quite virtuous about my 30 year old, third hand, Toyota van. Yet, what about that van? If I sold that, and used the train… it could be done—  and if I dragged my shopping home in a trolley, or on my head, that's what most of the world does—  another family could live on the money from my van for a year, or even longer.

But if we all sold our machines, you say, we could not produce all the food we produce now. We'd be in a worse position! And you might well be right—  not that there is any excuse for a minister to drive a Mercedes. The fact is— the worst uncomfortable fact of all—  is that we do not know how to even imagine a world where justice and compassion are the ruling elements, let alone know how to transition from our current economic system which is based on greed and selfishness. 

And all that is quite apart from the fact that a great number of the world's rich are quite happy with the way things are, and are in no mood to change. And will be very hostile if we try to make change happen.

Which brings us to the story of Jesus feeding 5000 people. It's in all four gospels. It's described as a miracle. And in John, which we've read today, it's described as a sign. That means John is telling us that it is pointing beyond the fact of the feeding to something very important about Jesus and, ultimately, about the nature of God. He's saying, don't get hung up on the feeding, look at what it points to.

Traditionally, people have often thought Jesus did some kind of magic God trick with the five loaves and two fish and turned them into lots more bread and fish.

And then someone said, "No, most Jewish people carried food with them. What Jesus did was somehow encourage people to share their food."  And that… gets a lot of people upset because they think it denies that Jesus has any real power.

Here's what I think: If you are a Jewish person of Jesus' time, the story of sitting on the green grass in groups of hundreds and fifties and being fed enough with food left over, sounds like the Messiah has come and brought us heaven on earth. It sounds like that time people longed for when life on Earth will be good, and

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
   the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
   and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11)

The story of The Feeding of 5000 doesn't sound like that to us; it just sounds like an impossible story.  But that's only a cultural thing. Jesus's sign was rather more clear to the people there.
It's like if I say "Banjo Patterson:" You'll think, "Clancy of the Overflow," and "Waltzing Matilda."
Or if I say "I was only 19…" you'll think, "Redgum," and "Vietnam War,"
but an American would say, "How does that work?  How do you get from that to Vietnam."  
And we'd say, "It's a cultural thing. You can't see it because you're and American. It's obvious to Aussies."

Now we've just been talking about food and hunger. And we know that getting to "heaven on earth— " getting to a time when everyone has enough to eat—  seems impossible for us. We already have enough food, but we simply can't get ourselves in a place to love each other enough to let everyone live. The old language would say we are trapped in our human sinfulness.

What this story of Jesus' feeding is telling us— at bottom— is that if we will follow Jesus,
if we will live like him,
if we will pay the cost of living like him,
it will put us on the track to a place where the apparently impossible happens.
That will be a place where there is food and life for everyone.

Frankly, I think that is a much bigger miracle than magic with loaves and fishes! It is saying that there is a way for us to become properly human, fully human; a place where everyone is fed, where everyone has enough, and there is food left over.

This is way more significant than a magical multiplication of loaves and fishes. Our inability to share, and our need to hoard for ourselves,  is what may sink us as a species! It is already doing immense damage to the biosphere.

Of course, what the fundamentalists want to tell us is that we do not have enough faith if we don’t make Jesus into a magic miracle worker.  I want to ask them, what kind of faith are you talking about? Faith in multiplication of loaves that lasted for a few hours and left people hungry again,  or faith in the way of Jesus will save the world from us, and turn us into fully human beings who truly are, as Psalm 8 puts it, a little lower than God? I know what I think would be the greater miracle!

If we want something that is hard to believe in, then forget the magical multiplication of loaves and fishes. Choose the second idea! Can it really be that our little changes here will be a part of the changing of the world into something deserving of the name Kingdom of God? When we refuse to be abusive in the way we relate to each other. When we feed those who can't afford even a gold coin for lunch; when we care for the weird folk, and the folks we don't like very much; when we more or less give stuff away in the Market…  all this is changing the way the world works! Now that is really hard to believe. That's like saying a small boy giving away his lunch can feed thousands of people and show them what heaven on earth will be like!  Yet that is all we have. It is where everything starts.

Andrew Prior

Kathy Donley 25-07-2015
I was resistant to this sermon at first, because I thought you were equating "we" who are Christians with "we" who are world citizens. When preachers set things up that way, it tends to be problematic, because "we" Christians should have different expectations of ourselves than "we" world citizens. I thought that by framing this as a world problem, you would end up with an unsolvable problem. Which you kind of did, when you pointed out that we can't imagine that kind of transformation and we know the kind of resistance to it from some quarters. But I was sucked in by the sermon and I really liked where you ended up.

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