** this was a Sunday when the congregation I serve celebrated Harvest as well as an ongoing relationship with the Foods Resource Bank**
In 2014, the Foods Resource Bank program reached a milestone: they reached more than 1 million people through their sustainable food security programs. And this year, we have reached a milestone. This church has been involved with FRB for 10 years now. 10 years of doing what comes naturally to so many of you, farming, and using our harvest to benefit others. 10 years of accompaniment and a constant promise to people we may have never met that we know that they exist and to us, they matter. I have the privilege of never being hungry (obviously). I’ve never gone without a meal. I’ve never had to sacrifice what I might have eaten just so Ellen could eat. I have no idea what it means to live without food. But for 795 million people worldwide food insecurity is a real issue. 1 in 3 people worldwide lack access to clean and safe drinking water. ⅓ of the population lives without access to a toilet and more people have mobile phones than toilets.
Those are sobering statistics. And you may wonder why it matters, why any of it matters? It matters because when you see someone combining beans or corn, or when we plant beans or corn, it may not mean anything to us. After all, it’s what we do. But to a farmer in Guatemala, it means that he will finally be able to not only grow crops that feed his family but he’ll be able to sell some of them too, curbing the cycle of poverty. For us, it’s big green (or red) machines and trips to ADM, but for a citizen of the Congo, it’s a new well that brings the promise of water to help his oxyn. For those whom we partner with through FRB and Lutheran World Relief, we are, believe it or not, the hands and feet of Jesus. The burden, my friends, has never been easy or light. But, the burden has also never felt so joyful.
Who do you serve or who will you serve? The idea of service, I think, is quite foreign to those of us in the west. We no longer live in a society where we keep slaves (but don’t kid yourself, humans are still bought and sold in this country–but that’s another topic for another day). We are a colony of do-it-yourselfers. We are hard working. And the description I hear of people, especially people from the midwest over and over again is that we’re “shirt off our backs” kind of people. And, if you’re anything like me, you certainly don’t want help, you’re not going to take help, and you’ll be the first to help someone else. We’re independent. This, of course, isn’t all bad. But there are times when we might just think that we serve only ourselves.
Westerners, not us, of course, tend to get into this mindset of “take care of #1”; meaning that we should take care of ourselves first before we take care of anyone else. This thought carries over as we discuss things like health care, legalization status, Veteran’s benefits, and basic civil rights. More than once I have heard or seen arguments that basically boil down to one thought: “taking care of our own.” As the political scene heats up, you hear this a lot, especially when it comes to the process to become a documented citizen of this country. I’ve heard people say “people who are not from this country shouldn’t get health benefits before our Vets. We need to take care of our own.” Or I hear troubling statements like “those (fill in ethnic group here) are coming in here in and taking our jobs when we have our own people living on the street.”
There are many things wrong with statements like these and usually discussing them turns into an all out shouting match. And as people of Christ, it is easy, sadly all too easy, to find ourselves either saying these exact statements or agreeing with people who do. After all, if we don’t look out for ourselves, who will? And it’s not until you have been forced to rely on help from other people that you begin to understand what it means to follow someone who is a servant. When God sent us Jesus, God did not send us an emperor, a dictator, or some evil overlord. God sent us a servant. And in the time of the Roman empire, in the time when power, prestige, and being in authority was a matter of life or death, we were sent a slave. We were sent Jesus. And so it is that a discussion between James and John once again leads Jesus to foretell his death.
See, James and John think that Jesus is headed to greatness and they are, understandably so, looking out for themselves. They rush to Jesus’ side, begging to be on a seat of power when Jesus comes in glory. And the other disciples, understandable so, are ticked because…well…they probably were all thinking “why didn’t I ask first?” And Jesus knows what will happen to him. Jesus knows his journey takes him only one place: to the cross. And even though the disciples have heard Jesus say as much before, they still don’t understand his fate. Don’t kid yourselves, my friends. Denial is a strong and powerful coping mechanism. The disciples didn’t understand what it meant to drink from the cup or be baptized like Jesus. The disciples didn’t understand that it meant death.
Honestly, I don’t think we understand that either. Doing what is right in the name of Christ will cost us greatly. We may lose family members, friends, or even employment. But, when we start to respond to the world the way that Christ actually would respond, our end reward will be great. Many of you may not know that underneath the FRB logo there’s this little tag-line of sorts that says “a Christian response to world hunger.” A Christian response to world hunger is to empower, teach, and accompany. A Christian response to lack of clean drinking water is advocacy, education, and yes, accompaniment. A Christian response to illegal immigration starts with education. When a parent believes that putting their child on a make-shift boat to travel across dangerous waters, not knowing if he or she will arrive safely is actually safer than staying in his or her own home country, something is wrong. A Christian response is not the popular response. It also may not be the easiest response.
I hope and pray that when you come here every week, you come to be fed and not to cross something off your list of to-do’s for the week. I hope you come to be inspired, to be anxiously sent out in service to one another and maybe, just maybe, you leave this place peeved at me because I struck a nerve. Maybe this week’s nerve is the realization that we cannot serve God and ourselves at the same time. The only way to eternal life is through God. Forget what how the news makes you view this world. Forget how your upbringing makes you view this world. Forget, just for once, how your prejudices influence how you see this world. How does Christ see this world? In a world and a society built around being first, we should take pride in being last.