Sermon for May 4, 2014, St John the Divine, Victoria

Over the last weekend, May 1-4, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s Youth Council met in Victoria, BC for our spring meeting. A lot was accomplished and we had a wonderful time meeting new members and enjoying the lovely surroundings of spring on the south Island.

On the Sunday morning, we had the opportunity to spread across four different Anglican churches in greater Victoria and share about the work of PWRDF. For some, public speaking is ‘old-hat’ and they are used to it, for others it is a scary event that needs coaching.

One of the wonderful things that youth council does, in addition to tell the stories of PWRDF, is develop young leaders from across Canada. Our speaking groups were made up of new youth council members and veterans. In my group was a brand new youth diocesan PWRDF ambassador. She’d spoken at her own church before, and at high school youth events, but never to a group as large or as unfamiliar as the congregation at St John the Divine, Victoria. So I did most of the talking, and she told a story in the middle. She did an excellent job and I think we’ll be hearing more from her in the years to come!

Because we couldn’t all be in the same place, I said I would post my sermon for those interested. The gospel reading from last Sunday was the Road to Emmaus, found in Luke 24:13-35. We focussed on that reading for our preparation for speaking, and I also spoke out of my knowledge of the engagement St John’s has with their community.

*****

Good morning!

Thank you for having us here this morning! It is an honour to be worshipping with you.

We are members of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s justgeneration program – a body of youth from coast-to-coast who care deeply about the work of the PWRDF are involved in both speaking with the Board of Directors in order to bring a youth voice to that forum and in developing resources and telling the stories of our PWRDF partners in such a way as to engage youth.

A group of 16 of us have been having our spring meeting in Victoria for the last three days and this morning we are excited to be spread across Victoria, talking about the work of PWRDF in different Anglican churches. I am thankful to be back worshipping with you this morning, along with Matt from Winnipeg and Gillian from Brandon.

We have had a full weekend, participating in the lock-in hosted at the Cathedral on Friday night, meeting together as a group in the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of a retreat centre by the ocean in Metchosin, and talking and sharing with each other as we have been preparing meals and eating together throughout the weekend.

Immersed as we have been in eating good food and discussing issues relief and development and food security, it is unsurprising that talk of food jumped out to us as we were reading through the gospel as a group this weekend.

The gospel writer writes:

As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay here with us, because it is almost evening and the day is nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

They recognized Jesus in the sharing of food in the breaking of the bread.

This got us thinking about the centrality of food in our lives and how important food really is to daily life.

Most of you, I am sure, participate in feeding people. Whether it is preparing food to eat yourself or with your family, or making food to bring for breakfast or supper at the Out of the Rain Shelter, or bringing non-perishable food for your food bank, this is a community that knows about the importance of food.

When I lived in Victoria, before moving to Ontario for seminary, I worked for the Victoria Cool Aid Society. An off-hand remark I made to a coworker one day made me realize the importance of food in a new way. In the middle of a particularly busy day I remember saying that I really needed to go and take a break to eat my lunch before I got too cranky to do my job. As the words left my mouth, I stopped and realized the irony of what I was saying. Here I was, working at Rock Bay Landing where people often come hungry and cranky, taking a break to eat so that I could continue to function well in my job. I like to hope that this realization gave me a lot more compassion for the people with whom I worked both here in Victoria and around the world through my work with PWRDF.

I think it works like that in so many other areas of life as well. We have known for some time that ensuring kids in school have enough to eat will help them with their school work. Gillian is going to tell you about one of our PWRDF partners who is doing just that….

[Gillian: Many families in Haiti are stretched beyond their capacity to feed everyone. Children are often kept out of school so that they can help support their families by working. Through the Fred says “some like it hot” food campaign, we are providing hot lunches at schools in Haiti, which encourages parents to send their kids to school system and takes some strain off of the parents. Giving the children the food helps them bring them back to school and keeps them focused to study and learn. So far, PWRDF, in partners with the episcopal church in Haiti and CFGB (Canadian Food-grains Bank), we have helped feed nearly 8000 students, increase the enrolment in schools and the academic performance of schools substantially. ]

So here in Haiti they recognized Jesus in the hot lunch given so students could learn.

In 2009 I had the opportunity to visit a food relief project also being carried out through our partner the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The project was responding to longstanding drought in Kenya, providing beans, maize, and oil to families. The standard process in each village was for the hungriest, as identified by the community council of elders, to be the ones selected to benefit from the food aid. Unfortunately everyone can receive food in a food relief project – only the worst of the worst – because there isn’t enough to give to everyone in the region. Each village seemed to accept this, except one. One village we visited, down in the Masai Mara took a different approach.

The beneficiaries who were selected to receive the food aid still lined up to get their sacks of beans and maize. However as they left with the bags, they stopped, opened them up, and scooped out the top 10% of the beans and maize into another pile. From this pile, the rest of the villagers were able to have some food to supplement their meagre diets.

Here in Kenya, they recognized Jesus in the sharing of beans and maize.

In November, the youth council met together with the PWRDF board members and diocesan representatives in Toronto. Joining us was Bishop Griselda of the Episcopal Church in Cuba, one of our PWRDF partners. Bishop Griselda shared with us the incredible story of some of the Cuban farmers. In some of their communities, the church was finding that a number of people were going hungry, despite the fact that they had the land to grow food for them to eat.

So they began to teach people in community development: teaching about gender issues, farming techniques, and nutrition. This has led to better access to healthy food, increased income from the sales of food, and a decrease in gender-based violence through improved understanding between the men and the women within the communities. People have become more confident, creative, and hopeful through learning how to farm for themselves.

In fact, Bishop Griselda told us, some of the communities had grown so much food that they began to bring it to the church. They would place it on and around the altar to be blessed before sharing it with the less fortunate in their community.

The Cuban farmers recognize Jesus in the growing, blessing, and sharing of farmed produce.

A little over a year ago, I found myself in South Africa, visiting PWRDF’s partner, the Keiskamma Trust. Keiskamma operates in a region of South Africa with an HIV/AIDS infection rate of 40%, with one in three pregnant mothers carrying the disease and potentially infecting their child. Keiskamma has been working for a decade to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS by providing education around and access to life-saving anti-retroviral medications.

One thing that we have learned about Antiretroviral medications is that they need to be taken with food. What some of our partners have been finding is that people have stopped taking their medications because of a lack of food. With partners in Mozambique, we have been helping to fund food baskets so that people can continue their medications. Our partners at Keiskamma got people in the community together to start organic gardens to grow produce for those needing more in their diets to continue their medication regime.

They recognize Jesus in the giving of food so that health can be restored.

These are the stories of just a few of the people we have the privilege to partner with through our work with PWRDF. This is the work that we all participate in.

Again, thinking back to our gospel reading this morning, an interesting thing about the story of the road to Emmaus is that they didn’t actually recognize Jesus right away. They almost missed him. They encountered Jesus and travelled with him as a stranger – yet welcomed him in to share their food anyway.

This is the work of PWRDF that we all are a part of. Most of us have never shaken the hand of one of the Cuban farmers or served a hot lunch to the Hatian students. But through the work of PWRDF and the sharing of lives and stories back and forth – much like the exchange on the road to Emmaus – we participate in that work. We participate in God’s work. We are walking along the road together. Welcoming those strange or unknown to us, never knowing where or in whom we will find Jesus.

It wasn’t until travellers invited Jesus in to share food with them that they saw. It was in the breaking of the bread, when Jesus did what Jesus does in the way that only Jesus does it that they recognized their companion on the walk.

I wonder when have you and I been completely oblivious to the work of Jesus in and around us? I wonder when we have missed Jesus appearing right in front of our face, or missed the work of Jesus in the world because we are so caught up in the drama of our daily lives.

As we prepare to come together to the table to break bread in the way that Jesus taught us, I pray that we would recognize Jesus in the friends and strangers beside us, across the table, on our streets, and around the world. I pray that our eyes would be opened and Jesus made known to us whenever and however we share food.

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