Sermon for November 9, 2014

Text: Matthew 25:1-13; Preached at St Andrew Memorial Church, London Ontario

When you are offshore sailing, the 4 to 8 watch is possibly the worst shift to have.

Four hours. Twice a day.

It doesn’t seem like much when it is 4-8 in the afternoon: there are people milling around on deck, the sun is out and there are things to look at. The shift is broken up by the appearance of the evening meal on deck for you to eat.

But the hours from 4 to 8 in the wee hours of the morning: that is the hard part.

You are dragged from your nice warm bunk in the middle of a wonderfully deep sleep. Up onto the cold, probably wet, deck. No cover. No protection from the elements. Just you and two others responsible for steering the ship through the night until morning comes. Those hours until dawn can seem like an eternity.

And the sky is black – as far as you can see.

If it is a clear night, the only light is the millions of pinpricks of stars that cover the sky from horizon to horizon to horizon. And it is those stars that let you know when you have dozed off at the wheel and gone off course.

All are sleeping.

All is silent except for the rhythmic slap

Slap

                                                                                 Slap

                           Of the waves against the hull of the boat.

And you wait

You wait.

You wait some more.

Shift partners sometimes talk to try and keep each other awake. But in the dark of early morning, it is far too easy to be silent, lost in your own inner world, dozing off while on watch.

You wait for the sun to finally peek over the horizon – because you know it is going to eventually come – and offer some light to the brand new day.

Waiting is hard work.

It is hard to remain alert and expectant when it is dark or when there does not seem to be much hope for that which is expected.

It is even harder when you do not know the day or the hour when that for which you wait will come to pass.

The sunrise is expected: it happens every day whether we are waiting for it or not.

The Lord’s coming? Who knows?!

This is what we have in our readings this morning: We have people who have grown tired in waiting. Who could blame them?

The kingdom of heaven is like this, Jesus says:

It is like ten bridesmaids who are waiting for the bridegroom to appear.

They wait, and they wait, and they wait some more.

They wait so long that the oil in their lamps runs out.

Some – they are called the wise – are prepared to wait for a long time and have more oil. Others – they are called the foolish – are not prepared to wait that long and their lamps go out.

Then the bridegroom comes. Those who have thought to bring extra oil go with him; those who have run out of oil are left out.

What are we to make of this?

I must admit to being a little uncomfortable with the idea that being unprepared can result in getting shut out of the bridegroom’s wedding banquet. There are times in life where I have felt more than a little unprepared or ill-equipped for the task at hand and have had to rely on collaboration or cooperation with others. I am sure that you have experienced those moments as well. We all have.

The reverse is equally discomforting. The idea of being like one of the wise bridesmaids who refused to share or cooperate is also an uncomfortable one.

And then there is the bridegroom who says that he does not even know the foolish bridesmaids and shuts them out. How do we understand THAT?

What if the more important part of this parable is something else entirely?

What if it is about that one little line in the middle of the parable: “As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.”

Perhaps the point of this parable is actually about trying to remain alert in the moment – awake, aware, and keeping watch. If we keep our eyes open, keep looking around us at the community we journey with, what will we see?

If we are intentional about our relationships then we will see who amongst us might be running out of oil. What if, right from the beginning, the wise bridesmaids had said to their foolish sisters, “Hey – did you think to bring extra oil? We might be here awhile, maybe you should go and get some more so that you can be ready.” Instead of cultivating relationships with their companions, helping each other out, they all fell asleep waiting.

Life doesn’t always go as planned. The folks in the first century after Jesus’ resurrection were pretty sure that Jesus was going to come back any minute. They were so sure of this that they did not think they would die before Jesus returned.

Two thousand years later, we are still waiting. But that doesn’t mean that we can fall asleep, saying, “We’ve got all the oil we need. We are all prepared.”

Waiting for Jesus’ imminent return is difficult for many of us to understand or entertain. Life happens and we can’t just put that on hold.

But opportunities for waiting on Jesus’ presence are all around us every day if we keep watch:

Each time we work for justice, we reveal the presence of Jesus.

Each time we bear each other’s burdens, we reveal the presence of Jesus.

Each time we advocate for the poor, or reach out to the friendless, or work to make this world a better place, we reveal the presence of Jesus.

This is hard work, and we can admit that this kind of waiting, this kind of alertness, this kind of preparation can be hard to sustain. We can grow tired in our work. We can get frustrated by not seeing any outcomes or distracted by all of the obligations that fill up our days. On any given day, we can be the foolish bridesmaid who feels ill-prepared or unequipped. Or we can be either of the bridesmaids who fall asleep.

But this is why we have each other. That is why we have this community where we can find help and support in all the different kinds of waiting that we face each day.

More important than who has the oil is that we as a community have oil. We are those who wait with each other – the wise and the foolish together, helping, encouraging, and sustaining.

We are those who sit awake with and for each other at times of pain, loss or bereavement.

We are those who celebrate achievements and console after disappointment.

We are those who give hope when hope is scarce, comfort when it is needed, and courage when we are afraid.

We are those who help each other to wait, prepare, and keep the faith.

In all these ways, we encourage each other with the promises of Christ. That’s what it means to be in the wedding party – then and now.

With much appreciation for the many online commentators who helped me put this together and whose ideas I shamelessly borrowed in a few places.
Karoline LewisMatthew L. Skinner, Sharon L. Blezard, and David Lose,

Sermon for October 19, 2014

Text: Matthew 22:15-22; Preached at St Andrew Memorial Anglican, London, Ontario.

I wonder when the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians in today’s gospel reading began to realize that their question was not going to yield their desired outcome. Here they are, with Jesus cornered in the Temple, days after his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem with all of the fanfare – and then his subsequent clearing of all of the money changers and vendors in the Temple. After a scene like that, no one is going to forget this man very quickly.

So they have Jesus pinned, hemmed in by questioners in the Temple – much like reporters at a press conference – and they ask him a question – one they have cleverly designed with the specific purpose of trapping him by what he said and getting him in trouble with either the Political Leadership or the Religious Leadership.

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  (vs 16&17)

A well-crafted question that can only leave Jesus in a predicament.

Or so they thought…

The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians must have known that something was up when Jesus accused them of putting him to the test and called them hypocrites. Surely they must have felt a note of concern when he asked them to bring him the coin used for the tax. All bets should have been off when he started asking the questions – “Whose head is this? And whose title?” After all, as we have seen in the gospel readings over the last few weeks, Jesus has been specializing in making the Religious Establishment look pretty foolish.

Image is an interesting thing. It used to annoy me to no end when complete strangers would come up to me and tell me how much I resembled my mother. I knew it was a tight resemblance when a friend of the family asked why there was a portrait of me up at my mother’s memorial service: it was actually a picture of mum in her early twenties. Even a few weeks ago when we visited the parish I grew up in for the first time in over ten years, half of the church came up to say hi to me, knowing instantly to which family I belonged because of the closeness of my image to my mother’s.

Image.

Whose image?

Jesus’ answer is so simple – so simple that the religious folk trying to trap him probably wish they’d thought through all possible scenarios before asking their initial question.

Jesus holds up the coin and asks, “Whose head is this? Whose title?” Whose name and whose image is on this coin that you carry?

Then he answers – “Give to the emperor those things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus doesn’t say what belongs to God but leaves that wide open for us to realize the gift that we are handed.

In leaving it wide open, Jesus is making no demands upon us. It would have been really easy for him to launch into a long and detailed explanation of what is and what is not God’s. But he doesn’t do that. He merely says, “Give to God the things that are God’s.”

The things that are God’s.

The things that belong to God?

Despite the close resemblance between my mother and I, it isn’t as easy to see that family resemblance between me and others in my family. Unlike a coin, I haven’t got a family name or a family image stamped onto me. It just isn’t that obvious.

But I, like each one of us, am a child of God. Made with love and care, in God’s image. And each day has been left wide open for us to decide how each one of us will show the world whose image we bear. Not our earthly family, though that can be a lovely thing. But that we bear God’s image. That we are a part of God’s family, carrying God’s name.

It is a question to ask, maybe while lying in bed before feet hit the floor, maybe while getting dressed and ready for the day each morning: how close of a family resemblance do I have? Do you have? What can I, what can you, do to give to God that which is God’s? How will anyone know?

Because in making no demands but simply stating, “Give to God that which is God’s,” Jesus is allowing us the choice to decide for ourselves. And I, like each one of us, get to respond each and every day and decide what to do with that which bears God’s image.

Amen.

Sermon for October 5th, 2014

Readings: Isaiah 5, Matthew 21:33-45; Preached at St Andrew Memorial, London Ontario.

You have maybe had that moment where someone starts to tell a story and you realize you’ve heard it before – so you know that it is a good one… there is that eager expectation for the highlights of the story – you might even prompt the story teller if you think they’ve forgotten one of the key lines.

I kind of think that is how the listeners must have felt when Jesus started to tell the parable in today’s Gospel reading: They know the story about the vineyard. They’ve heard it before from Isaiah and they are pretty sure that they know exactly what is going on:

Israel the unfaithful.

Israel the untrue.

God’s unrequited love for Israel.

Unrequited love that results in Israel being cast away – exiled, and her temple destroyed because of her bad behaviour.

So when Jesus started to tell the story about the vineyard with wicked tenants, I picture some of those listening taking a step back, maybe folding their arms or raising an eyebrow and saying, ”I know how this one goes! Lets see how he does”

Jesus describes the care the landowner goes to in order to set up his vineyard. He describes the way the landowner leaves the vineyard with tenants to tend it and harvest its produce.

Then Jesus describes the cycle of violence that ensues when the landowner seeks to recover the crop from the vineyard:

The tenants kill the first set of slaves sent to collect the fruits of the vineyard.

Then the tenants kills the second set of slaves sent to collect the fruits of the vineyard.

The landowner, perhaps in a temporary loss of sanity, thinks they won’t dare do anything to his son and his heir. So the son is sent to collect the fruits of the vineyard and the tenants seize him, toss him out, and kill him too.

So it isn’t really too surprising that when Jesus finally asks the question: “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” that everyone listening is like “Oh, I’ve got this one, I know the answer”: after all, in the vineyard story from Isaiah that they all know, God destroys the vineyard entirely, trampling down its walls, lets it become overgrown, casts out the people, and speaks of bloodshed from the pruning that Israel will experience.

So the listeners answer, kindly sparing the vineyard itself, but damning the tenants: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at harvest time.”

If they won’t comply, kill them and get new people who will do a better job.

I find myself asking “Why” when I read this gospel parable. Why are the tenants killing the slaves and trying to keep the harvest and the land? I wonder what drove them to do that?

Are they really wicked?

What if they are desperate?

The landowner, we are told, lives at a distance. An absentee landowner. He bought the property and probably invested a lot of money into setting up this vineyard, came to some sort of arrangement with his tenants, and then took off to live in another land. So this guy probably has some money. Judging from the way he takes such time and care to set up his vineyard, we can guess that this was a brand new vineyard: a brand new vineyard carved out from land that may once have been common land for the peasants to harvest crops for their food on. This was a common practice in Palestine in Jesus’ day.

It is also, unfortunately, a common practice today.

Canada is home to 75 per cent of the world’s mining companies and mineral exploration companies. The Canadian stock exchange raises 40% of all mineral exploration capital worldwide. (Statistics from Kairos)

Canadian mining companies have been known for taking advantage of, worsening, or even provoking conflict in countries with weak democracies. Exploiting the conflict to their own financial and material gain.

I travelled to El Salvador at the beginning of this year. In El Salvador we sat with and listened to the stories of people affected by Canadian mining operations in that country. We heard about agreements made to deliver the resources from the land at the expense of the workers and those trying to live on the land. Wealthy company executives who live in another country who pressure – and even trick – those working the land to sign away the rights for and turn over a product beyond what they and what their land can sustainably produce. To give up a return that will not enrich the workers and will not provide for their livelihood – instead it will kill their livelihoods and poison their water. A return that will only line the pocket of the mining company executives and shareholders. And when the people of the country put their foot down and say “No more exploitation,” violence – intimidation and death – against those who protest, follows.

Would we blame these workers if they decided to revolt? Wanted to seek better working conditions? Wanted to protect their children and livelihoods?

I’m all for justice in the world, and I’m all about fairness – and killing messengers sent to collect produce probably needs to be dealt with, but all of this – the destruction of the land, the exploitation of vulnerable workers and retribution for non-compliance – this just seems like a lot of violence that needs to be stopped. The people listening to Jesus’ story, however seem to encourage it to continue: “put those miserable wretches to death and find someone else to do the dirty work.”

I don’t know about you, but that kind of response doesn’t seem like the Jesus that speaks elsewhere in the gospels – the Jesus who challenges the status quo and asks us to stand up for the poor and the vulnerable. Not with violence, but with love.

Jesus, shocking his listeners, and perhaps challenging us, doesn’t agree with that response either. Jesus flips it around. “Haven’t you read the scriptures?” he asks. As if to say – is this really what you think God is like? Do you really want a violent God? A God who is represented by the landowner that goes in and kills everyone – a God who is just going to be violent in response to any violence that happens?

No, says Jesus, “the stone that has been rejected will be the cornerstone.” Instead of telling a story of a violent and retributive landowner, I am telling the story of what could be: Those who you reject I have lifted up. The least among you is the greatest. The voiceless will be listened to. Those who exploit will be overturned and we will have grace and justice.

We believe in a God who asks us to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit those in prison, shelter those who are homeless. A God whose son Jesus Christ said, “whatever you did to one of the least of these, you did to me.”

I am challenged to ask, what I, what we, have done and what I, what we, have left undone to the least of these.

Amen.

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.

A Sermon for November 17, 2013

I was invited to speak about the work of PWRDF at two churches this morning, in Woodstock and in Huntingford, Ontario. As last week was the launch of our new “Fred Says” food security campaign, I focused on food with the stories that I told.

This is, more or less, the text of what I said. Typos are likely and I know I ad-libbed as I went – for one thing they used the old lectionary (and only read 2 of 29 verses of the OT reading) so I had to quickly make up a connection between what I’d prepared (Isaiah) and what they read (Micah) and the gospel. And, as I was told they wanted to have pictures, I had to write it out to give to the person controlling the powerpoint slides so that they would know when to switch from one picture to the next. Most of the pictures I used were my own, from trips to Kenya and South Africa, though I took some from the PWRDF Flickr account (licensed under Creative Commons).

We seem to be at that time of year when we our readings get “all end-timesy”. (That is the technical term I learnt in seminary.)

I hear the gospel this morning and it is a little disheartening: wars and insurrections, earthquakes, plagues, and, if I can add one, typhoons… There is enough devastation in the world, we don’t need any more.

And then I went back to the Isaiah reading and was a little encouraged: That is going to end. In the words of a social media campaign, “It gets better”.

But what about the here and the now. I’m not one to sit and wait for that switch because I believe that God has called us to be involved in our world NOW.

Reflecting on that change between the destruction in the gospel and the hope in Isaiah, I was reminded of a technique I’ve used in my counselling practice called  “The Miracle Question”.

The Miracle Question goes something like this:

   After church is over today, we’ll all head to the hall to have coffee and then you’ll head home, have lunch, and do whatever you need to do the rest of today:  finish the crossword, take the dog for a walk, help your kids with their homework. You’ll eat dinner, maybe watch some TV. Then it will be time to go to bed. Everyone in your household is quiet and you are sleeping in peace.

In the middle of the night, a miracle happens and the problem of world hunger – the availability of food – is solved! But because it happens when you are sleeping, you have no idea that there was an overnight miracle that eliminated world hunger!

So when you wake up tomorrow morning, what might be the small change that will make you say to yourself, “Wow! Something must have happened! The problem is gone!”

It might be something as simple as not seeing the guy who is usually panhandling on the corner or not having anyone show up at the soup kitchen for lunch. It might be a little closer to home, and your kitchen pantry actually has food in it.

This is the question and the contrast that I hear echoed in the words of our readings this morning.

And then there is a follow up question, one that needs to be asked in my counselling sessions as much as it needs to be asked this morning:

“What are we going to do about it?”

We have identified the problem, we know there is a solution, and so now we are called to action.

So let me tell you a little bit about the work that you are already doing – yes, that’s right, I said you are already doing!

The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund is working on behalf of Canadian Anglicans on issues relating to food security – whether someone has access to healthy food every day – both within Canada and around the world. This is your Fund! And we rely on your support, both in prayer and finances, to support the amazing work that is going on around the world.

Our primary mode of operating is through partnership, which means we link up with local, grassroots organizations who are doing incredible work around the world and support them in whatever ways they need.

We participate in relief work:

Right now, as you may know, there is an incredible amount of relief needed in the Philippines. Our partners there have already delivered 5000 food packages. As of Thursday, PWRDF had received $47,000 worth of donations towards typhoon Haiyan relief – every dollar of that to be matched by the federal government.

In 2009 I was able to visit Kenya through our partners, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. There I spent a month with a food distribution project in rural Kenya.

Each community was unique, though the stories we heard were all the same: the big rains had not come in over three years. The small rains had come, but the big ones, which sustained life, hadn’t fallen.

In each community we would sit with the villagers and hear their stories, hear about their families, their hopes and their dreams. One man cried as he told us of the shame of not being able to feed his family.

Through the Canadian Foodgrains bank, families would receive giant bags of dried beans, dried maize, and a 3L jug of oil.

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is nutritious and will feed a family of eight for a month.

The challenge of a food distribution project is that you can’t go to everyone. The distribution centres were chosen for their centralized location, but people still had to travel to get home. So they would strap the food onto their donkey, or figure out some other way to carry it, and begin the long trek home. Some would walk all day to get to and from the distribution point.

Some of the communities requested to have a “food for work” program whereby we would help them develop their community in exchange for food: they would work and we made sure they had food.

So one community we visited had begun an irrigation project: they put canals through the fields and had dug a reservoir. Their hope was that they would be able to capture what rain did fall and prevent such a dire situation from happening again.

Our international and national development work is less of an emergency response to disaster and more partnership with communities to develop their capacity to support themselves.

This past December and January I had the opportunity to visit a partner in South Africa, the Keiskamma Trust.

The Trust is based in Hamburg, in the Eastern Cape. This is a part of South Africa that was badly affected by the apartheid years.

Decades of neglect and mismanagement and a lack of basic healthcare and education means that this is a very impoverished part of the country.

The HIV/AIDS rate is around 40% here, with at least one in three pregnant mothers being HIV positive.

Up until about 10 years ago, this part of the Eastern Cape did not have access to any antiretroviral medications (ARVs) to make living a healthy life with HIV possible and to prevent the transmission of HIV from mum to babe.

In the early 2000s, South African physician, Dr Carol Hofmeyr, came to live in Hamburg. She quickly realized the need for ARVs in the community and started the Trust as a way of educating and providing health care to people in the community.

One of the things she did was train community health workers who do HIV testing and education as well as go into people’s homes and ensure that they continue to take their ARVs as prescribed.

Through their efforts, the HIV/AIDS rate has dropped in this region and they have been able to, in many cases, prevent the transmission of HIV from positive mum to baby.

One of the things that we have come to realize with ARV treatment is that it only works if you have food. Our partners at Keiskamma have approached that in a unique way: living in a place that is fertile enough to grow food, they have begun an organic gardening project that teaches gardening skills to community members, employs community members, and feeds the community.

However not everywhere is that fortunate. Our partners in Mozambique are also working with people affected by HIV/AIDS. Except they don’t have the same ability to do gardening. What our partners were finding is that people were having to stop taking their life-saving medication because they didn’t have any food.

So they began to give out food baskets of beans, corn flour, oil, and fresh vegetables – enough to last for two months – to people taking ARVs and the difference was night and day. Life and death.

As of right now, they have been able to give out 400 foodbaskets to people in the community living with HIV so that they can continue to take their ARVs. Our goal as PWRDF is to raise enough money for 600 more baskets by the New Year.

Food baskets. Organic gardening. Training Community Health Workers. Irrigation projects.

On their own, they can seem like small steps towards eliminating hunger. But together they add up to a beautiful vision of what is possible if we all work together to make that “overnight miracle”  a reality.

Amen.

A PWRDF Sunday

I case you were wondering what I preached this morning… (I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that placemat story!)

Given at St John the Divine, Victoria. Third Sunday of Advent: March 11, 2012. Gospel: John 2:13-22.

I remember my first encounter with The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF). I was young, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, and what stands out are those placemats. We’ve all seen them… from coast to coast, many Anglican church potlucks have had those placemats covering the tables where we sit and eat together. But those placemats are not what gave me a passion for the Primate’s fund, nor are they what has kept me involved in it, nearly 20 years later… Rather it was the stories told by a passionate person in my parish who knew about and believed in the stories of what the Primate’s fund is doing around the world.

But more on those stories in a minute…

First, who am I and what do I do with PWRDF? In my day-to-day life, I am a counsellor with the Cool Aid Society. In my weekend life, I worship down the street at Christ Church Cathedral where I, amongst other things, serve on Parish Council. With the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, I am the youth council representative for the ecclesiastical province of BC and the Yukon. That is a fancy way of saying that my role is to bring the voices of youth in BC and the Yukon to the national board of the Primate’s Fund and then turn around and bring the stories of PWRDF partners to people, particularly youth, in the same region. I am not on the board, rather I am part of youth council: a separate and autonomous entity composed of a dozen youth from across this country who are passionate about international relief and development, and social justice. Youth who both create programs and resources for Canadian Anglican youth and who tell the stories of PWRDF to youth.

Why PWRDF? For one thing, it is homegrown, beginning as an Anglican response to disasters within Canada and over the last fifty years spreading to have a national and international relief and development focus.

But what I love about PWRDF is the model we use to operate. We don’t import “western experts” into countries and tell locals how best to fix the problems in their regions and communities. We don’t spend precious resource monies on a large staff or on bringing products overseas. Rather, we partner with organizations who are already working on the ground in their own communities and support and resource them in continuing the work they are already doing.

And people like myself volunteer to tell their stories…

In relief efforts, our partnership might look like providing the funds for an organization to buy precious food to be distributed in drought-stricken or famine-ridden areas.

In development, it looks like translating documents into indigenous languages to help a people group re-learn the skills to grow and harvest their own crops rather than rely on corrupt corporations who will under-pay and overwork them.

Or it may look like providing the start-up money for a women’s microcredit organization, like the one we heard about this morning in Mozambique. In fact, with that organization in Mozambique, one woman who first entered with just a cow and an idea to produce and sell milk to other villagers to support her family now owns not only a herd of cattle but also the land they graze on and she is able to employ many of her neighbours.

In relief, it looks like the villages in Kenya that I visited in 2009. There the Canadian Foodgrains bank, of which PWRDF is a member, was involved in distributing food to thousands of individuals who were affected by the devastating East African drought. We travelled around regions of the country, bringing giant bags of beans and maize and jugs of oil: enough supplies of food to feed a family of eight for a month. In each village we went to, we sat down with a group of people from the village to hear their stories. In each village, the stories were heart-breakingly similar: the rains had not come. Yes, there had been sprinkles here and there, but the big rains, the rains that nourished the ground and gave life to growing crops, had not come for five, six years. Crops would not and could not grow. The livestock that had not been sold, given away, or eaten, simply sat in the shade of scraggly trees all day, as there was no grass to feed on.

We met a woman, 34 years old, the 4th wife of her husband, with eight children of her own – who could finally feed her children, including the young one still breastfeeding. In another village, a man tearfully told us of how grateful he was for the food relief for his village because, as he said it, if we had not come, some of the people in the village had found “chemicals” to use to end their problems as they could not bear the shame of being unable to feed their families.

Yet it was not all tales of woe. One village in the Mt Kenya region refused to roll over and let the drought win. They did not want to receive food relief… While we sat and talked, they spoke of the projects they wanted to do to develop their village so that they could better withstand another drought. So we talked about how to set up a “food for work” program in which we provided food and resources for irrigation and they, in return, would create an irrigation project in their village so that when the rains did come, they would be able to capture and save as much rain as possible for as long as possible.

In relief and development it looks like our partnership with the Organization of Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation or OfERR, an Indian/Sri Lankan organization that PWRDF has partnered with for 30 years. OfERR works with refugees of the Sri Lankan civil war who have taken up residence in refugee camps in South India. They not only help with getting identification documents for the refugees and skills retraining, but they provide community support to the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in India. When the 2004 Asian Tsunami hit India and Sri Lanka, OfERR was able to assist in the relief and rebuilding of the communities in which they lived, giving back to a place that had accepted them as refugees. This past week, a priest of our diocese and a friend of mine left for two weeks in India and Sri Lanka. He goes with a number of other Canadians associated with PWRDF to spend time with OfERR, supporting their work and, if everything going according to plan, to bear witness to one of the first groups of the 100,000 Tamil refugees as they return to their home in Sri Lanka.

In development, it looks like the Keiskamma Trust, a PWRDF partner organization in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, an area of South Africa hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. Founded by an artist, who also happens to be a medical doctor, the Trust provides medical support to individuals and families struggling with HIV/AIDS. I had the opportunity to meet the founder and director of the Trust at PWRDF’s board meeting last fall. Her vision is extraordinary: knowing that health is more than just physical health, she has expanded the original medial clinic to include both a women’s arts collective and a children’s music academy. The medical centre works at providing health care and medications to a group of people so frequently shunned and stigmatized in their society. The arts collective brings women together to create masterpieces of fabric arts that have been exhibited around the world. The music academy gives the children something bigger than themselves to be a part of and has given them the opportunity to tour and play for large audiences in cathedrals and on game reserves throughout South Africa. Not only do I know the stories of these individuals through meeting the founder and director, but also my sister has been in South Africa since August teaching music at the academy.

Reflecting back to words we heard read this morning, the Gospel reading gave us quite a different picture of Jesus than we typically see on Sunday School flannel boards or pictures mounted on the wall. In this story, Jesus goes into the Temple in Jerusalem and uses a whip to drive out all of the vendors and money-changers. Wow. To put into perspective what these guys were doing… it would be like you coming to church this morning and having to pay exorbitant fees because you needed to change your Canadian dollars into American dollars in order to buy the things you need for worship: your leaflet, your hymn book, or your prayer book. Ridiculous. Completely Unjust. But that is what was going on.

If we look around us, there are injustices everywhere. We have before us a model of Jesus taking action and, to use the words of one of the Marks of Mission: “seek[ing] to transform the unjust structures of society”. In our gospel reading, Jesus is actively challenging, in a very visible and somewhat violent way, the structures of his society that were creating injustice.

Another one of the Marks of Mission is “To respond to human need by loving service.”

Human need is all around us and through PWRDF we have an amazing vehicle for acting on that need. We are called to respond and we are constantly challenged in scripture to follow the example of Jesus.

For me, a big part of that is the work that I do with PWRDF and what I would challenge you with today. I’m not saying that everyone has to go out there and start overturning tables, though sometimes that might work, but what can you do, what can I do, to follow the example of Jesus, to work against injustice and to respond to real human need with what resources we have at hand.

Because I have seen that together we do make a difference. We can make Another World Possible.

Amen.