Sermon for June 28, 2015 (Feast of St Peter & St Paul)

Speaking about the work of the Primate’s World Relief & Development Fund at St Paul’s Cathedral, London ON.

Text: John 21:15-19

*Listen to the audio recording from St Paul’s Cathedral here*

After worshipping with this community of St Paul’s Cathedral with some regularity over the last few months it is an honour to be invited to share with you this morning as we break open the Bread of Life together both through the Holy Scriptures and, a little later, at the Table.

A couple of weekends ago, Matthew and I were at a gathering in Ottawa and, when we were just sitting down to dinner, one member of the group was asked to offer a word of thanks for the meal. I was both surprised and touched to hear him pray with words that are likely familiar to many of you since I believe they were penned here in this diocese in support of the Huron Hunger Fund: “For FOOD in a world where many walk in hunger, for FAITH in a world where many walk in fear, for FRIENDS in a world where many walk alone, we give you humble thanks, O Lord.

I should not have been surprised to hear them: I have heard these words prayed from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island at church gatherings in support of the Huron Hunger Fund’s national body: the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, or PWRDF.

These words capture what is at the heart of all that PWRDF is about: Food, Faith, and Friendship.

It seems appropriate, then, for our gospel this morning as we commemorate the feast of St Peter and St Paul, that we hear this exchange between Jesus and Peter.

Picture it with me, if you will.

Just before our gospel reading picks up this morning, Peter and some of the other disciples have been up all night fishing. Its been somewhat of a return to how life was before Jesus came and called them a few years ago – they’re up in the northern region of Galilee, on the lake, fishing. Except this night, its been bad fishing and they’ve caught nothing. Apparently fishing isn’t like riding a bike: they’ve lost their touch!

Then, just as they’ve given up for the night and the sun is beginning to rise, a figure appears on the beach. Just as he has many times since his resurrection, Jesus suddenly appears amongst his disciples and this time he tells Peter and the disciples to try fishing again. So they do and have an epic haul of fish. They bring the fish ashore, and have a fish-fry with Jesus on the beach. It is a communion meal of sorts, breaking fish instead of bread, drinking water instead of wine, but Eucharistic feast with the risen Jesus nonetheless.

Immediately following the meal is where the reading picked up this morning.

In a series of repetitive questions, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.

Yes Lord, you know that I love you.

Feed my sheep. Is Jesus’ response.

Almost echoes of James: Show me your faith without doing anything, says James, and I, through what I do, will show you my faith.

Feed my sheep. It means so much more than just giving people food. And, indeed, there is much that is broken with a charity model of simply handing out food. On one level, though, Jesus’ command to feed his sheep IS about food – about food security and justice: about ensuring that all people, everywhere, have access to enough nutritious food to eat.

***

For FOOD in a world where many walk in hunger…

Walking in hunger is, unfortunately, a daily reality for far too many people in this world. You know this, and you live the reality of this out in London each and every week. Some of you have been busy planting a pollination garden to provide for the bees that allow for us to grow food. Still others of you grow food that you bring here to the Daily Bread Food Bank and Fellowship Centre. Others again serve in the Fellowship Centre on a weekly basis.

Food is vital. We cannot live without it, yet sometimes it is hard to come by both here in London and around our world. That is why one of the main priorities of PWRDF is Food Security. The World Health Organization defines food security as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”

In a world where many walk in hunger, this is a tall order. We cannot do it on our own. God has called us into partnership as we also partner with each other and bring food to the world.

***

Southern coastal Tanzania is a long way from Southwestern Ontario. But here, in the Anglican Diocese of Masasi is one of PWRDF’s longest-standing partnerships. This region is largely rural with dirt tracks being the best roads on offer. Most people subsist through agriculture, however they have not been able to grow food for more than four to eight months of the year, leaving the remaining months as months of hunger. PWRDF has been working with the Diocese and farmers to provide them with seeds, train them in agricultural practices, and increase the capacity of the land to produce food for ten to twelve months instead. To date, over 2100 farmers have been helped and food production has increased dramatically. Farmers tithe their harvest by returning 20% of their harvested seeds to local seed banks at the end of the season and the cycle begins again, helping even more farmers. Seed by seed, row by row, PWRDF is working to increase food capacity and reduce hunger. Feed my sheep.

***

A refugee camp in southern India inhabited by Tamil refugees who have escaped the long conflict on their home island of Sri Lanka may seem an unlikely place to have a community that is a world leader in anything. Here, however, is OfERR, a PWRDF partner organization started by refugees for refugees. They are a world leader in cultivating a green algae called spirulina. Unless you frequent health food stores, you can be forgiven for never having heard of spirulina before. Spirulina is grown in large tanks, dried and powdered and then used as a nutritional supplement. Some of what is produced by this refugee community is given to children and nursing mothers in their midst in order to promote their health. The rest is sold to make an income to further support themselves, their community, and their dream of one day returning home to Sri Lanka. Feed my sheep.

***

Facing epidemic-levels of HIV/AIDS in their community, the people of the Keiskamma Trust, PWRDF partners who I had an opportunity to visit in the Eastern Cape of South Africa a few years ago, began an organic garden. Working alongside villagers in the garden high up on the windswept grassy hills overlooking the Indian Ocean, not only were members of the Keiskamma Trust able to teach sustainable gardening practices to members of the community, but it has ensured a steady supply of nutritious food for those taking medications to counter HIV/AIDS. For those seeking to live a normal, healthy life and fight HIV/AIDS, food alongside their medications is a must – the medications are not effective without food. Because of the education around gardening and the bounty of the ensuing harvest, I saw, first hand, the life that is given back to people who thought they had a death sentence. Feed my sheep.

These stories are just a small sampling of the more than fifty projects we have been involved in just in the last year both in Canada and around the world.

***

For FOOD in a world where many walk in hunger, for FAITH in a world where many walk in fear…

Why does PWRDF do what we do?

Our mission statement begins with, As an instrument of faith, PWRDF connects Anglicans in Canada to communities around the world.

An instrument of faith: this is part of the response of Canadian Anglicans – of me and of you – in faith, to Jesus’ words, Feed my sheep.

Jesus’ words to Peter are Peter’s renewal. Remember, after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter returned to Galilee and took up fishing all over again, without much luck, and then he has this encounter on the beach. This is Peter’s re-commissioning by Jesus: Peter, I know you’ve messed up in the past, I know you haven’t always gotten it right, but I love you and I trust you: give it another go and partner with me to feed my sheep. Church, I know you haven’t always gotten missions right. I know you haven’t always gotten food relief right or development right. But I love you and you are still my hands and my feet in this world. Give it another go and partner with me on my mission. Feed my sheep.

Then Jesus sends Peter out much like we are sent out from church each week: Go forth to love and serve the Lord. Jesus’ words here are slightly different but their meaning similar: Peter, in faith, partner with me to go feed my sheep and love my people.

***

For FOOD in a world where many walk in hunger, for FAITH in a world where many walk in fear, for FRIENDS in a world where many walk alone…

Friendship is probably the most unique part of how PWRDF operates. We call it partnership; perhaps you are familiar with this model through this church’s partnership with PWRDF and the Cristosal Foundation in El Salvador.

Friendship and partnership. Our work is not a dictatorial charity model. We don’t send people around the world to tell locals how to best work in their communities. We partner with exceptional organizations to support them in doing what they do best the way that they have identified they need help or support. That takes so many different forms – something different in each community. And through these partnerships we form friendships where we learn as much from our partners as they might learn from us. Some of these partnerships are longstanding, with as much as 15 or 20 years of history between us.

Do you love me? asks Jesus to us. Feed my sheep. Love my people.

Food. Faith. Friendship.

For FOOD in a world where many walk in hunger, for FAITH in a world where many walk in fear, for FRIENDS in a world where many walk alone, we give you humble thanks, O Lord.

Amen.

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.