Baptism and World Food Sunday: gratitude and generosity

(There seem to be issues with YouTube, so I removed the link to the video, which was not functioning. I will check it tomorrow to see if things improve.)

A few years ago, I read a beautiful and very simple book called, Sleeping with Bread. It’s by Dennis and Sheila Linn and Dennis’ brother, Matthew Linn. The title of the book came from a story:

During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But, many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”

“Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”

Please indulge me a moment, and say these words with me.

“Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”

“Thanks be to God.”

I do give thanks, each day, that I can say these words. The only reason we might not have food in the house, is that we have neglected to stock the pantry, and I need to go shopping. But even then, it is never that there is no food in our house, perhaps just food we do not care to eat today.

In the series of houses in which my family lived, as I grew up, there were times when there was nothing in the house to eat. My parents worked hard, and I don’t remember a time when either of them stay unemployed for long. But there were definitely times when they were under-employed, or when their earnings simply did not stretch far enough.

I don’t know how aware of this my siblings were, as we grew up. As the eldest, I have clear memories of looking through the cupboards while my parents were at work, searching for something to prepare, to feed my brother and sister.

This was not a daily occurrence, but it happened enough that I remember it. Enough to carve something in my soul, a wound that still opens sometimes when I am at the grocery store. Over the years I’ve done a lot of the food shopping for my family, partly because my wife does not enjoy it, and partly because it brings me great joy to be able to provide for my loved ones.

Over the years I have noticed that the old wound, that had to do with scarcity, and the fear there wasn’t enough, has been transformed to gratitude, because there is. Gratitude also overflows into a feeling of generosity. I have enough, and I can share. There are times when I am just overwhelmed when I think about it. I have enough, and I can share.

690,000,000 people will go to bed hungry tonight. 690,000,000 people aren’t asking, “What will we eat for dinner?” 690,000,000 people are asking, “Will we eat dinner?” And they ask that question night after night.

Hunger is so pervasive you’d think that the whole earth was made of dust. That no crops could grow anywhere. But we know that for the most part, there’s nothing wrong with Mother Nature; the problems lie in the choices humans make.

Poverty, land grabbing, greed, climate change, the commodification of food and water, conflict, political instability. The causes of hunger are so complex, so intertwined, so systemic, it’s natural to wonder how you and I could ever make a difference.

The gospel lesson John read, that included Jesus’ parable of the sower, may seem like a strange choice for World Food Sunday. It’s not exactly a pep-talk.

Some seeds will fall on the path and the birds will eat them. Some will fall on rock and the sun will scorch them. Some will fall on thorns and be choked out. But some will fall on good soil and bear an unbelievable crop.

Jesus was in a boat, offshore, speaking to a large group of his followers. They may have been tired, hungry, discouraged, worn out. They may have been doing the best they could, and felt like it wasn’t enough.

Jesus did not say, go team, get out there and win! His message was more realistic. It was more like, get out there, live your mission, knowing full well that life is hard, the world can be a difficult place, that our fellow humans are not always helpful, and can sometimes behave poorly. But keep sowing seeds, because sometimes they will take root and flourish.

The United Church, through local congregations all over the country, actively supports groups like Harrow’s Community Pantry, and the Food Bank, because we care about people going hungry.

On the national level, the United Church involves itself in conversations about food security. We believe food is a sacred gift from God. Manna from heaven. No one should go hungry.

We also put our money where our words are, and through Mission and Service, we support community kitchens and meal programs, food cupboards, shelters, job training programs, community gardens, and healthy food programs. Internationally, we send food aid in times of crisis. We fund programs that distribute seeds, offer agricultural training  micro-lending, and support projects that help small-scale farmers access equipment they need and, in some places, build infrastructure so they can transport their food to market.

We work with partners like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to move beyond the charity model, so that people can develop the capacity to grow their own food, and produce crops to sell, to improve their own lives.

We have not solved all the world’s problems, but for some people our support means the world.

There is a man named Emmanuel Baya, a farmer who lives in Magarini, Kenya. Kenya is a beautiful country that has dealt with some incredible tragedies. There ae more than 850,000 children there who have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS.

Emmanuel lost his parents when he was very young, so when he saw children looking for food under the cashew trees on his property, he felt a tug on his heart strings. He wanted to help.

He opened a children’s centre and school for orphans. But he didn’t want to just nourish their bodies and minds, he also wanted them to be able to one day sustain themselves.

And he knew he needed more skills to help. So he flew to the Asian Rural Institute in Japan, ARI for short. ARI is an agricultural training institute that teaches organic farming techniques and leadership skills.

ARI is supported by many different churches, including the United Church of Canada, through Mission and Service.

When he graduated from the program at ARI, Emmanuel returned home and started an organic demonstration farm next to his school. Today, not only are the 287 children in his care learning how to grow food, but the farm is also serving seven neighbouring communities.

690,000,000 people may be going hungry tonight. But Emmanuel and all the people in his community, and the thousands of people that our Mission & Service partners help aren’t among them. We can give thanks for that, and we can keep planting seeds. Amen