World Council of Churches

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Sharing food - Sermon at the Ecumenical Centre morning prayers

Sermon by Dr Rogate R. Mshana at the Monday morning prayer service at the Ecumenical Centre, 3 May 2010 Based on Mathew 14:13-14

03 May 2010

Sermon by Dr Rogate R. Mshana at the Monday morning prayer service at the Ecumenical Centre, 3 May 2010

Based on Mathew 14:13-14

“Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves,” said the disciples. But Jesus replied, “That is not necessary- you feed them.”  In Mark, Jesus said “they need not go away; you give them something to eat.” In Mark the disciples ask Jesus, “are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give them to eat?” The debate is about compassion (women call it the economics of care or compassion economics) and the market as methods to feed hungry people.  Jesus refuses to send the crowd away to the market but chooses to embrace them with love and compassion.

In the text in Mark’s gospel about feeding the four/five thousand people that came to listen to him, we hear Jesus say: “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way-and some of them have come from a great distance” (Mark 8:2-3). This fainting due to hunger reminds me during a draught period in 1961 when my mother held us together, went down on her knees and prayed that we should not perish because of hunger. She cried out, “Lord let my children live.”

The Gospel reminds us of our obligation as churches and the ecumenical movement to overcome hunger in the world.  Sadly our economic systems and trade rules are designed to send hungry people away to be fed by the market. Many of them have fainted and died on the way. In 2009 more than 1 billion hungry people were undernourished world wide. In 2006 they were 854m. (www.wfp.org/stores/world-hungry-tops-billion). The MDGs were designed to bring this number to half by 2015. This is a great challenge. In other words one in every 6 people is undernourished. Hunger has increased not as a result of poor harvests but because of high domestic food prices, lower incomes and increasing unemployment due to, among other unjust trade policies and the global financial crisis - itself caused by structural greed. In his compassionate feeding of the people, Jesus was showing another way of feeding people over and against the market. “They will faint on the way” Jesus said. The market is designed only for those people with purchasing power. If no policies and structures are in place to ensure food sovereignty for the hungry, they will faint and die. “You give them something to eat”, means do not send them to the market.

We are reminded by Jesus about his holistic ministry of word and deed or diakonia as we call it. This is faith that is alive. The brief gospel of St. James defines what this diakonal ministry requires of us: If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace ; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? And James concludes that faith by itself, if it has no works is dead (James 2:14).

Sharing of food

In the story of the feeding of the multitudes, we learn the need for sharing food with others. Today, we know that food is wasted at the same time as others die of hunger. Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to health world wide, greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined (www.wfp.org/hunger). It is our mission to address this problem. Over 9million people die world wide each year because of hunger and malnutrition. 5m. are children. This is despite the fact that World agriculture produces 17 % more calories per person today than it did years ago, despite a 70 % population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories(Kcal) per person per day ( FAO 2002 p.9) www.worldhunger.org/articles) But rich countries waste around half of the food supplies annually. America throws away 40 % of the food while UK throws away from 40 to 50 %. 38 billion US dollars worth of food is thrown away every year while the direct medical cost of hunger and malnutrition is estimated at 30 billion.

To share food in our world will mean protecting small farmers, advocating for policies that promote food sovereignty because today’s hunger is mainly caused by injustice. As the book of Proverbs says: “The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.” (Proverbs 13:23)

Today, the survival of the fittest is the guiding principle in what can be called market fundamentalism. The life and teachings of Jesus provides a paradigm for the content of our mission which is to continuously take the side of those who are reduced to objects and victims by the prevailing unjust structures of Empire. We have to reach the point where we can say like the prophet Isaiah “Never again will foreign warriors come to take away your grain and wine – you raised it and will keep it.” (Isaiah 62:8b)

In March 2010 when the WCC delegation visited Norway we experienced a very moving service to remember the death of a bold church leader who advocated for the poor in El Salvador but assassinated in 24 March 1980.This great leader of the church, Archbishop Oscar Romero said, “If I feed people they call me a saint but if I ask, why people have no food, they call me a communist.” Feeding the hungry is now an issue of prophetic diakonia and transformative justice. It is about fighting against injustice in trade and agriculture and promoting life-giving agriculture. It is about stopping dumping food into poor countries and so destroying their production systems. It is about purchasing food with a sense of people in hunger. It is about refraining from wasting food while others starve. It is about having a meaningful fating during lent. It is about advocating for the human right to adequate food as a basic human right for every woman, man and child.

It is about sharing corn with compassion so that no one shall faint and die on the way.

So I end with more words from Oscar Romero: "The church would betray its own love for God and its fidelity to the gospel if it stopped being ... a defender of the rights of the poor ... a humanizer of every legitimate struggle to achieve a more just society ... that prepares the way for the true reign of God in history" (he spoke on 8/6/79). Where food is concerned are we ready to follow Christ's compassion or would we rather continue send the hungry people back to forces of the market?