Friday, October 29, 2010

What the World Eats

Isaiah 25.6-9
This Bible reading is a vision of how God intends to bring all the peoples and nations of the world together, to live in peace and harmony. The Prophet imagines a wonderful banquet spread out in God’s Temple where representatives of all the countries and peoples on earth will sit down to share food with one another - a sort of United Nations’ Assembly, but in Jerusalem rather than New York and where the ambassadors eat instead of talking. In the vision they are given nothing but the best - the richest food and the finest wine - because this is meant to be a wonderful celebration, a party to end all parties.

It will mark an incredible change in our fortunes. The cloud of sorrow that has long been hanging over the world - caused by famine, and disease, war and injustice, global warming and exploitation of all the natural resources of the earth - will be suddenly removed. It will be like the sun breaking through on a foggy day. There will be no more trouble. All the tears which people shed now will be wiped away. Everyone will be happy and joyful. When it happens, says the Prophet, those who put their trust in God will realise that he has done this.

In their book Hungry Planet (Time Magazine) Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio have produced a photo essay which reminds me of this passage. The pictures and the prophecy are vivid reminders of how important food is to all of us, wherever we live in the world. Food, and sharing it together around the family table, is one of the things that has the power to bring us all together and to help us see how alike we are.

They both remind us that the way the world is now is unfair. Some people have a lot to eat, and some have only a little. Some have a huge variety of food and some have very little choice. But did you notice how happy everyone in the pictures seemed to be, despite the fact that some of them don’t seem to have much to be happy about?

I think what the photo essay and the prophecy have in common is that they’re both telling us we can make a difference. We can help to bring about the sort of world where people do have enough to eat, where there is a reason to celebrate, and where we can all live in harmony. If we are believers we can trust God to help us share his vision of a joyful banquet prepared for all the human race - a time of peace and plenty for everyone.

Luke 17.5-10
Harvest festival reminds us about our lack of faith. Each day we worry about what tomorrow might bring. Job losses, a double dip recession, higher interest rates or, if we’re living on the return from our savings, an indefinite continuation of the very low interest rates that we see now. And then, of course, there’s the ever present shadow of global warming, the rapid depletion of the world’s resources, the threat of mass extinctions of plants, fish and animals. And what about the possibility of a global pandemic, a massive volcanic eruption or a meteor strike from outer space? These are all genuine fears about real risks. But where is our faith?

Fear paralyses people and makes them lose hope, give up and abandon themselves to what fate might bring. That’s certainly how a lot of people feel about global warming and it’s how some people feel when they lose their jobs.

Faith empowers people. It enables them. It allows them to look for a way out, to seek solutions, to plan for the future, to have a vision and to set goals which they can aim for on the journey to realising that vision.

Fear makes people look inwards and huddle together with their friends and family as they look for comfort and reassurance, whereas faith sets people free and encourages them to look outwards and turn to strangers as well as to friends to help them find answers.

When Jesus says that, with faith the size of a grain of mustard it is possible to hurl a mulberry tree into the sea I’m sure he’s exaggerating, but you get the point don’t you? Faith is good; fear is bad. And harvest time reminds us just how much there is to be faithful about.

So, what is the natural response to harvest time? It’s natural, isn’t it, to have a harvest hoe down! To sit down at once and take our places at the harvest supper table groaning with produce so that we can tuck in and enjoy the feast. Elsewhere in the Bible, as we heard in our first service this morning, the celebration banquent is held up as a vision of the future promised to us by God if we are faithful to him.

Jesus doesn’t contradict that vision, but he does say that the harvest supper, the Endtime banquet, will have to wait until the job is finished. While work remains to be done it is our duty to continue with the task, not to sit down and take our ease.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to the slave, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may take your turn?’ So you also, when you have done what you were ordered to do, must say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have only done what we ought to have done!’”

It’s a rotten life being a slave, isn’t it? And I’m sure Jesus isn’t really commending slavery as a good thing or telling us that we should never ease up, or take a break, or have a well earned rest while there still remains work to be done. He himself stopped work once in a while and feasted with his friends. So once again here he is surely exaggerating for the sake of emphasis.

But what he is saying is that harvest festival time is not an excuse for cosy complacency. It’s a reminder that, although much has been accomplished, much still remains to be done. It’s an encouragement to continue God’s unfinished business as co-workers alongside him. We have to help him complete the task of perfecting creation.

And even if, as Paul and John both remind us, we are actually treated as God’s beloved children and not as worthless slaves, that favour is undeserved. We must never forget that in serving God we are only doing what we ought to do.

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