Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Serving in God's Kitchen

Preached @ Fayetteville Presbyterian Church on 11 July 2010.
Text: Matthew 6:24-34

"You see," says Martin Luther when writing about this morning's text, "[Jesus] is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. [...] the little flowers in the field, which cattle trample and eat, are to become our theologians and masters and to embarrass us still further."

The birds and flowers are teaching us lessons. They serve God, not money. Likewise, Jesus says we should serve God and not worry about needing money for food, drink, clothing, or the future.

That's a hard lesson. Completely counter-cultural.

One Saturday night working at a men's homeless shelter, I watched a man carefully clear off one of the tables. This man was always particular about things, so I wasn't surprised to see him cleaning. After clearing the table of clutter and crumbs, he meticulously laid a towel over the table so he could iron his "church clothes." The church he attended on Sundays gave him the impression he needed to worry about what he would wear if he were to be accepted.

Church isn't the only place where we are taught to worry about our clothing. Social groups, restaurants, and places of employment all have a standard of dress and if you don't think about that standard, you'll be ostracized with varying degrees of severity.

"Is not life more than clothing? [...] Observe how the lilies of the field grow." They don't force flowers in other countries to prepare their blossoms. They don't have jobs. They don't scrutinize each other if their blossom isn't the right color or if they spent their money on something more practical than a tie.

Consider the lilies, learn theology from them. "If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will God not much more clothe you?"

Consider the birds. Jesus says they are fed by God. They don't till and keep the earth like God told people to do in Genesis. They simply fly around and eat the food in what Luther calls "God's kitchen." They neither store nor hoard food in refrigerators and cupboards. So, why don't we all become Mother Hubbards with nothing in our cupboards?

Consider the birds and the lilies. How many species have gone extinct? How many sea creatures will die from oil in the Gulf of Mexico? Animals go extinct while God supposedly feeds them and we don't help as we wreak havoc on God's kitchen. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is only one example of how we are pests in God's kitchen. We drive more than we need, creating the demand for the oil, we use too much electricity, we consume too much, we waste, we conserve too little.

Because of our luxuries and sins, the earth and the people in it are suffering. That homeless man I mentioned is Christian and he doesn't serve money--he doesn't have any money. And yet, he still has good reason to worry about good and clothing.

"Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' [...] God knows that you need all these things."

Jesus' words aren't as comforting to me as they once were. The headline in my Bible calls this section "the cure for anxiety." My anxiety isn't cured. But, I am motivated and inspired.

Jesus was no ignoramus. He knew about the poor, the hungry, and the naked when he gave the Sermon on the Mount. He is right about God clothing and feeding creation and Luther's metaphor is apt. Creation is like God's kitchen and we're serving in it. We just aren't perfect servers.

This part of Matthew anticipates chapter 25, where Jesus paints a picture of judgment. Jesus says, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. ... just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (25:35-36, 40).

God clothes and feeds creation through us, God's stewards. A steward is a person who cares for someone else's property. The first time we encounter the English word "steward" in the Bible is in Genesis where it translates what literally says "the one who is over the house" (43:16). Even in English, the word is a compound of two Old English words meaning literally ward, or person in charge of a house. Stewards never owns the things they are over, rather, they run the place and take care of it for the owner, the ruler, or the monarch--in our case, God.

We are the stewards of God's creation. We are the body of Christ and the presence of God on earth, it is our calling to take care of things, to ensure people don't have to worry about what to eat, what to drink, or what to wear. And when we do so, we are directly serving Christ. We are how God feeds the birds and clothes the fields. And Jesus motivates and inspires us to do a good job, making sure all animals are fed, all lands are clothed, and all people are taken care of even better than the animals and the land.

I listened to a presentation by an up-and-coming author Michael Yankoski, author of Under the Overpass. He told a story about a trip he took to help a village in Africa. He asked his contact in the town what their project was going to be. Yankoski was fully ready to start digging a well, building a school house, or some other big construction enterprise. The man told him, "This year, I would like every one in the village to own two shirts."

Consider the lilies.

Many organizations are focused on providing proper clothing to the poor of the world. Compassion International and World Vision support impoverished children and their families. These two companies are even founded on Christian principles. They are part of God's means of clothing people.

Tom's Shoes is another company making a great effort. Every pair of shoes purchased from Tom's buys two pairs of shoes: one for the consumer and another for those without proper footwear in other countries. Personally, I think most of Tom's shoes are quite ugly, but we can either suffer for fashion or let others suffer without shoes.

I hope you don't think I'm telling you how to live out your faith. That undertaking is not now nor will it ever be my place. I am giving examples of what other people doing and ways you might be able to get involved. And I am quite serious about these possibilities. In your bulletin, there is a "sermon companion" with information I am mentioning. And honestly, I don't own any Tom's shoes. I don't need new shoes and I'm not going to buy shoes if I don't need them. But when adding to our wardrobes, it could be healthy to think about contributing to someone else's. Consider the lilies.

While preparing this sermon, in the very early stages, I considered the birds and the lilies and God inspired me to make a change in my life. I want to share this change with you. I decided I will no longer support coffee and tea that is not fairly traded, which means the farmers and laborers receive fair wages for their products. This is a hard change for me. I probably drink more coffee and tea than I should. When traveling, I've enjoyed stopping at the Go-Mart in town and getting a cup of coffee for some 79¢ in my mug. That's cheap.

Fairly traded products are not cheap and are not limited to coffee and tea. They have cocoa, chocolate, flour, sugar. This box of tea Bigelow tea cost $3 for 20 bags of tea. This fairly traded canister of tea cost $6 for 22 bags. Each bag only costs about 13 extra cents, which really isn't that much.

Jesus started this part of the sermon saying how we can't serve God and money. So let's start using our money for Godly purposes. If I don't pay the price, other people do. Church, I do not feel like I am serving in God's kitchen when other people pay the price for my luxuries, especially when they pay with their quality of life.

I visited the General Assembly Mission Council's website. Did you know the Presbyterian Church has an official position on fairly traded products? They voted on it in 2001 and recommend them. On the website, I read these words: "The majority of the world's population lives in poverty. According to the United Nations Development Program, more than 19,000 children in Africa (and more than 30,000 people worldwide) die each day due to poverty and causes related to international debt." My cheap coffee is one of the benefits of those deaths. It isn't the direct cause, but it is a large influence.

Those numbers aren't meant to make anyone feel guilty. The statistics break my heart, but they do not make me feel guilty. Instead, they inspire me. They inspired me to start serving in God's kitchen by taking care of everything in it and being a more faithful steward. We can all make small changes daily to help these people.

By purchasing fairly traded products, we can help these families get out of poverty. The website says, "Fair trade shares the bounty of the coffee trade with those who grow the crop, helping them build a better future for themselves and their communities. Through fair trade, farmers earn a fairer share of income, have access to services that are otherwise unavailable and gain long-term trading partners they can trust." The Presbyterian Church even co-sponsors a project with "Equal Exchange," a fair trade company. The project is called the "Presbyterian Coffee Project." When churches, social groups, and individuals use fairly traded projects, they are Christ's body serving up justice in this world by defeating poverty.

The General Assembly's website goes so far as saying, "Fair trade is good news." Those are strong words, since "good news" is the definition of the word "gospel." Fair trade does sound like the gospel, like the good news Jesus proclaimed in Luke 4:18-19, where he reads these words of Isaiah: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."

Consider the birds, church. Consider the lilies, friends.

The earth and all that is in it--animal, vegetable, mineral--are ours to care for. Caring for the earth and animals does not mean we can no longer use natural resources, swat mosquitoes, and eat animals. Rather, it means we need to do all these things responsibly. We could think before we use natural resources, we might stop killing anything needlessly, and perhaps we could know a little bit more about our food, like where it comes from, what effect it has on the earth, and what God would think about our food. Paul said whether you eat or drink, do everything as unto the Lord. Eating and drinking can be quite ethical or quite unethical. There is a lot to think about with your family, a lot to discuss with your siblings in God, a lot to learn with your neighbors.

Consider the birds. Consider the lilies. Let us join together, become better servants in God's kitchen, stewards of creation.



Let us depart the sanctity of this place and enter the sanctity of God's world. Consider the birds and consider the lilies, church, and put your thoughts into action for the sake of the earth, the animals, and all people.

In the name of God the parent,
God the Christ,
and God the Holy Spirit.

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