Year C, Proper 28, 26th Sunday after Pentecost
November 17, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“ ‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.’”
Of course, the Gospel of St. Luke was written after the Temple was destroyed in 70; let’s say 85ish. So it is likely that the prophecy of Jesus that the Temple would be destroyed was in its specifics inserted into the memory of the words of Christ by the St. Luke, but there is no doubt that Jesus was, among other things, an apocalyptic prophet. He regularly and passionately proclaimed that the world as they knew it was coming to an end, that the Kingdom of God was near, very near, maybe coming tomorrow, that we must repent and believe and live exactly like it is going to all come crashing down. This is called the parousia, the holy waiting for the return of the presence of God, popularly known as the Second Coming but there is a lot more to it than Left Behind would have us believe.
My point in raising this is that those words are perhaps more relevant now than they have ever been. Haiyan devastated parts of the Phillipines last week; the week before we got confirmation that the Arctic suffered the warmest summer in 44,000 years, the USDA listed one half of our counties as agricultural disaster areas due to last summer’s millennial drought, Sandy… failed states across Africa and the Middle East. Island nations making plans to abandon their islands. These are the wars and insurrections of climate change. Estimates now say that by the turn of the century, 95% of Mexico will be under severe and persistent drought conditions. John Orbell’s research team is looking into what that would do with the human population, the 112 million folks who currently live there… and we think the border is complicated now. Seriously, I don’t want to be a Jeremiad, I don’t have some morbid sense of excitement that the end is near; but I do have some deep and abiding concerns about the current and future state of this planet, this biosphere, this bio-region, this community. We need to start taking this seriously.
Not all of the news is bad, though. Two weeks ago I participated in some meetings of a larval Food, Farm and Faith movement within the Episcopal Church. We met in Sewannee, Tennessee, at the University of the South, a storied institution of the southern wing of the Episcopal Church. As a bonafide Yankee, there was a bit of culture shock, but they were gracious and very fun hosts.
The meeting gathered a diverse group of folks: farmers, priests, farmer-priests even, seminarians, the Canon for Domestic Poverty at the national church, authors, scholars and organizers. We came from Seattle to Northern Vermont, North Carolina to Los Angeles, all somehow linked to food, farming and faith. I was there as a theologian of agriculture and a farmer’s husband. One man works for a bishop establishing a crowd-sourced food bank farm using spare property owned by churches across the Diocese of LA; farming the diocese, he calls it. Someone else is doing something similar in Seattle with secular lands. A woman in Ventura County runs the Abundant Table Farm Project, an Episcopal Service Corps site that gathers young adults in community around a CSA farm where they learn the gospel by doing it. There were thirty of us, each doing something as interesting and important as the next. It was invigorating and encouraging.
So what is the church doing getting into farming, and what does that have to do with the end of the world? Well, I do not think farming is going to save the world. I have doubts that that is even possible at this point; the powers and principalities of the world are too invested in things remaining as they are for as long as they can swing it, which leaves it to the rest of us to figure out how to survive on the leftovers, which I suppose is how it has always been, at least that is how Jesus saw it back then. So while farming, locally focused, community based, sustainable agriculture might not save the world, I am a true believer that doing what we can to renew and revive local food systems, to develop food sovereignty, to learn how to take care of our selves unplugged from a fossil fuel based industrial food economy is one of the tools, a powerful and holy tool, that might just save us in the coming deluge in this community, and in small, local communities across the planet.
Here is an example of the church-farm relationships I am talking about. Fill Your Pantry, a program of the Willamette Food and farm Coalition. This afternoon, 11 households here at Resurrection will receive a shipment of produce from local farms. These are specifically storage crops, crops grown to be canned, processed, cellared, or otherwise stored for use over the coming year. Your parents or grandparents may have had a relationship to food like this.
Fifty years ago, 95% of food consumed in the Willamette Valley was produced in the Willamette Valley. We were food sovereign. Now, less than 5% of the food eaten here is grown here. Agriculture industrialized after World War II when un-used explosives, ammonium nitrate, were re-purposed as fertilizer. Kind of swords into ploughshares but the bombs not exploded on Germans and Japanese have been slowly poisoning the vastly fertile once-upon-a-time prairie across the Heartland. But there was short-term efficiency in this, and now virtually all food is grown in a few intensely farmed regions. And with the distance from farm to table, and the massive chemical loads needed to control disease and pestilence, conventional agriculture is the overwhelmingly greatest source of carbon pollution.
As the food stopped being grown in our fair valley in favor of cash crops like grass seed, the whole local food infrastructure collapsed. We have few vegetable processing plants left, very few slaughter houses, fewer silo, warehouse and other storage facilities and only a single locally owned grain mill in the Southern Willamette Valley. How much bread does your family eat? Even at the expensive bakeries, it is virtually impossible to find bread with locally grown and processed grains.
Enter Fill Your Pantry. With processing plants gone, with commercial storage and cellaring extinct locally, some smart folks thought, “Let’s spread load the processing and the storage in the homes of the folks who will eat it!” Brilliant. So the 50# of onions, 25# of carrots, bag of flour, sacks of beans that we will have dropped off tonight will go into our pantry, our Mason jars and on to our table after it was grown by our neighbors, all within 20 or thirty miles of Eugene. Now that is a future to be excited about.
Enter the church. Now I don’t think the church should be farming. Our land should be repurposed, our resources pointed in that direction, no doubt, but our strength is not agrarian. And in times of trouble we cannot afford to labor in vain. Our strength is community. Our strength is the lands we own, the wealth we control, the human infrastructure we cultivate, the local through global networks of people of faith that we maintain, and most importantly, our strength is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that we serve as custodian and herald.
This all comes down to resilience, the ability to withstand difficult conditions, and resilience is at the heart of the Gospel of our Lord. “But not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Jesus never promises a rose garden, never says it is going to be easy, never says we are going to survive life, we are not, we will all die; but perish from the heart and love of God? No. Lose our souls, our sprits to the Pit, to oblivion? No. Jesus does not keep suffering from happening, nor calamity from striking, nor typhoons from making landfall, but Jesus walks with us, can walk with us through the suffering, through the trials and tribulations, through the famines and plagues and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. Jesus Christ helps us bear the suffering we all bear, helps us vanquish the fear we all feel, Jesus Christ in his life, death and resurrection shines a light in the darkness and carries us to the promised land where the wolf and the lamb feed together, where the lion eats straw like an ox, but the serpent, the evil one – its food shall be dust!
Our Gospel borne on the shoulders of faith-filled people living in community, causing our churches to become hubs of community life much broader than our worship of the Lord each Sunday, this is a key to resilience; it is something fantastic that the Church has to offer a broken, a breaking world. And forging those links between people and the land, between food, a source of life and the living is a gift the church has to give. A sustainable agriculture is impossible in an unsustainable culture. And ours is unsustainable. What the church has to offer, what it has always had to offer is a glimmer of light and at least an eschatological hope to broken people in a broken world. And Paul encourages us, “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” AMEN