by Sarah Hoyle
This is a version of the sermon Sarah preached at the Tillman Chapel, Church Center for the United Nations, on 5 June 2015.
Saying grace before a meal is a funny thing in my family. I always like to volunteer to pray, because my dad will often draw it out with a “Blessed be you oh God, Creator of the Universe…” and then sing the “Amen”when I would much rather rush through “God is great, God is good.” Even today, if I remember to pause to give thanks for the meal at all, it’s often just a gateway to pass through before digging in. I give thanks for the delicious final product in front of me, and that’s about it.
In reality though, a huge amount energy and resources go into producing our daily bread. The food supply chain is enormously complicated today!
We are privileged enough to have thousands of people working all over the world to bring us the food we eat every day. The process and the people that bring us the final product simply cannot be forgotten, and we have a duty to ensure that they are fairly treated and paid adequately. Our daily meals are deceptively so much more than the final products we unwrap for lunch.
By focusing on only ourselves as the end result of this process, we are mentally distancing ourselves from God’s interconnected environment that we cannot not be a part of. I was joking with the office earlier this week that tomorrow’s “World Environment Day” is possibly broadest possible UN recognition day, eclipsed possibly only by “Space Week.” The “Environment” is not something found just in the mountains or in the trees of central park, but its sitting on our plates at every meal. It does not end where we decide to build roads or buildings, and it certainly does not end with us.
One of my favorite quotes from author Virginia Woolf says “life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.” While milestones in life are certainly important to recognize, living only to achieve those ends is too often used as an excuse for not addressing the world’s most pressing problems.
I think God knows a little something about the importance of the process. In the Christian tradition, we celebrate Easter and Christ’s resurrection as God’s great big act at the end of Jesus’s life that saved us from our sins. But what would Christianity be without Christ’s journey to the cross as well? It was Christ’s journey through life that taught us how to live together as children of God.
Jesus didn’t say, “actually guys I think I’ll wait till the whole dying and rising from the dead thing happens so you really take me seriously.” No, he was out performing miracles and feeding thousands of questioning people with just a few loaves and fishes. His mission on the journey to the cross was vital to the people who heard him speak on that day. Maybe someone in the crowd would not learn of his death and resurrection for years to come, but something that was learned that day in the crowd of five thousand gave someone hope and strength to live as a child of God. Perhaps the orange picker who plucked my breakfast from a tree will never know that it was made into a pretty excellent smoothie, but if he is getting paid a fair living wage, he can know that his life and work are valuable and important.
Of course it is important to allow ourselves plenty of room for grace along our own journeys through life, not every moment is a moment for action. But I’m probably preaching to the choir at the UN when I say that more moments are moments for action than we take hold of. If you haven’t noticed, food justice is a big deal for me, and it’s also one of the areas where every single day, several times a day, we “vote with our forks” on which of the earth’s resources we choose to consume and throw away. If we are mindful and prayerful that every meal is a gift from God that has traveled many miles and passed through many hands to reach us, we need to be equally mindful about what we choose to throw away. I like to think Jesus was a proponent of the zero-waste policy in his gathering up of every remaining bit after the thousands were fed. The amount of good food that is thrown away every year is astounding, and while it’s a big problem on the industrial level, the MOST waste happens on the consumer level! That’s you and me buying too many bananas and letting half of them go bad, or getting freezer burn on the chicken, or just having eyes bigger than our stomachs. In this world of huge problems that seem way beyond our control, this is something we can really influence every day.
So next time you sit down for a meal, take a moment to really pray for all of God’s gifts and the human effort that went in to creating it. Be mindful of the water that fed the cow and the truck driver who transported the tomatoes, and use the freedom on the journey of your own life to work for justice in every step of the process.