The following article is a revised version of a sermon given by Cathy Campbell in July 2021.
This summer, the Revised Common Lectionary focused five Sunday gospel readings on John Chapter Six. The readings invited us to reflect on both physical and spiritual matters surrounding food.
We started with attention to the hungry and our ideas of scarcity and abundance. The centre of the circle of reflection was the kingdom table, Jesus’ table, the banquet table. There, as John writes, folks have “as much as they want [and] when they were satisfied,” there were leftovers. This story appears in every gospel and sometimes more than once. In fact, it appears throughout our scriptures. It’s clearly important. What are we to make of it right now, in our time and place?
For the last 45 years I have focused on food, food justice and alleviating hunger in the world. The good news is I’ve learned a lot, met some truly fabulous and committed people, and witnessed real improvements. The bad news is that, after a decade of falling numbers, over 750 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020. Conflict, ecological degradation and climate change, economic disparities and now the pandemic have had a devastating impact on the most vulnerable. Jesus’ question to his disciples “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” still generates the same response today: “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” From the disciples’ point of view, there are too few resources for the hungry to get even a little. But Jesus takes the resources available—five barley loaves and two fish—and 5,000 people that day took “as they wanted [and] when they were satisfied,” there were leftovers. But you say, that was then and now is now?
Here’s a story from now. In the 1970’s, there were a couple of high-profile famines in the global community. One in Ethiopia and one in Bangledesh. In 1974, there was a UN World Food Conference. And in the late 70’s a group of farmers here in the Canadian prairies began to “conceive of a mechanism for Canadian farmers to share their harvests with the poor… and act as a food bank that could respond with food in times of emergency.” This core idea evolved and morphed over the years into the Canadian Foodgrains Bank—one of Canada’s top 10 charities with its head office right here in Winnipeg. In 2020 alone it distributed over $40 million in international programming to end global hunger. And that’s not the only miracle. The Foodgrains Bank is now a collective effort of 15 different church international development agencies.
Gathered around the board table are an array of Christians: Anglicans, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Catholics, Baptists, Salvationists (Salvation Army), and United Church representatives. All are so different theologically (and may find it difficult to worship together), and yet all are followers of Jesus and committed to working together to end global hunger. You might say what are five barley loaves and two fish in the face of 5,000 people? Or you might wonder what difference a few prairie farmers can make when faced with 100’s of millions of hungry people around the globe. In response, I would say that so many have been fed…so many have improved livelihoods… so many have improved the sustainability of their communities… and so many have glimpsed of the unity of the body of Christ.
This is but one story of the miracles created by churches every day through the power of the Spirit, compelled by Christ’s love. The economy of the banquet table continues today.
What is the economy of God’s banquet table? The fruit of it are healthy relationships—with one another, with the land, with creation, with our Maker. If communities of life are the fruit, the roots of this economy are found deep in the soil of the Spirit. For it is the Spirit that shapes and cultivates healthy relationships.
The Spirit is the generative power of the gift economy of the banquet table. Tending the spirit happens everywhere, everyday: at board tables, family tables, and picnic tables; at school desks, hospital bedsides, altars, everywhere. This is the path of life that Jesus shows us—the path of abundant life for all. Not abundant life for me and mine and then with what’s left we’ll think about the needs of the whole. But abundant life for all and in faith that there will be more than enough for me and mine in God’s economy.
Witness all the hope that has grown from Nancy Howatt’s sense of abundance in this year when so many farmers and cattle producers are experiencing drought. Nancy Howatt raises cattle in the Pembina Valley here in Manitoba. She is part of the Anglican Grow Hope project in Rupert’s Land. Instead of offering a heifer for auction this year because prices are so depressed, she and her brother, Chris Lea, decided to donate bales of hay. Their imagination and generosity encouraged 12 others and the auction house in Killarney to participate as well. The $15,000 of proceeds from this sale will go to Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The Government of Canada will match these funds and they will go through a partner agency to relieve the suffering of the people in Haiti and assist in improvements to their livelihoods. Through the spirit, generosity, and work of people like Nancy and Chris—matched by parishes in our Diocese and by our government—hungry people are fed, vulnerable are supported and hope continues to grow and flourish. Yes, miracles happen in our time and place. Thanks be to God.
Anglican Grow Hope is a project in support of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund
(PWRDF). The mission of the Anglican Grow Hope is to build relationships between rural and urban folk, different parishes; and with people in the global south in need of life’s necessities and livelihoods to create lives of dignity.
Nancy Howat and Chris Lea have been a part of the Grow Hope project in Manitoba since 2018.
For more information, including how to donate, contact the Diocese of Rupert’s Land at 204-992-4200 or visit the website: rupertsland.ca