Text: Matthew 6.25-33 and Joel 2.21-27
Some of you will remember that soon after I came to this parish, I launched a fundraising campaign to ‘see less of the Rector’. It was an attempt, on my part, to shed some excess pounds – which many of you generously supported. I was quite successful at the time – shedding around 2 stone, as I recall (which cost some of you a lot of sponsorship money!). The trouble is that, to quote Miss Lane of the Candleford Post Office, ‘food is my one weakness’. Actually, I have many other weaknesses too – but let’s not worry about them right now. A love of food is certainly up there at the top of my list!
Actually, as some of you have kindly noticed, I’ve recently been attempting to shift some of the ‘lockdown lard’ which I accumulated last year. Since August, I’ve managed to lose a couple of stones – but there is still more to go. But I make no promises about being able to maintain the new Adonis-like body you see emerging before you! I simply love food…too much!
So, for me and for all of us who love our food too much, today’s Gospel reading can be a salutary encounter, can it not? And it also comes as a slap in the face to any of us who worry about which of the many choices of fashion we should employ, day by day. “Do not worry…” about such things, says Jesus. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
The problem (as other foodies and fashionistas will agree), is that even with supply-chain challenges in our shops at the present time, there is simply SO much choice. And this is because we, as a society, have indeed worried about what we shall eat and what we shall wear, throughout human history.
This is nothing new. It was just as big a problem for the people of Jesus’ day. They may not have had fleets of lorries and container ships like ours, but they did import and export food and clothing from all over the Roman Empire. It was a trade which, like ours, resulted in massive wealth for the owners of import companies, and misery for most of the people actually involved in making the system work. For the Romans, it was the farmers, the sailors, the camel-train-drivers and the galley slaves who suffered. For us, it is still the farmers, and the merchant seafarers, and the lorry drivers who live on subsistence wages, living months at a time away from their families, to bring us our pleasures. So, I suggest, Jesus was not just pointing at individual ‘foodies and fashionistas’ like me (and perhaps you). He was pointing towards the entire economic system – which we have refined, developed and expanded since his day.
This is the behaviour of ‘gentiles’, according to Jesus – by which he means ‘unbelievers’ or those outside of a covenant relationship with God. The Climate Change Crisis we are all facing today arises as a direct result of the choices we all make about the amount and choice of food we eat, and the origin of the clothes we wear. We are acting like ‘Gentiles’ – like those who do not live in relationship with the Living God. When Jesus tells us to cease worrying about such things, he invites us to shift our focus. Taken together with the rest of his teaching, and especially his priority for the poor, Jesus invites us to imagine what the Kingdom of Heaven would like on Earth.
It would be a kingdom in which we stop striving and worrying about the food we will eat, and the clothes we will wear – demanding our avocados in the middle of winter, or our £1 T-shirt from the sweatshops of the under-developed world. It would be, instead, a world in which we use the abundance already around us – the abundance that the prophet Joel speaks about in our Old Testament reading.
Take, for example, the plant known as flax. In the middle ages, the vast majority of English clothing was made from flax, grown in English fields. In fact, in the 1600s, it was a mandate of law that every English farmer should grow at least some flax in his fields, to supply the clothing needs of his neighbours. Flax grew well in English soil and in an English climate. It could be made into English linen of the highest quality, by skilled cloth-makers and weavers. Flax was at the heart of our nation’s life, because it was a natural crop, naturally provided. A healthy, local economy was built and sustained for centuries.
But then, cotton arrived. Cotton won’t grow in an English climate. But the fashionistas of the 1700s liked it. Cotton was lighter, cooler to wear in the summer, easier to weave and sew. And so, vast quantities of cotton had to be imported from warmer climates all over the world. The old import and export practices of the Romans were re-ignited. Fleets of ships, run by sailors ripped from their families. Vast factories of under-paid workers toiled night and day. Owners of import companies made money. The rest of the population starved. All because the wise words of Jesus were once again ignored. We started to worry about what we would wear.
The result was catastrophic, for our climate, for the slaves of the cotton plantations, for the poor workers in the dark-satanic cotton mills. All because we started to worry about what we would wear.
When we worry about what we should eat much the same thing happens. Food is imported from all around the world, at enormous cost to the climate, but at great profit to a few wealthy import-company owners.
So, my friends…what are we to do? If we who count ourselves followers of Jesus are to have a personal impact on the crisis humanity is facing, what shall we do. Well, I suggest, the simplest thing we can all do is to buy ‘local’. This is not because we are ‘Britain-first’ people. Buying local and buying British has nothing to do with Brexit or ‘Little-Islander’ mentality. Rather, it is a fundamental understanding that as the Bible teaches us, God has provided all we need in our own backyard. Buying local, and supporting local economies turns out to be not just good for our planet, but a Christian duty we can all take up – wherever we live in the world.
There is no need to import goods from abroad, with all the attendant damage to our climate and to the lives of the workers who bring us such goods. There is enough land in our nation, to feed and clothe our nation. God has provided all we need. Maybe not all we want, and all we like to worry about but certainly all we need.
“Your heavenly Father feeds the birds of the air. Are you not more valuable than they? If God clothes the grass of the field, how much more will he clothe you?”