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Sermon for Proper 13/Ordinary 18 Year B Manna

July 11, 2015


The Lord gives what is good, and our land yields its bounty. Words from Psalm 85 10-13

In the name….

We sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread…….you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

Just six weeks ago, the Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt. Now they wanted to go back. Slaves though they were, they’d learned to rely on the deceptive abundance of Empire. The fertile Nile Valley was the green miracle of the Ancient Near East. The Nile provided food in abundance, and Pharaoh the god-king controlled the Nile — or so he thought. There was so much food that he needed whole storage – cities to hold the surplus, and slaves to build the store-cities, Rameses and Pithom. So Israelites built those cities.

Deep in their hearts, the Israelites had bought into the economic system of Pharaoh’s Empire, whose basic principle is typical of every Empire: maximize profit at the top,

get as much as you can, share it with as few as you can, but convince everybody that they somehow benefit from the system. This economic system is familiar to all of us,

Capitalism calls it ‘trickle down’

Across the globe, industrial agriculture is a machine spinning crazily out of control, eroding land, draining rivers and underground water supplies, poisoning water systems. Some 38 percent of the world’s agricultural land is now degraded. We are robbing the future, our grandchildren.

Meanwhile, farm workers suffer from chemical poisoning. Last week, our government lifted an EU ban on neonicotinoids – insecticides for oilseed rape fields which kills bees. Bees pollinate 70 % of crops that feed 90% of the world. If bees become extinct, human beings are only four years behind them. Food-factory workers suffer from massive injuries on the ever-accelerating production lines. Factory-farmed animals are psychotic from toxins and confinement; their effluents poison air, water, and perhaps even the crops on which raw manure is too often sprayed.

This system of glut and dearth makes a few giant multinational corporations get immensely rich, while many farmers are driven out of business.

In 2012, 13,754 farmers in India committed suicide. That’s one suicide every 38 minutes. Why? Crippling debts from exorbitant annual fees charged by the mega-corporation Monsanto for genetically modified crops. For centuries, farmers made a living by saving seeds from one year’s crop to the next. But when corporations control seeds, they control life. When Modi’s BJP ‘swept’ to power, the well-off middle classes celebrated in the belief that they would materially benefit from a ‘Thatcherite-style’ revolution. The government sold off public assets to elite interests. So the state takes the standpoint of individual capitalists and allows them to do what they want rather than protecting the system as a whole. So you get extremely low wage rates, malfunctioning of nutrition schemes, lack of drinking water and sanitation: with more than 65% of households defecating in the open, with resulting high levels of jaundice, diarrhoea, malaria and other diseases. Uncontrolled pollution has destroyed the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen, and subjected the local populations to skin diseases, asthma, TB, cancer and death.

Back to the Israelites on the far side of the Red Sea, God begins to outline for Israel a totally different kind of economic system. “Look, I am about to rain down for you bread from heaven, and the people shall go out and collect just enough for each day

The Manna Economy is the opposite of the economy of empire. Israel gathering manna one day at a time–no storing the stuff; it gets wormy and rotten overnight –contrast that with Pharaoh’s vast cities of grain silos. Remember the EU food mountains and wine lakes?

Where do we think our food comes from? To the Egyptian slaves, the answer seemed to be that bread came from Pharaoh, who owned all those wheat fields along the Nile and took all the grain into his silos. But the manna economy rests on the non-negotiable truth that bread comes from God; that is why it includes the practice of keeping Sabbath: atime for gratitude, time to rest in God’s sufficiency; a day for remembering that God is the Creator of heaven and earth Ex. 20:11 the source of every good material gift, food included.

Meanwhile, we are enmeshed in a global food economy whose size and power are unprecedented in history, and whose basic principles are exactly opposed to those of the Manna economy. We get our food via a system of ceaseless industrial-scale production; a system of huge rotting surpluses in one place and starvation in another. Everywhere it shows a dangerous disregard for the earth as God’s own creation. Monsanto is taking a renewable common resource and turning it into a non-renewable, patented commodity.

We need to learn more about the real cost of our food. Does the cheap food at the supermarket or MacDonald’s entail inhumane treatment of people and animals, permanent loss for the soil, depletion of safe seed and water supplies? Does its chemical history make you nervous about your long-term health, and even more your childrens’ ?

GM Crops and factory farming arguably means cheaper food for more people and could solve world famine. But does it?

Pharaoh ultimately destroyed his own empire by his blind refusal to acknowledge the God who is Creator of all. Through ten devastating plagues, Pharaoh pitted his puny and deluded power against the true God, who answered his delusion by turning its dusty soil into lice and the life-giving waters of the Nile into blood. Pharaoh is a fool who uses his power ultimately to destroy his own kingdom. After the seventh plague, Pharaoh’s own courtiers shook their heads in broken-hearted wonder: “Do you not yet know that the land of Egypt is history?” 10:7

Food production practices should be high on the church’s agenda. The Bible asserts repeatedly, from the first chapter on, that eating is part of our life with God. The manna story gives us a mandate to bring food into our faith life, to talk, as the people of God, about how we are eating. The principles of the manna economy —take only what you need, share, remember that all food comes from God

Wonderful things happen every day, but we fail to see them or take them for granted. Martin Luther observed: God’s wonderful works which happen daily are lightly esteemed, not because they are of no import but because they happen so constantly and without interruption. Man is used to the miracle that God rules the world and upholds all creation, and because things daily run their appointed course, it seems insignificant, and no man thinks it worth his while to meditate upon it and to regard it as God’s wonderful work, and yet it is a greater wonder than that Christ fed five thousand men with five loaves and made wine from water.”

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