COMMUNION IS SHARING John 6: 1-14, Acts 6:1-6
I am warning you this right off the bat : Some of you are hearing this sermon for the second time. It’s not that I am getting lazy in my old age. I am doing this because this is the first of the trilogy about communion I am planing. I want us to think about the communion in sequence. When you look up the Oxford Dictionary, the word “Communion” is defined as “sharing in a very deep level.” So, this morning we will think about the communion as sharing. In November I will touch on the dinner table as a community builder, and in December we will celebrate the “Pleasure of Eating.”
The scriptures read this morning, the Corinthians and the Acts are both touching on the difficulty of sharing in the early Christian Church. You may know this: In the early Christian church the worship services always began by eating together. It was a proper dinner. An apostle began the dinner by breaking bread and sharing the cup in memory of Christ, according to his command. This was the harbinger of the communion service, which today is only a symbolic act. However, it looks like in some cities particularly in Corinth, there was a problem. The poor people, the widows and those who were not Jews were often discriminated against. When they came to the table often there was no more bread and wine left while some others were already drunk because they had too much. This is why the apostles selected some good people as elders to make sure that everybody had a share of food and drink. That was the beginning of the office of “Elders” in the church.
This reminds me of the communion services in African. In a country called Lesotho, I taught at an university for eight years. But, I was called upon to conduct the communion service sometimes. At the communion elders surrounded me like body-guards. Then I was shocked to see them pushing some people away. Apparently they grabbed too much bread, or drank too much wine from a common cup. I realized how they were hungry. In a country like Canada where the major problem is eating too much, it is hard to understand this. But in a poor country, where people are hungry all the time, even a bit of bread and a sip of wine is precious. They never had enough food. So, like in the early church, elders’ job was to keep the order and to make sure that everybody had bread and wine at the Lord’s Table.
Today, we are all concerned about energy. But our attempt to reduce our dependancy on oil had caused hunger and starvation in the poorer parts of the world. When industries discovered that corn can produce alternative fuel to run a car, price of corn shot up. Many poor people in the countries where corn is a staple food could not afford it anymore. So, many people became hungry and rioted. The rich world is worried about sources of fuel to run a car, but the poor people are worried about food. It’s such an unequal world.
It is said that today one billion people are hungry and malnourished. In the meantime, here in North America, a major health problem comes from eating too much. Health problems caused by over-weight are replacing cancer and heart diseases as the major causes of death. I’m told that a half of our children are over weight and a fifth of them are obese, while in the rest of the world thousands of people die everyday from diseases caused by malnutrition. Food is killing us while lack of it is killing in the rest of the world. Sharing food is a big challenge today.
Many of us think that a massive food aid is the answer. Just send them food, you say. The price of our agricultural products will go up and the farmers will benefit. But I don’t think that will work. For one thing, who is going to pay for it. The government, our tax? And secondly, food aid often destroys food producers in the receiving countries. It was cheap rice from South Carolina destroyed once thriving rice production in Haiti in the last century. I saw the same thing happened many times in Africa. When I went to Lesotho, Africa in 1968, there were some old farmers who still remembered the days when there was a movement among Africans to “Send food to save hungry English people.” It was after the second world war when the whole Europe was starving. What made Africa food aid receiving continent afterwards? A good question. There is a lot of debate about this but I believe that commercialization of agriculture in a global scale deprived of the small farmers’ dignity as food producers and made them beggars. Cheap food from industrialized world drove them out of the market.
The lesson from the Gospel according to John teaches us something important in this context. When Jesus asked if there was food for many peopel, Andrew came up to tell Jesus, “Here is a boy who has 5 loaves of barley bread and two fish.” This nameless boy probably gave up food for the family dinner and offered all he had. That’s how the miracle of the feeding of five thousand happened, through a willingness of one boy to share all he had. Even if you don’t believe in a miracle, there is still an important message. That is: when you fight for food, there is never enough of it. But when you share it, there is enough.
The answer to the problem of hunger is not food-aid. It is in giving back the dignity of growing their own food. Give farmers everywhere farm credit. You have no idea that in the poorer part of the world, farmers have no crop insurance nor farm credit our farmers take for granted. So a few years of drought do not kill our farmers, but in Africa even one drought is a total disaster and many people starve. Then, how come our foreign aid program does not include farm credit? I know why. We rather keep producing food we can not possibly consume, and give away the surplus. There is no way we will allow our government to give financial incentive to the farmers of other countries. Agriculture is a very competitive market. We don’t want more competitors. We rather destroy other food producers, and make them customers of our farm products, and recipients of our food aid. Production is a source of dignity. We really don’t want to share such a precious right. Sharing all we have is far too much of sacrifice.
When I first went to Lesotho, everywhere I went I was surrounded by beggars. I hated it. One day, a school teacher who taught me the language told me something I didn’t know. He said, “We have a sharing society. If you have something others don’t have, you will share it. That’s why every mother teaches her children to leave a tiny portion of dinner for a hungry stranger who may knock on the door anytime.” Demanding something you don’t have from someone who has is no shame in our culture. To prove his point, my teacher suggested an experiment. When you go into a village and run into a beggar, you beg instead, saying “I’m hungry.” That’s what I did to a nearly naked herd boy who was looking after a bunch of sheep. I said, “Ke lapile. M’phe lijo.” I’m hungry, give me food. To my surprise, he pulled out without hesitation, a roasted corn on the cob from under his dirty blanket and gave it to me. He probably gave up his lunch but he looked happy. He helped a hungry stranger. Sharing surplus is good only temporary, but sharing something important lasts longer. That is what communion is about: It’s a symbol of sharing what is precious. Remember Jesus shared himself. What can we share to mend a broken world?