Romans 8:18-25, Mark 4:26-34
I am a third generation vegetarian. My grandparents
were 19th Century food reformers completely vegetarian and a bit
cranky; my mother ate meat once in her life and didn’t like it. But my father
loved meat and so we were all brought up as omnivores; roast meat on Sunday
which reappeared in different forms for as long as my mother could eke it out
and fish on Wednesday (because that was the day the fishmonger came to our
My first inkling that this might not be my own path
came when I was about eight. We were walking home from church and I was
chatting away as eight year olds tend to do. I declared that “All things bright
and beautiful” was my favorite hymn. My mother, who was often disturbed by
exuberance or enthusiasm, replied, “So why do you eat animals?”
This was an entirely new thought for me. The first
time my theology and my life experience collided. There was no easy answer; part
of me dismissed it as “Mom being Mom” while another part stored it away as a difficult
question to be revisited.
As a young adult I discovered that meat is a very
inefficient way to get protein since the animal has to eat pounds of grain and
beans to produce one pound of meat and we could just eat the grain and beans
ourselves. In fact, at that time, it was calculated that if people in the rich
countries ate just 10% less meat and the resulting savings in grain and beans
were redistributed there would be no hungry people. I hate to be hungry and I
hate for anyone else to be hungry so it was an easy decision to eat less meat.
In the last decade I have come to understand that
the way we raise animals for food is a huge contributor to global warming; I
have realized that the way we grow most vegetables and transport them is also
harmful to the health of the planet, sometimes to the health of the
fieldworkers, and sometimes to our own health; and I have discovered that the
way we raise and kill livestock is rarely without suffering; even more recently
I learned that cheese production Is not much better than beef production in its
effects on global warming.
I have also found that a vegan diet is in many ways
the most healthy for our bodies. Besides which, there are many, many delicious
vegan recipes these days – it’s no longer just a load of old lentils.
So as you know, as an act of stewardship of creation
and of my own body, I chose to eat a predominately organic, locally-sourced
vegan diet. However, I’m not very good at keeping rules so I make exceptions
and I never chose to go hungry in the presence of food, whatever it is! But eating
vegan has become an important part of my spiritual practice; it promotes the
gospel values of non-violence because I cease to contribute to the suffering
and violence caused by our systems of animal husbandry and reduces the amount
that my daily life oppresses the planet and other people.
On Wednesday of this last week, the church
remembered Anselm who was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 11th
century. Anselm was a brilliant theologian who is usually remembered for three
things; the first is his definition of theology as “faith seeking
understanding”. He saw clearly that the understanding of our faith cannot be
divorced from the living of it. The second is his philosophical proof of the
existence of God based on the idea that God is that of which nothing higher can
be thought. And the third is his explanation of atonement – the mechanics of
how Christ’s death on the cross serves to reconcile us with God.
England in the eleventh century was a feudal society
and it was within that framework that Anselm re-interpreted the satisfaction
theory of atonement that was current at the time. In the feudal system, serfs worked
on an estate for an overlord, usually a knight, who protected the estate from
attack. The serfs owed the knight a debt of honor for their protection and
livelihood. Anselm pictured God as the overlord of the world to whom is owed a
debt of honor. But we humans cannot pay the debt because of our sinful
natures. Yet God, the
overlord, cannot overlook such an offence and demands satisfaction. While it is
humanity who owes the debt, the only person actually capable of paying the debt
is God himself. God therefore became man so that he himself could satisfy God's
offended character. Christ's death accrued a superabundance of merit which then
became available for distribution to those who believe.
That theory has
been foundational for later theologians. In the 16th century, the
Protestant reformers shifted its focus to concentrate not merely on divine
offense but on divine justice. In this view, God's righteousness demands
punishment for human sin. God in his grace both exacts punishment and supplies
the one to bear it.
The reason they
made this shift was because that was the way the world worked in the 16th
century. This was the time of the Tudors. Kings and queens, princes and lords
demanded allegiance from their subjects and administered sharp justice for
those whose loyalty came into question. Theology, faith seeking understanding,
found a way to understand based on the economic and social structures of the
years later, we do the same thing. As we seek to understand our faith and
reinterpret it in a way that makes sense to us today, we look at it through our
own perceptual screens. In thinking about theology we use insights from
science, we relate it to our social and economic systems, we take that which
has come to us in the tradition of the church and in the scriptures and use our
reason to reframe the ancient truths. This is the three legged stool of
Anglican theology – scripture, tradition and reason.
Just as my
understanding of food and diet as an issue of stewardship has come a long way
since I was eight, and I have brought my behavior more and more into line with
my faith, so theology has developed over the centuries and our understanding of
our faith continues to develop as humanity learns more and experiences new challenges.
We are facing a
major challenge now. Never before has there been so much global awareness.
Never before have we as humanity, together faced such a global disaster. Never
before have 175 nations agreed to work together on anything; but yesterday
delegates from 175 nations signed the Paris climate agreement.
These times call for new theology. A theology which not only
talks about the nature of God as present within Creation and re-interprets the
atonement in the light of that new understanding, but which also re-examines
the place of humanity in this ever-expanding universe. And I think that the
second lesson this morning from Paul’s final letter, his letter to the Romans
provides the basis for this new theology. “Creation waits with
eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” Our finding and
claiming our inheritance as the daughters and sons of God is what creation is
waiting for. This is what is going to make the difference in this global
crisis. The Paris Agreement may be signed but there is a long way to go – not
only has it to be ratified by the nations, not least our own, but it also has
to be put into effect.
That will require us
realizing that we are truly connected with one another. Scientific advances have helped us come to understand in
entirely new way that the whole of creation is interlinked. The melting of the
Arctic cap is causing drought in Los Osos; a new virus in one country quickly
spreads to another; in experiments with tiny particles our thoughts can change
the nature of reality. The little things we do and think really have an impact.
Just like the mustard seed. Mustard makes thousands of seeds which can remain
dormant and then spread whenever conditions are right – forcing out other
This, Jesus tells us, is like the kindom of God. Someone
scatters seeds and they mysteriously grow. Mustard seeds are scattered over a
wide area by birds and animals. The effect we have by the simplest of actions
is mysteriously broadcast and multiplied.
As the daughters and sons of God, what we do through our
thoughts and actions has a big impact. We can have a huge impact by simply
changing what we eat. You’ll be glad to know I don’t expect you to become
But just as we can bring about social justice by being
informed and active citizens, so we can effect farming and husbandry by the way
we spend our food dollars. Buying locally and buying vegetables and fruits that
are in season reduces greenhouse gases as well as supporting the local economy.
We learned from the Sustainable Seafood talk on Monday that
the Morro Bay fisheries use mainly sustainable practices so buy your fish
locally – from our own Jo Oliver, direct from Mark Tognazzini at Dockside or
from Wild Bay who sell at Farmers Market. Never buy farmed fish and just give
up on shrimp – there is no sustainable way to harvest it - for every pound of
shrimp caught, four pounds of other fish die for no purpose, and shrimp farms
are an environmental disaster. Poultry contributes much less to climate change
than other meats but please think about the suffering caused by chicken farming
and buy cage free chickens whenever you can.
Believe me, I know it’s not easy. What do you do when your
recipe calls for avocado but the only avocados at Ralphs come from Mexico and
though you can get local ones at Native Café they close at 3 and its already
3:10? Do you spend the time and the gas to drive into Morro Bay to get local
ones? And when money is short do you really pay an extra 50cents for organic
These are questions that only you can answer in cooperation
with the Holy Spirit. But I hope your take home from this Earth Day service is
that what we do, think and say matters, and spread and multiply like the mustard
seeds in the kindom of God. And changing our habits actually does change the
world. So it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do it.