Mark 6: 37 (NIV) But he answered, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?"
Illustration - The Rice Market in Ghana
Last Sunday evening, Channel 4 ran a television show called ‘The Great African Scandal’. It was produced by Channel 4’s religious department and featured the Christian theologian Robert Beckford. Beckford went to Ghana on the occasion of the 50th year of independence in order to understand how international trade policy has affected that country.
It’s important to understand that Ghana has had a democratically-elected government since independence and that it is a stable and free country. It’s also a country rich in natural resources, but it’s significantly poorer than it was ten years ago.
I’m going to tell you just one story from the programme, which is the story of rice. Rice is Ghana’s staple diet and it’s a staple for a reason. Because historically, Ghana’s land and climate was and is suited to the growing of rice.
And historically, the Ghanaian government gave small subsidies to Ghanaian subsistence farmers to support them on their farms to grow rice for their families and a bit extra for a living income.
But in the 1980s, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank demanded that the Ghanaian government stop subsidising its farmers on the grounds of free international trade. And then in the guise of ‘Aid to Ghana’, the American government began shipping subsidised American rice to Ghana, thus making life even harder for Ghanaian subsistence farmers.
We saw pictures of Ghanaian markets flooded with cheap American rice that is more refined and, according to one consumer, ‘more delicious’ than the indigenous product. The end result is that formerly thriving farming villages have been left in poverty and the land has been left fallow.
It’s not that the people are not willing to work - as Beckford found out, the work is extremely hard. It’s not the people are unable to work. It’s not that the land is poor or that the people do not have access to the materials they need to be farmers. It’s that international policy has decimated the domestic and international market for Ghanaian rice.
America and the international trade agencies have destroyed an entire sector of the Ghanaian economy whilst dressing up their destruction as ‘aid to Ghana’.
A Christian Ethic of Sharing
This is all quite a different scenario from verse 37 of this morning’s Gospel reading which suggests that disciples are called to feed others and not to impoverish them.
And so this morning, I want to talk about ‘Why Christians believe that God asks us to share with others’. Because, if we are Christians, the ‘why’ should be important to us.
It’s not just a question of having a vague idea that sharing is good thing or that it would make the world a better place. As Christians, we believe that ‘sharing with others’ is fundamental to who God is, to what we believe, and to the Gospel.
And key to this conviction about sharing is our views about the Kingdom of God and the role of the church in that Kingdom. When we talk about the Kingdom of God, we can only talk in allegorical images about something that we have not yet seen.
The Kingdom of God, the early Christians believed, would be a ‘Kingdom’ where God would reign as king. It would encompass the entire earth and, because God was its sovereign, all people would be treated with justice and fairness and would be fed, clothed and at peace with God and with each other.
In our modern understanding of life, the universe and everything, the idea of a world-wide Kingdom where God is sovereign doesn’t encompass all the ideas and concepts that need to be included in our understanding of the universe, but nonetheless it’s a useful allegory and picture for us.
So, using that picture, as Christians, our hope is that all believers will be resurrected into the Kingdom and that this realm where God’s justice, fairness and dignity reigns will be our home forever.
So what is the role of the church in bringing about this kingdom? I want to suggest to you that the role of the church is not simply to recruit new members to the Kingdom.
Live as if the Kingdom of God were already here
The role of the church is also to live as if we were already people of the Kingdom. To live as if we already inhabited a land where all citizens were regarded with equal worth, a land where true justice reigned and a land where forgiveness rather than revenge was the order of the day.
We are not just to hope to be citizens of the Kingdom in the next life.
We are called to live as if we were already in the Kingdom now. Of course, this is difficult when the world around us does not operate by Kingdom rules but rather often operates by rules of exploitation.
But as Christians, our ethical system is not based on ‘the greatest good for the greatest number of people’. We believe that God loves all people and endows each person with equal dignity through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Our ethical system is therefore based on the principle that we are to treat others with the same dignity and love that God does. Because it’s based on love, the Christian ethical system demands our personal involvement and it demands that we treat everyone as if they were family members: as if they were our brothers and sisters.
In his television programme, Robert Beckford commented that rich Ghanaians were treating poor Ghanaians, the ones who did all the work, as if they were people without feelings, emotions or souls. This is the way that the rich nations of the world treat the poor nations of the world and it’s something that we as Christians cannot condone, let alone bless.
As Christians, we share with other people because we believe they are our brothers and sisters. In our individual lives, we are therefore called to treat all people we encounter as brothers and sisters: as people with dignity, with feelings and with souls.
On a national and international level, we are also called to work against all powers and systems that enable the haves to exploit the have-nots. We can do this by voting, by campaigning for trade justice, by acts of charity which empower people and by supporting Fair Trade.
As we come to communion together in a few minutes, we will come as a local church community to feast with our Lord at his table. As we come to his table, let’s bring with us in our prayers those individuals we know who have yet to know the Lord and those individuals who are struggling in any way.
Let’s also bring in our prayers the families who are being helped by FARM Africa and let’s commit to do what we can for global justice.
I pray that, in our communion, we may all be empowered to live today as if the Kingdom of God is already here. Amen