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In 2004 when I lived in Hanover, Ontario, I had some friends who I had got to know quite well. We had some really great conversations, and they lent me some books to read that had helped them to inform their decision to adopt a more plant-based diet. I remember one of the books I read had some statistics in it that really impacted me – enough so that I still remember them now almost 20 years later. One of the statistics I read was that if each of us in North America ate 10 percent less meat, it would free up enough grazing land that is currently used for livestock, and crop lands that are used to feed those livestock, that there would be enough food grown to feed all the hungry people in the world.
Of course, it isn’t as simple as that, when you bring in politics and global economics and lobbyists and trade agreements. Then I read about the environmental impact of our typical North American diet and that it required an average of about 16,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef for consumption – that’s a lot of water! That’s used for watering crops that are used to feed the animals but also the water used for the animals to drink and also in processing. In contrast, tomatoes require less than 200 litres of water per kg of tomatoes grown. And less than 10 litres per kg if grown in specialized greenhouses. That’s 1600 times less water than required for a kg of beef! Even dry beans, while requiring significantly more than tomatoes at 4000 litres per kg, still require only one quarter of the water that beef does. Livestock production creates more harmful emissions than all the cars, ships, planes and industries combined. These stats really opened my eyes to how the way that I was eating had consequences far beyond what I previously imagined.
On Friday for the Day for Truth and Reconciliation, formerly Orange Shirt Day, I was with a friend of mine who is an elementary school teacher. We both had our orange shirts on. For part of the day, we went for a walk around her neighbourhood in Delta, and there was a road crew fixing a road in her neighbourhood. The first flag person we saw as we walked, appeared to be an Indigenous woman. First thing I took note of was that she didn’t have the day off work. But before I could think too much, she started talking to us after we said an initial “good morning” to her. She thanked us for wearing our orange shirts, and we went on to have a brief conversation as we walked past the road crew. I thought wearing an orange shirt was the least I could do on that day. As I reflected on my orange shirt and my interaction with the woman on the road crew – I was thinking about how one woman’s story – Phyllis Webstad – led to a movement and a day of reflection and remembrance.
This probably is not news to any of you, but it is good to remember. Phyllis Webstad’s grandmother bought her an orange shirt for her first day of school. When she got to her first day of residential school, her brand new orange shirt was taken away from her and never returned. The orange shirt is now used as a symbol of the forced assimilation of Indigenous children that the residential school system enforced. What began as one woman’s symbol has spread across the country. On Thursday in the thrift shop many of our customers came in with their orange shirts on. And when I was out in the community on Friday, there were orange shirts everywhere I looked.
In today’s reading, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith.
In the previous verses the apostles have asked Jesus to increase their faith in response to Jesus’ extraordinary directive about forgiveness. Jesus told them that if someone does wrong to them 7 times a day, they must forgive them 7 times a day. It is hard enough to forgive once – never mind 7 times a day!!! So in response – I would imagine the disciples would be thinking wow – that’s asking a lot, we’re gonna need some better tools here. Jesus – increase our faith!! Jesus, however, assures them that a mustard-seed sized faith will prove sufficient for even the most demanding tasks of discipleship. The mustard seed was known both for its tiny size (1-2 millimeters in diameter) and for the contrastingly large, unruly bush that it produced. It was therefore the perfect metaphor for small beginnings leading to big results. The point of Jesus’ metaphor wasn’t to quantify faith but instead to affirm its power.
This passage is framed by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, on one side, and the Samaritan leper who returns to give thanks, on the other. It makes up the second half of a four-part series of loosely connected teachings related to discipleship, which may be summarized like this: (1) Don’t be the cause of another’s sin; (2) Forgive, again; (3) Miniscule faith is sufficient; (4) Discipleship is not about reward: Just do it!
Throughout Luke, those we least expect to have faith are often held up as exemplars of it. When a woman, a so-called “sinner,” pours ointment and kisses Jesus’ feet — to the consternation of Pharisees — Jesus not only forgives her sins but also says “your faith has saved you.” He says the same thing to the blind beggar who wants to see again; the Samaritan leper who comes back to thank him after he has been healed; and the woman who touches him in order to be healed of hemorrhages. And then – when a Roman centurion goes to great lengths to have him heal a trusted servant, Jesus exclaims, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith”.
But in contrast, the disciples often appear to lack faith. When they are in a boat with Jesus and a storm happens, they get so anxious that Jesus has to ask, “Where is your faith?”. Aware that Peter will betray him, Jesus prays that his faith will not fail him.
We often distinguish between the faith that “moves mountains” and the faith which is basic trust in God or Christ. Our tendency to distinguish these two types of faith tends to be rooted in the idea that the faith that moves mountains has to do with manipulating some kind of supernatural power and the faith that is our basic trust in God has to do with submitting to an external authority or set of beliefs or standards of conduct.
Yet Jesus’ very statement “your faith has saved you” to those he helps, implies that something else is going with faith. To have faith means having our whole way of perceiving and responding to life transformed by the mystery of God’s creative justice and power. What seems “impossible” for us is “possible” for God.
We see by examples throughout the Gospel of Luke what having faith means.
Faith is persistence in reaching out to Jesus and trusting in Jesus’ power and authority.
Faith is responding with love to forgiveness received, not letting fear get the upper hand, and being willing to take risks that challenge the status quo.
Faith is giving praise to God, having confidence in God’s desire for justice, and being willing to ask Jesus for what we need.
What Jesus says about “faith” sets the stage for the next part of the reading, where he says about being God’s “slaves.” Here Jesus points out that a farmer simply expects a slave to “prepare supper … and serve me while I eat and drink”. Of course, stories about masters and slaves are ethically problematic for us, who no longer accept the institution of slavery. Yet in the ancient world, a “slave” was not only a socioeconomic entity but also one wholly devoted to another. So what Jesus was referring to here was the obedience of the slave.
It really doesn’t matter – even a seed of faith holds tree-like potential. Jesus’ followers can live and act on the basis of whatever faith is theirs, no matter how small or insignificant it seems. It just takes obedience – which can be said to be following the way of God’s justice and grace, and great things can happen.
Oftentimes throughout scripture, obedience is often connected with joy – especially in the psalms. When we think of obedience as entering more deeply into fellowship with God, it is not hard to see how obedience even fosters joy. In fact, Luke is the leading spokesperson for joy in the New Testament. Numerous characters in Luke rejoice over God’s saving actions in and through the ministry of Jesus. Luke would be the last person to equate discipleship with drudgery.
So what does all this have to do with living with respect in creation?
This week I read an article that rated all the different things that we can do as individuals and communities that have a positive effect on reducing our global emissions. The number one thing that we can do is change the way that we eat. Eating more plant-based meals and reducing our meat consumption was more impactful than recycling, or using alternative transportation and fuel. Those are important and really good things too – but I must admit I was a little surprised to see plant-based diet ranked higher – until I started thinking about the things that I read about water consumption and land use associated with production of meat products. Like the mustard seed, one little thing – skipping the meat in one or two of our meals this week, has an impact far greater than we can see from our plate.
And Phyllis Webstad’s symbolic orange shirt has now turned into a movement across the country. I also noticed on Friday how many of the radio stations and TV channels had Indigenous stories and programming all throughout the day. It is through these small actions – wearing our orange shirt and striking up a conversation about why we wear it, reading a book that expands our knowledge, listening to a radio program or watching the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, APTN, or showing up to events that the public is invited to – all of these little things can lead to greater understanding, hearing the truth and working toward reconciliation.
So I invite you to continue to do the little things that can lead to great impacts beyond our comprehension. And together with God’s guidance we will create the world of peace and equality and justice for all that God intends for all God’s creation, because it is good. It is very good. Thanks be to God.