Fairtrade Fortnight 2020

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Reading: Mark 4: 1-11

Look at the printed sheets you were given as you came in or found on the pews.

What do they mean to you?
Talk to the person next to you.
What has this to do with Lent?

Imagine yourself shopping in some supermarket somewhere. You have a list of things to get….
Just a moment.


It starts with a change so outwardly insignificant that no one would notice.
Except the person behind you in the aisle.
Just a moment.
When instead of seeing rows of labels on a supermarket shelf you imagine the people behind them tilling the earth, sowing the seed, gathering the crops.

And you pause, wondering, what their names are, where they live, what difference it will make If your hand picks up this box instead of that, wondering: how do I love these neighbours?
Can I help change this child’s long journey for water, her mother’s lack of healthcare, the prospect her father faces of another year unable To feed his family well?

Just a moment.
And the person behind you, her impatient baby squirming in the trolley, may never realise that in that brief hesitation, AS A LIFE HUNG IN THE BALANCE YOU MADE A CHOICE.

Jesus is biased towards the poor, and gets angry about the way they are disregarded. I think he would be very angry by the way unfair trade keeps millions trapped in poverty, against the backdrop of a world of unparalleled richness.

Perhaps it’s time that we stopped for JUST A MOMENT- perhaps now is the time to turn away from the temptation of cheap shiny things, listen to what God asks us to do, TELLS US TO DO to support and protect the vulnerable.

The reading Mark 4: 1-11 is about challenging temptation and using our power to do the right thing.
Can you imagine wandering around a hot place. Imagine a desert – it is really hot and I mean really hot. Searingly hot. The kind of place where if you cracked an egg on a flat rock you would expect it to cook.

Except you have no egg

Or any food at all

Or any water

And it is silent

Very silent

All you can hear is your own heartbeat

You are alone

You will be there for 40 days

How do you feel?

This is hard to imagine. I mean we have phones and everything, internet, TV, home food delivery and all sorts of stuff which means even if we are physically on our own, we are not completely cut off.
Not like Jesus in the wilderness.
BUT he wasn’t alone. He was with God. More with God than we can ever imagine.

Jesus had gone to the desert to prepare his soul for an intense three-year period of healing people, preaching, and ministering, at the end of which he was to be crucified by the Roman Empire and religious leaders.

Today is the first day of Lent.
The period is a mirror of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting, praying, and being tempted by Satan before he started his public ministry.

The concept behind Lent is that each year, Christians will mirror Jesus’s actions in the wilderness. Lent is sometimes called the “Great Fast.” It’s that time when Christians can be involved in to self-examination, repentance from sin, and, ultimately, renewal of the soul, all in anticipation of greater dedication to serving others and God in the coming year and beyond.

This is what Jesus did.

Many people (Christians and non-Christians) see lent as a time to give something up and that’s as far as it goes. “I’m giving up chocolate for lent” is a familiar cry. And what for? Is this a competition? A Joke? Does it matter? Sure, when Jesus went into the wilderness he did give things up, food and drink principally by default. BUT that was not His reason for doing it.

Lent also is often viewed in a negative light; a time of deprivation, denial and stoicism.

BUT it is a time of hope! Jesus confronted temptation in the desert and was able to say “NO” to the devil’s demands, the devil’s temptations.

It IS possible to resist temptation. We can make the right choices, resist the pressures of society and free ourselves. It is possible to turn away from consumerism, self-absorbtion, inequality and all sorts of sin.

The fact that Jesus DID MAKE the right decisions out there in the desert is a sign of hope for us all.

Think about it- Before he ever preached, healed or saved a single soul, Jesus was taken aside and tempted greatly by the devil.

Have you ever thought how when you are tempted by something it is at just the “right” moment when you are thinking you “need” something?

This is what happened to Jesus too.

Jesus did not eat at all. Normally you would be hungry for 4 or 5 days and less so afterwards. After 20 days or so, things start getting worse, organ failure, dehydration and so on begin to be real threats

Then Satan waited until Jesus was at this vulnerable state. He “tailored” this temptation specifically for Jesus.

Go on” he said “change the rocks into bread” he said.

Satan will tailor his temptation to fit you. We all are susceptible to various forms of temptation- greed, power, lust, or some other of the so called “7 deadly sins”

Wherever your area of weakness is, Satan will squeeze in there. Just at the “right” time

Christ desperately wanted to help the oppressed, and Satan tells him, “Hey you can rule the world- simply bow to me and I will make it happen.”

Imagine that- being in charge of absolutely everything- think of the good you could do- feed the hungry, heal the sick, put a stop to war…….. “and all you have to do is obey me” says Satan. Jesus needed to think very carefully about the decisions which he was to make. The choice between good things and bad sinful things is not always easy.

And that is the same with us. So many things seem like the right thing to do. So many things are definitely the WRONG thing to do and yet we can justify actions to get what we want.

Many many years ago (from 1982) I used to run a health food shop and got to know many people with very strong views about eating animals. I came to the decision that I would stop eating meat and completely agreed with the ethical and moral arguments in favour of vegetarianism. And I still do. BUT having been raised on meat I really really liked the taste. Now, around Christmas time I was at a rather large party in a rather large family home and found myself in their rather large dining room facing a rather large amount of meat.

There was an immense table covered with food which included gammon, turkey, beef, sausages- meat of all shapes & sizes and descriptions, hot and cold. I of course immediately dug in and stuffed my face. My rationale at the time was that (1) it will go to waste (2) Who cares? I really like the taste! Also I COULD EASILY GET AWAY WITH IT (I hardly knew anybody there and my new found vegetarianism wasn’t common knowledge anyway). BUT the bit I missed was to do with the reason I gave up meat in the first place.

By my own standards what I was doing was very wrong, morally and ethically and I haven’t eaten meat since that very day.

The point I am making is nothing to do with eating meat or not. No, the point is that it is easy to justify doing the wrong thing when in our hearts there is no escaping the truth. Jesus knew that to give in to temptation would be wrong, even though there could have been some sort of justification – a HUMAN justification- should he have given in to temptation

And it IS a struggle isn’t it? How often do we struggle as we question our motives while trying to live as best we can serving God?

I am sure that Jesus experienced the same ambiguity which we all have when faced with choices. When we ask ourselves ‘should I do this, or that.’

So if there are a couple of Lent themes you could say they might be:

  1. Putting ourselves out to do the right thing
  2. Resisting temptation

There are many places where this is highlighted in the Bible. One that springs to mind is from the Old Testament- 2 Samuel 23: 13-17

David is ageing and is involved in yet battle with the Philistines. He is thirsty. He wants water. Not just any water, but the water from a particular place, and that place is the well near the gate of Bethlehem. To reach this, you have to pick your way through a whole load of hostile Philistines. They are in the way. Strange & dangerous as this mission seems, 3 of David’s loyal soldiers.

Decide to go for it. Here is the chance to prove themselves to their king. Off they go like supermen into the fray, battle, maim and slay many foes and return victorious with the water.

Just another day of violence and daring-do.

Then David does a very strange and unexpected thing, he takes the water and pours it on the ground. The story offers no explanation but why does he do this? The men have done their killing to get the water. They have risked their lives for his sake. It seems like a real insult to them that he pours it out in front of them.

But David’s comment is revealing. He says: “Far be it from me, O Lord, to do this! this water is a precious as the blood of these men who risked their lives to bring it to me”.

This might be perfectly good water… but in a wider perspective the cost of his having a drink far outweighs the need to have it in the first place. David realises that to drink would be wrong.

This strange story reminds us of the cost to the lives of others that is bound up in what we consume. We cannot just look at the products that we buy in isolation…

As God’s people we need to consume rightly and to do this we need to see those who produce what we consume as our neighbours AND they can no longer be invisible to us.

Let’s face it- we have been trained since children that as consumers our only job it to listen to the advertising and keep the economy going… or if we are a bit older, to save money for a rainy day… always looking for the best value for us. IT’S ALL ABOUT US EH? ME, ME, ME

Shopping is not that simple then- it’s very complex. But there is a stark and simple reality here. The lives of others (not just our ours) are at stake. The ability of the poor to feed and clothe and educate their children and even to survive is related to how we consume. WE HOLD THEM IN OUR POWER (whether we like it or not)

The companies who pull the strings- multinationals whose only concern is the balance sheet- do their very best to make those people invisible to us, so we only focus on the cheapest prices. They do not want us to see the real story and the bigger picture. They do their best to stand between us and our neighbours – those who produce what we consume. What we need, desire, crave. They do their best to make the product cheap for us at the expense of labour costs. That’s how the market works.

Here’s the challenge… we can say we have faith, love God, pray and are not afraid of dying but how do we appear in our everyday life?

In this case it’s not just about people thinking we are nice but how we do our shopping. God addresses us as we write our shopping lists. God’s call on our life is present as we walk down the aisles with our trolley. The choice is not WHETHER to consume but HOW. How we consume is an indication of our faith, of the life of Christ in our life.

BUT how can we challenge the system that destroys our neighbours, our human family, God’s other children who we will never meet. Who live in places we will never go, that we’ve probably never heard of?

Many of us when we were growing up would take a dislike to certain foods (mine was beaked beans and raw tomatoes- individually, not together) and complain bitterly of the injustice of having to eat such horrible food. We would then receive the same answer from the wise and respected parents’ book of stock reprimands “there are children in Africa with nothing to eat”. And of course we used to reply… “then give it to them”, knowing that was impossible.

But it is not necessarily so… How many of you know about Fair Trade? It’s a certification system which monitors the lives of the producers.

The Fairtrade logo can be found on products like coffee, tea, sugar, cotton, bananas, chocolate, even make up and GOLD!! It means that the producers- farmers, miners, millers, weavers, growers (the list goes on…)- all these folk are getting a bit more than “usual” for their goods. In the grand scheme of things this is a small amount but it can raise families and communities out of poverty, enable people to afford for example school books or uniform without which the children can’t attend. Fairtrade provides a community premium which finances schools, health centres, water supply, infrastructure and so on.

ALL THIS from the choices you make when shopping. And at no real extra expense to you either.

When you buy something you are putting money in the pockets of all those involved in producing whatever it is you’re buying.

Conversely if you don’t buy something you are denying finance to those very same people.

Banana Split

And as an example

Here’s a banana:

Say for instance you pay 30p for this banana. Who gets your money?

Let’s split the money up between the beneficiaries and for simplicity they are:

Supermarkets/shops: need pay for premises, staff, advertising

Importer: Buys from growers & sells to supermarkets. Arranges shipping, trucks, ripening

Shipper: Cost of maintaining ship, berthing, crew and banana refrigeration

Plantation owner: crop subject to disease & weather/climate change. Income at the mercy of markets beyond their control

Worker: long hours. Picking, packing, exposed to chemicals. Wages not guaranteed. Needs pay for own work clothes, children’s education. Working conditions unregulated

Tell me (shout out!)

  1. Who is the most vulnerable?
  2. How should we split up the 30p?

Answer: workers are most vulnerable, then the plantation owner.

Banana Split:

Supermarket 13p

Importer 7p

Shipper 4p

Plantation owner 5p

Worker 1p

you could give the worker an extra ½ p – a 50% rise in income. You can add a 5% Fairtrade premium to pay for community premium at a cost of 1½ p. Total 2p extra to massively change the worker’s life and the lives of their community. This 2p can be absorbed in the chain. Obviously we could choose to buy this banana for 32p instead of 30p. BUT would we??

We all have this choice. This is Power. This is a power that can be used for the good. This is a power that reinforces our Christian principles if we use it properly.

Choice

YOUR CHOICE

MY CHOICE

OUR CHOICE

SOMEONE ELSE’S future.

Prayer

Lord,
Help us to use our power of choice to support those who we rely on to supply us with the goods we need.
We pray that through Fairtrade, disadvantaged and vulnerable workers can build stability in their own lives, and that together we may tip the balance in favour of the poor, that they may see a road out of poverty.

Help us therefore to keep you at the centre of our actions for justice and to continually pray for your strength and guidance to make change happen. Let us not forget that to defend the rights of the poor and needy is your will, therefore we pray that through us may your will be done.
AMEN