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Learning to Consume Rightly (a sermon for Fairtrade Sunday)

May 30, 2010

2 Sam 23: 13-17       Rom 12: 1-2

From the very beginning of Christianity, Christians have sieved through the Old Testament to find signs and anticipations of Jesus. I want to do something like this with today’s text.

King David is aging and is in another of his endless battles with the Philistines. One day he is thirsty. But he does not ask merely for water he asks for water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem. This just happens to be where the Philistines are camped. But his strange request does not deter his loyal band of followers. Three of his ‘mighty men’ now have a chance to prove their strength. So in superhero fashion the three of them, single-handedly, break through the enemy lines, draw water from the well and bring it back to David. So far it’s a normal tale of violence and heroics.

Then David, having suggested this extraordinary adventure into their heads, does an about turn and refuses to drink the water. Perhaps he realizes his folly. The story doesn’t say. It simply says he pours it out on the ground in front of the panting warriors, who risked their lives for it. Why? The men have done their killing to get the water. They have risked their lives for his sake. It seems like an extraordinary insult to them that he pours it out in front of them.

But David’s comment draws us to ask bigger questions…. David says: “Far be it from me, O Lord, to do this! Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives.”

This product on its own may be perfectly good water… but in a wider perspective the cost of it reaching him is greater than the water is worth. People’s lives are involved here. To consume it, David concludes, is 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… to live before God means to learn to consume rightly… to see those who produce what we consume as our neighbors who can no longer be invisible to us. 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 a complex matter, shopping. For all its complexity there is a 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. The global market and the multinationals do their very best to make those people invisible to us, so that all we can see are the cheapest prices… they do their best to help us give up in despair of seeing the real story and the bigger picture. They do their best to stand between us and our neighbours – those who produce what we consume. They do their best to make the product cheap for us at the expense of labour costs. That’s how the market works. If Fisher and Paykel want to compete and sell their products competitively they must move production from Dunedin to wherever the labour is cheapest.

Here’s the challenge… we like to say I have faith, I believe in God, I pray, I’m not afraid of dying… but the Bible wants to know how that looks like in our everyday life… not just whether we are nice to our friends 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.

The Bible wants to know what living the life of Jesus looks like in practice. How can we resist the system that destroys our neighbors overseas? When I was a kid when we complained about our food our parents used to say… “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. We reassured ourselves that the system was to big, we could do nothing to resist… ours was just to resign ourselves to the status quo.

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. These stickers on products like coffee, tea, rice, oil, chocolate, spices… mean that although the product costs a little more the producer is getting a fair price…

Did you know that if you spend $3.50 on a cup of coffee only 3c of that gets to the person who grew the beans? And coffee is the most traded commodity in the world (after oil).

The great thing about Fair Trade is that it is a way of resisting the system. Saying No (like King David with his water) because the product is not worth human cost.

I will finish with a verse from Romans 12: 1-2 firstly in the ordinary translation and then I want to read a Fair Trade translation.

Rom 12:1-2 (a more literal translation – NRSV)

I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

 Rom 12:1-2 (a fair trade version, courtesy of World Vision)

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, drinking coffee, supermarket shopping, going-to-work and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your morning caffeine fix that you buy it each day without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you [justice and mercy] and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of unfair global trade rules and mass consumer marketing, God brings the best out of you, developing well-formed maturity in you

 In our own strength we will give in to the cheaper product, to the forgetfulness of our neighbour, but scripture says, ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind by the Spirit of God’.

Thanks be to God.

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