+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In today’s lesson from First Corinthians Paul writes, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” Today is the first Sunday in October, the sixteen Sunday after Pentecost. We’re on the far side of the liturgical calendar from Holy Week and the crucifixion. I would suspect that many of us are happy about that. The joy of Easter is something to look back to and look forward to with gladness. The crucifixion is another matter entirely. It’s unpleasant. It’s uncomfortable. The crucifixion represents a breakdown of any system of justice—not that there was one in Pilate’s Palestine. Crucifixion was the nastiest, cruelest, most demeaning form of capital punishment that could be applied to anyone.
Because the crucified one is our Lord and Savior, we revere the cross. We bow to it as it passes us in the procession. But are we willing to acknowledge what it represents? What does it mean when Paul says we preach Christ crucified? After all, we worship Jesus, who in the eyes of the world was an abject failure. We worship the carpenter’s son who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We worship a God who took on the flesh of a poor man in order to participate in the most painful and humiliating experiences that being human has to offer. When we preach Christ crucified—not Christ risen and triumphant—we preach Christ nailed to a cross. We are called to stand with all those who suffer, those who hunger and thirst, those who are punished unjustly.
We are called to stand with the poor. The poor aren’t an abstraction. They are flesh and blood people like you and me. They are not a category. They are individuals. Some of them are people that I meet in the community kitchen. They are people whom you pass by on this very street day after day. You’ve passed by Felipe, a double amputee. Felipe sleeps between parked cars at night. His story is a painful one, of depression, of an attempted suicide, of family estrangement. You’ve passed by Betty, who has schizophrenia. You may not have noticed her, because when she’s taking her medication she’s hard to pick out of a crowd of passers-by. You’ll notice her when she can’t stand the side effects and goes off her medication. Then she responds to voices you and I can’t hear. You’ve passed by Reggie, who has a new spring in his step now that he’s left the shelter and living in the community. It took not months but years to reach this goal. You’ve passed by Deedee pushing her disabled child in a stroller as she heads to the food pantry. She can’t afford enough food for her family. Her wages cover her rent but not much more. Sometimes Deedee has to decide whether to eat or to pay the gas bill.
The poor are near and they are also far away. Today, as we observe our creation cycle at the Chapel of the Cross, I’m thinking of the legions of poor people who suffered during Hurricane Katrina six years ago. It’s hard to even remember the horror of what happened in New Orleans and on the Mississippi coast. People of all stations in life suffered; a hurricane is no respecter of wealth or status. But the poor suffered even more. In New Orleans the wealthy Garden District was comparatively unscathed. Not so the Ninth Ward, where mostly poor people live. Even after six years the Ninth Ward hasn’t completely recovered. It may never be fully restored.
Disasters such as Hurricane Katrina show us that our concern for social justice can’t be separated from our concern for the environment. When the earth hurts, we all hurt. And the poor hurt more than any of us. It’s easy to be complacent. Major disasters like hurricanes don’t occur every day. When they do, they grab our attention. Easier to ignore is the way the environment affects the food supply. On a smaller scale, droughts and floods decrease the amount of available food. The biofuel industry competes for grain that would otherwise be part of the food supply. Population and economic growth put pressure on the food supply as well. Who feels it first? Who feels it the hardest? The poor. Production is only one problem in providing enough food for people. We waste a LOT of food. It’s estimated that in developed countries over two hundred pounds of food per person are wasted every year. Still, many people, even right here in Chapel Hill, go hungry.
All of what I’ve said so far sounds rather gloomy. It is. But when we preach Christ crucified, we preach resurrection as well. There are signs of resurrection right here in the Triangle. You may have noticed trucks with the words “Interfaith Food Shuttle” on the sides. The Food Shuttle collects food from grocery stores and restaurants that would other wise be thrown into the trash. This food is still safe and good to eat, but is considered not quite fresh enough for retail sale. The Food Shuttle then distributes the food they’ve collected to soup kitchens and other organizations so that those who are hungry may be fed.
Food Shuttle isn’t the only reason for hope. There is an organization right here in Chapel Hill, led by one of our own parishioners, that works to better the lot of both the earth and its people. Farmer’s Foodshare helps support local farmers and sustainable growing practices. Farmer’s Foodshare buys up produce from farmer’s markets and makes it available to soup kitchens and food pantries. What is the result? Local farmers receive help to survive financially in these tough times, and those who need food assistance have access to fresh farm food, not just factory food. We all win—farmers, consumers, and the earth.
So what, you may be wondering, does supporting local farmers and the poor have to do with preaching Christ crucified? Everything, as it turns out. When we preach Christ crucified we’re not just talking about the salvation of individual souls. We’re talking about the salvation of everything. We’re talking not only about our souls but the salvation of everyone of us, of all creatures great and small, of the salvation of the very earth on which we live and move and have our being. Amen.