Sermon 1 – Katie Furrow
It’s been 3 years, 8 months, and 13 days since I last intentionally ate meat (approximately). After spending a week at the Church of the Brethren’s National Young Adult Conference in 2012 where I didn’t eat any meat with my meals because I thought it all looked unpleasant, I decided to see how long I could continue in a vegetarian lifestyle. And now, here we are. Admittedly, I’ve still eaten meat on more than a handful of occasions—if it’s served to me, I’d rather eat it than see it go to waste and sometimes, I just really want to try a new meat-based dish or, honestly, sneak a chicken nugget that’s been calling my name.
Here’s the thing, despite my choice to be a vegetarian, I actually really enjoy eating meat. Almost four years into it, when I’m asked about favorite foods some of the first things I think of are dishes like fried chicken or turkey club sandwiches. In spite of this, I’ve learned over the last several years that these foods often have a larger, unseen impact than me having a full tummy, and knowing this has driven me here.
By eating meat, we are living very high on the food chain, and the choice to do so often involves unsustainable and harmful production. For instance, the most populous land mammal in the Amazon and the greatest reason for deforestation there is beef cattle. Forests are being destroyed, indigenous groups are losing their autonomy and their homeland, and greenhouse gas emissions are increased so people (mostly Americans) can have constant and cheap access to beef.
The amount of water, grain, and land required to grow just one pound of meat is often exorbitant. And while one could argue otherwise, it’s hard to consider that all of these resources could be redirected to help ensure that everyone on the planet has enough to eat; while those of us who live comfortably now wouldn’t get to eat as many hamburgers, more people around the world could at least have a greater chance to access basic food staples.
According to the United Nations World Food Program, almost 1 in 9 people around the world don’t have enough food to live healthily. In today’s scripture, Jesus instructs his followers to “not worry about their lives, what they will eat or what they will drink” and to instead rely upon God, who will take care of them. Admittedly, when Nate asked me to speak on this topic in relation to this scripture, I was troubled. It’s easy for me—a person in a place of privilege who has enough access to food to be able to voluntarily cut an entire food group from her diet—to not worry about where my next meal will come from. Even as a volunteer with a limited income, there has not once been a moment when I’ve been hungry or concerned about how I will pay for food.
However, for the 795 million people who aren’t as fortunate as me and who struggle to access food, they don’t get the luxury of not worrying, and it feels almost naïve to quote such a scripture to someone in their position. Worrying, for better or for worse, is what may help keep them afloat. As I’ve continued to think on the subject for the last several days, I was pulled to the idea that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be the body of Christ, to be actors of social change to make sure that all of God’s people are taken care of.
Perhaps it is on us to do our part to make sure that our sisters and brothers around the world will no longer have to worry about their next meal. I’m not saying that everyone needs to completely change their diets and forsake meat once and for all, but small steps to live a little more simply—like cutting out meat at some meals once a week or generally trying to eat a little lower on the food chain—can make a huge and positive impact. By taking a few small steps, those of us in places of privilege can work to make life a little easier for our neighbors who may be struggling to figure out where their next meal is coming from.
As we go forward, may we be called to make choices that ease the minds of our neighbors and that show God’s plan to take care of all our needs.
Sermon 2 – Emmett Eldred
“They call me the Watchdog of Oakland, because I’ve always got your back.”
This is how the most interesting person in my neighborhood first introduced himself to me, and most of the people he meets. He’s a homeless man, African American, about six feet tall. He’s got a huge smile, and bright warm eyes. I see him often outside of this little pizza shop on Craig Street called Maximum Flavor, but you can find him throughout Oakland. If you have the pleasure of meeting him, he’s one of the most charismatic and friendly people you’ll ever meet.
Oakland is one of the largest neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, and home to most of Pittsburgh’s largest universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, and my college, Carnegie Mellon University. As you’d expect, Oakland has a lot of students, even during the Summer. It’s one of the youngest neighborhoods in the United States.
As you can imagine, such a neighborhood has an active nightlife. Every night of the week, but especially Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, you will find hundreds,if not thousands, of young people walking the streets, hopping between bars and house parties, until late into the night.
Apart from it’s main thoroughfares, Oakland can pretty rough. Many of the streets are narrow, cramped, and poorly lit. Crime rates are above average. On top of all this, college campuses across the country are engaged in dialogues and interventions regarding rampant sexual assault on campus, which hinges around the social scenes on those campus. By any standards, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, many students are unsafe.
And that’s where the watchdog comes in.
Every night, the Watchdog goes out into the streets of Oakland, where he finds students that might be in danger, and he offers to walk them home, no questions asked, no strings attached. He’s been doing this for over a decade, during which he has escorted thousands of young people home safely.
This is the story he tells on the streets of Pittsburgh during the day. But when he tells it, he doesn’t ask for money, the way you’d possibly expect a homeless person with such a remarkable story to do. So why tell the story? I asked him once, and he said, “because it’s not about money. It’s about giving back to the community.” To the watchdog, if he used his story as a platform to ask for money, then it would contaminate what he sees as an act of public service, an act of love.
And that’s why I thought about him when I read the scripture for today.
Jesus tells us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The Watchdog of Oakland treasures his community, he treasures his call, he treasures the people that he has served, and he treasures the reputation he has gained for being a protector. And that’s where his heart is.
The Watchdog of Oakland didn’t give himself that name. It’s a name given to him by the students that he serves every night. But now he wears that name with great pride.
Likewise, as Christians, we should strive to earn that name from the people we serve, rather than labeling ourselves that way. If we want to be known as Christians, than our reputations should precede us as people who live like Christ.
Where our treasure is, our hearts are there also. As disciples of Christ, we should strive to treasure our communities, our call, the people we serve, and most of all Jesus, who taught us to show our love for him through acts of love towards others.
Like I said earlier, the Watchdog introduces himself by saying, “They call me the watchdog of Oakland, because I’ve always got your back.” This reminds me of one of my favorite hymns, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
Chances are, the people in your life know about your faith. Chances are, they call you a Christian. I hope this week, that you will ask yourself why? This week, try to fill in this phrase: “They call me a Christian because…” and if you aren’t satisfied with what comes after “because,” try to change it! My goal is to be able to answer that question “They call me a Christian because I love.”