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Sermon 5.19.24 Pentecost: The Fall of Monoculture



In December 2021, the European Union released a report about the problems of monoculture farming called, The Rise and Fall of Monoculture Farming,

based on the research of Dr. Frank Uekotter from the University of Birmingham and Dr. Raul Zornoza Belmonte from Cartagena Polytechnic University in Spain,

The article found that the rise of monoculture farming began around the end of World War 2 as farmers began to have access to more markets in an increasingly globalized world economy.

Monoculture farming is the practice of growing a single crop year after year in the same field.

Essentially, farmers become specialists in a certain crop.

They learn the market, the learn the pests that hurt the crop, they only have to buy one type of machinery to plant and harvest the crop.

Life is simpler, and farming becomes more efficient and more profitable.

Since the rise of industrial farming began in the past few decades, the use of monoculture farming has become even more popular.

I can give you a personal example of this change.

I went to college in a cornfield in Nebraska.

It was and is a beautiful little town called Crete.

It is about 25 miles outside of Lincoln, which is the capital of the state, and it is literally surrounded by fields of crops.

I can remember going to visit for the first time, and wondering where I was.

I had never seen farming land like this. I grew up in Hawai’i. the closes we get are pineapple and sugar cane fields up by the North Shore.

But this was hundreds of miles of fields, few trees, just crops.

When I started at school, there were all kinds of crops in the fields, and each field was bursting with this color or that color of things like corn, soybeans, milo, wheat, sorghum, barley, oats, and other crops.

By the time I left Nebraska 10 years later, you could hardly find a field that wasn’t exclusively growing corn or soybeans.

The market prices for these two crops became so lucrative, that every farmer planted their field with one or the other.

No more protecting the soil with crop rotation, the era of monoculture farming took over just about every field one could see.

In previous eras, crop rotation had been used because different crops put different nutrients into the soil, they also keep bugs that prey on particular crops from infesting a field, because when they emerge to chew on some more yummy corn this year, the field doesn’t have corn in it anymore.

It has been shown as well that crop rotation keeps carbon in the soil rather than releasing it into an atmosphere already replete with greenhouse gases.

But, with the use of genetically modified crops, pesticides, and fertilizers, the problems of blight, bug infestations, and depleted soil became a thing of the past. (although the problem of carbon release is not)

And so every year, with millions and billions of gallons of soil additives, farmers can successfully grow the same crop year after year in the same field; ushering in the era of monoculture farming.

In recent years, scientists and agriculturalists like Drs. Uekotter and Belmonte have been working to bring attention to the need to return to crop diversity in farming;

Planting herbs between rows in orchards and vineyards to reduce erosion and weeds,

Planting companion plants and rotating crops to retain carbon in soil and keep nitrogen out of ground water,

Giving pollinators a place to thrive, increasing a good set of diverse microbes, creating a healthier circle of life both above ground and below for birds, reptiles, mammals, and bugs,

And above all keeping farming profitable for farmers whose livelihoods rely on the earth they till.

Now, you may be asking yourself why on earth Fr. Chris has disseminated, dissembled, and otherwise dithered on about farming for about the past four or so minutes in this Pentecost sermon.

It’s not just because I’m a white boy.

Pentecost is ultimately about God’s love of everything that has been created in all of its diversity.

Pentecost shows that God is not interested in monoculture.

 

In the first place the Holiday itself represents a companion planting of at least two motifs from the Hebrew Bible: The first is the Tower of Babel, which we’ve discussed before.

Maybe some of you remember last year, when I had us get out our Bibles and read the whole thing to see where it says that God was punishing the people by creating their diverse languages.

We actually discovered that it doesn’t say they were being punished anywhere, eventhough interpreters for over 2,000 years have assumed it was so.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit makes explicit that diversity of languages, which began at Babel is not a punishment, but an opportunity for spreading the Gospel.

The second motif is the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai.

You notice in our reading from Acts of the Apostles that it begins with, “when the Day of Pentecost had come.”

Now, we could assume that since the Acts of the Apostles was written a few decades after the events it portrays that the Christians had developed and fully formed an independent holiday that they decided to call Pentecost (the number fifty in Greek).

But Pentecost was a Jewish Holiday before Christianity.

It is the Greek name for the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot, which is a harvest festival and the celebration of Moses receiving God’s instructions and statutes in the Wilderness Narrative of Exodus.

The early Christians took this holiday that was about the revelation of God’s covenant and made it a centerpiece of the promises that God would renew the covenant by pouring out the Holy Spirit on ALL flesh,

As we saw in the passage from Joel that was quoted by Peter, and in other prophetic and psalmic writings.

The combination of these two motifs into a new motival cluster; a group of motifs brought together to make a new theological meaning,

The early Christians included the idea of diversity of language into a holiday that had previously been about harvest and revelation;

They explicitly made the holiday about diversity in the early Christian movment rather than about monoculture; The Apostles were empowered to speak in every language that was known in the area.

And notice also that our reading says that there were “devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.”

I just want to point out that Judaism was itself not a monoculture per se.  The early Christians recognized this and were lifting up that diversity that was already present within the Judaism they were trying to reform.

They were trying to make diversity the center, rather than temple sacrifices; a change of focus not something totally new; a recognition of new possibilities within an asset map that already had all of the pieces.

As we can see, this companion planting of these motifs shows God’s concern for diversity in our scriptures.

We might be surprised, then, by how many of our fellow Christians think that religious monoculture is what God wants for the Church.

A fresh example of this phenomenon is available almost every week, but few weeks have shown it more clearly than this past week as a wave of reactions and responses to the commencement speech given to Benedictine University by Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker.

I won’t give the full play-by-play,

But Butker essentially gave a twenty minute speech in which he defined “legitimate” Roman Catholicism as a series of culture war stances on social issues.

As far as diversity was concerned, he gave us every kind of disguised bigotry that we could ask for;

Sexism, racism, anti-semitism, homophobia.

But as far as our discussion on actual diversity vs. monoculture is concerned, he gave us a vision of a monocultural Church that is well-known.

He gave us a vision of a white nationalist church, where everyone believes the same thing, all religious practice is the same, and if you aren’t part of that specific iteration or religious understanding you are doomed.

Of all the things that people found offensive about the speech, from a diversity perspective - at its root - the speech’s categorical mistake was that while invoking the Holy Spirit, Butker denied the power of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost.

I mean, for one, he literally said that the Latin Mass is the ultimate expression of catholicism, literally a single language that isn’t even the original language of any of our Scriptures.

But even more than that, his desire for monoculture in Christianity denies the goodness of any other expression of Jesus’ message.

Monocultural ideologies like white supremacy and white nationalism ultimately deny the Holy Spirit; the fresh expression of God to move us forward beyond the boundaries of race, class, gender, and culture.

For certain there are things that we should hold to, that we should agree to, that we should conceive of as the best practices for human thriving, and remembrance of our religious ideals.

But we also have to recognize the power of God to disrupt our comfort and lead us into greener pastures.

Just like monoculture in crops, remaining stagnant in our faith communities allows for bugs to invade and destroy our fields,

Can lead to too many gases heating up our atmosphere creating dangerous conditions for the planet

Can poison the living water of our lives, because the substance of our theologies have gotten out of balance and too much of one part of it has taken over the whole.

Monocultures pick certain things to focus on and those things become the overarching lens through which we view God and the world.

And as people who come from the Church of England tradition, we should be aware that we could also slip into a type of monocultural Christianity that only values one type of expression.

Imagine going back to a church without the Lift Every Voice and Sing Hymnal (The official Hymnal of Negro Spirituals and African-American Gospel music of the Episcopal Church), or the myriad other ways we could deny other cultural expressions within our church.

Diversity is the way God expresses God’s self; a point that will be reiterated next week on Trinity Sunday.

In the end, diversity reminds us of all of the motifs by which God has made God’s self known to us, so that by focusing on different ones at different times we see the whole beauty of what God has created,

And we see the whole beauty of what the Holy Spirit is capable of.

Jesus didn’t come to offer us a stagnant life that festers in the worst instincts of humanity.

Jesus sent us an advocate to lead us into ALL truth, diverse truth, not just the truth of one time or place, the truth of one culture rather than another.

My message for today is; Let’s free the Holy Spirit from the confines of our expectations.

If she only does what you want or think, I think you’ll find that you have been led into SOME truth, but not ALL.

On this Feast of Pentecost, let’s feast on the abundance of God’s table and like the farmers who prize the preservation of the earth over profits,

Let’s find that the alternative to monocultures is healthier for us all and even more profitable than we could have imagined.

Amen.

 

 

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