March 9, 2014
Broad Brook Congregational Church
First Sunday in Lent/Amistad Sunday
Matthew 4: 1-11
Is Your Chocolate Bitter or Sweet?
I’m guessing the overwhelming majority would say sweet. Dark chocolate robust, pure, deep brown delight or the velvety light brown chocolate— that tantalizingly rich combination of chocolate and cream— everyone has their preference.
The food of the gods with its heavenly aroma, divine sensation as it melts in the warmth of the mouth flowing over the taste buds of the tongue sending an angelically sweet taste sensation to the brain.
Chocolate—comfort food, aphrodisiac, even health food as the sumptuous dark chocolate has been labeled.
Is everyone salivating as they imagine their favorite chocolate indulgence?
Chocolate connoisseurs, junk food junkies, chocoholics, all are hooked on this treat.
I must admit to being a bit out of step with these people
I am not overly fond of the delicacy.
BUT, if you combine it with peanuts or peanut butter then I am just as much a sucker for chocolate as the next person.
For me, it is that sweet salty combination that is so blissful. Some of you may be abandoning your passionate relationship with chocolate during Lent; experiencing the wilderness of a diet without chocolate, surrounded by temptation, as the stores began to line their shelves with all sorts of Easter candy— most of it in the form of chocolate.
You are already looking forward to Easter and your return to consuming this delightful food that is fit for a king.
I wonder if there is anything that could make you change your chocolate indulgence?
By now you might be wondering “What on earth does eating chocolate have to do with Matthew 4: 1-11, and, Amistad Sunday?”
About seven years ago, I saw the movie “Amistad.” That same year was the 100th anniversary of the death of John Newton. The movie was the story of the slave ship Amistad. John Newton wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.
Newton was once a slave trader. He repented of his sin and the hymn was his way of trying to heal with God’s help.
After seeing the movie, I began to do some research. To my horror, I learned that slavery was still alive. In fact, there were and still are more people enslaved today than at the height of the slave trade, only the modern terminology is trafficking in persons.
The link between our Scripture, the hymn, and chocolate is: sin and temptation.
Now do you consider eating chocolate a sin? I would expect most of us don’t, not really.
Oh, we might say in passing that chocolate is sinful— after all, its deliciousness MUST be sinful.
We might even confess to feeling guilty when enjoying the velvety smooth delicacy; but, we don’t actually consider it a sin to consume chocolate.
I know I never did; that is until seven years ago. I confessed to being an ill-informed consumer. The result of my ignorance put me in the position of participating in sin—social sin. I would venture to guess that I am not alone in that position.
I suggest to you today that we are all sinners when we consume the chocolate that overflows the shelves of our supermarkets; when we eat chocolate cupcakes or brownies, molten chocolate cake, “death by chocolate” desserts in restaurants, and the myriad of other chocolate confections that tempt us. We are participants in the social sin of slavery. Because of the our excessive appetites for things we THINK we NEED, modern day human trafficking and slavery is alive and thriving.
By eating chocolate, the end product of cocoa beans harvested with slavery, by wearing designer fashions and jeans made in sweatshops using women as slaves, by accepting advertising that portrays women and men as sex objects we are contributing to the profitable business of selling human beings!
There are numerous avenues that unwittingly lead us down the path of supporting slavery.
As you might have already guessed, I want to zero in on the chocolate industry because of its abuse of children. I had no idea that thousands of young boys from the African country of Mali were, and continue to be, sold into bondage to work on the cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).
Mali, because of its abject poverty, is targeted by un-scrupulous people who promise these young boys safe well-paid jobs.
Mali is the poorest country in Africa and most of the children can neither read nor write.
Parents have little or no means of income. Thus, they are unable to send their children to school because schooling is expensive. The average age of the boys being lured is 12-14 with some as young as 7-9. They work long hours, are treated inhumanly, and receive little or no pay.
As I tell Aly’s story, imagine this happening to our children or grandchildren Aly, escaped after two years of slavery on a cocoa plantation. Aly is a slight boy, about 11 years old, with angry red scars on his back—from repeated beatings— that are in sharp contrast to his medium brown skin. Over his frail arms and legs are over 45 cuts and deep gashes, some requiring stitches the result of using a machete while working on the cocoa trees.
Aly is smaller and thinner, than the average boy of the same age in other countries, a product of malnutrition and hard labor. During his time on the cocoa plantation, he shared a small, cramped, one room, windowless structure with eighteen other young boys.
At night they had their clothes taken from them and the door to the room locked from the outside to prevent them from running away.
Naked, the boys slept on the wooden plank floor—no straw—no blanket. Air entered the room through one small hole. They received one small bowl of corn paste as their only meal of the day. He worked in the fields from 6:00 am to 6:30 pm.
One of Aly’s jobs was to carry the sacks loaded with the cocoa beans. He was only four feet tall, the sacks were taller and heavier than he was. The older children had to place the sacks onto his head for him. He frequently fell down under the weight of the bags.
The farmer would beat him until he stood up and lifted the bag again. Aly was beaten the most because the farmer accused him of never working hard enough.
Nearly half of the world’s cocoa is harvested in Cote d’Ivoire. The United States imported 408 tons, that’s 816,000 pounds of chocolate in 2012. That translated into an average consumption of 11.7 pounds of chocolate per person in the U.S. for 2012.
In our scripture this morning we find Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. Jesus resists all that Satan promises him. Jesus knows what lies ahead will not be easy.
There are so many areas of injustice in our world. We are tempted to throw up our hands and say what can we do? Yet we have an amazing role model to follow. When we are tempted by sin, we remember Jesus in his trials and temptations and we can ask for strength to turn away from temptation.
Should we stumble and fall, we repent and ask for forgiveness. God knows our human weaknesses and offers us forgiveness for the asking.
I am not suggesting that we stop buying chocolate. Not buying it just increases the poverty that lies behind the slavery problem.
What does Jesus require of us?
Here are some possible answers to that haunting inquiry.
We can demand that our favorite stores carry fair-trade chocolate products. I am not speaking of free-trade products but fair-trade. Fair-trade products can be traced back to the farm that produced the cocoa beans. This guarantees that there is no forced child labor involved. Many stores have argued that consumers would not pay the added cost associated with fair-trade chocolate. I have not found the price difference to be that significant especially considering chocolate is a luxury item.
Much as we might like to argue the point, we do not NEED chocolate in order to survive!.
The farmers are poor but through education and the formation of co-ops they can become profitable and independent. We can help support the agencies that offer the farmers loans and educate them in how to maintain their business.
Through our mission commitments we can help support the agencies that are trying to provide educational materials and funds so that these young children will not be a lost generation.
Every year our US State Department generates a report on the status of trafficking in persons.
It tracks every nation including our own and ranks them according to how well they are identifying the victims of trafficking, identifying the perpetrators, the number of arrests, and the number of convictions.
There have been inroads made in many of the countries, particularly relating to the sex trade, but progress is slow.
Cote d’Iviore has made little to no improvement regarding slavery on the cocoa farms.
The simplest and perhaps the easiest way to help is to spread the word and then act. We need to tell all our families and friends to request and buy fair trade chocolate products. I have found fair trade baking chocolate and hot cocoa right in Stop and Shop. Fair trade chocolate candy bars can also be found without too much effort.
Lent is a time for introspection and prayer.
Prayer is a powerful tool: to help us avoid or resist temptation, to ask God to reveal to us ways in which we can help correct an injustice; and, also reveal to us injustices to which we are blind.
We CAN choose to no longer participate in the system that enslaves other human beings- children who have no voice. Be their voice!
Again I ask, is your chocolate bitter or sweet? Bitter because it is tainted by the sin of children conscripted into slavery or sweet because it originated from cocoa beans harvested without the abuse of children?