I was struck as I read this passage once
again this week by the way in which food is used to describe
this marvelous thing that God is doing. Eat what is good,
delight yourself in rich food. This is not a time for frugality
and dieting, the Lord says, it is a time to eat, drink, and be
And it got me to thinking about how often food is used to
portray the grace and the goodness of God. So freely and
abundantly given throughout scriptures. The story of the Manna
in the wilderness, 40 years it sustained the people of God on
that goodness. The description of the promised land flowing with
milk and honey. Of course, after 40 years of living on Manna,
anything would sound good, right? :)
Jesus and that wedding in Cana, turning not just a cup full of
water into wine, but seven barrels full of water into wine. What
a symbol of the abundance of that goodness from God. Feeding the
crowds, remember the story with loaves and fish that Jesus
begins with, and then it ends with 12 basketfuls of food left
over. Again, the symbol of this abundance of the life of God.
Then there is that great and wonderful Emmaus story on the
evening of the resurrection, in this wonderful metaphorical
moment of truth and clarity when they break the bread and their
eyes are opened and they see the risen Christ in their midst.
And that brings up the image of the Last Supper, which of course
was not just a tiny bit of bread and a little sip of juice but
it was an abundant meal, most likely Jesus was celebrating the
Passover with his disciples.
And it got me to thinking, I'm curious
how many have celebrated a Passover before, in a Jewish home? We
did it here in the basement of the Church a number of years ago,
some may remember that, and even that was only a taste of a real
The Passover meal is a combination of Thanksgiving, Easter, and
July 4th all combined into one. Its just this rich feast of food
and wine and blessings, and readings, and stories, and dialogue
and debate. And more food and wine and it just goes on and on
and on a throughout the evening. Wonderfully rich in every way.
When I was in Jerusalem last year, February 2008, we had a meal
at a restaurant that was operated by two men:
One a Palestinian
Muslim, and the other an Israeli Jew. They served the meal with
only food that was mentioned in Scripture, either in the Old
Testament, New Testament or in the Koran. They call themselves
"Chefs for Peace", and you see their name their written in
Aramaic, English and Hebrew:
And they passed out these food
items, the raw stuff that we can hold and smell and taste as
they describe each of them for us:
It was just his wonderful
meal, rich in aroma, smells, and sights, that was, well, I guess
you would just have to say finger licking good :)
We often joke about church potlucks, how often we have them, or
how much food we have, or the enormous variety of food.
Sometimes the variety of quality of food, whatever the case may
be. There is something that happens at those potlucks that
conveys the very essence not just of church or Christian
community, but even of the kingdom of God. Do you know what I
mean? Have you experienced that?
There's fresh greens from somebody's garden. And frozen lasagna
from COSTCO. There's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and
honey glazed ham. There's homemade egg noodles and store-bought
egg salad. There's over baked casserole, and if you're lucky,
under-baked cookies. There's recipes that have been in the
family for generations, and creations not even Picasso could
imagine. Or Evel Knievel dare try.
There's a wonderful mixture of this
culinary cuisine and supermarket convenience. And it's all laid
out there for us. The smorgasbord of taste and texture, smells
and colors, and then the magic happens. Someone gives a
blessing, the line forms, and each person takes a plate, and a
little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and before you
know you it your have this creation piled up on your plate.
And it matters not if one brought homemade pie with homegrown
apples, and another stale dinner rolls from a day-old bakery. Or
perhaps nothing at all. Everybody eats from the same table. Gets
the same food. Has the same options. Well, maybe not if you're
last in line, but you know what I mean :).
And at those potlucks, it doesn't matter
who you are, it doesn't matter what you wear, it doesn't matter
where you live, all are welcome, and eat abundantly. Some more
abundantly than others :). But I ask you: is that not a snapshot
of the Kingdom of God?
Jesus described the reign of God (in that story that we heard
from Luke's gospel just a bit ago) as this great banquet.
Invitations sent out, all the fine food prepared, and then the
excuses began coming, and people can't come. So the master the
house sends the servants out just to collect anybody, everybody,
off the street. Until that banquet hall is filled.
Paul describes a different kind of meal that was happening in
the church in Corinth, a sort of anti-banquet, opposite of the
kind that Jesus described. And there, instead of everyone
sharing equally, some are feasting while others go hungry. And
such, says Paul, humiliates those who have nothing and shows
contempt, shows contempt, for the church of God.
Now, it may be unthinkable to us that anyone could feast someone
else is going hungry right there in their midst, but that was
actually the norm in that society, where eating was not only
something you did for sustenance and pleasure, it was something
you did that showed your status in society.
Two anthropologists, writing on the
anthropology of eating, wrote this: "Once the anthropologist
finds out where, when, and with whom food is eaten, just about
everything else can be inferred about the relations among
societies' members. To know what, where, who, when, and with
whom people eat is to know the character of their society".
And another anthropologist, after reviewing the literature from
various cultures that reveal the eating habits of those cultures
concludes: "Eating is a behavior which symbolizes feelings and
relationships, mediates social status and power, and expresses
the boundaries of group identity".
In other words, it's not so much a case of 'you are what you
eat' but rather you are with whom you eat. And think about our
own practices and this society. You see, this is what makes the
biblical vision, first expressed by the prophets, demonstrated
by Jesus and then practiced in the early Church, so radical.
Anthropologists call the rules that govern eating, which serve
as a microcosm for the rules of society as a whole,
"commensality". And Isaiah lays a vision for open commensality,
where all are welcome at God's banquet table, regardless of
status or ability to pay. "You who have no money, come, buy, and
In chapter 25, the prophet says "On this mountain the Lord of
hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food. A feast of
John Dominic Crossan makes the case that
such open commensality, the table of God where all are welcome,
was one of the primary ways that Jesus put the kingdom of God
into practice. Yielding the accusation that he was a glutton and
a drunkard who ate with tax collectors and sinners. He writes in
his book, "Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography":
"The kingdom of God,
as a process of open commensality, of a non-discriminating
table, depicting in miniature a non-discriminating society,
clashes fundamentally with honor and shame, those basic
values of ancient Mediterranean culture. Open commensality
is the symbol and embodiment of radical egalitarianism, of
an absolute equality of people that denies the validity of
any discrimination between them, and negates the necessity
of any hierarchy among them".
And it's precisely that vision, which
has meant for many of us in Disciple churches and others, of
this open communion table, where all are welcome to partake in
the gift of God's grace, and in that goodness of God's gift of
But does that go far enough? Some of you, many of you, are aware
that we are in this process of dialoguing about the meaning of
being an open and affirming, welcoming church, where all can
participate as full members, with all rights, responsibilities
and privileges regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation,
status, national origin, or whatever. So the question is, does
that alone adequately communicate a vision of God's kingdom here
on earth? Or can we do more?
Some of you remember the book that we used in the prayer triads
two years ago, Diana Butler Bass, "Christianity for the Rest of
Us". And it was in her chapter on hospitality that describes the
church in Washington DC, the Church of the Epiphany, that served
a breakfast on Sunny morning. Not only a breakfast, also had a
worship service, they call it 'The Welcome Table'. And it was
not breakfast for busy church people, who had too much to do on
Sunday morning, but rather breakfast for those who had no other
place where to eat. And she writes: "For them, hospitality opens
the way to practicing peace. Doing a tangible thing that can
change the world".
It's a good illustration of hospitality And it never occurred to
me when we selected that book for use in our prayer triads, that
someone might say "Oh, gosh, maybe we can do that here". So,
c'mon people, it's a great example and illustration for somebody
else to use, right? Not us. But you know, we've got some folks
who think differently, and they've made some plans, they have
been talking to Food for Lane County, talking to St. Mary's
church next door that does breakfast every other Saturday
morning. And now we have a meeting scheduled in two weeks after
church to see who else might be interested. If we get enough
folks interested, we might do something like that.
Here's the thing that should make us stop and think before we go
off and do something foolish: if we serve breakfast to a bunch
of hungry folk on a Sunday morning, the only place in town on a
Sunday where you can eat for free, the only place on a weekend
(St. Mary's is the only other place, and they do it every other
Saturday), if we do that soup-kitchen style, where we serve all
those folks as our guests, it will be a good thing.
But if we, decent citizens of the community with good
reputations at stake, not only serve them but actually sit down
and eat with them, well that's something different. The first we
call charity, it makes us feel good. The second, well, Jesus and
the prophets, they call it something else. They call it the
promised land. They call it the kingdom of God. They call it the
place God calls home.
It's not about making you feel good. They said it's about
changing the world to be good.
Can it happen here? We'll see.