October 15 sermon: Jesus was a foodie
October 15, 2017
Isaiah 25:1–9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1–9; Matthew 22:1–14
On my sabbatical last summer, I had a lot of adventures in travel. I took public buses and shared vans in Jerusalem, and to the West Bank towns of Beit Jala, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. In Norway and Sweden, I traveled extensively on quiet, clean, and efficient trains, in Oslo, in Stockholm, and along the fjords. I was very dependent on the hospitality of strangers, while connecting with each of my kids, one in Spain, and the other in Norway, and with friends in Palestine in between.
What I want to remember today is that I ate well. I was never without food. Do you want to know what I ate?
I ate fish with our daughter Bethany in Scandinavia: sill, pickled herring at the fish church in Guteborg, Sweden, smoked mackerel on an archipelago also in Guteborg; smoked herring from food truck in Stockholm.
I ate upside-down with the Azar family in Jerusalem. The Azars are among my dearest friends Rev. Barhoum (who is now bishop-elect of the ELCJHL) and his wife Nahla and three daughters Juji, Sally, and Sama. Nahla brought me to her kitchen in Jerusalem where savory spices like cloves and nutmeg mixed with lamb, cauliflower, onions, and garlic, simmering in pot where the rice is placed on top to cook. She asked me to flip the pot onto a place, which is the makloubeh, the upside-down part and the finished product is this beautiful and mouth-watering dish.
In Spain around Paz and Harold’s table I had paella, a kind of stew which was simmered on an open fire. Paz and Harold are Gabriel’s in-laws who hosted Kari and me on our visit. I also sampled roasted peppers, and Spanish tortilla, which is not a dough wrap but an egg dish combined with onions and potatoes (tortilla de potato), with wine, great wine, local wine.
Oh, I love good food. But in and around these meals, I have also connected with friends and family. On that sabbatical, while eating, infused into the table gathering is joy, laughter, conversation, adventure, and a sense of belonging to the homes and neighborhoods, and countries, and people with whom I broke bread.
The church, more than anything else you might call it, is a meal fellowship.
Jesus, as much as he taught and healed and performed miracles, he ate. We find him eating a wedding. We see him at a Pharisees’ home at table. We see that he takes up Zacchaeus’ invitation to dine at his house. We even find the post-Easter Jesus to be hungry, as he asks his disciples after being raised from the dead, “do you have anything to eat?”
In the gospel of Matthew, he admits to being a foodie. Here’s what he says about himself in Matthew 11: the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
What do we know to be true about food, and about eating? It is a necessity to have enough to eat and drink, for sure. We also know that to break bread together is to create and form community. We know that our living, our joys, our sorrows, our daily round is marked by mealtimes, whether feasting at a banquet or whipping up hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.
Wendell Berry, farmer and award-winning writer, thinks deeply about where food comes from and how to be responsible and reverent about what comes to our tables. This is what he says about eating with the fullest pleasure:
Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend. (Quoted in Gathering at the Table, by Elizabeth Hoffman Reed (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, © 1999).
I think, more than anything, God wants to feed us. The soothing Psalm 23 speaks of the holy one lavishing a table to which we and even our enemies are invited. Paul admonishes Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Maybe they just need to go out for lunch and hash it out.
And in the kicker of stories, from today’s Gospel, the eater Jesus compares a place with God to a feast that nobody wanted to go to, and even wreaked violence on the invitees. What kind of world collapses on itself when the gifts of life and life-giving joy are so hatefully dismissed? The party planner was not deterred. Food must go on. So the meal was offered to anyone and everyone, no matter whether they deserved it or not.
I don’t know what Jesus was thinking about included the guest who did not meet the dress code. The outer darkness is far from the head table, but darkness is the destination to which Jesus eventually went, and saved, and brought life. Darkness is not dark to God. Darkness is in fact beautiful and beautified. On the cross, as the sun refused to shine, Jesus poured out his life for the world.
And we remember this. At our weekly meal, where all are invited, we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.
We share bread and wine as if in the act of eating and drinking it is life-giving, as if it creates and deepens community, as if it wipes away sin, as if it brings the heart of God in Christ into our bodies.
There is this pattern that forms us into Christ’s disciples, as the loaf is broken and shared.
Christ’s body is broken so that all may eat and find life.
In the parable that Jesus tells, after the feast has been prepared, and no one responds favorably to the invitation, the ruler’s entourage goes out to invite everyone who they find, and it says they gathered all whom they found, good and bad.
No one is denied entry. No one is rejected. All are invited, so that the wedding celebration can be full.
As for the one who did not dress correctly, I’d like to feed him, too. I’d like to keep him company, so that he will not be alone. I wonder if Jesus, stripped of his clothes, thirsting on the cross, died for those like that one who was caught unaware and left for dead?
I think, more than anything, God wants to feed us.Tags: food, hospitality, Jerusalem, maklubeh, paella, Sweden, Wendell Berry