Knowing that we would be having special guests with us today, to talk about Meals on Wheels; and realizing that this is a slow time in the church calendar—we are in that ho -hum liturgical stretch between Christmas and Lent, I have strayed from the lectionary today. But don’t tell Presbytery—no, I’m kidding. It’s really ok for me to do that.
TODAY, I thought I would have us read some scripture passages that have to do with food, and we did that, right? The scripture passage from the Psalms and the one from Acts? After that, I thought I would say something truly remarkable and insightful about food from a religious perspective, based on the passages I chose for today, and that would be a lead-in for Marilyn’s, Debbie’s and Leigh’s presentation.
Except. Do you realize just how many passages in scripture actually have to do with food? That hadn’t occurred to me when I developed my plan. Just to give you some idea of what I was up against. The word bread? That word, Bread, appears 4526 times in scripture! We have bread from heaven, Jesus as the bread of life, Bread of angels, yeast rising (which is a metaphor for the kingdom), and then there is just plain old bread, shared, chewed and digested.
The more general term “food” makes its debut in the very first chapter of Genesis: Genesis 1:29: Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”
And you may not have thought much about this before, but from that beginning, food really dominates scripture. Adam and Eve eat the apple, which is food. God takes pity on the band of Hebrews in the wilderness, and showers them with what? Manna from heaven: food. God sends quail to those same Hebrews in the wilderness: more food. Then of course, in the New Testament, Jesus multiplies what? loaves and fishes—that story appears in every gospel, and in some of the gospels, that story appears twice. Food! There’s also the last supper: again, food.
We can flip all the way to the last book of the Bible, and guess what we find? More scripture passages about food. So in Revelations, the author, John of Patmos, promises to those who stay loyal to Christ: “They [will] eat from the tree of life (2:7), “ they [will] enjoy the hidden manna (2:17); and they [will] “to dine with the Lord (3:20).”
From Genesis to Revelations, then, food is an important theme.
So I ended up changing my original plan for this sermon. Instead of focusing on just two scripture passages, one from the Hebrew Scriptures and one from the New Testament, I decided to step back and look at scripture as a whole. I wanted to see if I could discover some major theological concepts having to do with bread and food and all the rest.
I have discovered some actually. Thank goodness. Or my sermon would end here! There are a handful of major theological concepts having to do with food. I’m going to stick with three, though, so that Marilyn and Leigh and Debbie will have time to talk today. You ready for these three?
One: God does not want anyone to go hungry. As I have already mentioned, God provides manna from Heaven when the Hebrews are starving in the wilderness. Jesus provides loaves and fish—enough to feed 5,000 and plus people. Even if you don’t read the Bible with any regularity, you know these two stories. But, maybe you have always assumed that these are miracle stories. There’s a disconnect between when God provides (which was back in Bible times) and our present reality. Certainly there are people today even in our own country, who DO go hungry. In my Christian Century Magazine, for instance, there is an ad for the non-profit organization, Feeding America It has this tagline: “One in Six Americans struggles with hunger.”
However, according to scientific data, I found on-line: Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity….The world …produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet.” So scripture is right on--God DOES NOT want people to go hungry and God provides enough for us. The problem is not a lack of food, it is in its distribution.Rich people can access food, but poor people can’t, always.
Guess what? Meals on Wheels does not want people to go hungry, either.
Ok. So, God does not want people to go hungry— That’s one. Next, God promotes community. How does he do that? One way God does that is by prohibiting his chosen people from eating certain foods. Maybe you didn’t see that one coming, but it’s true. Beginning with Adam and Eve, God says this food you shall not eat—fruit from the tree of life. In Deuteronomy and Leviticus God says his chosen people shall not eat pigs, or shellfish, certain birds including: eagles, vultures, falcon, ostriches, nighthawks, sea gulls; and owls; and God says his chosen people shall not eat bats—which I can’t believe people ever considered eating anyway. BATS? But there you have it from God. Finally, God prohibits the Jews from eating meat not drained of blood.
So what’s that all about? A lot of Bible scholars have tried to make sense of all of these prohibitions. For instance, I have read that the proscription regarding pork was because a parasitic disease called trichinosis often contaminates undercooked pork meat. God wanted to keep his chosen people from getting sick. The proscription about blood may be because the Jews considered blood to be an animal’s life force. Blood was sacred.
There might have been a greater purpose to God’s proscriptions, though. Many of my elementary school classmates were Jewish. During the week of Passover, they ate matzo. That’s right. Their moms packed their lunch boxes with peanut butter and jelly matzo sandwiches. Eating Matzo while everyone else at our lunch table ate regular bread, set my Jewish classmates apart. I am thinking eating matzo solidified their ties with other Jewish children. So God’s food prohibitions, in this case, bread made with yeast, went a long way to promoting Jewish community.
Meals on Wheels builds community, too—communities of volunteers that distribute food, and participate in food production activities. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to feed people.
Ok. God promotes community, is a segue into number three: That is this: God calls us to love our neighbor—that means not just people who think or believe as we do—Samaritans, Gentiles, Roman centurions, tax collectors-Sharing food is a way we demonstrate love of neighbor.
Here I want us to look at our scripture passage from Acts—that is, Acts 10:9-16. Jesus has been crucified. The church is just coming into its own. Church leaders, especially Peter, struggled with this question: How can we bring Jewish and Gentile Christ-followers together into one community of faith? The Jews followed the food prohibitions set down in the Old Testament. The Gentiles did not. If the Jews and Gentiles couldn’t share meals, could they possibly be one community?
This question was on Peter’s mind, when he falls into a trance, or maybe he just has a dream—trance sounds a little spooky, I think. Anyway, in that trance or dream, God tells Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” In other words, it’s ok for you, Peter, and by extension, for all Christ’s followers, to eat that which in Deuteronomy I expressly prohibited.” What? Really? Did God change God’s mind?
I don’t know! Does anyone truly ever know the mind of God?
Maybe it is just that a new time calls for new rules. With Jesus, a new day dawned. A page was turned. To quote Jesus in Matthew 9:17: “People do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Jesus is the new wine. Food prohibitions were old wine skins.
New Testament scripture tells us that God expects us to love our neighbor. That means breaking down dividing walls, including the FOOD dividing wall.
Meals on Wheels has that same God-vision--that is loving the neighbor. But, the founders of Meals on Wheels saw age, not food as that which divides us.
So true. When a person gets old-er (as in older than we are) maybe her eyes start to go—SHE can’t drive safely. Maybe HE walks slowly and unsteadily. Eventually they are at home, almost all the time. They feel lonely, bored, depressed and unloved.
In steps Meals on Wheels—like superman. Volunteers stay for awhile after they deliver a meal. They share the latest news, -who’s in the hospital, who has moved away. That’s what they talk about, but their real message? “You matter.” Like Peter, like the church, Meals on Wheels uses food shared, to demonstrate love of neighbor.
So to recoup: Scripture tells us 1) God does not want anyone to go hungry; 2) God uses food to promote community 3) God wants us to love our neighbors
Now, Meals on Wheels is not a specifically Christian organization-- it’s not even a religious organization, however, it is for sure, doing God’s work in the world. Isn’t that fantastic? And isn’t it fantastic, that we have a Meals on Wheels chapter right here in Scottsville. We are surely blessed.
Let everyone say, Amen