Sermon for August 5th, 2018
Food. Bread. Eating your fill. Hunger
The Gospel readings over the last couple weeks have been largely focused on Jesus feeding people and today we heard again about food, bread, eating your fill, and hunger, not just from the Gospel, but also from the Book of Exodus and the Psalm. It has not escaped my attention that while the scriptures have wanted to talk about God feeding people over these last few weeks, my life outside of the pulpit has been largely concerned and preoccupied with finding a way to feed my husband.
For those of you that don’t know, Keith had a procedure done in June, and one of the unintended consequences was that a tiny little hole opened up in his esophagus, allowing fluids to get into his lungs. If you have ever had something go down the wrong pipe, you have an idea of what that feels like. Well it has been a solid month of doctors and hospitals and procedures trying to locate and repair, and repair again, and regrouping and rethinking what to do, to make it so that he can eat again. The doctors are now pretty confident that his body will heal itself (as our bodies are miraculously capable of doing), but it must be allowed to rest, so for the next month he will have to take his food as a liquid through a tube directly into his stomach. I do want thank you all for your prayers and concern; it has meant a lot to both of us. Hopefully after a month, his throat will heal and he can gradually go back to eating normally again.
I can tell you from personal experience, that your relationship with food changes when you are no longer able to just bite into whatever you want. If you diet is in some way limited, it’s like your other senses get heightened. You start to notice every single thing people on television are eating. You can smell a slice of pizza from miles away. Every crunch of a potato chip rings through the air like church bells on Easter Sunday morning. When you can’t have food, you start to think about it a whole lot more. At one point this month, Keith, who was watching ads about food while unable to eat, made a comment about how food obsessed our culture is and I have been reflecting on that a lot these past few days. I do think we are obsessed as a society, but not really with food…we are obsessed with consumption, and there’s a big difference.
We don’t really want to talk about or think about all that food is in all it’s glory and mystery; what we want to do is to focus all our desire and attention on the shortest (and what I would argue is really the most meaningless) part of the whole food exchange: the act of eating itself; consumption, or more specifically, taste. All we really want food to be is a cure for hunger and a pleasurable sensation; We care a whole lot about the couple of seconds that the food is in our mouths, we care about filling our bellies a few times a day, but do we really think much about what our food means to us apart from that? I don’t think we do. We want food to be good to eat, but we don’t really want to think about everything else that it is. I think that is the original human sin.
If you think back to Genesis, the serpent convinced Eve that the forbidden fruit was one thing, and one thing only: good to eat. He convinced her to overlook what eating it would mean to her relationship with God. He wants her to ignore where the food comes from, or who gave it to her; he doesn’t want her to think that eating it will have any consequences. He tells her: “surely you will not die. In fact, you will become wise like God.” The devil convinces Eve to disconnect her food from the one who gives it. The devil doesn’t want us to realize that our bellies belong to God too, perhaps because he knows how easy it is to lead people by their stomachs.
Hunger is a powerful force. Hunger will lead you to do and say things that you never thought you would do or say. Hunger can turn you away from God; Hunger can turn you against your neighbor, if you let it.
That is what the Israelites realized in the desert. They were complaining to Moses and Aaron and they were saying that they would rather have faced the Eqyptians, than face hunger. That is one scary enemy, hunger. To think that people would rather be slaves than be hungry. They had disconnected their food from God; Food, or rather the consumption of food, filling their bellies, had become another idol drawing people away from living in relationship with the one true God. What the Israelites were forced to reckon with during their sojourn in the desert is the idea that food comes from God. God made it abundantly clear to them through the miracle of the manna that he was feeding them; the fine, flaky bread was a product and a symbol of their relationship with Him; seeing this manna made them realize that all food comes from God. Eating is about so much more than just a few seconds of pleasant taste. It is a life-giving act; you cannot separate your food from the one who gives it, because food is about relationship as much as it is about nutrition. All the food the Israelites had ever eaten, all the food that they would ever eat, it all came from God. Food is about so much more than just taste and consumption. Food is about life and our relationship with the one who gives life. If you ever wonder why the Bible is so concerned about food all the time, I think it is because the Israelites learned a valuable lesson in the desert: food can either draw us closer to God and to each other, or it can drive us apart. Undoubtedly this is why fasting is such an important spiritual practice: it keeps the devil from using hunger as a tool to enslave us.
If we only think of food as something good to eat, if we don’t think about where it comes from or the relationships it represents, then it becomes an idol, just like any other. We cannot disconnect our food from the one who gives it. If I have a choice between being in relationship with a farmer or being in relationship with a head of lettuce, I am going to be in relationship with the farmer. The lettuce may feed me for a day or two, but eventually it will wither and rot. It is having a relationship with the farmer that will continue to feed me from one season to the next.
So it is with God. We cannot worship the bread without giving honor to the one who makes the wheat grow. Jesus doesn’t want us to follow him for a piece of bread; he wants us to have a living relationship with the one who makes the wheat grow. Food is not just about having a full belly; it is about so much more. Food is about life and giving honor and praise to the one who gives life. We dare not separate the two.
What if we stopped looking at food as just something to be consumed and started seeing it for all that it really is? What if we really appreciated how our food connects us to God and to each other? I wonder if the world might look a lot different than it does today.
What if this meal, this little piece of bread and this little sip of wine, which we are about to take, forced us to stop and think about all the other meals we take for granted? We know that this meal at the altar connects us to God in a very special way; but what if it can also remind us of how every other meal connects us to God, and to each other?
Maybe this meal isn’t meant to fill our bellies as much as it is meant to fill our lives with gratitude for the fact that all food, whether it come from the dollar menu at the local drive thru or whether it comes from the pharmacy in a bottle, all food comes from God. If we really appreciated where our food comes from and how it shapes our lives and our relationships, then no meal should ever be taken for granted.
Every meal would begin with the simple recognition that these are the gifts of God for the people of God.