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Luke 24.28-35

Acts 2.43-47

Comfort Food

Second Sunday after Pentecost

            It’s an old joke, but still a good one.  It is show and tell day at Chester Elementary School, and the third graders were supposed to bring something that represents their religious tradition.  Eight-year old Patrick, who attends St Joseph’s Church, brought in a crucifix, a gift he recently received for his first communion.  Young Rebecca, who belongs with her family to Congregation Beth Shalom, brought a menorah and spoke briefly about its history in the Hebrew scriptures.  Now, Elliot, a third grader who attends United Church of Chester was at first perplexed, since there are so many things that speak to him about his church, although being congregational, his church has precious few actual symbols, but he finally decided on the perfect religious representation of his congregation, and came to show and tell with a nice hot casserole.

            It’s all about the pot-luck supper, isn’t it?

            What do you bring to our church suppers?  My contributions are usually predictable, since I tend to bring whatever I think is currently my best dish.  For a while it was tortellini with habanero infused olive oil, garlic and Roquefort.  More recently it’s been sausage and cabbage goulash, a recipe I picked up on a recent study trip to Prague.  Although, in a pinch, there is always Pasta Vita, right?  But whatever it is we bring to our church suppers, it’s usually our specialty, right?  Something we make very well, something people seem to like.  Or to put it another way, we like to bring our very best dish to the table, something we enjoy making, something we take pride in presenting – and something we wouldn’t mind bringing home for leftovers, if any!  This is what you and I want to bring to the table when we come to God, our best efforts, our finest recipe, whether it is in regard to our worship, our outreach, our mission, our stewardship.  We want to bring the very best of who we are and what we are to our pot-luck supper, to the hungry and the homeless, to our church, our community and our world – and really, to our God. 

            The book of Acts gives us a picture of what may well have been the very first church pot-luck supper:  the story takes place shortly after the Holy Spirit descended on the crowd of disciples and created the church.  “Everyone who believed came together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and good and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need… they spent time together in the temple, they broke bread and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people.”  The earliest church shared everything they had – indeed this was the first and most characteristic hallmark of the nascent church - sharing and eating and drinking together.

             The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus either feeding people or sitting down to eat with them himself – and these are among the stories that we remember the most.  The feeding of the five thousand.  Or the time Jesus went in to eat with the tax-collector, or maybe when he sat at the table in the Upper Room. Or appeared to the disciples at breakfast time on the beach in the days after the resurrection.  Jesus supplied extra wine for a wedding reception, he talked about such kitchen staples as salt and yeast as teaching tools and in this morning’s gospel he revealed himself to his followers on the afternoon of the resurrection, not by saying “Hey everyone, I’m back!” but by sitting down and having supper with them.  And it was in that very act of sharing food – in the breaking of the bread that they had done together countless times before – that they finally recognized the risen Jesus.  Jesus and food, food and Jesus – I think this is one of the reasons church people like to eat so much – one seems to go hand in glove with the other.  Think about the meals we have shared within this building, the meals we have served others, whether here at church or out in the community, at shelters and soup kitchens; then toss in not just Coffee Hour, but even this sacred table into the mix, and we realize that we are all living proof of the Jesus gesture:  using food as a means for worship, for fellowship and for outreach.

            But Jesus once said something very curious about food.  It was shortly after he fed the multitudes with a handful of bread and a little fish.  You and I know the story so well that we don’t even need to hear it read this morning:  five thousand people fed with less than a grocery bag’s worth of food, and more than enough gathered up for a week’s worth of leftovers.  Most people read the story and consider it a miraculous multiplication of material, and frankly, who can blame them? Producing so much from so little seems so magical that it cannot help but command our attention. But if this is our take-away from the story, then Jesus gently suggests we look again.  It wasn’t about how many people were fed that day, or about how much food there was, or about how little they started with and how much was left over. “How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread?” Jesus asked.  How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? 

            What Jesus asked about feeding the multitudes might also be asked of some of the other stories we mentioned.  At the wedding reception, it wasn’t about the water that turned into wine, but it was an act that took place at the beginning of his ministry that foreshadowed its end.  Having dinner with the tax collector, whom most people viewed as a cheater and a thief, was about turning certain cultural biases and presuppositions on their head.  His post-resurrection breakfast on the beach was about his real physical presence among his followers.

            So if Jesus was really talking about something else when he spoke about food, what are we saying when we share food with each other, both within and outside the four walls of our churches?  What is Coffee Hour all about?  What are we saying when we bring our best dish to a pot-luck?  What do we reveal about ourselves when we take time out of our week to serve meals to the hungry, when we invite them into our church building and feed them?  What are you really saying with that casserole you bring to your neighbor when there has been a death in the family?

            Well, you tell me.  Probably most of us have brought food to a neighbor or friend who has just suffered a loss, and I’d wager none of us thought as we were doing it, “You must be really hungry right now.”  Far more likely we are saying, “I want you to know I’m thinking about you in your time of need.” Or maybe we couldn’t think of anything else to do, so we made a casserole or cookies.  Or maybe we realized that we had no words to offer, only a piece of ourselves – our time behind the stove, the visit itself when bringing it over.  In fact, a dish of food made for someone in any kind of need says far more than the most consoling and comforting words ever could.

            In the same way, Coffee Hour – don’t you miss Coffee Hour?  I do, and I can’t wait until we resume that kind of easy fellowship once again.  Because Coffee Hour is more than simply having a bite to eat after church – it’s about Jim Ready’s coffee, right?  Well, that, and about hospitality, probably the single most desirable trait in the New Testament; bringing our very best dish to the church supper means that the members of our faith community are very important to us, an expression of deep fellowship and holy love.  When we make the effort to feed the hungry and the homeless, well, yes it is absolutely about the meal, but it is also more – it is about living out the kind of faith that Jesus illustrated again and again and again.

            One of my former congregations is part of an organization called Family Promise, a program where a network of thirteen different churches brings homeless families into our church buildings to live four weeks out of the year.  Not only did we provide them with three meals a day seven days each week, we sat down with them to eat, we played games after dinner with the children, we got them off to school, work and job training in the morning, we provided them a place to stay that’s warm and dry, and we also gave them tools to get back on their feet and find a place of their own.  It’s about so much more than simply feeding people – it’s also about providing nurture for their spirits and the opportunity to move out of our churches in into homes of their own.  While I was part of the program twenty-three families moved from staying in our churches into homes of their own.  At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus memorably said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, what you will drink… is not life more than food?”  How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread?

            The New Yorker cartoon by Lee Lorenz in this morning’s bulletin is an amusing take on what we sometimes call “comfort food,” but it does speak to both scriptures’ point this morning that often, when we talk about food, we’re really talking about something else, something deeper, something more profound.  As food writer Norman Kolpas put it, “Food has that ability to comfort, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power.”  Think about your favorite dish as you were growing up, something your mother or father made for you simply because it was your favorite.  Mine actually was a casserole, my mom’s own take on shepherd’s pie.  What was yours?  Homemade macaroni & cheese?  Slow-simmered spaghetti with meatballs? French toast on a lazy Saturday morning?  These memories are about the food, yes, but only partly so – they are also about the experiences themselves and the connections they evoke in us.

            When you and I make a meal for somebody else – or when we sit down at the table of good friends as dinner guest- or when we tuck into our favorite restaurant or when we grab a cup of coffee after worship – or when we open our doors to our neighbors every Sunday night  – the food itself is only part of the equation, and many times, it is the smaller part.  The larger part is the sense of hospitality that accompanies the food.  The comfort that goes along with it, the healing that begins, the hearts that connect, the Jesus gesture of pure, unadulterated hospitality – and so much, so much of Jesus’ ministry was about hospitality and extravagant welcome – these are just some of the ways our sharing a meal, a sandwich, a snack, a simple cup of coffee, connects one soul with another:  ours to our neighbor’s, our neighbor’s to God’s, God’s to ourselves.

            Let us pray.

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