Food sharing – Becoming What We eat!

Posted: July 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 10B, 2018
John 6:1-21
Food sharing – Becoming What We eat!

An average New Zealand household throws out $563 worth of food annually,
according to a 2008 study by the NZ Government – and that figure doesn’t take into consideration how much is thrown out by shops and businesses. The study claimed that 1,048,993 tonnes of waste was generated by the residential sector and that equates to an average of 260 kg per person, over 44% of which was organic waste.

But what is the significance of this for a faith community, for followers of the Jesus Way?
Well! From all that we now seem to know about biblical culture, meals played an important role in both community life, and in the Jesus Movement tradition. Scholars tell us that Christian Jews regularly ate together, even before they began to conduct worship services. We are also told that Jesus himself was closely associated with meals and that one of the criticisms leveled against him was, of his being a ‘glutton and drunkard’ (Matt 11:19).

Our story this morning of the feeding of people appears in all four gospels. All slightly different, but the plot is very similar in all. This says that there was a strong ‘storytelling’ tradition about it. It is also fair to imagine that all the biblical storytellers had heard some of these meal stories, often from what we now call the Q Source, and re-imagined or re-invented them. They knew the power of a good story. “Words and food are made out of the same stuff”, writes Rubem Alves. “They are both born of the same mother: hunger” (Alves 1990:77).

One very popular New Testament Scholars a before my time was the Scottish scholar William Barclay. I remember coming across the red-backed paperback commentaries on minister’s bookshelves. He set out three ways folk have heard or responded to this story.
One: as a supernatural event of bread being multiplied. Two; as a sacramental meal, where each got a small piece of bread. And three; a different kind of ‘miracle’ where people’s hearts rather than bread, were changed. I suspect that for those of us who call themselves ‘Progressives’ the third option is the preferred option. This would see the story as not about an interventionist supernatural God, or as a forerunner to Holy Communion,
or the Catholic doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’, but rather, everything to do with re-imagining the world and our relationships with others. And this implies an understanding that says that around a meal, food is shared not hoarded, friendships are made, and
relationships strengthened. And the work of the prophet, as Jesus was identified by John’s version of this story, is to encourage folk to see that and live by that.

In simple terms, the stories told about Jesus and in the words attributed to him, Jesus presents the realm of God as a new or alternate possible reality, to the world in which many found themselves trapped in. It contradicted the normal notions of who belonged and who did not, of who was worthy and who was not. It’s contradiction was given expression by the way people lived – that is, open to being changed by the ‘worth’ of the other, rather than the perceived ‘worthlessness’ of the other. So as in this morning’s story, we see and hear Jesus inviting ordinary folk to join him in the struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege. To imagine and experience a different kind of world.

And one of the first steps in re-imagining a different kind of world to the existing dominant social order, was to overturn the ‘world’ of the disciples. This is the point I want to spend a bit of time on today. The world of the disciples and I want to equate it with what we understand as the church of today. Over the last few months I have been challenged to think more about this need than ever. We have embarked on the task of imagining the future for St David’s and we have spent huge amounts of time and energy on grasping a school as a means or a vehicle for our mission focus. We have done this because we are convinced that education is the best way in which we can affect change in culture be it political, economic or religious. Asking questions about what something means, how it has been applied and how it might be applied differently into the future seems consistent with the message Jesus gave us. There is an alternative and it needs to be liberating, transformative and love and compassion based.
When the disciples said tell the hungry to go and buy some food for themselves, Jesus said no, tell them to sit down and let’s share what we already have. When bread is shared and eaten, it becomes body. Our body. When bread is shared and eaten, it becomes compassionate deeds. Our compassionate deeds. When bread is shared and eaten, compassionate deeds become as God in our neighbour. Or put another way, what we believe about God and neighbour and relationships, can make a huge difference to how we care for each other interpersonally. Especially if our local communities can be developed positively around respect and care and worth for each other, rather than around fear of a so-called ‘enemy’.

I want to suggest today that our focus on a school is our response to the call to overturn our religious world or in other wards to change the way we think about church, about how we do church and what the church might look like in the future. The world of the disciples needs to be overturned. Stop avoiding the hard questions and share what we have.

Rex hunt tells a story that says something about what that might look like. He tells of a family that went out for dinner one evening. Menus were passed to all including Kathy, the eight-year old daughter. The conversation started up around the table and it was an ‘adult’ one, so much so that Kathy sat ignored. And when the waiter took orders, he came to Kathy last. “And what do you want?” he asked. “A hamburger and a coke,” she said.
“No,” said her grandmother, “she’ll have the roast chicken, carrots, and mashed potatoes.” “And milk to drink,” chimed in her father. “And what kind of sauce would you like on your hamburger?” asked the waiter. As he walked away, taking the parents aback.
Kathy called out “Tomato,”. She then turned to her family and added, “You know what? He thinks I’m real!”

This self-examination, self-challenge to share what we have, is about being real as opposed to just going along with what seems confident and logical and expected. It’s what sets Mission and faith apart from ordered, logical and rational. It’s what says that “people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another, have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship…

“Every time we share the peace by welcoming another to our table, hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together” (Fulghum 1995:81-82). The gospel storytellers know we become what we eat! So what does this mean for us today in our school project? What is the challenge to re-imagine and to celebrate. And in so doing, to be blessed, as we seek to go on the journey first chartered by the Galilean sage we call Jesus.

I want to start with a few assumptions that I think have authenticity in the bigger picture.
1. The first is that the church in New Zealand is in decline and that decline could be seen to be exponential in nature. In other words, the decline is getting faster with every year that passes.
2. The second is that certain doctrines, interpretations and teachings that we no longer subscribe to as followers of the Jesus Way. In other words, we think that what we believe, think and value needs to be real, applicable to today’s living.
3. The third is that we have been brought up in a church that has hidden the human Jesus behind a façade of supernaturalism, fear management and intellectual simplicity. In other words, We have been hoodwinked by a faith rooted in a story of a Jesus with the surname Christ as opposed to a Jesus who’s life depicted a Messiah, a liberator, a transformer of lives, culture and an understanding of what it means to be a child of God and a good human being.
4. The fourth is that Spirituality is not dead but just being serviced outside the church, in other words, where and what is the purpose of the church? Does it still have one? Can it again be the nurture of spirituality? Does it need to think differently about what it is, who it is, and how it is what it is?
5. The fifth and last assumption for today is that very little of what the church is doing, saying and offering has any value, in other words people are no longer joining the church to follow the Way of Jesus because what is being said about that Way cannot be sustained in today’s world. People no longer see the need for what is being offered despite our strong conviction that all they have to do is understand what we understand and make the decisions we have made.

Maybe its time we the disciples need to sit down and share what we have amongst ourselves? Look at it, ask questions about it, find out what it is saying to those outside the church. Maybe we need to discover what Spirituality is still alive without the church.
Do we need to think differently about the nature of God, of course we do, God is no longer seen in our image and we have lost sight of what it means to be made in God’s image.

Maybe we need to tell the Jesus story as it was before the church arrived? Maybe we need to become the moral compass of society, not as a keeper of the truth or an owner of the only story but rather as those concerned about human flourishing. Maybe we need to see that in the past the church, built hospitals, schools and universities. Maybe we need to celebrate that many of these functions have been taken over by the state or business and we might need to avoid being in competition with what has been created. Maybe the church has been so successful that it has lost sight of its purpose and become complacent in a role that just focuses on personal salvation without critiquing the existing culture? Maybe church has become just a place where people can go for an our to opt out of life, or be entertained, or feel good.

If this is the case then maybe the church has outlived its usefulness? And on top of that what I personally think is the crucial issue is that many of us who are disciples of Jesus accept uncritically many church teachings because we don’t want to have to reconcile them with our experience outside our religious life. We compartmentalize our faith so that we don’t have to live it. This either works or we leave the church.

And just in case you think I am being negative about this, I think that the church has an ethical, empowering and healing role to play in the 21st century and beyond but to do so it has to focus on the character of the message. It has to be intellectually satisfying, authentic as well as a place of comfort, fellowship and service. It has to be a table for 5 thousand where empathy and compassion are actions consistent with the Jesus Way. In other words, it is about salvation within this life, about a story that we can enthusiastically support and a welcoming of doubt as a means of sharing the nurturing meal. What do you think? Amen.

Alves, R. A. 1990. The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet. PA: Philadelphia. Trinity Press International.
Fulghum, R. 1995. From Beginning to End. The Rituals of Our Lives. NSW: Moorebank. Bantam Books.
Lucien Alperstein. “Dumster Diver” in Sunday Life, 17 June 2012, 12-13.
Gould, Sam. 2017. Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century. WIPF & STOCK Eugene, Oregon

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