Meals Matter

Acts 16:9-15

9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Meals Matter

1 May 2016

Rev. Douglas Olds (all rights reserved)

First Presbyterian Church, San Anselmo (CA)

So much of the New Testament is about table fellowship. The Eucharist we celebrate this morning has us discern the body of Christ in the elements and in the faith of those around us.

The parable of the Prodigal Son speaks of the necessity of sacrificing the fat bull at the return of the son. The story of the Prodigal son displays a high theology of banqueting as reconciliation.

In the Gospels, there is something about Jesus that draws supper companions. Because of his humanity, he welcomed them, sat with them and ate with them. Something happens when we eat together.

Social distances lessen.

We are no longer distinct strangers but friends.

Our stories merge, the distinctions between us disappears as we pass the potatoes, as my friend Hope Attenhofer says.

Letting Jesus in changes everything.

So it is in this morning’s reading that we meet Lydia, a wealthy dealer in purple cloth. After hearing him preach, she prevails upon Paul and his followers to visit and sup with her household. This is after she has found faith from Paul’s preaching. Her first recorded act of faith is hospitality.

It is natural for new found friends to invite each other to share a meal.

It is in meals that hospitality expresses itself as healing.

Healing is not cure.

Rather healing is accompaniment and closeness between people as they navigate the struggles and joys of life. Accompaniment and hospitality can work through meals to heal distances, alienations, and estrangements. An old saying has that Hell is a place where the spoon handles are too long to self feed, while heaven is a place that has learned to use the too-long-handled spoons to feed others.

Lydia has found a community in Paul’s Christianity. She moves to learn more of this fellowship at the table with her new found teacher.

We people of faith have a healing capability. Not only because people look to us that way, but because we have the powers of empathy and prayer. Yet we don’t think of ourselves that way. That we have a special gift that can transfer to others. But we should begin to think of ourselves as having that gift. Like Lydia looking to the Paul company.

Come stay with me.

Take up the invitations.

But we don’t always, because we often internalize the bad behavior of certain Christians in the culture that give us a bad name. So we hide our gifts of hospitality under a bushel.

Eating with Jesus is anticipating the fulfillment of his project. There is an unsatisfied hunger for justice. Eating is sharing in that project. Such is the healing of communion. It is a shared process of realizing our yearning for justice and our dependence on the resources of God to enable us to work justice.

Lydia I think shares that yearning and thus invites Paul to sup with her for a time. Eating with Paul, like with Jesus, changed the usual dinner conversation.

"We are all capable of becoming fundamentalists because we get addicted to other people’s wrongness,” says Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher. In terms of what I am preaching this morning, it can otherwise be said, We are What We consume.

"The capitalist worldview is the only one most of us have ever known. We see reality, experiences, events, other people, and things—in fact, everything—as objects for our personal consumption. Even religion, Scripture, sacraments, worship services, and meritorious deeds become ways to advance ourselves—not necessarily ways to love God or neighbor.

The nature of the capitalist mind is that things (and often people!) are there for me. Finally, even God becomes an object for my consumption. Religion looks good on my resume, and anything deemed “spiritual” is a check on my private worthiness list. Some call it spiritual consumerism. It is not the Gospel."

- Fr. Richard Rohr.

So we must change the conversation, we must change what we worship, we must change our habits. And the best way is to be exposed to the healing hospitality of other people.

I am a spiritual care visitor at Marin County Jail. As such, I may be exposed to those society might consider unclean: the sex offender or the mentally unstable cycling between the psychiatric unit and the jail.

I wonder if healing as reconciliation with the community might be accomplished by a shared meal. I did have one experience of that. In the psychiatric unit the day after Easter a few years back, I supped with a young woman from Petaluma.

Her name, which I am withholding for her privacy, was an Ethiopian word for sweetness, honey, and wine. She had a cast on her left forearm and the fingers on that hand were askew and out of alignment. A deep and purple scar ran down from her exposed elbow and disappeared underneath the covering of her cast.

After exchanging some details about my life to her, she told me the story of her arm.

Four summers ago, while driving on Mt. Tamalpais [a prominent landmark in our county], she had a severe car accident. Her car flipped and rolled, settling off road where it was unpaved and wild. Emergency teams rescued her and medically evacuated her to a hospital by helicopter.

She would undergo 26 operations on her arm from that day.

She averaged an operation per month for the first year and half as the doctors first worked to save her arm from amputation and then to heal its function. She never lost hope, and she prayed to be out of the hospital before 100 days of inpatient treatment.

She was released on her 99th day.

Upon release, she lost fear of losing the arm, yet she continues to struggle with flashbacks to the accident that makes her anxious.

She smiles brightly as she tells this story, not sardonically or fatalistically. It is a smile that seems to me filled with something beyond a simple faith. Her story is alive and breathing in that smile.

I asked her where her hope comes from.

“From my arm, it is healing. and I’ll tell you something. For four months after the accident, my arm was ejecting twigs and glass and cattails that had been ground into my arm in the accident. A two inch piece of glass came out after 4 months, and that seemed to finish all the stuff I had in me.”

I had never heard of story like this.

I had heard of transplant rejection, where the body rejects the organ of a donor. But here is an account of the resilience and tenacity of a human arm. My new friend told me a story of an arm's overcoming inert and dead matter. She told me her story of a resilient and tenacious spirit, as well.

Resilient and tenacious life.

This story gives me hope. Life overcomes the inert.

Again, here is the breath of life and spirit of this young woman overcoming from the dry twigs and the fired silica sands of her own wilderness experience.

She is persevering while healing.

She says both the pain and the function of her fingers are getting better, and in that she finds hope.

“And you know what else?” she went on.

“I had this dog, a small, [poopy] shi..y dog, and I’m lying in the hospital and I’m thinking I’m going to have to get rid of him when I get back home. He brought me nothing and he didn’t behave.

But when I got home, it was if he was waiting for me.

He was all attentive and turned into a great dog, a companion.

He’s at home waiting for me now.”

A shared meal under challenging and “unclean” circumstances demands healing and communal reconciliation. As the Karl Barth quote goes on today’s front bulletin,

“Knowledge of God is not an escape into the safe heights of pure ideas, but entry into the needs of the present, sharing in its suffering, its activity and its hope.”

How much more society might be humanized if the “unclean” prisoner might share a meal of reconciliation with those by whom they are otherwise excluded.

Jose, a man I saw in jail, looked forward to the day he could have a big barbecue with his family. He was fearful they might reject him after jail, but I encouraged him to follow his vision.

Juergen Moltmann writes, “In the promises, the hidden future already announces itself and exerts its influence on the present through the hope it awakens…'Christians are the eternal beginners'…. and that is the best thing that can ever be said about believers, lovers and the hopeful.” Each meal of reconciliation is a banquet of healing new starts.

These banquets, I suspect, are what Lydia planned for Paul. They were meant to honor him in hospitality, but over the passed potatoes, the conversations were changed. Changed from what state of affairs was previously worshiped to what now really mattered. From the celebrity worship and injustices of the day to how peace and wholeness was to be pursued as newly chosen ones in the Kingdom Glory of God.

The conversation becomes changed into how we might glorify God in peace and wholeness.

Paul in Colossians chapter 3 describes how we are to live as called by God into a new conversation. We are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Native Americans speak too of a myth of two wolves inside of us, battling. One is evil: anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego.

The other is Good: joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.

Which one wins? It’s the one you feed. Which one are you going to feed in our hospitality? The woman from Petaluma with the mangled arm exemplified these qualities over supper, and I believe in some small way they transferred to me.

Yet I have a confession: I don’t like people in the grocery store commenting on my food choices.

I love raw fresh tomatoes and when I buy a big bag, the checker often asks if I am going to make a sauce.

Last week at the Costco, a woman came up, peered in my cart and asked how I was going to cook the duck I was preparing to buy.

And when I buy two or three big daikon radishes, there’s the guy behind me in line who says, “What are you going to do with THOSE?”

I confess I’ve never liked these comments, but today’s reading and my reflections upon it give me a new insight into them. These folks are trying to start a changed a conversation. Specifically, changing how they see my particular food items, but more generally they want to change the conversation they have about life. I believe upon reflection that I am meant to use these comments about groceries in a way that is empathetic and brings light to a darkening world.

I resolve to not only be less sensitive about these comments, but to use them as opportunities to change the conversation--to reconcile with their desires for authentic and worshipful human contact. Being in Christ changes everything, and it ought to change me in my simplest interactions.

Paul was said to have a distorted eye, which in some circles might have made him physically challenged and unclean to eat with. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to learn from the woman with the honeyed name and distorted arm that healing involves companionship and perseverance.

The only uncleanliness is giving up.

Once I give up, my soul is darkened.

Hospitality is cheaper than therapy. Remember the parable of the spoons. Good hospitality feeds the good wolf inside us.

I hope we may learn that through the changed conversations we have with our supper companions—learning of their challenges, their patience, and their transformed commitments.

And may we learn that through the Communion we share as a church--in Eucharist and in mission, that hospitality brings the closeness of healing, and maybe even cure. AMEN.