Sunday, April 30, 2006

Church Potluck

Psalm 145: 8-19; Acts 2: 42-47; Luke 24: 36b-48
******** United Church of Christ
April 30, 2006

Until a few months ago, I didn’t know I was a ‘foodie’. I thought I was just someone who loves to eat and eat well. I’m not quite as adventurous as some (I don’t go for things like squid and would never dream of tasting haggis unless offered to me by a native Scot), but I love Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese cuisine. I’m also a fan of Mediterranean foods: Armenian, Lebanese, Greek and Turkish. I’ve also tried Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Cuban, Spanish, Moroccan, and Ethiopian fare, and enjoyed each one. I’ve eaten local dishes while visiting the Bahamas, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Holland. In Ohio I would go with a church group to an annual Hungarian dinner at another church. My mother’s family is from the deep South (Mississippi), so running through my veins is a fondness for collard greens, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, shrimp gumbo, cornbread, and grits. Mexican food and anything barbecued also make my mouth water (how’s yours doing right now?).

But one of my favorite meals is the church potluck. Everyone usually prepares their beloved and best dish. And there are always some standard offerings: the ubiquitous lemon squares, broccoli salad, baked beans, green bean casserole, baked ziti (name your own preference). Worship is a lot like a potluck supper: some things you can count on; some surprises; some things you wouldn’t go near but someone likes it; some stuff doesn’t get touched at all; too much dessert or not enough, but it’s good just to be together and to have some nourishment, forget about business and put aside our differences for a while.

My husband and I had a potluck supper for our wedding reception. Some folks balked at the idea of having to bring a wedding present and a covered dish but we could not afford to pay for dinner for about 300 people: members of the church I worked at and the church where David was a member, scads of children, plus our family and friends. David and I provided shrimp cocktail for everyone plus a small army and at least four different sheet cakes. My church provided lemonade, iced tea, and coffee. And we ate and talked and danced and ate some more, under a tent on a beautiful June afternoon. It was like a piece of heaven.

I have often wished that there was a restaurant where everyone who came for dinner would bring a dish or dessert to share. All you’d have to pay for would be your beverage and an overhead charge. Every night it would be something different. Every night would be a different crowd, and the name of the restaurant would be “The Church Potluck” or “The Potluck Supper” so as to be non-sectarian. I know health codes wouldn’t allow such a thing but I’d like to think that such an enterprise could help change the world.

Jesus knew about this bond between food and community, how it seems you can’t have one without the other. Jesus made use of meals and food as a way of building community, that commonwealth known as the kingdom of God. In the feeding of the multitudes he demonstrated that there is more than enough for all. A mandate was also given: “You give them something to eat”. He ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners and other outcasts, revealing God’s desire that all be welcome at the table. At the last supper Jesus illustrated with bread and wine that there is no greater love than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

In the reading from the gospel of Luke we enter into the middle of an Easter meal with Jesus and his followers. He has just shared the first course of bread with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Now he is taking part in some broiled fish. Bread and fish take us back to the feeding of the multitudes and other humble suppers where the presence of Jesus and God’s love brought new life to those present.

He eats this fish, and shows his scars once again, to give clear evidence of his resurrection. The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, an experience of the dead rather than of the living. The good news here is that the incarnation did not end on the cross. The risen Christ is the Jesus who died. Jesus Christ is God’s love in living, breathing flesh and bone. We are also flesh and bone. The resurrection hallows our fleshy existence and restores us to the image in which we were created, despite what we may see in the mirror.

For some of us this is a thorny issue, that being in the flesh is a good thing. Some of us have real problems with food. Most of us have turned to food for comfort at one time or another. The term ‘comfort food’ doesn’t conjure up certain images in each of us for nothing. Other times we punish ourselves by denying particular foods or we try to bulk up our self-esteem by refraining from indulging our secret cravings. Some of us analyze every morsel that passes our lips while others of us don’t think twice, let alone remember what we ate. So for Jesus to make plain the resurrection through the flesh of his body and eating of food so as to build this budding faith community sounds problematic at best to us who feel torn whenever there is a church supper.

Sometimes when we eat, we want to satisfy a deeper hunger than the one in our bellies. And this is what Jesus is getting at. He has a poor man’s supper with the disciples but then he moves on to the meat of it all. He teaches them again the scriptures to show them the consistent faithfulness of God. God’s love shown through the resurrection should come as no surprise to them; it is part of the thread of grace that runs throughout the Bible. And it is this grace, this unconditional love, which fills our longing that has no name, our appetite for the ineffable.

Jesus doesn’t just convince of them the resurrection for the sake of believing but so that they would bind themselves together as a body resurrected from their grief, to remember all that they had been told, all that they had seen and heard so as to share it with others. Talking about faith over a good and simple meal is as good as it gets in my opinion. We are nourished in both body and spirit, fully satisfied by God’s good gifts.

Some of you know this in your ‘Dinners for 7’ program. I’ve been at two other churches with a similar series of dinners; it’s a wonderful way to get to know people on a more intimate basis. To me, it’s a way of practicing resurrection, of participating in new life with brothers and sisters in Christ, as is the shelter meal that you provide and other meals that you celebrate together. We celebrate Easter by eating together, creating new life and new joy whenever we join around a table, give thanks, pass the plates, and talk about our life together as the Body of Christ.

When was the last time you had a potluck supper after worship, when most folks would be able to stay? Do you make an effort to have healthy foods present when you gather? Jesus shows us just how ‘fleshy’, how real he is; how ‘fleshy’ is Jesus in this church? Is he a ghost or a real flesh and bone Jesus made alive in each of you and in your life together? How do you connect your “feeding of the hungry” with your own feeding at the Table? How does scripture nourish you and your faith? If we celebrate Easter with eating, how does that influence other meals, like the family dinner, the business lunch, the midnight snack, the guilty binge, the drive-through quick-fix, the commuting breakfast?

When we the Church realize how true and how deep the resurrection is, authentic community, life-sustaining, life-creating community comes into being. Jesus said “Love one another as I have loved you”, that love that is not a feeling or a good idea but action made in our flesh and bone. Jesus told Peter “Feed my sheep”, that we be fed and feed each other in such a way as to transform us and that church potluck into the heavenly banquet where all are welcomed, restored, nourished, accepted, resurrected. Amen.


Andy said...

One night, on our honeymoon, Katie and I attended a concerto held in a 13th century church on the grounds of Castelino Certaldo. Afterwards there was dinner of classic Tuscan fare in the open courtyard of the castle. It was not pot luck but there was no assigned seating either. We found ourselves seated with 3 other couples beneath a full moon; a companionable silence between us.

Then we started eating and sharing wine.

Over dinner we met a couple from Denmark, Germany and England. Soon "Please pass the bread" became introductions, then stories, then laughter. We talked at length and laughed until our sides hurt. It was a grand evening.

And we all believed that "breaking bread" together made all of the difference.

Cynthia said...

Amen, brother.