Monday, June 07, 2010

At the table of my enemy

1 Kings 17: 8-16; Galatians 1: 11-24
******** United Church of Christ
June 6, 2010

Did you know that we are in the midst of a famine? With supermarkets stocked with thousands of food items and what seem like many choices within each food category, stating that there is a famine would put me in the same class as Chicken Little. But I wonder if you know that within about the past fifty years or so, the number of corporations that generate the bulk of our food has shrunk from many to a few.

CAFO, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation

For instance, in 1970 the top five meat packers for beef controlled about 25% of the market, with thousands of slaughterhouses. Today the top four control over 80% of the market, with only 13 slaughterhouses. The same is true with pork, not to mention chicken. Tyson is the largest meat packing company in the world. The way food is grown and produced has moved from agriculture to mass production, skewing our food economy to the bad calories, reducing the nutrition in the food we eat, hence, a famine. Overall, as an American society, we are gaining weight but we are also starving to death. Ironically, we have a surplus of food with 36 million people (11% of the US population) who can’t afford to buy it without assistance.

A middle class couple in Ohio applies for assistance/Food pantry in Lebanon, OH

100 years ago a farmer could produce 20 bushels of corn per acre. Now 200 bushels of corn per acre is not a problem. Of course that pushes down the price of corn and the cost to produce it. In fact, farmers are paid to over-produce their corn crop.

Many of the illegal immigrants who come to this country from Mexico used to be corn farmers. But because of NAFTA, the US has overflowed the market with cheap corn, putting 1.5 million Mexican farmers out of work. Beef companies in the US began actively advertising for workers in Mexico, setting up busing services to bring them into the US. But when the anti-immigration mind-set is on the rise, the government doesn’t crack down on these companies but on the workers, some who have been in this country for 10-15 years. We end up demonizing and criminalizing the citizens of one of our closest neighbors.

Food and neighbors and how we behave toward each other are all closely intertwined in our relationship with God. We see this in this morning’s Hebrew scripture reading. The prophet Elijah is on the run from King Ahab of Israel and his queen, Jezebel. Jezebel is from the neighboring country of Sidon whose people worship Baal, a fertility god. She convinces her husband to set up shrines to Baal, which in turn, angers God more than any king before him. Elijah tells the king that because he has chosen to worship another god there will be no rain except by the word of the prophet. God then sends Elijah to the Wadi Cherith, a stream with water only when there is rain, and there Elijah is brought food by ravens and drinks from the wadi. But soon even the wadi dries up because of the drought.

God then sends Elijah to Sidon, to the very homeland of Jezebel and her impotent rainmaking god Baal. The drought has affected Sidon as well. Where there is no water, there is famine. Elijah finds the widow that God sent him to ready to lay down and die with her son because there is no more food, save for the little left for their last supper.

Charity Never Faileth, Elspeth Young

But Elijah tells her to not be afraid but to make a meal anyway and to feed him first, a foreigner in a foreign land in a poor woman’s home. Rather than just show off a miracle of unending flour and oil, Elijah gives the widow a chance to be faithful to God’s word of abundance by feeding a stranger, a man of another god at her table.

Can we imagine what it would mean for the people of Arizona to invite illegal Mexican immigrants to their tables? Or for these immigrants to invite angry, disillusioned Americans for a meal at their homes? There are days we all feel we are end of our rope, ready to take what is left of our strength and lay down to die. Or to kill the desperate hope in another. But God continues to give us the opportunity to be faithful to God’s word of abundance, abundance that can even be found at the table of our enemy, at the table of the one who has the least to give.

When Saul, who had breathed threats and murder, was transformed into the apostle Paul, I would bet that he and those early leaders of the Way he shared table with ate a lot of humble pie stuffed with crow. But look at the abundance of grace that comes from such sharing! Communities of changed lives abounded as a result of Paul’s ministry. Through his words Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were reconciled into one Body of Christ.

Every month you know this sharing, this changing of lives, both when you gather about this Table and when you invite hungry neighbors to a home-cooked meal. And both meals are connected. Perhaps one could happen without the other, but then how would you hear God’s further invitation to be even more faithful to God’s word of abundance? What will be your next step toward justice at God’s table? How else might you help to transform the famine we have created into the abundance God intended?

Many sources will say shop organic when you can, go to farmer’s markets, buy what is in season. But for many people, eating food that is not only good for us but good for the earth costs more and sometimes is cost prohibitive. I have seen pictures of this church that show a vegetable garden on the front lawn. I hear the White House has one too. Perhaps it’s time to revive that garden, one that could support not only the mission meal but also church folk and the guests that come to the dinners—God’s victory garden. A food co-op could be established here as well, one that is linked to local farms and growers. Those of you who shop the farmer’s market at Robert Treat Farm could ask if they accept food stamps, and if not, work to change that. The Whole Foods Supermarket could become a partner in providing food for the mission meal.

God is always offering us new opportunities to be faithful to God’s word of abundance, to sit at table with what looks like our worst enemy but turns out to be a transforming witness of grace. Whenever bread is broken, God is shared, and we become the work of God, the Body of Christ. At this table we bring our offerings and receive spiritual nourishment but we are also given a call to justice and to grace. Thanks be to God for holy food that does not leave us empty but always hungry for more. Amen.


No comments: