Sermons are part of a conversation between the preacher and the congregation.
You can read most of the sermons preached at Faith in the past few years here. This archive is a blog, which is duplicated on Blogger. You may add comments here or in the blog if you wish.
If you would like to see the readings planned for the next few weeks, click here.
Food, Glorious Food
Texts: John 6:1-21, 2 Kings 4:42-44, Psalm 145:10-19
Last month marked the eighth anniversary of Faith Kitchen [Faith’s community meal program]. On that day eight years ago, three folks from Faith and one guest sat at the table where we now serve Sunday coffee hour. At the next meal a month later, on July 26, there were no guests. But within six months Faith Kitchen was serving 30 people at each meal.
Since then, about 9,000 people have come for meals and over 150 different helpers have bought, prepared, cooked, and served food for dinner. Four different worshipping congregations have helped regularly. Folks from Temple Beth Shalom and from Calvary have been essential Faith Kitchen leaders. Food comes mostly from the Greater Boston Food Bank plus contributions from Carberry’s at first and now HiRise Bakery. Meals have been donated by local restaurants, especially East Coast Grill and recently Oleana. The food is almost always great and there is always plenty of it. The goal of Faith Kitchen is “no one leaves hungry, no food goes to waste.”
Why do we do this? Why do all these people gather twice a month to spend time feeding people they don’t know? (Or that they don’t know for long, because many guests come back over and over.) Why does the church, why does Faith, spend money, time, prayers, and energy feeding strangers?
Partly we do it because our faith calls us to do it. We read in the Bible that the people of God feed one another. We hear in the Gospel of Matthew that feeding hungry people is like feeding God. We see that Jesus fed the crowds rather than sending them away, and that Elisha did the same before him. We know that Abraham fed the strangers who were God in disguise. We know that Jesus told his disciple Peter to feed Jesus’ sheep. People of the book feed other people. That’s the rule.
Partly we do it because it is a fun activity. It provides camaraderie. Faith Kitchen is full of crazy chaos, and it is always an adventure to see what will happen between 5:00 p.m. when people gather and 6:30 when people eat. A month ago we had a fire in the stove and had to call the fire department. They threatened to condemn the stove temporarily. Instead of serving fifty pounds of prime codfish filets, we’d would have been serving sushi. Fortunately, the damage was minor and they gave us the OK to cook. Last week, as if to compensate, the ovens refused to light. One day last year we expected fifty people for a cookout; instead 100 people showed up. You never know.
Partly we do it because the people are good company. The gathering at Faith Kitchen includes the guests who come to eat as well as those who come to cook. There are Faith Kitchen regulars who have been coming for years. And at every meal there are some new folks. The ones who are talkative have stories to tell. Some help out with the cooking and cleanup. The cooks sit and eat with the guests. It is a community of people brought together through food. And also through their affection for and interest in each other.
But mostly we do it because it because it is a natural pleasure to feed people. Or to put it a different way, to feed people is to praise God.
All your works praise you, begins the psalm reading for today. God is powerful and splendid and glorious and everlasting, sings the psalm writer. God lifts up those who have fallen and is always nearby. Fine and grand words, these. But when it comes time to be specific and personal, the psalm sings: You give to all creatures food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the needs of every creature. Food comes first.
Chris Schlesinger, the owner of East Coast Grill, stood some months ago watching the folks at Faith Kitchen eat. He had just made everyone steaks on grill and mixed grilled vegetables. He had provided a bounteous meal. And looking around at all the tables, he said “I just love to watch people eat.” He is in the right business. He loves to feed people.
But we are all in the feeding business. God feeds God’s creatures, says the psalm. There is a satisfying pleasure in the words of the psalm. Partly the pleasure comes from knowing that as creatures we will be cared for. And partly it comes from knowing that God loves to watch people eat. This psalm understands that God takes pleasure in giving us good things, good food. And that we, made in God’s image, being God’s children, have inherited that pleasure.
To eat is to constantly be thankful. But to feed others to constantly praise God. Eating reminds us of both our hunger and the goodness of creation. But feeding others reminds us of God’s abundance.
We feed others whether we have a lot or a little. Sometimes we have a lot, like the man who brings the prophet Elisha twenty loaves of bread and and a sack of newly harvested grain. Sometimes we have next to nothing, like the few people who could only scrape together five loaves of bread and two fish to give Jesus. Hospitality requires that you feed others before you feed yourself. But strangely, doing so is not a chore. It is a pleasure. Partly it is just the pleasure we get from watching creatures eat; when I was growing up I used to love feeding the horses. And partly it is pure generosity; it always makes us feel richer to give to others more than it does to get things for ourselves.
But mostly when we give to others first, it reminds us that we can expect God’s continuing blessing. There will be enough for us, too. It reminds us that God is the source of all things.
People hear the stories we just heard about Elisha and Jesus, and it bothers them. How did that fish-multiplying thing work? Did people secretly add food that they originally held back when the disciples were collecting donation? Did new bread magically pop up in the baskets when no one was looking? Was it a miracle of physics or a miracle of sociology? But these stories are not about God’s magic. They are amplified examples of what God does all the time, which is to give all creatures the things needed to sustain life. This is not theology, really. We are constructed to live on what God provides. It is a blessing, for sure. But it is a greater blessing is that we love it so.
This Tuesday at Faith Kitchen we are having rolled sole filets stuffed with lobster and crab, salad, and fresh-baked bread from the HiRise bread company. Ice cream for dessert. Like all Faith Kitchen meals, this is a lot like stone soup. Gather people together. See what’s in the pantry that someone has given us. Figure out who is there to help and what skills and temperaments they bring. Mix and cook.
Then everyone sits down to eat. We say a prayer of thanksgiving. Then we serve the meal, praising God all the while.