Sermon 24 April 2016

Sermon on Sunday 24 April 2016, Westbourne Church

Easter 5 2016        Acts 11:1-18    John 13:31-35            

It's no real wonder that Jesus chose a meal as the way for us to remember him and the work God called him to do.

Food is extremely important to us, not just as a matter of basic nourishment to keep our bodies on the road but because eating together is such a powerful thing. If it were not, we should not be at all so fussy about it. Our eating is hedged around with all sorts of dos and don'ts and cultural 'propers'. Some religious groups do not allow eating with those who believe differently. To bed without supper is a considerable punishment.Not to be invited can be hard. In this country we are strict about the knife and fork being placed parallel to each other across the plate at right angles to the edge of the table when the meal is finished. Other cultures would have it otherwise, that is, where they use knives and forks. Our cultural luggage makes it difficult to eat savoury food with a dessertspoon. One of the stranger things I can remember from my waiting training is that consommé is always eaten with a dessert spoon rather than a soup spoon. I find it hard to sit opposite someone using only a fork in the right hand to eat a main meal. But that has more to do with my wanting to find the fastest and most efficient method of getting the food into the mouth. Nonetheless it still irritates me. We like fish cutlery but the reason for different cutlery for fish is long gone unless you use silver and carbon steel. Using the right cutlery is still something that terrifies people when they are invited to a formal meal.

In this country we don't eat horses. It is really only tradition and that the draft animal is more useful in other ways. In China they eat dogs, which we find quite difficult. But eating any animal with which you have forged a relationship is hard.  Food from another culture can seem repulsive. Food which is unexpected can taste horrible. If you are expecting a cup of tea and it turns out to be coffee without your realising it tastes horrible even if you would have preferred coffee in the first place.

A story
The absent-minded professor called his biology class to order shortly after the lunch hour. "Our work this afternoon," he said, "will be cutting up and inspecting the inner workings of a frog. I have a dead frog here in my pocket to be used as a specimen." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a paper bag, shook its contents on the table and out rolled a nice looking ham sandwich. The professor looked at it, perplexed, scratched his head and muttered, "That's funny, I distinctly remember eating my lunch."

Peter faces all the problems of trying to believe something life affirming and saving which cuts across all the cultural barriers and no-one understands because the religion has been so bound up with culture and practical necessities. Most religious food laws can be traced to a reason of hygiene or such somewhere along the line. Peter understands least of all and needs to be told quite plainly that what he eats is not going to spoil his relation with God.  

Some years before this Peter had been present at an eating occasion when the food had been a divisive issue. Not because of what it was but because it was a social occasion when no-one had much appetite and the simple act of putting something in the mouth was a sign of betrayal. This was very hard, especially as Jesus' word implied loving the betrayer. The betrayal, in that context of a close group eating together is intimate. They were feeding each other; the fingers may have touched the lips. In the early years of the protestant reformation the practice of using individual cups for the wine of holy communion developed. We speak of this as being to put the emphasis of drinking it together at the same moment rather that emphasising the same cup or as hedge against plague but plague was thought to be air-borne at the time. I fancy the real reason is that drinking from the same cup is just too intimate with the possibility of encountering someone else’s saliva. All this is one of the reasons why some people find it hard for children to be admitted to communion.

Perhaps for us what we eat matters in a different way. We are little worried about what the food is in its natural state but we have become very worried, at times, about what happens to it in process and production. Never has there been so much packaging, most of it unnecessary except to fool us into thinking that it is of better quality than it is. Apparently there were Easter Eggs this year of which the packaging weighed more than the chocolate! What do we do? Do we do as Peter wanted to and consider it profane or unclean? It is a very complex a matter. We don't need runner beans in December but if we buy them we are supporting, hopefully, another country's economy and that may be make or break for people even if they have introduced bees to do the pollinating which are driving away the native ones who don’t like beans. We don't need lots of packaging but it does provide manufacturing jobs, which are becoming fewer and fewer.  

If we were to ask God what we should eat, the answer might well be one we did not want to hear for it would be much less that we are used to and is likely to be 'healthy'. The 'repentance that leads to life' may not be a repentance we want to make. Abandoning our favourite foods, regardless how junky they are is very difficult when you have the wherewithal to pay for them.

Community is very important in all this, which is why we are a church and why we go to some trouble to explain what belonging means. We often run counter to the prevailing culture and you cannot do that on your own. 'Weightwatchers' works on that basis.  

Taste, or flavour and smell, or aroma, are the most powerful memory stimulants there are. Walk into a smell and you are back where you last smelt it, even if that is 40 years ago. If you offer holy communion to a dementia sufferer it is clear that the memory is stirred. He will be healed for a moment, put into that holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem where all is perfect, so long as the flavour lasts.

For us the task is to ‘cook’ for the world, to offer food which prompts the soul to remember the love planted in humanity. 

© 2016 Frank Wright


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