We Will Walk With God

Date: April 6, 2008
Scripture: Luke 24: 13-35
Sermon: We Will Walk With God
Pastor: Rev. Kim Wells

Some of you may remember the classic movie, “Guess Who is Coming to Dinner” featuring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier. It’s about a white family, and the daughter invites her fiancé’, a black man, to dinner. But, of course, it was about much more than three white people and one black person eating food together. Because much more than eating happens at a meal. There is conversation. There is sharing. Things emerge and develop beyond the food. In fact, in Africa, there is a proverb, “Relationship is in the eating together.” By eating dinner together bonds develop; links are made; stories are shared; and the world is changed.

In the ancient world, in some cultures, and still today, sharing food is a basic requirement of civil society. The dictates of hospitality cannot be violated. A stranger is to be offered food, a meal, no matter what. An interaction or a chance meeting near mealtime means eating together. This is unquestioned. To neglect this basic social requirement would be as egregious as say, spitting on someone in our culture. A very serious affront. Eating together signifies many different things. It shows the universality of our basic human need for food, whether you are rich or poor, young or old, regardless of language or culture, all people need to eat to live. So sharing food affirms our common humanity. Eating together is also about security. In the ancient world, the stranger was always invited to eat. This way you knew who was in your territory. It was for your safety. And it was for the safety of the stranger, because they would have need for food and shelter and protection from possible threats. The cross-cultural commitment to sharing food and hospitality was your assurance that you would be cared for if you took a journey.

By eating together, trust, understanding, and community were fostered between friends, families, and strangers. These are important connections and bonds that weave a web of care and compassion. It may be necessary to mutual survival, not only in the ancient world but maybe more so in today’s world with our increased capacity for violence and destruction.

We see this theme of eating together and sharing food appear again and again in the Bible. Abraham invites three strangers into his tent. They end up being angels with a message from God of blessings. Elijah shares food with the widow of Zaraphath. They are sustained throughout the drought. Esther invites her husband, the king, to dinner and saves her people. There is that wonderful verse from Psalm 23: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Table fellowship is a way to reconciliation and peace. The Exodus, the saving story of slavery to freedom, is marked by a shared meal, the Passover.
In the Christian Testament, Jesus is repeatedly involved in situations involving shared food. There is the wedding at Cana and a turning of water into wine. Eating with Simon, the Pharisee. Eating with Mary and Martha and having his feet anointed. Eating with Zaccheus. Eating with the disciples. Sharing food with the multitudes. In fact, Jesus is accused of eating with the tax collectors and sinners – the wrong sort, and of being a glutton and a lush.

And then the Christian Gospels are filled with stories about eating and feasts and who would and wouldn’t come, and who does and doesn’t share food. Always showing that God’s realm is like a feast where everyone is welcome.

It is in the sharing of food, our common human need, that we experience God’s presence in human community. Eating together celebrates our commonality and the generosity of the Giver of Life who sustains that life with food. It is in this context that community develops. And God ,is experienced.

So in the Emmaus story, these nobodies, Cleopas and a companion, experience Jesus’ presence, not in the talking or the teaching, but in the eating. As they share a meal Jesus affirms their common humanity, their common need. Over food, there is the opportunity to share stories and develop understanding that fosters community, reconciliation, peace, and the healing of the betrayal and desertion and crucifixion begins. Jesus does not starve them or punish them

And so the core sacrament, the shared tradition, the common bond across culture of the Christian church, the body of Christ, is the sharing of bread and the cup. And this extends, in many church contexts, to shared meals.

It is in sharing food together that we have the context that celebrates and reveals God’s goodness and love. It is in the context of eating a meal that we are fed physically and spiritually. It is in the context of breaking bread that healing and reconciliation can occur.

Sadly, in our American culture and in the church, eating together is no longer common or customary. Families used to eat together, without interruption. Then came the phone, the activities, clubs, and sports over the dinner hour, and TV and the advent of the TV dinner. The focal point of the meal was no longer conversation, but watching TV. Complex work schedules, school schedules, etc., have all conspired against families and friends eating together. This has contributed to the weakening of family ties, community, and church.

When we neglect the opportunity to eat together, our sense of our common humanity erodes. The context for building relationship and community diminish. We lose the natural setting for experiencing God’s presence in food and fellowship. We miss the revelation of God’s goodness and grace. We neglect the gathering where reflection and conversation create community and reconciliation. It is over a meal that Jesus and his friends make peace. It is over a meal that the divine is experienced. It is over a meal that Christ comes to me through you. It is over a meal that compassion and healing emerge. And yet in our cultural context the sharing of food happens less and less.

Some years ago a group from the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ went to visit our partner church in Argentina. When they returned, they told us that when they start a new church in Argentina the first thing they build is the kitchen so they can come together to eat. Later they build the sanctuary. It is in the eating and the accompanying fellowship that they experience Christ’s presence.

If Cleopas and his companion had only walked and talked with the stranger, they would not have experienced the presence of the risen Christ. New life and hope emerge when food is shared. This is why it is important for us as Christians to continue the ministry of shared food.. Not only in the ritual context of communion, but with shared table fellowship in our homes, in restaurants, at picnics. This is where we will see Christ, where God’s love and generosity, compassion and grace are revealed. This is where we will foster God’s reconciliation and peace.

I recently read the story of a person here in the United States looking for a church home. After numerous visits, the decision was made not by location, theology, facilities, programs, or music. On one church visit, after the service a couple of people were making plans to go out to lunch. As they were talking they noticed this new visitor and said, “We’re going out to lunch. Would you be our guest? Can you join us?” The visitor had other plans that day, but was so impressed by the welcome, the hospitality, the offer to share a meal, that he joined the church.

We have eaten together at Christ’s table in this service. But that is just the appetizer. The taste. The sample that invites us to share table fellowship together, eating with one another,. including and inviting others, so that we experience the presence of Christ more deeply; so that our hearts burn with his love, and our eyes are opened to God within us. So, make sure, sometime soon, someone is coming to dinner!. Amen

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