Let’s Eat

July 11, 2010

Scripture Lessons: 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Luke 4:24-30
Sermon: Let’s Eat! Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

An iconic picture from the 1990ʼs features then President Bill Clinton beaming with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yassar Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yithak Rabin shaking hands. This photo op came after the signing of a peace accord in 1993.

” In the wake of that photo, I remember reading an editorial about it. The gist of the article was that to Americans this handshake symbolized commitment. Letʼs shake on it. A deal is a deal. We have an agreement. There is commitment. The writer of the editorial pointed out that this is a very American viewpoint. So we are busy extolling this picture with the handshake because of what a handshake means to us. But if we would step beyond our ethnocentrism and see the handshake from the perspective of Middle East culture, we would see things differently. ” In the Middle East, the handshake does not bear the significance that it does for us. In the Middle East, since ancient times, all the way back to the Bible and before, across the diverse cultures of that region, eating together is sign of commitment, of a bond, of a deal. Once a deal is made, an agreement reached, instead of “Letʼs shake on it,” the custom is, “Letʼs eat to seal the deal.” Or at least drink on it – tea or whatever. Eating is more than an indication of a level of intimacy in a relationship, but it is a mark of commitment, solidarity, and trust.

” The writer of the editorial about the handshake photo pointed out that while these world leaders “shook” on their deal, symbolizing commitment to Americans who were eager to feel that they had successfully brokered a peace deal, these leaders who shook, would not eat. They would not eat together. And it pretty much went right past us. This is captured in an episode from the TV show West Wing in which Arabs and Israeliʼs and American negotiators all go to the Presidentʼs rural camp for peace discussions, and the groups are always eating separately. They will not eat together.

” In the Mideast cultural environment, who you eat with signifies who you are aligned with, who you are committed to, who you have a bond with. And who you donʼt or wonʼt eat with shows who you do not accept, embrace, or ally yourself with. This concept comes up again and again in Biblical stories. And because of our cultural setting, we may miss some of the significance. ” An examination of the story of the widow and Elijah shows that this is far more than a story of the miraculous multiplication of food. At the time of this story, Ahab, the king of Israel, has married Jezebel, a Sidonian who serves and worships the god Baal. When Ahab marries Jezebel, he, too observes the worship of Baal. He is supposed to be faithful to the Yahweh, the God of Israel. He is supposed to be worshipping and sacrificing to Yahweh, but King Ahab builds a Temple with an altar to the god Baal. In a verse just before the story of Elijah and the widow, we are told, “Ahab did more to provoke the anger of Yahweh, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.” [1 Kings 16: 33]

” So, King Ahab has betrayed the god of Israel and is worshipping the god of Jezebel and the Sidonians, the god Baal. In anger, the God of Israel sends a drought. It is extremely severe. But of course, God is determined to spare Elijah, a faithful prophet of Israel. So, Elijah is sent to the widow from a town in Sidon. This widow is Sidonian, like Jezebel. She is a worshiper of Baal. She is not ethnically or religiously part of the faithful people of Israel. She is not faithful to Yahweh, the God of Israel. At one point she says to Elijah, “as the Lord your God lives,” showing that her god is not the same as Elijahʼs god. She is devoted to Baal, the god of her people. But God sends Elijah to this widow. Not to a widow of Israel, of which there were many. As Jesus points out, God could have sent Elijah to a widow of Israel. To a widow who was faithful to Yahweh. But no. God sends Elijah to this Sidonian widow, faithful to Baal.

” By eating with this widow, a woman and a foreigner, Elijah, a holy prophet, would be making himself ritually unclean. There were strict rules about who you could eat with so that you would maintain your ritual purity and could worship and sacrifice to God. In his interaction with the widow, Elijah violates many of the rules of his religion. And he does this because he is instructed to by God, the God of Israel.

” Elijah should not be eating with this woman. He should not be helping her. She should not be helping him. Their people are enemies. And yet here is this story. God has brought them together. And in sustaining each other, we see their mutuality, their interdependence, and we see the common of bond of their humanity, as two hungry people in a time of drought.

” So God has these unlikely table mates eat together, flying in the face of religious tradition and social custom. When Jesus refers to this story, this is just what he points out. God is God of all. God provides for all, not just for one group or another. In Godʼs eyes, there is one human family, mutually interdependent, all benefitting from the provision of creation, whether they know it or not. ” Jesus demonstrates this same kind of commitment again and again in this ministry by who he eats with. He repeatedly eats with “tax collectors and sinners.” He is ridiculed for eating with Zacchaeus, a crooked tax collector, instead of choosing someone more reputable. Jesus is criticized for being a drunkard and a glutton. He tells subversive stories about all kinds of people eating together – at banquets and weddings. Again and again, Jesus affirms this theme of the story of Elijah and the widow. People who would not be eating together for religious reasons, eating together because God is the God of all, and all are beloved.

” In these stories we see the universality of God. We see the freedom of God. We see the need for food as a common bond among all people. We see the mutuality and interdependence of the human family. We see the dependence of all people upon the earth for food. We see the message that all people eat because of the generosity and benevolence of something “beyond “them. We are sustained by the fertility of the earth and the life force which we did not create. It is provided for us. Given. And all are recipients of the gift.

” We see the message of the story of Elijah and the widow affirmed in Psalm 23. There are countless images taken from the 23rd Psalm. Pictures of the deer beside the still waters. The image of Jesus as shepherd, carrying the sheep over his shoulders, or leading sheep with a staff in fields of green. Idyllic pastoral images. But how many times to you see an image of “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies”? Remembering the significance of eating together in the Middle East milieu, this is a radical, subversive image. Eating with enemies. An image of commitment, mutuality, and trust between enemies, antagonists.

” What image to you imagine? Maybe a setting like DaVinciʼs Last Supper with Jalal Talabani from Iraq, and Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad from Iran, and Kim Jong from North Korea, and Chung Unchan from South Korea, and Hamid Karzai from Afghanistan, and Barak Obama, and Hillary Clinton, and Angela Merkel from Germany, and Hu Jintao from China, and the Dalai Lama, and Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority all at table together. Letʼs not worry about who will be the betrayer. Or maybe the image you see is a diner with the chair of the local Democratic party, the local Republican party, the local Green party, and the local Tea party all eating together. Or maybe you see the families of the police officers who were killed in Tampa, and Dontae Morris who shot them, and some Tampa cops having coffee together at Starbucks.

” The point is, God does not want us to remain enemies. The peaceful images of idyllic nature and shepherding are possible only when there is reconciliation, trust, and commitment to the well-being of oneʼs enemies. The God of the Bible is a God of all, universally providing for all, and expecting reconciliation between people.

” While scripture tells us of God using eating as a common human bond, people have used eating as a way to separate ourselves – from one another, from the earth, and from Godʼs intentions. While we may not have the intense associations of who to eat and not eat with that we associate with Middle Eastern cultures, we have our own ways of separating through eating. Eating as a way to demarcate who is in and who is out. Who is accepted and who is not. Who is superior and who is inferior. Whatʼs acceptable and what isnʼt. It may seem like a remote thing of the past, associated with the lunch counters of the South before civil rights movement, but subtle or blatant it continues to go on. Here are some examples from my experience to help you remember your own stories:

” We had Jewish neighbors when I was a child, and their kids could never eat at our house because we did not keep kosher. We could eat over there, but they could not eat at our house. Where was the mutuality in that? I felt that they rejected our hospitality and that they thought there was something wrong with us because they wouldnʼt eat our food. To me it made eating something that divided us instead of bringing us together. ” When our oldest son was in middle school, he ate lunch with a neighborhood kid he had known since first grade. Zack seemed to be gay, though he had not come out yet. No one else would sit at the cafeteria table with Zack, and kids would walk by and taunt Sterling for sitting at the “gay table.” And this same kind of thing happens in different ways in school lunchrooms and employee dining rooms throughout our society.

” When we went to my grandmotherʼs hometown in Germany when I was a kid, I wanted to eat something familiar for a change. We were staying at my grandmotherʼs brotherʼs house, so we could cook and prepare food easily. I asked my grandmother to cook one of my favorite dishes, spaghetti. We went to the store and got the ingredients. She prepared a spaghetti dinner. But her brother, his wife, and their grown son, with whom we were staying, would not eat the spaghetti. They would not even try it. They ate noodles prepared other ways. They ate tomatoes. But they would not eat the spaghetti. And the reason was because it was Italian. And they didnʼt want to eat Italian food. I was 11. Half Italian. And I thought they were small-minded and stupid to not even try the spaghetti not because of the ingredients or taste, but because of the ethnic association. Absolutely inane. Now I know that I probably do things like that, too, but just donʼt see it as clearly in myself. But this kind of thing divides and separates people.

” I have a friend from Tampa who moved to Mexico but she will not eat any food from a vendor on the street. She would eat a hotdog from a stand here in the US, but not from a street vendor in Mexico. There is the assumption that those people are dirty and donʼt know about proper cleanliness and hygiene. I have eaten lots of food from street vendors in Mexico and boy is my friend missing out. But again, it is a subtle way of making judgment. ”

When we were in Kenya in 1995, we stopped to eat at a restaurant in a small remote village. We had our two kids and three nephews with us, all small children. We had to tip a guy to watch our car while we went into the restaurant. A menu was posted on a chalk board on the wall. They didnʼt have most of the dishes on the menu. So, we ordered pasta for all – thinking that was kid-friendly. We waited for our food. The food came. And there was a napkin dispenser on the table. But no utensils that we could see. We asked for forks. The server went over to a sink, in the dining room, picked some forks up from the bottom of the sink, waved them under the running water and brought them over to our table. Wet. We told the kids to wipe them with a napkin and eat up. I was pregnant with Malcolm and did not have the shots that the others had had before we left – no yellow fever shot, or meningococal, hepatitis, etc. So, I said a prayer, remembered the advice of my sister-in-law the epidemiologist who said that hot spicy foods kill bacteria, put a lot of hot sauce on my spaghetti and ate up. What could we do? We didnʼt want to alarm the kids and we didnʼt want to insult or offend the local people. As we were eating, we noticed that the other people in the restaurant were eating very graciously with their hands, not utensils. Hence the sink in the dining room – to wash your hands before you eat with them. But here again, eating could have been a source of division and separation and perhaps even hostility if we had refused the hospitality offered to us.

” Several years ago, our church provided hospitality for about 25 homeless people for about 3 months. The guests stayed in the Fellowship Hall. On Sunday mornings, they would clean up the hall, make sure the tables were clean. And the kitchen was available for whoever was hosting fellowship. Sometimes the guests hosted fellowship. Several weeks into it, it was pointed out to me that attendance at fellowship was dropping. Less people were staying. And as the weeks went on, fewer people were signing up to host. And then I was told flat out by a church member that many of the church people donʼt feel comfortable going over to the Fellowship Hall and dealing with the homeless people. They donʼt want to use the kitchen that the homeless are using all the time. The message was, The homeless people can stay here, but we really didnʼt want to eat with them. This was an interesting learning experience. Not only did we learn a lot about homelessness, but we learned a lot about ourselves. ” So, the story of Elijah and the widow invites us to consider who we are eating with. At work. At school. At home. In our residential community. In our extended families. At church. Are we using eating and who we eat with to separate us from others or to create bonds of mutuality, understanding, solidarity and trust? Does who we are eating with celebrate our common humanity? Are we eating with those who are different than we are, enemy even? Are we eating with those considered sinners and outcasts? Are we eating with those of other faiths? Where are we eating and with whom?

” We have to eat to live. Everyone does. Three times a day, more or less. And each time we eat, we have the opportunity to foster life, reconciliation, and peace with God, the earth, each other, and our enemies. Bon appetit!

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon.

For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Youth Work Camp

Malcolm Wells will be going on a work camp with the youth group from Pass A Grille UCC Friday July 16. The group is going to volunteer in Midland, Michigan. Thanks to all from Lakewood who helped to sponsor Malcolm on the mission trip.

Also, a quote from one of our youth “I think I would go crazy without the church.”

Opportunities to help

OPERATION ATTACK

Operation Attack is an ecumenical ministry located in Lakeview Presbyterian Church helping families with children. Donations needed are posted on the bulletin board. Please place donations in the shopping cart in the hallway.

RECYCLE HERE

Your print cartridges, cell phones, and all paper. Many thanks!

FAIR TRADE COFFEE

Fair trade coffee is available for purchase in the library. Purchasing this coffee helps to directly support the growers.