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May 28, 2017

“God, Our Nourishment”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Psalm 104.14-15

1 Corinthians 11.23-32

May 28, 2017

            As I pointed out last week during announcements, food is an important part of being Presbyterian. We like to gather with food and enjoy one another’s company. Food is also central to our faith, as we gather monthly for communion. God is our nourishment. Today we look at basic sustenance for living and see it as a way to understand God. This is the third week of a sermon series where we are examining new ways to view God. We began with God as our Nursing Mother, and last week was God as our Clothing. Today we look at food. This series was inspired by Lauren Winner’s book Wearing God, and in writing this I have had the wonderful assistance of the Sunday school class.

            Both of our passages today are about food, and we cannot talk about food without somehow participating. You probably have noticed the plates of food I have up here, so I’m going to ask you to stand up and come sit here at this table. Before you eat of it, I’m going to ask you a couple of questions. First, what if I told you only people with birthdays in January are allowed to eat this? Or only those wearing green? Perhaps if I said, “Only those who make $60,000 or more a year can eat” – what would you do? Would you stay and watch others eat? Would you leave? Would you eat anyway? I’m reminded of the episode of Seinfeld where this really popular restaurant served soup that people waited in line for hours to buy. The chef was very particular, though, and if someone upset him, that person would be banned from eating his soup. He was comically deemed “The Soup Nazi” and was popularly remembered as telling characters, “No soup for you!” So, we aren’t here to hoard the food, but enjoy! Go ahead and eat while I preach!  

I make light of this, but this idea of banning people from food or from the table is not unheard of. Consider our country before the Civil Rights movement. Black people were only allowed to eat in certain places, in certain conditions. They were shunned from eating in the same luxury as white people. A barrier is put up at the table in the passage we read today, too. The issue with the church in Corinth is that they are hoarding their potluck. Some people are bringing in these great casseroles and desserts and breads and keeping it for themselves. Perhaps they would tell other people, “nope, we’re not having a potluck today,” or they say, “Yes! We’re eating at 6pm!” when really they are eating at five. Or, some might be eating the delicacies in front of those going hungry. This is an issue of class, because it is the rich people who are bringing the food in and eating it, not sharing with the poor, who may not be able to contribute to the feast at all.

How is this story any different than when we tell people they cannot have communion? What are the standards for taking communion, and do you agree with them? Should there be certain standards? In the Presbyterian Church (USA) we affirm that someone must be baptized in order to receive communion. My joke is that I don’t check baptism cards at the table. Sometimes I don’t know if someone is baptized before they approach the table. At the last General Assembly in 2016, there was an amendment to our constitution suggesting that we should have what is referred to as an “Open Table.” This means that anyone would be able to have communion – baptized or not. One of the arguments for this concept is that we are not gatekeepers to God’s grace, and perhaps someone might experience God in a new way through communion that they could not in any other way – and it might even lead to their baptism or to their faith growing. One argument against it is that someone needs instruction about communion before taking it. This is why we have used baptism as a means of determining who should partake of the feast.

            If we just let anyone eat of the feast of God, why not let anyone serve it? Where do we draw the line? Does communion lose meaning if everyone takes it, even without instruction? Some have thought that if someone is baptized, somewhere along the line they have probably had some instruction on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Education is very important to Presbyterians. We love to create colleges and ask questions that challenge our knowledge of scripture, and we want to be informed about our practices rather than running through the motions. During our conversation about what guidelines were presented for taking communion, the Sunday school class discussed whether or not children were included in being able to participate in communion. Our polity states that a baptized child may take communion if that child is being instructed on the meaning of the eucharist. If we wait for someone to receive instruction, do we assume that someone understands the meaning behind it? Can a child fully understand communion? Do we? If we have to understand communion prior to taking it, does that mean someone who is developmentally disabled and struggles to understand the meaning can never take communion? Where is God’s grace in this?

            Now that I’ve thrown all these questions to you – a few more personal ones to consider. Why do you take communion? I want you to think of a time when communion was important to you – a time when you felt moved by the Spirit. I’ll share one of mine with you. My first year here, as you probably remember, a tornado came through the town on March 2. Parts of the town were devastated, and people were killed and injured. I was impacted by that tornado, because I had never been in a natural disaster like that before – to see how it had ripped up homes and tore down trees was scary. About a week later, I attended a presbytery meeting, where much of the conversation was around how to offer aid to churches through the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and to set up some long term care for people who had been affected by the tornado. As always at presbytery meetings, we celebrated communion. I had been asked to help serve, and I had the cup. It was interesting because we were using the communion set from one of the Henryville Presbyterian Churches, which had been damaged in the storm. I offered the cup to my friends and colleagues, still whirling from the sadness of the week, trying to figure out where God was in all of it, when a friend came forward and took her bread and dipped it in the cup. I told her, “the Cup of Salvation for you,” and she responded with, “I believe it!” That phrase struck a chord in me – it sang to me, and gave me life. Even in the darkest of times, she believed that this was the cup of salvation for her. After talking to her about it months later, she explained  that Martin Luther would say something to the effect of “I have been baptized, and I believe it” to give himself encouragement, and that was what she was doing that day – trying to encourage herself, and thus encouraging me.

            This moment of communion had such deep meaning for me. When we just take communion as a ritual and don’t prepare ourselves for it, we lose sight of how God is speaking to us through that sacrament. We could miss being literally and figuratively being fed by God. Paul talks to the church in Corinth about being careful with how they serve communion and how they have these meals – to be intentional about community and to discern how they are acting so that they won’t exclude anyone. Being in relationship is part of this sacrament, and how we celebrate together is important.[1] So, how do you prepare for communion? Some churches take time to prepare in the worship services. In the Reformed Church of America, one of the Dutch Reformed churches, congregations have a liturgy that reminds them the week before communion happens that they are called to reconcile with one another. They search their souls and ask for forgiveness and return humble before the table. It is a time to remember that we are part of a body, and when that body is dysfunctional, we will hurt one another. If you’re interested in some ways to prepare before communion, I encourage you to take a copy of Nikki’s final project from her internship, which includes preparation for communion.

            There is certainly a communal aspect about the Lord’s Supper. We gather together as a faith community and are united with Christians all over the world. This is a serious commitment to one another, promising we will care for one another. As we partake of the bread and the juice, we are reminded of that community, and how God has knit us together. So, if communion is about community, can a meal with a friend be communion? I would argue yes – in that you sit and listen to one another and are nourished by God through your interactions. What if you’re eating fast food? Could I break a cheeseburger and offer it to you as the body of Christ? When I was a student chaplain at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, I remember many churches would come to do Bible study with the inmates, or worship services. In order to bring anything into the facility they had to have a gate pass. Without the gate pass, nothing came in. One day, a church didn’t bring a gate pass for their bread and juice for communion. They scoured the chapel and found Dr. Pepper and oyster crackers, and used that for communion. Would that be acceptable? Our polity would say no, and I would have to agree. Think about why we eat food – to be nourished and energized. God’s meal is meant to nourish us and to give us sustenance. Is soda good for us? Will it give us the energy needed to sustain us and do ministry?

            We use bread and juice in communion because it is the most basic of foods. No matter what your socio-economic status, bread and juice are probably the most common of foods. This brings us back to our passage. Paul is looking at the tradition of the people. Jesus and the disciples ate bread and wine because it was part of the Seder meal eaten at what we now call The Last Supper. Jesus wasn’t drinking Dr. Pepper or eating cheeseburgers – and while we don’t have to eat the exact kind of bread he had, there should be some resemblance of bread.

            If we say God is our food, this is a statement that encompasses more than communion. God is the dessert that we enjoy, God feeds us and nourishes us but also wants us to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. Perhaps God is the morning latte that wakes you up. Maybe God is in the apple that helps you through the afternoon slump. God brings us together through this meal, and God created us to be in community, but also to be different. We will have different tastes, and we will experience God through different tastes. Sometimes God is the bitter herb, and sometimes God is the sweet wine.

            Robert Farrar Capon wrote a book called The Supper of the Lamb[2] and includes a chapter instructing the reader how to intentionally slice and dice an onion. If you’ve ever cut any vegetable in your life, or even just used a knife, you probably wonder why there is a chapter on cutting an onion. Capon talks about how to cut that onion for about an hour – noticing the onion, enjoying the onion, and experiencing the onion. If God is the onion, this reminds us to take time and be intentional about spending time with God, enjoying God, and experiencing God.

            God is all this and so much more. God offers to provide for God’s people in the psalm that we read. This is a celebration that God has provided for all creation – animals and humans alike. What does this mean for people who are food insecure? How can we say God provides when clearly people are going hungry? What was suggested in the Sunday school class was that God offers us what we need, but too often we knock everything out of balance and mess it up for everyone, including ourselves. God works through us, but sometimes we are in the way of God.

            We can be filled by God, and enjoy communion, and rejoice in communion. At the same time, we must remember that communion is a time of remembering Christ’s life and death and resurrection. As Erasamus, a priest during the time of the Renaissance, wrote: “My cup that makes me drunk, how delightful it is.” Lauren Winner, as a response to this quote, suggests that this is a “cup we approach with caution.”[3] Yes, we celebrate, but we also remember the great responsibility bestowed upon us. We cannot eat of this food and then go sit on the couch and watch television. We are filled to go out into the world and be in community with people. We cannot hoard God, we must share God. So, I encourage you to take this food with you – share it with your neighbors, share it with your friends. Invite a neighbor over for tea and bread. Enjoy! Be nourished by God. Amen.

 

[1] John Barclay, “I Corinthians” in The Oxford Bible Commentary. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 1127.

[2] Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath (Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2003), 22-23.

[3] Lauren F. Winner, Wearing God (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 129.