May 19, 2019

2019 May19

Easter 5 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

The Apostles are starting to catch on. The story in Acts illustrates how Peter and the Apostles are realizing that what Jesus told them in John 3:16 must be true:


“For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.”


They’re a bit slow. The Acts of the Apostles is a timeline of epiphanies for the Apostles as, act after act, they realize Jesus’ mission, which is now theirs. Peter’s evangelism to the Gentiles opened up a huge new mission field, and brought down the barriers of segregation and elitism.


But this epiphany had another dimension, a deeper dimension. Peter didn’t just meet, greet and baptize the Gentiles from Caesarea;


he ate with them.


Sharing food is very powerful. At its simplest, it is an opportunity to pause with others and share in what all parties must do daily. At its most profound, meals can forge friendships, seal business deals, host marriage proposals, celebrate all sorts of occasions, and even heal wounds.


It is through the setting of a meal that the Gentiles from Caesarea come to know Jesus Christ. Of course, every one of us here is from a Gentile lineage.


Sharing food is very powerful. All over the world, we use meals as tools in forming relationships. As Christians, we share food for 3 specific reasons:

 

  • We use meals to draw people in and to help form community.
  • We use meals to celebrate God’s abundance.
  • We use meals to remind us of Divinity and to foster faith

.
Peter’s meal with the Gentiles accomplished all of that.


Peter would have been a part of the origins of our Eucharistic celebrations. Of course he was at the Last Supper, but he would have been part of the “Do this in remembrance of me” movement. Christians from the early days gathered around a meal. The regular meal was part of their worship, during which they would engage in the Sacramental elements that we now know as The Eucharist, Holy Communion or The Lord’s Supper. The Gentiles were drawn into that practice by the power of God and through the witness of Peter.


The Early Church did not look like the institutionalized Church we know today. The Early Christians were meeting in one another’s homes, typically, the home of the person with the largest dwelling. Christians, Christian Jews and people like the Gentiles from Caesarea would gather in the largest room to share the stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry, read some of the writings that we now refer to as the New Testament, and pray with and for one another. They would share a meal together, during which one of their number would recount Jesus’ Words of Institution at the Last Supper:


“This is my Body / This is my Blood:
Whenever you eat or drink it, do so in remembrance of me.”


The Eucharist, then, was originally much more family-like and involved food on the scale of a meal.


Nowadays, the Eucharist, our holiest practice, our engagement with the Risen Lord, has been streamlined into somewhere between 55-75min and culminating in a manufactured wafer and a tiny sip of industrially-produced wine. The time variant in the service is down to the number of hymns and the length of the sermon. I do lament that, for our Sacred Meal, we are invited forward… for a piece of “bread” that is 1cm in diameter and 1mm thick, and a sip of wine that, frankly, lacks the full inspiration we seek to feel the presence of Christ. I do hope that the actual Heavenly Banquet, if I make it to that table, will be much more filling and FULfilling.


We sometimes forget the full power of sharing meals together. Take, for example, the silent retreats which many of us have attended. Silence at meals at a silent retreat that is made up of a random collection of retreatants is fine. But meals in silence with people who know one another is contradictory to the intimacy which sharing meals embodies.


At the retreat before my ordination as Deacon, 12 ordinands and a few other Diocesan staff were in a remote monastery in North Wales. All of us knew one another to some extent; there wasn’t a person present who wasn’t known to at least one other person. We all found the silent retreat just what we needed after leaving seminary, moving into new houses, and preparing for this holy moment in our lives. However, we all found the meals challenging. Those who found the silence at the meals uncomfortable would end up giggling. Just the slightest glance from another ordinand would set them off. Those who found the silence more of a distraction than a spiritual conduit would eat their food, place their knife and fork in the 7 o’clock position on their plate, and leave the table and the dining room.


For the retreat before our ordination to the priesthood a year later, some of us requested that the retreat be silent, but meals not be. We were colleagues who have just experienced a year like none others in our lives, and we needed the opportunity to share with one another. Sadly, our appeal was denied.


To eat with someone
is quite intimate.


Through sharing food, Christians are called to share themselves, like Christ shared Himself with us. And in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are called to break bread and we are called to share ourselves with everyone we meet, as Peter did with the Gentiles.


Even in the non-Christian world, sharing food is powerful. During the Oslo Accords in the early 90s, food played an important role. In April 1993, meetings between Israelis and Palestinians were held in Norway. The sessions moved from place to place: country estates, historic buildings, a labor union hall, hotels in downtown Oslo. In each location, participants say, the key was a relaxed atmosphere, Israelis and Palestinians living together in the same house, sharing all meals together. At one location, the Foreign Minister's wife, served home-cooked meals. Of course, dietary rules proved challenging. One participant was quoted in an old NYTimes article, “We ate a lot of lamb.” At these meals, jokes passed back and forth & they shared something of themselves, not just food.


Of course, jokes and shared meals didn’t lessen the fundamental difficulties involved in negotiating the agreement. But according to the NYTimes article from September 1993, there was no question among the participants that the shared meals greased the wheels of diplomacy that led to the historic handshake between Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with President Clinton at the White House on September 13, 1993. We know that the Oslo Accords ultimately failed, but no one can argue that they were not a tremendous exercise in global peace for their time.


The example of the Oslo Accords also points to another key element of the story from Acts: the circumcised and uncircumcised came together, Jews and Gentiles shared table fellowship. Peter’s engagement with those who were fundamentally not like him is an example of how we are to live the Good News today.


This was not the first time that the Gentiles experienced the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself was challenged by the Canaanite woman whose daughter was tormented by a demon. And the most obvious illustration that the Love of God and salvation through Jesus Christ is not only open to Jews, but to Gentiles and to all people was the visit of the Wise Men at Jesus’ Birth.


God wants us to engage with all of God’s people. To invite, welcome and embrace those who are different takes Relational Courage. Our own Mission Statement calls us to reach out to those who are different than us:

 

  • In our Welcoming: to invite all to join us at every stage in their spiritual journeys.
  • In our Worshiping: to cultivate a living tradition of liturgy and a life made holy by the sacraments.
  • In our Working: to share our abundance, strive for justice, and accept our calling to protect God’s creation.


This is what we say that God is
calling us to do.
Who are we to hinder God?

 

Here is how confident I am in the spiritual power of sharing meals with others:


This summer, I will personally prepare and serve a meal for 20 people in Ramsden Hall. 10 parishioners of St Stephen’s need to each invite one person whom they believe would benefit from and enjoy being a part of the St Stephen’s Family. We will gather for food and share our stories of encountering God and being the St Stephen’s Family. There will not be an Altar Call or coercion to be Baptized or even to join St Stephen’s. It will simply be a shared meal during which we share our experiences of the Love of God – maybe Evening Prayer before the meal. So, 10 of you come to me by the end of June with a commitment to bring a friend, a family member, a colleague or anyone you know to a shared meal. We will set a date for late July or August, and share table fellowship together. If you want to participate but are certain you cannot invite someone, you can help prepare and serve the meal. It’s simple. But it requires an effort on your part, and some Relational Courage between you and that other person.


Relational Courage starts with the unease you feel when you are about to bring up that subject you think will be greeted with unpopularity – Church, God or Jesus. Relational Courage ends with discovering that the discomfort and unease that you felt were completely unwarranted in the first place. Peter was told 3 times to approach the Gentiles and to eat with them. He was uncomfortable and incredulous of the entire situation. Yet, at the end of the experience, Peter proclaims,


“If then God gave them the same gift that He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”


Who are we to hinder God? We need to start to catch on just as the Apostles did. We’re a bit slow. Our reading of The Acts of the Apostles is our epiphany to realize that Jesus’ mission is now ours.

 

Sharing food together is very powerful and intimate. As Christians, food features prominent in our teachings, and sharing food is what God is calling us to do. The Eucharistic meal is central to our faith practice. We have a Gospel Imperative to share food. Therefore,

 

  • We have a moral imperative to not waste food.
  • We have a Gospel mandate to share food and do it to give of self.
  • We can use food to work toward peace & reconciliation.
  • We should be humbled through our sharing of food.


These tenets were all a part of the experience of Peter and the Gentiles from Caesarea.


One final thought. To see this story as Peter’s evangelism to the Gentiles is to establish Peter and the Apostles as the dominant force. Allow me to be bold enough to assert that this is a story of the Gentiles from Caesarea evangelizing Peter, and by extension, the other Apostles. Peter didn’t seek out the Gentiles; they were sent to him. Yes, the 3 Gentiles were to hear the Good News and be baptized, but it was Peter and the Apostles to whom the Gentiles were sent, and they discovered that the power of God extended beyond their Jewish circles.


When we invite others into table fellowship and share our stories, it will be from their stories that we may be drawn into a deeper understanding of the Love of God. If we endeavor to remain humble, evangelism is never one-way. So, let us step up to that Relational Courage and bring others into table fellowship as Peter did with the Gentiles from Caesarea. If we do so with the commandment to love one another as Christ loved us, maybe, just maybe, we will see that the home of God is among mortals.

 

 

Photo: “Tastes of Faiths” - the March event for the 150th Anniversary of St Stephen’s. Five faith communities came together to share food and their histories in San Luis Obispo. Imam Enrique Rasheed at the podium. March 19, 2017.

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