Reflection: It’s Not About the Food

May 5, 2019

Easter 3 Acts 10:1-17, 34-35

What’s the weirdest thing you ever ate? Anyone? For me it was crickets – a common source of protein in the region of Huatulco in Mexico. I hadn’t actually intended to eat them. The only option for salad on the menu at the restaurant was a salad with crickets, so I asked to have it served without the little critters. Clearly, the waiter didn’t understand or the kitchen didn’t get the message, so along came the salad, with what looked like shredded pork scattered on top of the greens. So, crickets. I decided to be brave and eat them anyway, which I did. They tasted like nothing much, but were a little dry in the mouth. Not an experience I would like to repeat.

Crickets might seem odd to us, but we North Americans have some pretty strange tastes too: all those processed foods containing petroleum by-products, artificial flavours and preservatives! Peanut butter and Cheese Whiz look distinctly odd to people who’ve only ever eaten fresh food in their lives. But we don’t have any restrictions on what we eat – it’s to each their own. Animal, vegetable or mineral – if you want to eat it, you can, unless it is a protected species or an animal so cute that eating it would get PETA after you!

The community of Jesus’ followers were Jews in the beginning. They followed Jewish food laws about what was clean and unclean, what should and shouldn’t be eaten. So imagine how Peter must have felt when he had that strange dream! A near equivalent for us would be if God sent us a vision of a potluck supper where every time we lifted a lid, we saw a different kind of bug or reptile or perhaps even something that is still alive that we’re supposed to eat! That’s the kind of revulsion and disgust Peter would have felt when faced with that net full f food in his dream.

But of course, the dream isn’t really about the food. I suspect that the Jewish food laws weren’t so much about the food either, but about helping the Jewish people, a small and isolated group, keep themselves distinct from their neighbours. Sure a few of the laws make sense – like not eating pork or seafood in a climate where both would rapidly go bad and cause severe illness – but some of them seem to be more about saying “don’t do what the neighbours do”. “Don’t do what the people who don’t worship your God do.” “Don’t get sucked in by food that could lead to you getting involved with other practices that aren’t good for your soul.” “Don’t be like them!” And the message of Peter’s dream is – the rules just changed, folks! It’s time to mix it up!

No more keeping yourself apart from other people for fear of being led astray. No more holding yourself as better than them and avoiding the “contamination” of their presence. No more! Even if the idea makes you afraid – even if it makes you sick to your stomach – there’s no more us and them. God loves everyone, and God wants you to go to those people who really want to learn about God, who really need to hear about God’s love, and do what you need to do to help them meet Jesus. That’s your mission. Now – go do it! That’s God’s message for Peter, and it’s also God’s message for us.

As we become increasingly polarized in our society, right and left, religious and non-religious, conservative and liberal, white and black and brown, wealthy middle-class and poor, socialist and capitalist, pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian, LGBTQ2+ people and allies and those who are suspicious or hateful or afraid, all those divisions we experience – well, we draw harder and harder lines between us and others. Sometimes we feel we have to, to protect ourselves or to protect others. But Jesus challenges us to try again to bridge the divides between us. When that vision comes to Peter, he’s being given a recipe for a new community, that has room for everyone who wants to be a part of it.

I came across a little reflection this week called “A Recipe for God’s Community”. It goes like this

Recipe For God’s Community

Take a few Palestinians and a handful of Israelis.
Add some Serbs and Croats.
Mix in some North and South Koreans and
add a few Russian or Chinese.
Sprinkle in some tribal African groups and
top up with some old frenemies
like the Germans and the Brits.
Next, add some Turks and Greeks,
infused with some Americans,
and add a smattering of the Gulf States’ oil.

Fold all the ingredients in together
and gently stir until it begins to form a cohesive whole.
Knead it, roll it, and flatten it,
and repeat several times.

Set aside for a few thousand years.

Then add some of God’s love,
a spoonful of his mercy,
a half cup of grace,
a bucketful of forgiveness,
a mixture of the fruits of the Spirit
and a mustard seed of faith.
Mix it all together
and set it aside and let it cultivate
until the world becomes the place God wants it to be.

Where the walls of hostility are no more,
the thirst for revenge has been quenched,
and we can all sit at God’s table
where we can eat, drink and be merry
with the Spirit of God
in all hearts, and minds and souls.

For there is nothing in this world
that is good or bad,
clean or unclean,
that God has not touched
and transformed,
that should set us apart
from our brothers and sisters
wherever they are,
whoever they are.

God can do new things,
great things,
unexpected things,
to challenge our outlook
our prejudices and
our cultural norms.
So taste and see
that the Lord is good.

As we come today to participate in Holy Communion, we celebrate a feast that is open to all – whether you are new to the church or have been coming for years, whether you are straight or gay or bi or trans or cis-gendered or nonbinary, whether you have lots of melanin in your skin or not much at all, whether you have two high functioning arms and legs and eyes and ears or whether you have some differences in those areas, whether you are a year old or 101 years old – you are welcome. The celebration of communion in the United Church of Canada is a taster, a little sample of that recipe for community God is mixing up in the world.

If you don’t think God’s Spirit is in the mix, just think about it. 100 years ago, a person could get lynched for walking down the street with a person of another skin colour. 50 years ago, a marriage between a Catholic and Protestant was considered a mixed marriage and the couple often faced ostracism or worse. 30 years ago there was a handful of churches in Canada that welcomed LGBTQ people fully into all aspects of the church’s life – now look where we are in the United Church of Canada, the United Church of Christ, the Society of Friends, the Anglican Church in Canada, the Metropolitan Community Church, and others. Heavens, the last two Moderators of the UCC were a married gay man and a married lesbian woman – and one of the candidates for the US Presidency who’s getting a lot of media attention is a gay Christian mayor from the American Midwest! Who would have thought that possible even a few years ago? As much as we human beings might push back against the folding in and unfolding God is doing in shaping humanity, God will keep challenging our outlook, our prejudices and our cultural norms to show us that God is good, what God has created is good, and who God is created is good – and there is no-one who is unworthy of God’s grace, God’s embrace, God’s love. No-one.

So, like Peter, like the early church, we need to face up to the folks we’ve judged, avoided, or marginalized, and meet them where they’re at. Perhaps, like Peter, we will find, “that God shows no partiality, and that anyone who honours God and does what is right is acceptable in God’s sight.” I hope we will see it, you and I. Amen.

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