When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” Because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
My first Sunday at Cokesbury felt like a whirlwind. I remember being extremely nervous and trying desperately hard to remember every name that I heard. I remember praying out in the narthex that God would make something of my nothing. I remember worrying about whether or not all of you would laugh when I made a joke about being closer in age to the youth than to almost everyone else.
But I also remember feeling like I blinked and the worship service was over and all of the sudden I was upstairs sitting at a table with my wife and son, wondering what had just happened. People were milling about, waiting to eat their food, when someone motioned for me to stand up and pray, so I did.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was probably something like, “Lord, bless the food we are about to receive that it might nourish our bodies for your service. We are grateful for the land that it came from and the lives that were sacrificed for it. Please help us be mindful of those who do not have food like this, and friends like these. Amen.”
And like the words implies, with the “amen” everyone promptly dug into all of their food.
But, anyway, after eating there was some time for questions and answers. I don’t remember any of them. Though I do remember that after all was said and done, somebody came up to me and asked, “Are you going to pray like that before every meal?”
I wasn’t sure how to respond, but I asked if I misspoke during the prayer, after all it was a rather overwhelming day. And they said, “I don’t like thinking about things dying just so I can eat.”
When we eat, we are doing something remarkably profound. It is always more than satiating the hunger in our bellies, it is always more than moving our mandibles to chew, it is always more than a perfunctory necessity. For us to eat – others have to die.
But many of us, including that person my first Sunday, don’t like confronting the profound reality of our eating and our food. We’ve grown content with the ultra-commodification of our eating whereby we can get anything we want, whenever we want it.
And we don’t have to think twice about where it came from, or what it took to get to us.
Food is important! No only because without it we die, but because our food, and how we eat it, says so much about who we are, what we believe, and what we value.
Just about every religious system in the world have some sort of rituals, or rules, or expectations about food. In Buddhism vegetarian diets are desired, in Hinduism beef is prohibited, in Islam and Judaism the consumption of pork is not allowed, and in Christianity, we believe Jesus is the bread of life.
Food is important!
And yet here, in America, our connection with and to our food is one that has altogether lost its sacredness.
20% of all American meals are eaten in car. That means the average American eats at least one meal in the car every other day. And the overwhelming majority of those meals are consumed alone.
1 out of every 5 children will go hungry, multiple days without eating, at least once a year. And among Black and Latino children the rate is 1 in 3.
And somehow (!) we throw away more than 40% of our food every year – a waste of $165 billion annually.
We have such little respect for the food we eat, and don’t eat apparently, that we rarely even think about it. And those who hold the power and economic dominance in food production have convinced us that we should prefer food that is already prepared. Countless companies will grow, deliver, and cook food for us (just like out mothers) and convince us to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, pre-chewed, into our mouths is only because they have found no profitable way to do so.
Food, though theologically and biologically important, has become just another chore on our never-ending to-do lists and with every passing year our kitchens more and more resemble filling stations, just as our homes more and more resemble motels.
Eating food is one of the most primal and basic and simple ways we learn to delight in each other, and in the goodness of God’s creation.
Eating with other people is without a doubt one of the most important and practical ways by which we overcome the barriers of ignorance that separate us from one another.
We are what we eat.
Or, perhaps a better way to put it would be: we are consumed by what we consume.
It was on the other side of Easter when the disciples were out fishing one night, and when they returned to the shore in the dim morning light, they saw a man standing by a charcoal fire. They know, or maybe they don’t know, that its the resurrected Jesus, and he has decided to make them breakfast on the flames – bread and fish.
We know that they ate, but we know nothing of what they talked about during the breakfast chatter – but when the food was finally consumed, Jesus asked Peter three times about his love.
Three times in order to redeem the three denials of Jesus prior to his crucifixion.
And as Peter’s frustration grows with the persistent line of investigation, Jesus’ resolve remains steadfast – Feed. My. Sheep.
The food by the shore is simple, it is local, it is fresh. And it is after consuming the food that Peter is in the place to be redeemed – to be turned back to the Lord from his wanderings. It is in the call to feed the sheep, to feed the disciples, perhaps both literally and figuratively, that Peter returns to the fold of discipleship.
This story, this little vignette by the charcoal fire, is a prelude to what we do at this table, God’s table, when we commune with one another and the Lord. As we break bread we are being warmed by the fire lit by Jesus, we are filled with the bread of life to do the work of God in the world, and we are made right in our willingness to answer Jesus’ question.
Jesus knew that one of the quickest ways to our hearts is through our bellies. And there is a vulnerability, strangely enough, that comes with food and with gathering around a table together. Taking the time to make a meal, whether simple or complex, shows a deep love for whomever we are cooking.
I imagine that many of us can remember profound moments from our lives, little windows of profound change and discovery, that came around a table with food.
And yet, we are eating around the table with others less and less. We see our eating and our food as another notch on the check-list instead of the life-giving and transformative moment by the seashore.
Because this table, in this sanctuary, is not the only table where we break bread and discover the presence of the Lord. This table extends far beyond the confines of our church and is available and manifest whenever we gather to eat.
As I noted at the beginning of the sermon, and every sermon this month, we have been taking time to encounter the simple qualities of complex realities, but we have also been leaving each Sunday with a challenge.
This week we are encouraging everyone to invite someone over to eat.
The meal can be as simple as cold cut sandwiches or as complicated as a five-course meal, it doesn’t really matter (though the more intentional you are with the food the more your guest will feel the love). But we are asking everyone to consider a person, family, neighbor, co-worker, whatever and invite them over for a meal.
That might sound overly simple but that’s kind of the point. We want everyone to consider how their tables are an echo of this table right here and how gathering at home for food with others is a foretaste of the new heaven and the new earth.
And so you can leave it right there, invite someone over for a meal, or you can take it a step further by going through all of the food you currently have – in the fridge, in the freezer, in the pantry – remove anything that is expired, and donate everything you know you won’t actually eat. And then map out all of your meals for the following week. Instead of resigning yourself to picking up a prepared meal, imagine taking the time and energy to make a least one meal a day.
And finally, if you want all the extra credit you can muster, having already invited someone to your table and then reimagining all the food you have, invite someone to eat at God’s table. It can be the person, or family you invited to you house, or someone completely different. But if we believe that what we do at this table is absolutely transformative and all powerful, then find one person to invite next Sunday when we will gather at this table yet again.
Because here, around the bread and the cup, we are truly consumed by what we consume. As we feast we are not individuals daydreaming about our own salvation, in communion we are absorbed into something much larger than our individual identities.
This is something we do, together.
As Christians, strangely enough, we believe that through eating we become the body of Christ and that entails a willingness to be food for others.
Just as we are fed, so too we feed those around us.
This table, any table, is an opportunity to meet the risen Lord by the fire beckoning us to another meal in which we become what we eat. Amen.