Isaiah 58: 6-12
Faith and Food
Let’s take a deep breath and open our hearts, mind, soul and spirit to receive the message that God has for us this morning. Let’s focus our thoughts on the mystic presence of the Holy One. Let us pray: Lord God, Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, please let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Strength, our Rock and our Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, amen.
This week’s earthquakes in Turkey and Syria reminds us that because we are all a part of the “body of Christ,” we share an interest in the issue of global food shortages, and other issues that involve disasters around the world. And as Christians, what does God call us to do to help? If nothing else, we are required to express our faith through good works. While disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes tend to level the playing field, the plight of the suffering and starving poor continues to grow worse. And, when issues such as feeding the hungry become elements of governmental policy, there will always be winners and losers. Unfortunately, the poor and underprivileged are always the losers and the victims of misguided policies involving food distribution. Therefore, it is important for we here at First Christian Church to further try to understand the world within which we seek to do those very needful good works.
As Disciples of Christ, we know that our motives matter. Colossians 3:23 reminds us that, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for people.” We are here in part because of God’s calling to us to feed and clothe the poor. The Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others were each given a vision of impending destruction and were commanded by God to either warn the Israelites of the coming doom or prepare a solution for it. And in every instance, each of the prophets asked, “Why me?” And in each case the answer was because God had asked it of them, and they responded positively out of their love and sense of duty to God. Imagine the survivors of this weeks’ earthquake asking, “Why me?” Why did I survive while the rest of my family didn’t? We hear Jesus speaking the words that, “we are always and forever in memory of the promise, “Come…take your inheritance…for I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me.” We could also add; “I survived an earthquake, and you came to help me.”
The Bible offers many illustrations of the ways that faith and food are joined together. For we Disciples of Christ, our weekly communion is probably the greatest example. Thus, food is not just a necessity for life; it is a gift of life; an offering and a blessing of both our physical and spiritual selves. In the activity of offering food to the hungry, the motivation of our faith may be especially important when those in need are living in dire or threatening circumstances or when they are in competition with each other for scarce resources. Hunger creates deep needs within people that can cause a society to degenerate into anarchy. Syria and Turkey are examples of this fact, yet, we don’t have to look too far here in McAllen to see the same forces generated by a lack of food at work in migrant and homeless populations. In the richest country in the world, although people are still hungry, they still want the great opportunities that are available here.
It might be helpful for us to note that faith and food are the same things happening in different dimensions. Both are about sowing and planting, birthing and new life, growing and nurturing to maturity. The dimension of food is physical and worldly, while the dimension of faith is spiritual and mystical, yet both are about life and living. So, can one exist without the other? Is our existence inter-twined with the spiritual and the physical? As a pastor, I would argue that indeed they are, and our lives are made up of, at the very least, body, mind, soul and spirit. Faith should be available at every level of our existence, consciously and sub-consciously; and the food that feeds us is still food, no matter what form it takes, whether it’s earthly food or spiritual food. So, faith and food do indeed co-exist, and are intertwined, along with love and hope, grace and mercy. The earth seems to be getting smaller in so many ways, yet we continue forward in the faith and hope that the destruction of our world can be reversed, renewed, or changed. Part of the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah was and is God’s assurance that He would hold back judgment even if there were only a few people of faith left. So as
long as there are still people of faith left in this world, there is still hope; still hope for the hungry and the oppressed, still hope for the survivors of all kinds of natural disasters.
If we work at it, the waste that is destroying our global eco-system will be able to be removed and our atmosphere, soils and oceans renewed. These things will be possible because there are still people of faith who answer the call that God gave to Isaiah: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” If we count ourselves with those people of faith who answer God’s call, then we must remain resilient, steadfast and determined in our commitment to change the world for the better. Our children will face an even harder existence in the future, which is why it is absolutely crucial for we adults to pass on to our children the faith, hope and love that God has given to us. Otherwise, God again speaks to us through Isaiah, saying that, “if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”
Jesus Christ came to this earth and became a man in order to guide us out of the dead-end streets we create for ourselves and into the spiritual bliss and joy that God offers to us through the love that God has for us. Through our faith in the risen Christ, we can overcome the limitations that we have as mere mortals. This faith opens the door to Jesus coming to us and saving us. Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.” Through our faith, Jesus offers to us food at every level of our existence: body, soul, mind and spirit. Great lessons of faith come to us because we have received God’s gift of life on a physical plane and have had the spiritual faith to use those gifts to nurture and help others.
God’s gift to us is the opportunity to receive God’s Word, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh in the physical realm, and then act on the gifts God has given us. It’s the opportunity to respond to God’s calling, as Isaiah did, by our saying to God in Jesus Christ, “Here I am. Take me.” Giving food to those in need is not just an act of mercy. It is an offering of the hope of salvation itself. For our spiritual selves to continue to exist, the physical existence of we humans must also be cultivated. The spiritual “we” moves in parallel with the physical “we”, so that the physical “us” is nurtured and fed real food that is soul saving. This amounts to true God-centered enlightenment. The ability to produce and distribute food is one of the highest callings for we humans, because it gives us the opportunity to know God. Is this what faith and food have to do with one another; open the door for us to meet God? And does the nature of our physical existence have a direct connection to our spiritual existence, supported and sustained by our faith? In the Book of James we read, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
It’s clear, then, that we have been put here to physically and spiritually advance our lives, and help those around us that are in need, to advance theirs, as well.
Life is a gift that requires us to give back in order for it to have true meaning. It is not life to rampage, pillage, attack, kill and destroy both the people around us and our earthly environment. God means for each of us to “have life and have it more abundantly.” This is God’s message to us through Jesus Christ; to love God, our neighbors and ourselves in such a way as to make the world a better place for all to live. It seems almost absurd that the gift of life may sometimes come at the risk of death. Like Christ, we must sometimes face down the threats and ugliness of a world bent on self-destruction in order to offer even the most essential or basic elements of life to another person. There is no greater love than to risk one’s own life so another might live. But receiving life and giving it back is really mutual and we are promised that “he who is willing to give up his life for my sake will save it.
Pastor and author Erwin McManus speaks to us about our being set apart for God’s purposes, of being sanctified, when he writes: “The whole theological concept of sanctification is rooted in the reality that God changes people. Repentance is change, conversion is change, regeneration is change, transformation is change, and sanctification is change. All of the deeply theological constructs that we have embraced and understand to be true cannot exist outside of a theology of change.” In the end, “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Having the faith to reach out to those in need in our secular world can be difficult and even dangerous. But there is no greater faith-calling for anyone than to risk everything for the sake of another. To risk not only our lives, but our financial resources as well, is the faith-calling God has given us. Our faith-calling is to reach out and touch the lives of all who are in need. We might feel burdened or even discouraged by reaching out to those in need, but what choice do we have? For those of us who have received much, much is required. And, compared to most people in this world, we have all received quite a lot! A cup of water to the thirsty, food for the hungry and clothes for the needy and naked, which is given by us with God’s blessing and with an invitation to God’s salvation! It is God’s blessing for our neighbors, given through each one of us. It is God’s mission for us, and God’s calling to each of us. So let us respond generously. Let us pray
Jan Ekstedt MDiv.