What's For Dinner? Jesus and Food


March 23, 2014

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 95 John 6:1-15

What’s for Dinner? What were dinners like in the house in which you grew up?

For some of us older folk we may recall dinner as the time when Dad finally got home from work, Mom had cooked a meal and we all sat down and ate. When was the last time you did that?

Others may recall our siblings coming in from school and our parents coming in from the farm work. Mother of course quit her chores early to make supper. Now dinner or supper in those days was not an easy task. Potatoes had to be peeled, corn shucked, breads or rolls prepared. Anyone remember those times?

Thank goodness for modern conveniences, prepared foods, Clarence Birdseye and the supermarket bakery.


We all rejoice in more simplified fare. However, if you ask that simple question: “What’s for Dinner?” today, your expectations may be entirely different, wouldn’t they? I mean, the answer might be: Whatever is in the freezer or left over in the ‘fridge! What’s for Dinner? The question today might also be phrased: “Where for dinner?”  “Where should we eat tonight?”

Again these are nice alternatives aren’t they? But in these choices, I wonder if we may be missing something?


Some say that “fast food” has changed our lives and not so much for the better. It is not only a question of a proper diet and healthy alternatives but it is also a sense of connection and relationship to the food we eat. While we may rejoice in the convenience of modern meal preparation and eating habits - we hardly have time to think about what it is that is going into our stomach or our heart or our brain.

This is why many health conscious writers question the very hectic pace of our dining lives and our somewhat mindless consumption of foodstuffs. We eat on the run, grabbing, thawing, microwaving, popping cans and un-wrapping sandwiches. Convenience is nice but what is the cost? Those of us who are old enough may recognize that the convenience, speed and availability of what we eat today - bears little resemblance to their origins in basic foodstuffs.     Eric Schlosser Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the American Meal.


For example: in the past few years our Community Garden group has donated its some of its produce to the food pantry, yet many items remain untouched or un-used because no one knows what to do with a potato or a beautiful squash!

Our obsession with the quick and easy, has caused us to make some rather unfortunate choices in nutrition and nourishment and those choices are being seen in the public health of many among us.    Now of course people do make choices both good and bad but any intentional survey of the so called “breakfast cereal” aisle or the shelves at an Aldi market will show you that the nature of those choices is rather slim.  

Unlike our grandparent’s generation, or my own, we need to become more intentional about the choices we make. In a world where everything is geared to profit making above all else, we need to be wise as serpents about what we buy and consume.  Carlo Petrini Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should be Good Clean and Fair   +

This was not a problem in the time of Jesus!

Our Gospel lesson for this morning was a story about food, scarcity and sharing. In Jesus’ day food was almost always a problem, there was never enough about. You could not go traveling and depend upon your friends having enough food at your destination and there were certainly no fast food chains or even grocery stores. Food in the Bible is often about scarcity. So if you had some bread and maybe a fish and you went on a journey you’d take some with you!


In our story, Jesus knew that the crowds were following him so as he sat down to rest, he asked his disciples to find some food and feed the crowds!

Phillip offered the obvious answer: “It can’t be done.” Andrew and the others did the best they could but who was going to give up their share of sustenance?  Well fortunately there was this one little boy who had more than enough for himself and was willing to share what he had!


Jesus took what the boy offered and the crowd - by the miracle of sharing or multiplication - had more than enough to eat that day!

As I mentioned, they didn’t have fast food in those days they only had slow food but oh the taste of the food they had that day! While all four Gospels tell us this story, only John gives us the added highlight of the young boy who shares his lunch! How sweet it must have been on that grassy slope on a sunny day to sit down and rest and enjoy some nosh with friends. How each morsel must have tasted, each tiny bite of fish enjoyed to the full!


In many ways that is what the “Slow Food Movement” is meant to bring about in our time. Slow food, in contrast to fast food, is prepared ever so carefully by hand and while there are many jokes about minute proportions at extravagant prices, there is a reason for the small servings.

There is a genuine sense among us that we have lost the ability to taste, to savor, to enjoy food and to think of it as nourishment. The slow food movement, in spite of its obvious pretension, is meant to return our palate to a genuine appreciation of food.


So, what’s for Dinner? What were dinners like in the house in which you grew up? Were you offered the opportunity to taste and to savor something special, something prepared just for you. Perhaps you were there and you actually saw potatoes being peeled and cut, onions sliced, meat seasoned before it all entered a pan from which rich aromas rose as it cooked!

We’re missing a lot of that now and unlike the hungry who followed Jesus around the desert, we miss out on the richness of a meal prepared among friends.


Last Summer in Tully on a Tuesday afternoon the four corners were filled with the sights and sounds and smells of real food! Food you could touch and taste and at times smell cooking. I believe that there are genuine benefits to taking your children to a Farmers Market. They see food for what it is, it is not sanitized, cleanly packaged with brightly colored pictures.

They say in fact, that you can smell food and the people who grow it! There’s nothing wrong with that! At the market, you interact not with a freezer chest or advertisers but with real people! I think we also find that, at the market, we are building a sense of community among commodities - rather than the isolation and disconnection we sometimes experience in purchasing that which is supposed to nourish us body and soul.


I think it tragic that we have raised generations of people who feel distant and separated from that which gives them strength and nourishment for life. Some writers speculate that we have become mindless, undifferentiating, automatons, unquestioning and unaware of the effects our food choices have on ourselves or on the lives of others.  It has not always been so.

Some of us in this congregation may remember taking Lucy Winslow shopping! Lucy, you may not know, was an early graduate of the Cornell school of Nutrition. As such she was very aware of the changes and perils of our current consumptive nutrition delivery system. Taking Lucy shopping was a bit of a challenge. She would go up and down the aisles reading every label and refuse to purchase anything with ingredients she could not pronounce. This was long before food critic Michael Pollan’s similar admonitions!


You see, I think that there is a spiritual dimension to eating that we neglect at our peril.             

Unlike Jesus and the disciples we do not often pause to give thanks for the simple things of life that bless us. I believe Jesus not only gave thanks for a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish, I believe he thanked God for the generosity of a young boy whose example was followed by others.

When we give thanks, do we give a thought to the farmer whose labor produces the gift? In this land of abundance, do we recognize the intricacies of a distribution system which brings us untold bounty from the fields and forests and oceans of the world? Do we remember and do our part to care for and save those forests and oceans and growers from exploitation? Or, has the effortlessness with which we receive the bountiful foods marketed to us - resulted in a lack of appreciation for the life, work and sacrifice of others?           

Justin Eckstein and Donovan Conley Spatial Affects and Rhetorical Relations at the Cherry Creek Farmers Market in Denver CO. Kara Shultz On Establishing a More Authentic Relationship with Food


So again I ask the question: What’s for Dinner? And what is our relationship to the food we eat?

Writer James Redfield says this about a prayer at mealtime:

“Taste is the doorway, you must experience taste. This is the reason for a prayer before eating. It is not just about being thankful, it is about make eating a holy experience, so that the energy from the food can enter your body as true nourishment!”                 Celestine Prophecy


So perhaps we need to hear the call to slow down, eat sensibly and allow food to be a source of spiritual blessing? It would not be a bad thing at mealtime to stop, calm ourselves and rest the mind - rather than grab on the run. It would be a blessing for us to eat with mindful attention and intention. To be mindful is to anticipate possibilities.

We are what we eat and to pay attention to food is to consider its costs not only to our wallet but to the environment. Should we not pay attention to things like agricultural method, costs of transportation etc.? Can we be justifiably fair to the communities which produce our food? Or, has the ease with which we receive the foods we eat - resulted in a sense of total disconnection from the life, work and sacrifice of others? Something to think about.

{Thich Nhat Hahn, Lilian Cheung Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life} Justin Eckstein and Donovan Conley in analysis of a Farmers Market in Denver


“What’s for Dinner? has become a complicated question. So much so that we live in a world with a great many concerns over what we eat. We are a nation of abundance yet are plagued by a host of food related illnesses such obesity, bulimia, anorexia and even malnutrition in a snack food world. We have become a nation so obsessed with dieting that eating has become a hateful experience. We are filled with self-loathing and shame - as the shape of our bodies take precedence over our souls:                 +

Who has not heard comments like these? “I hate my thighs! Does my butt look good in these? No more fat chicks.” Hateful speech. Obsessive concerns.

While there may be an epidemic of obesity so many dieting fads are little more that an advertisers trick.

One true testimony, one consumer’s complaint:

“In the past 15 years, I’ve gained and lost 1,000 pounds in a half dozen dieting splurges. I’ve been addicted to amphetamines and laxatives and spent half my paychecks on clothing to fit my various weight levels.”

With considerable financial and emotional investment, it is statistically significant that most diets fail and 92% of dieters fail to loose or to maintain their weight loss. What a pity that food has become the enemy, as dieters focus on what NOT to eat - instead of making intelligent and informed choices as to what real food may actually consist of. We need to eat more mindfully, with greater intention and with gratitude for Gods gifts to us. True, some of us may simply require greater self-discipline yet none of us should ignore the patterns of our food consumption and the labels on the things we eat.


I truly believe that that which may help us out of many of our food dilemmas is a focus on the Spirit, a return to gratitude for the multiple gifts God has given in our lives. We need to be more attentive and intentional about what we eat and where it comes from.

We who live in a world of abundance, are a lot like that little boy in the crowd with Jesus. Even living in a culture of scarcity he had a strong desire to share what he had with others. And when he shared what he had - the crowd miraculously had enough to eat. Think about that, in your time of thankfulness and in the ways in which you pay attention to what’s for dinner, today, tomorrow and each day.


Almighty God, we give you thanks for the gifts of modern agriculture and the blessings it has provided for our daily food and sustenance. Help us in the midst of our abundance, to be aware of the needs of others. Help us, amidst all the food choices we make to be wise and thoughtful about what we are eating.

Let us make eating a sacred experience of connection with the blessings of the world around us - so that the energy from the food we eat, can truly give us nourishment for both body and soul!       Amen

Posted on April 4, 2014 .