on meals, community, love and jesus

A message shared with Toowong Uniting Church in July 2017. Read John 13:31-35 first.

Last week, June 29 was Eat Together day in Canada.  A day when Canadians were invited to eat with neighbours, friends and colleagues, to see what happened. Watch this:

The official website introduces the idea like this: “When we eat together, good things happen. Whether its poutine, pad thai, paella, or pemmican. Nothing brings us together like eating together. We’re on a mission to make the world a better place by sharing a meal. It is time to stop watching and start acting! Join in on June 29th for Eat Together Day. Whether you eat with your neighbours, friends or family, make a time to eat together.”

It’s an invitation that is extended as part of Canada’s celebration of its 150th year as a nation. Other elements of the celebration include National Aboriginal Day, St Jean Baptiste day, Canadian Multiculturalism Day and Canada Day.  The film we just watched introduces the concept of eat together, and tells its own story. It’s a beautiful film, filled with funny, poignant moments. And it reflects many of those other elements of Canada 150.

I’m sure you that you, like me if you cast your mind back, can think of some memorable meals. Times and places where the table was the centre of a wonderful community time. Where conversation flowed as food was shared. Where the bonds of friendship were formed or strengthened.

There is something wonderful about sitting around a table and sharing together.

Here in Australia, we have a couple of examples of something similar. On Harmony Day people are invited to bring food that celebrates their culture, and in sharing food, build stronger relationships. The worlds greatest morning tea is a fundraiser, but also a community building event built around shared food.  Dinner en Blanc is another – where people gather, dressed in white, at a formal dinner party around a white table – often in a public place.

Are you picturing these times?  What about in your own story? What is the meal that comes to mind?

I think of a bunch of families gathered around a table in a house on the southern edge of Boonah, sharing life, each contributing something to the meal, praying before we eat, laughing and talking as the meal goes on.

I think of Christmas lunch; with Sheri’s family its’ a warm joyous occasion, with traditions about the kinds of food we eat and the way things happen. With my family it’s noisy and chaotic, but no less warm for all of that. Shared meals, shared memories.

Where has your mind gone? What meals are you remembering?  Think of one meal in particular that was a rich time for those that gathered. Go on, take a moment and reflect.

The gospels are filled with stories of meals shared.  I’ve talked about this before. Think about the stories we all know: the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus inviting himself to Zacchaeus house for lunch, cooking up some fish on the beach for breakfast, the feeding of the 5000, with Levi the tax collector, with Mary and Martha, the last supper, the meal shared in Emmaus after Jesus’ resurrection.

The gospels are filled with stories of meals shared.  And really, this builds on the pattern recounted in the old testament too – of festivals and feasts shared to mark special occasions.  Israel is repeatedly encouraged to celebrate and rejoice.  Jesus, in turn, follows a similar pattern, and becomes on many occasions the centre of the shared meal.

Writer Skye Jethani talks about the contrast of today’s sense of isolation and loneliness that can come with suburban life. We each retreat to our private houses, behind fences or automatic garage doors. And even once inside its not unusual to each have a separate bedroom, to retreat to the individuality of screens that connect us to the world, but disconnect us from our neighbour.

In exploring this topic, Mark Glanville responds like this:

“Jesus’ fellowship meals speak into our culture of individualism and isolation. They show us the shape of life and flourishing. They display the beauty, feasting and joy of the new creation – that is secured in Christ’s resurrection. There seems to be something about the bare sharing of a meal that reveals the kingdom of God. In light of Jesus’ fellowship meals, it is no surprise that the second coming of Christ is also conceived as a meal – the ‘wedding supper of the lamb’ (Rev 19).”

Mark’s reflections on this topic are so interesting, and I think insightful, that I was tempted just to stand up and read what he’s written…but that seems a little like cheating. Read it for yourself here.

The essence of what Glanville writes boils down to two things:

  1. We Christians should be bringing the joy of Christ into our neighourhoods and workplaces through initiating shared meals. We should be at the centre of these things
  2. When we look at who Jesus shared meals with, we’re reminded that the circle was large. Family, friends, disciples, tax collectors, people he met on the street. Draw a large circle.

The challenge I want to share with you today is to go out this week and make an opportunity to share a meal with friends or neighbours. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or expensive. It might be brown-bag sandwiches in the park, or friends and neighbours gathered around a sizzling bbq. Or cake and coffee. Whatever works for you and your rhythms of life.

But find someone, some people, share a meal, share stories, laugh together if its appropriate, cry together if there is grief. Be together in community around the table. Model the kingdom of God.

And when you come back here next Sunday and see someone you haven’t seen all week – ask them if they had a chance to share a meal.  As it happens, I’m speaking again next Sunday…so I’ll remind you!

Some of this is captured in the bible reading we read above, and in the song we just sang together (it’s an “oldie” but a goodie). This is Jesus speaking in the final movement in John’s gospel.  He and the disciples are sharing the last supper – that precious meal shared together on the final night before his crucifixion. Judas has just left the building. Jesus is sharing his final thoughts – maybe thinking about the things he just has to say before its too late. And in that moment, this is what he chooses to say:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I wonder if the implication of this is that Jesus followers will not be known for how well they attend to the law and custom of the temple, then or now. They will not be known for the quality of their worship, or the depth of their study, or the finely argued points of doctrine, or even the earnestness of their confession and contrition.  They will be known for the depth, the quality, the wonder of their love, of their commitment to their neighbour, for the ways they follow Jesus example, for the ways they, we, and love as he has loved. As he is loving. As he goes on loving.

When things go wrong in the church (and to our great shame they do, lets be honest), it is mostly because we have not loved well, or not loved well enough. And when things are great, it’s when we are getting closer to the kind of image that Jesus presents here.

In our world today we are so often drawn to the individual pursuits. The TV advertisements that trumpet that “YOU” are the most important person in the world. The marketing and media and movies and magazines that proclaim the triumph of the individual.

The way of Jesus, the way of the community of Christ is not that way.  We are called to be community first. To love one another. To be gathered in love. To celebrate that shared bond.  And most importantly, to invite others to experience it, to know it, to share it, and ultimately to practice it. We are called to be the community of Christ.

We’re a congregation of the Uniting Church.  We sometimes say that name without even hearing the world. Uniting. Drawing closer together. Becoming a more intimate community. Toowong Uniting Church.  It’s right there in our own name.

40 years ago the Uniting Church was founded as the Presbyterian, Methodist and congregational churches joined as one.  The founding document, the Basis of Union, describes the kind of church we committed to become. In it, we acknowledge that the church is to be a fellowship of reconciliation. A community where relationships are restored, and where the way of Christ is modeled for the whole world.

In fact, I’m going to give you a second piece of homework this week. As well as sharing a meal with your community, I want to encourage you to read the Basis of Union. The part I’ve just referenced is in Paragraph 3, but read the whole thing and let it sit with you. Next week we’re going to talk about a couple of other parts of the Basis, so it will be helpful for you to ponder it as you go.

So share a meal, and read the Basis of Union. I would suggest you maybe don’t do those two things at the same time!

We talk a lot about the power of the gospel, about Christ crucified, and about Christ resurrected. And so we should – those are the central elements of the Christian faith.   I guess what I’m inviting us to reflect on this morning is the very life of Christ; the life lived, the example set, the stories shared, the encouragement given.

Jesus loved well.  He loved his family. He loved his disciples. He loved the people he met on the road. We can see it in so many of his encounters. But I’d suggest we never see it more richly than in the moments Jesus shared a meal table. And in terms of the internal community of disciples, never more clearly than in that final supper, and in those final words.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Amen.

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