The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
~ Lamentations 3:19-26
Six years ago I came across a remarkable book, filled with amazing photographs. These photographs so affected me that I purchased a second copy of the book for the specific purpose of cutting it apart, having my favorite framer dry mount the images, and sharing them with this congregation.
For some of you, the photographs will be familiar, since I’ve shared them here before. But there are so many new faces in our midst! Just like a favorite family recipe you never get tired of, I feel moved to share them again.
The book in question is called Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. About 13 years ago, Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio set out to travel the globe to investigate what people eat. Typical people—normal for their own locations and cultures. So they sat down with thirty families from twenty-four countries, and they talked together about their lives and their work, their favorite recipes, and how they got their food. Did they shop at a place like Wegman’s? Did they farm, and grow or raise their food sources? Did they barter with others nearby? Then the authors photographed each family with one week’s worth of the food they consume. One family from California spends $159 each week for their food, while a family from North Carolina spends $341. A family from Germany spends $445 Euros each week—that’s about $500 US; while a family from Darfur living in a refugee camp in Chad spends 685 CDF (Francs), which equals about $1.23. There is something remarkable about these photos, seeing all those bottles of Coca Cola lined up behind the family from Mexico; and the gorgeous detailed embroidery on the clothing of the Guatemalan mother, whose family dines each week for 573 Quetzales, or $75.70; and the fact that only those in Chad, and Ecuador, and Bhutan, and Mali, have absolutely nothing packaged or processed in their diets.
How we eat, what we eat is a common thread that binds us together as well as something that sets us apart from one another. Here are some of the favorite foods that were shared with the authors of the book: A family from Great Britain loves chocolate fudge cake, and a family from Mongolia treasures their recipe for mutton dumplings. The Ecuadorian family shared a recipe for potato soup with cabbage, while the family from Poland treated their guests to pig’s knuckles with carrots. The familiar and the exotic overlap in unexpected ways: a family from Beijing loves shredded fried pork with sweet and sour sauce, and the family from Mexico loves pizza, pasta and chicken. A family from the Philippines loves both traditional “adidas”—that is, chicken feet—and also Cheez Whiz. They eat it for breakfast.
The authors of Hungry Planet wanted to show us how, not only are new and exotic foods showing up in great abundance on our own supermarket shelves, but KFC and Coca Cola and Kraft Cheese singles are also showing up on grocery shelves from Bosnia to Bahrain. It is a hungry planet, certainly, and it is a small planet, and getting smaller as our cultures reach out and touch one another. It is challenging to think about what we eat, and to put it in the perspective of globalization and starvation and the epidemics of obesity and diabetes in our own country. But, as another author has expressed it, “There's a hunger beyond food that's expressed in food, and that's why feeding is always a kind of miracle.”[i] When we eat together, we bring together the fragments of our lives and become a community. We move from being separate, to being one.
Each year on the first Sunday in October we observe World Communion Sunday, a day that is organized around the idea of sharing a meal together. It was first celebrated at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, in 1933—a year that’s been called the darkest year of the Great Depression, and a time when Nazism was on the rise in Europe. (Extremist responses to economic crises are nothing new.) The people of Shadyside felt a celebration emphasizing Christian unity would provide encouragement, and solace, and a sense that the church of Jesus Christ remains relevant, that it still has a word of hope to speak to a world that is feeling increasingly hopeless. And so their plan was to emphasize that unity through the sharing of a common meal, the communion meal, that meal that breaks down the walls between churches and individuals. There's a hunger beyond food that makes eating together a kind of miracle. When we eat together, we bring together the fragments of our individual lives and experience communion. We move from being separate, to being one.
In this morning’s passage from Jeremiah’s Lamentations, we hear echoes of fear, insecurity, and the kind of persecution that was on the rise in 1933—as well as being on the rise in our own day. The plaintive cry goes up: “The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it, and is bowed down within me” (Lam. 3:19-20). And yet, almost instantly our passage reminds us, and we remember:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” ~Lam. 3:21-24
The Lord is my portion. When we are in the depths of fear or despair, everything tastes bitter… sawdust in our mouths. But when we rest in the reassurance of the God of abundance being our portion—life is filled with flavor again. The simplest things fill us; we know we are cared for. We know encouragement on dark days; we know the solace of the embrace of God.
And yet—our call as people of faith goes beyond reassuring ourselves. It goes to caring for others. As I read in another place this week, “The key to church is transforming [the question], “What is the church doing for us?” into “How can I serve others?”[ii]
How can we serve others? The answer to that question is as varied as human personalities. We serve others in countless ways. But for Christians, table service is the first and foremost, and the one Jesus modeled for us most often. Our passage from Luke’s gospel reminds us: We are God’s servants. There's a hunger beyond food that's expressed in food, and that's why feeding is always a kind of miracle.
When we eat together, we bring together the fragments of our individual lives and experience communion. We move from being separate, to being one, and today, we recognize a truth we often take for granted: The table, and the fragments that become one, extent around the world. The table includes those who are right here on Liberty Avenue AND those who are gathered around a television in Kodaira City, Japan; those who are enjoying a pizza around a table in Mexico, AND those who are enjoying Melahat’s Puffed Pastries around a table in Istanbul. The world is too small for us to imagine these are not our neighbors. On this World Communion Sunday, we gather around our own table, remembering Jesus’ call to love our neighbors, and to serve them. And our table circles the globe. Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (New York, NY: Random House, 2007), 23.
[ii] Cary Nieuwhof, “Shut Down the Bus Tours: What Older Church Members Should Really Be Doing,” Blog, September 29, 2016, http://careynieuwhof.com/2016/09/shut-down-the-bus-tours-what-older-church-members-should-be-doing/.