Sermon given at Matins on Sunday 10 October 2010: Creation Series: Food

10 October 2010 at 10:00 am

The Reverend Dr Jane Hedges, Canon in Residence

I wonder how many of us during this service have let our minds wander on to what we might have for lunch today.

Food plays an enormously significant part in our lives both as an absolute necessity but also as a delight and pleasure.

At this time of year all around Britain parish churches will be celebrating their Harvest Festivals, giving thanks to God for the provision of food and often turning their thoughts to the wider subject of God’s creation and our stewardship of it.

So during this month in my sermons at Matins I am looking at the way we as human beings interact with the created order.

Last week we thought about our relationship with animals, giving thanks to God for the great diversity of creatures in our world and the companionship that many of us enjoy with them.

In future weeks we shall think about our dependence upon water; about justice for the world’s poor; and about living a balanced way of life.

Today though, I invite you to turn you mind to the subject of FOOD, as we consider for a few minutes the part it plays in our lives and our attitude to it as people of faith.

Turning first to the Bible, there are endless references to food and eating in both the Old and New Testaments, where the laws and customs around the consumption of food are a fundamental part of people’s religious experience.

In the Old Testament, in the first creation story in Genesis there is reference to God providing food for humans and animals in the form of green plants and fruit from the trees.

However, it isn’t long before there is reference to a great deal of meat eating and in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy in particular we hear of the laws surrounding sacrifices and the consumption of meat.
There are also instructions about which animals are considered clean and unclean for the Israelites to eat.
In biblical times, among the most prominent situations for consuming food were feast days associated with particular religious festivals such as the Passover and Hanukah; communal meals for families; and celebrations of life events, particularly weddings and burials.

In the New Testament sharing meals with people is a very important part of Jesus’ ministry. He eats fish & bread with his disciples on the sea shore,
he’s often a dinner guest in other people’s houses, there are references to him eating with tax gatherers and others considered to be sinners and most importantly of course, he shares the Last Supper with his disciples at which he instituted the Eucharist ~ the meal central in the lives of all Christians since.

Jesus used meals as illustrations in his teaching ~ telling stories of wedding feasts and talking of the future heavenly banquet.

And he performed miracles associated with meals ~ the feeding of the five thousand and the turning of water into wine at the Wedding Feast in Cana.

Throughout the Bible then food, is associated with sustaining life, with hospitality, with generosity, with celebration and with life in the Kingdom of Heaven. These positive associations with food have continued down through Christian history especially within the Benedictine tradition, where monasteries have prided themselves on offering generous hospitality.

But do we have a healthy and positive attitude towards food today?

I think here we need to look at two issues.

First, how do we respond to the excessive consumption of food in some parts of the world and the health issues associated with it?

And second, how do we respond to the shortage of food in many other places in the world where millions of people die of starvation?

In the world today there are reckoned to be more than one billion people who are overweight, three hundred million of whom are clinically obese.

For the most part people are overweight because they eat too much fatty and sugary food without doing enough exercise to use up the calories. But how hard it is to resist cakes, filled rolls, toasted sandwiches, pizzas and chips when they look and smell so good and are available from cafes & food stalls all around us, especially in a city like London.  

Yet in some ways over eating is as much an abuse of our bodies as becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol, because like other kinds of abuse it leads to all kinds of health problems including heart disease, diabetes and even some kinds of cancer.

In fact, as we often hear in the media, obesity is now viewed as one of the most serious health problems of the 21st century.

And although we have seen that in the Christian tradition the enjoyment of food has always been encouraged, there is also a good deal of teaching on gluttony ~ considered a deadly sin in medieval times and condemned in the books of Deuteronomy and the Proverbs.

St Paul also reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians that our bodies are to be regarded as temples of the Holy Spirit and therefore not to be abused in any way.

It is important then, that as Christians we pay attention to what we eat in the context of seeing our bodies as God’s gift to us; a gift to be used but not abused.

As people of faith though we are not simply called to think of our own needs, we are called to love our neighbour as ourself and so as we think about food today, we need also to turn our thoughts to people in our world who are unable to care for their bodies because they don’t have enough to eat.

Recently published figures suggest that there are more than one billion people in our world who are undernourished, but an even more shocking statistic is that thirty six million people die each year (including six million children) through lack of food.

As Christians we believe that every one of those people is precious in the sight of God; and when we think of the suffering involved for each of them, we know that this situation is unacceptable and that we all share in the responsibility for trying to remedy it.

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus condemns those who saw people who were hungry and did not feed them. This is a wake-up call to us to consider what we can do to support agencies which tackle the injustice which leads to poverty, and which support projects working directly with communities in vulnerable areas of our world.

As we celebrate the gift of food let us make sure that all people have the opportunity to share in that gift and let us make sure that our generosity extends all around the world.

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