Monday, March 31, 2014

A Table for the Journey

Psalm 23
March 31, 2014
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev Debra Jene Collum


Psalm 23 is a Psalm about our journey. The journey of our life as God’s people with God at our side, always and every where. Our life road.

Along this road, we walk in places that bring us joy and well being. In those places God gives us the eyes to see it and the ability to feel the contentment of it. The appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us.
And not just in the beauty that surrounds us every day here in the chosen valley. Truly God’s country.
But even in the harshest of landscapes.

Have you ever been in a dreary place? Maybe a place filled with concrete and buildings? Have you ever discovered in that grey landscape the splash of a flower growing up in the crack of the sidewalk? Have you ever rejoiced in seeing such beauty in such an unlikely of place?
I believe it is God who in those moments gives us the nudge to see beauty almost as if we have lain down in green pastures.

We walk along the daily pathways of our lives. Coming to cross ways, forks in the road.
Wondering which way, which way should I go?
As you pause in the moment of decision, you feel it, that gentle but firm touch on your soul. This way my child, go this way.
And you know that this is the right path.
But even when you aren’t sure of the right path. when you take that road less traveled by and wonder, where am I, why am I here. The presence of God lights the pathway, showing you how this, right here is the pathway of God for your life right now.
God leads us in the right paths. Even when we take the wrong road.

Even when we walk through those darkest of places the valleys of despair, lost dreams and even death

See how Psalm 23 is about our life journey.
Which is why it is important to have a table in this story.  Before the Last Supper, before the Communion Table, there is the table in Psalm 23. Because how could we journey without food? How could we live without food?
In Psalm 23 there is a table.

Because we are God’s children, we are always given provisions for our journey.

And this table is unique. Because where is it spread? What are these provisions provided? Thou prepares a table before me where? “In the presence of my enemies.”

On Wednesday this week Tim Gossman mentioned how food is often used as a weapon of war or oppression.
There is nothing so tragic as the tragedy of food deprivation. Especially in our world where there are enough resources to provide every man, women and child with a 2,000 calorie a day diet.

When we hear of relief agency supplies that have been sabotaged or cut off by corrupt government officials. It makes us mad. As well it should.
Remember when the Sudan was in a crisis mode because of drought and hunger. Remember hearing how the warring parties were looting food relief supplies?

That was in the international news two years ago. But it is still happening in South Sudan today. On March 16, of this year, 2014,  a report from South Sudan warned of a new rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation because of a "lack of respect for humanitarian staff and convoys" by the warring parties, noting that food stocks had been pillaged and convoys searched. [1]

All over the world food is used as a weapon. As a way to keep people in their place. As a way to keep people dependent. As a way to insure that corrupt governments will have the upper hand.

This is what makes this Psalm so poignant. In the face of our enemy, the one who would keep food from us. The one who would try to control us by controlling our food, God spreads a table. Full of all the good things we need for our journey through life.
This is indeed, sacred food.
Now, in our lives we don’t come up against rebel armies keeping food from our plates. However, we do have enemies that keep us from enjoying the great gift of food which God has given us.

For some of us it is the number on the scale. For others it is body image. For others it is guilt about the kinds of food we eat. and for others it is simply that we have not been taught that eating is to be a joy filled and scared event.

On Wednesday we shared the ways we celebrated around the food of our culture and our families.
And thought together about how our meals could be, always, in most every way a time when we pay attention to our food. And instead of letting something keep us from enjoying our food and keeping God’s gift at an arm’s length, we eat carefully and mindfully. Aware. Aware that this is God’s table spread before us.

I remember making a wonderful holiday meal for guests once. I prepared all of my family’s special holiday foods for people who we loved. All during the dinner the guests commented on their discontent with eating this food. It was too fattening, too high in cholesterol, too high in calories, and besides, it would give them heartburn.  What a ruined meal. Even I couldn’t enjoy it.

I purchase my spices from a company called Penzey’s. They are a Wisconsin family company that urges people to celebrate food and the people who cook the food we eat.
One of their mottos is: “Love People Cook them Tasty Food.”

A story from their recent catalogue struck me with the poignancy of the sacredness of food shared and food appreciated.

This is from Tattoos on the Heart, a book by Gregory Boyle who set up a restaurant to employ former inmates who were members of gangs.
One of his employees a 23-year old former gang member has called to wish Father Greg a Happy New Year. Fater G tells the young man he has been thinking about him, and asks what he did for Christmas.

Oh you know I was just right here, meaning his tiny little apartment, where he lives alone.
“All by yourself?” I ask.
“Oh no,” he quickly says, “I invited homies from the crew, you know vatos like me who didn’t have no place to go for Christmas.”
He names the five homies who came over—all former enemies from rival gangs.
“Really, I tell him, “That sure was nice of you.”
But he’s got me revved and curious now. “So,” I ask him, “what did you do?”
“Well,” he says, “you are not gonna believe this…but…I cooked a turkey.”
You can feel his pride right through the phone.
“Wow, you did? Well, how did you prepare it?”
“You know,” he says “Ghetto style.”
I tell him I am not really familiar with this recipe.
He’s more than happy to give up his secret. “Yeah, well you just rub it with a gang a butter, throw a bund a salt and pepper on it, squeeze a couple of limones over it and put it in the oven. It tasted proper.”
“Wow,” I said, “that sounds impressive. What else did you have besides the turkey?”
“Just that. Just turkey,” he says. His voice tapers to a hush. “Yeah. The six of us, we just sat there, staring at the oven, waiting for the turkey to be done.”
One would be hard-pressed, writes Father G. to imagine something more sacred and ordinary than these six orphans staring at the oven tighter. It is the entire law and the prophets, all in one moment, right there, in his humble holy kitchen. [2]

God’s table, spread out in the presence of our enemies. Whatever our enemies or whom ever our enemies might be. Or might have been. Don’t you love this vision of a group of former enemies starring at the oven door, waiting for the turkey to get cooked.

God gives us provisions for the journey. Even if all it is is a 59 cent a pound turkey.

God gives us provisions for the journey, so that we can lay down in green pastures, walk beside still waters, journey along the pathways and even go through the valley of darkness. We are fed by God. Always, everywhere. May we see this as a gift. Let us not say to God, “Oh, I shouldn’t eat that.” Let us see all that we are given as sacred.



[1] http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/653912-s-sudan-facing-major-food-crisis-un.html
[2] Penzeys Spices Catalogue Spring 2014. www.penzeys.com

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