Let’s talk about food — and people
Acts 11:1-18 & John 13:31-35
5 Easter – 4/28/13
St. Paul’s Alexandria
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
Let’s talk about food.
If I said that to the children I teach every day, they would be all over it. There would be no hesitation to talk about favorite foods, and what they find disgusting, and what they would like to eat right then and there.
But for many of the adults here — myself included — food has become a source not of joy, but of anxiety. We worry about how much we eat, when we eat, and above all WHAT we eat. We keep track of how much salt, sugar, and fat we consume — there’s even a book by that title, Salt Sugar Fat, which is an eye-opening description of the way certain foods are engineered to be addictive. For all the right reasons, we search out organic foods, whole foods, local foods, clean foods. Somewhere between the garden of Eden and the grocery store, food has become a source of anxiety.
There was a lot of anxiety about food in Peter’s time, too. As a faithful Jew, he had been careful all his life to observe the dietary laws laid out in the lists in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Such observance was important as a way of maintaining the Jewish identity, keeping the faith community distinct from the gentiles around them.
Suddenly, Peter has this strange vision about food. A great sheet, like sailcloth, floats down from heaven holding all manner of animals, clean and unclean, and the voice from above says, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” The first part of that command may be repulsive to us, insulated as we are from how our meat gets into those neat, cellophane packages. But it’s the second part that offends Peter. He is horrified at the thought of eating forbidden food. Yet, 3 times, the voice insists, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
Peter gets the message. And a knock comes at the door. Suddenly, Peter’s vision is no longer about food. It’s about people. Three gentiles ask Peter to come with them to the home of Cornelius, another gentile, and now Peter is no longer worried about keeping himself separate and pure. He hurries away with them, prepared to preach a powerful sermon. But while he’s still warming up, the Holy Spirit shows up, and a whole household becomes baptized.
The book of the bible this story comes from is called the Acts of the Apostles. But in this passage, at least, it’s the Acts of God that transform both Peter and the community around him. Peter’s vision is not just about food; for God gives him the vision to see a beloved community that embraces people of all nations and tribes.
I wonder if somewhere that night, Peter is recalling, and reinterpreting, a command he heard in an upper room months before, the command of Jesus we heard in our gospel today: “Love one another... By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love….”
Food and love. They DO seem to go together. You know in your own life how many times they mingle. A little story from Los Angeles helps us see this connection in another way.
An artist named Ron Finley woke up one day and realized he lived, in his words, “in a food desert.” South Central LA, he saw, had loads of liquor stores, lots of vacant lots, and a kaleidoscope of fast-food joints. Though his neighborhood has a reputation for drive-by shootings, more people, he says, were dying from the drive-THRU, eating food that was bad for them because they didn’t have easy access to healthy, affordable food. Obesity and diabetes were rampant, and Finley says, “I got tired of seeing my people die.”
So God gave Finley a vision – instead of a food desert, a “food forest.” On median strips, vacant lots, and rights-of-way, Finley and his group, LA Green Grounds, began to plant. Despite resistance from the city — which owns much of the land — Finley’s group, LA Green Grounds, persisted, and won They’ve taught people to garden and given teenagers paying jobs and purpose. They’ve helped people recover their health. Gardening, Finley says, is “a tool for the education, the transformation of the community. Plus, you get strawberries.”
Finley’s vision, like Peter’s, is not about food. It’s about people. It’s about LOVING people.
For him, the way to show that love is teaching people to grow their own groceries. For you, loving people might be something different. For all of us, it’s the Acts of God, loving us, that enlarge our vision to see in strangers a beloved community. It’s the Acts of God that give us the grace to live the gospel words we hear today: “Love one another.” Amen.
 Michael Moss, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (Random House, 2013).