Food For Thought

This Sunday was a very special service that focused on issues of hunger and food insecurity. We began worship in the Sanctuary, then broke out into all-ages workshops in which we can actively engaged this important social justice issue. Following the workshops we gathered again in the Sanctuary to wrap up our service. 

Sermon: "Food for Thought"; Rev. Peter Friedrichs

Once there was a very old woman who was nearing the end of her life. Because she knew that soon she would die, she really wanted to know what heaven and hell were like. As she slept, she had a dream. In her dream she walked up to two doors. One was marked “Hell” and the other “Heaven.” She opened the first door and was amazed at what she saw. Behind the door marked “Hell” there was a dining hall filled with rows of tables, each table filled with a magnificent feast. There was every kind of food imaginable. It looked and smelled delicious. The woman’s mouth watered at the smells.

Then she noticed the people sitting at the tables. They were all miserable. They were very sick, and so thin that you could see the bones beneath their skin. As she looked closer, she saw that each person at the table held a very long spoon. It was like no spoon she’d ever seen. The handle was at least three feet long.  With the spoons, the people around the table could reach the feast, the food on the table, but the spoon was too long. Though they tried and they tried, they couldn’t bring the food to their mouth. In spite of the abundance before them, they were starving.

In her dream the woman couldn’t stand to be in that room very long, with all the suffering, so she left and closed the door behind her. Then she approached the door marked “Heaven” and anxiously opened it. She was amazed at what she saw. It was the very same scene:  a dining hall filled with row upon row of tables, and on those tables, a marvelous feast, just like before. Every kind of food imaginable, the smells making her mouth water. But when she looked at the people around the tables, they were happy and healthy, chatting with each other, laughing and content.

These people were all holding the very same spoons in their hands, like behind the other door, the ones with the very long handles that could easily reach all the food set before them. But here, what she saw amazed her even more: Each person would dip their spoon into the food, and instead of struggling to get the food into their own mouth, then reached across the table and put the food into the mouth of the person seated across from them. They each took turns, feeding one another with the long spoons and no one was hungry. The woman awoke from her dream with a smile on her face, knowing then the difference between heaven and hell.

If there’s one universal commandment, I think it’s “Feed Each Other.” We see it in the story I just told. We see it in the Stone Soup story that Chrissy told. It’s the story of the loaves and fishes that we read in the Bible, where the disciples of Jesus were able to feed thousands with just a small amount of food. And, of course, when we say “feed each other,” we’re not just talking about food, or physical sustenance. We need to feed each other in other ways, too. By sharing our love. By sharing our hope. By sharing whatever it is that we have that others may have less of.

I am blessed to say that I have never known physical hunger. I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from. That is a form of privilege and I am grateful for it. And I know that there are thousands who are not so privileged. And they’re not living somewhere far away. They’re not the starving children in India or China that our parents warned us about. They’re right here in our own community. In fact, in the latest research I could find, I learned that as of 2013 nearly 1 in every 6 children in Delaware County experience food insecurity, and that number is headed in the wrong direction. Between 2008 and 2013, the share of children in poverty in Delaware County increased 30% and the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price school meals increased 20%. Hunger is a real and present danger to the wellbeing of our neighbors, our friends, and even some members of this congregation.

I don’t want to spout a bunch of statistics at you this morning and I’ve struggled to come up with a way for those of us who don’t worry about having enough to eat might relate to what that must feel like.  Whether you’ve been in a situation where you don’t have enough to eat, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all experienced some kind of hunger in our lives. A hunger for safety. A hunger for knowledge. A hunger for connection and relationship. A hunger for meaning and purpose. And we know how that deep, deep hunger, that yearning, makes us feel. We can’t think about anything else. We can’t concentrate. We find it hard to focus on anything but that thing we’re lacking. Sometimes when we’re missing what we want or need the most, we can become fearful and afraid. We can become anxious and depressed. We can withdraw and isolate ourselves. Maybe we’re even ashamed because it seems like everyone else around us has it all together. They’ve got what we want and need, so we feel different, like an outcast, like we don’t fit in. It can make us feel like we’re completely alone in our struggle. It can also make us feel inadequate, like we’re “less than.”  Like we have nothing of value to offer other people. I invite you to take just a moment to think about how you’ve felt when something that you need, something that you long for, seems unobtainable. I imagine those that experience real, physical hunger have many of these same feelings, too. And on top of that, they’re fighting to survive.

This is why our long spoons are so important. Because for those of us who have enough – enough food, enough comfort, enough joy, enough wellbeing in whatever respect – need to be able to reach across the table and feed those who don’t. We can relieve each other’s hunger, no matter the source of that hunger. By donating food to the Food Bank. By making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or spaghetti with the Hunger Task Force. By volunteering to work with kids in the after-school program at Chester Eastside. We can even do it by sitting down next to someone we don’t know all that well and asking them “How are you doing?” and telling them “I care about you.” As we remember all those who struggle every day to make ends meet and to keep food in their cupboards, let’s also remember that, every day, we are all called to find ways to feed each other.

This day and every day, I wish you peace. Amen.