Harvest 2017: Real Food

I guess most of us enjoy our food. It is one of lives pleasures. Living as we do in one of the most affluent countries of the world, many of us eat more than what is good for us or we eat the wrong kinds of food. Whenever we eat though, we want satisfaction. When we leave the table, (that’s if we still eat at a table!) we expect to feel well filled and to have enjoyed the pleasurable tastes and textures of the food in our months. There is nothing much worse than booking a classy restaurant for that special celebration and coming away feeling underwhelmed by the food and having an urge to stop at the chippy on the way home.
Then there are those foods which always look so promising but fail to deliver. For me it’s popcorn. When you go to the cinema, it always looks so inviting under the counter but by the time you have paid a credit card price for it you end up with something which looks and tastes like polystyrene packaging. There’s never enough of the sugary syrup stuff for the amount of popcorn. The gritty bits of un cooked popcorn end up demolishing the tooth weakened by the filling.
How we yearn for food which satisfies? What is your most satisfying food?
The Lord, through his prophet Isaiah, invites his people, worn down by oppression and exile, to come and eat. They are invited to do so without money and without cost. (Isaiah 55.1-2) To buy wine and milk, sources of both nourishment and pleasure. God asks the people: ‘Why spend money on what is not bread and your labour on what does not satisfy?’ Like us, they lived in a consumer age. They expected to have pay for food. Why does God suggest that they could have it for nothing? Surely as those us keen to promote fair trade know only too well, if basic food is sold in the supermarkets for little let alone no cost, the farmers will not make a living. Was that what God wanted? Or was it that they were being directed to a different food, a different kind of bread which money can’t buy?
The background to these verses are political. Judah has been listening too much to the voice of foreign powers and sold itself to them in the hope of maintaining its security, but it had paid a heavy price. It had paid out for the bread of security which had brought no satisfaction.
But these verses have a wider application and no more so in the world and society of our day. Basic foodstuffs are relatively cheap and that does have knock on effects for producers as we have already noted, but our culture is one which rates pleasure, lifestyle and entertainment very highly indeed. This message of the advertisers spurts out us from every conceivable electronic device as huge computers track our movements and monitor our tastes with ever more sophisticated and devious means to encourage us to part with our cash. However immune we may think we are to all this, the subtle voices of materialism are very convincing. The subliminal message is: ‘come buy our fashion line, our interior design; book yourself on our cruise, lease our car at only £150 per month and you will be satisfied.’ Modern advertising says less about the merit or otherwise of the product being promoted and more about how it will shape and change your life and make you feel good.
Just as the Israelites of Isaiah’s day had been conned by the false security of the strong nations, so we can easily use our money in ways which we think will bring us happiness. These things are not wrong in themselves. They are part of God’s rich creation, the harvest for us to enjoy, but we must be very clear about their limitations. They are for this life only, we cannot take them with us. They may not be all that we hoped. ‘All that glitters is not Gold’. We ourselves may well be let down by them, left unfulfilled at the deepest level of our being. A further problem with investing solely in the material things is the impoverishment it brings to society and our world. If people are looking only to their own interests, they turn away from one another. The more people have, the less they interact and care about their community. They end up living at the end of long lonely drives with key pad operated iron gates at the end. It is for these reasons that Jesus cautions against material wealth. He tells a rich young man to sell all he has and give to the poor. The rich farmer who wants to invest in the future with bigger barns is told that his life is required of him. Following the tradition of Isaiah, Jesus teaches us to ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well. ‘(Matthew 6.33)
So, what does that mean? Just what is the food money can’t buy that Isaiah was talking about? It is easy to think that it’s church which is meant here. That what Isaiah and Jesus want us to do is come along to church, listen to the teaching which will feed our minds and help grow our faith and receive the sacraments of baptism and holy communion which feed our souls. Of course, when we come to church, we do take a step back from the glare of on screen advertising, of the jarring voices of trade. Hopefully, we come to a place of community and a place of calm and peace. But church is not quite the food without price either. It’s not free for a start! If we want to worship in grand buildings and support paid clergy to minister, it’s not cheap. It costs like every other human activity. It is also a startling fact that we can do church without God! Yes, his name may be mentioned, prayers offered and the eucharist shared, but it is quite possible to do church without really encountering God. Jesus is very blunt when addressing the Jewish leaders in John 5. ‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5.39-40) They looked to their traditions, to the scriptures of the old testament, but still they did not find what could satisfy. For Jesus, the answer is very simple; it is himself. ‘Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.’ Again, in John’s gospel, Jesus contrasts himself with the sheep rustler: ‘I have come that you might have life, life in all its fulness. (John 10.10)
The message here is very clear across the scriptures. True bread, the bread of life, that which truly nurtures us, is not to be found in the alliances which nations seek to make with one another, as in the case of the present ‘brexit’ talks. Neither is it to be found in consumer spending, in filling our homes with stuff and our lives with leisure. Neither is it to be found in the tradition and ritual of religion, be it Christian or any other. It is to be found only in the living God himself who makes himself known in Jesus Christ whose spirit remains with us.
As we celebrate our harvest today, we give thanks to God recognising that all the material things of life are a precious gift from him and not a right. In doing so, we begin to get things in perspective. It is our relationship, with God in Christ which matters above all else. It costs us no money, but it costs us our life. Jesus sums up this upside-down way of thinking saying: ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it.’ (Mark 8.35)
As you look ahead, perhaps up to Christmas, what are your spending plans? What friendships will you cultivate? How will you spend time in church and leisure time? Will you be guided by the advertisers, voice and spirit of the age, consuming to be fulfilled and satisfied? Or will you chance it with the logic of the Son of Man, investing in your relationship with him and living out his gospel?

Rev Jonathan Smith

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