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HE Has Eaten Your Food by Rev. Bob Chell

Updated: Jan 28




I choose to believe the Apostle Paul was thinking about writing a sermon when he penned these words in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18


16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.


However Hemingway said it better when he wrote of writing:

“All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”


Perhaps sermon writing comes easy to you, it doesn’t to me.


I recall a conversation with my friend Bill, a good friend and a great preacher.


Bill had grown up Baptist and told me he heard way too many sermons that had nothing to do with Jesus, and the Bible. They were full of the preachers opinions and prejudices and bad theology. He said, “My greatest fear is preaching what I think instead of what the Bible says.” I want to preach so if people don’t like my sermons I can tell them, “Take it up with Jesus.”


His preaching is deeply grounded in the Bible. It’s as if he reads a verse and then, when preaching, peels back it’s meaning a layer at a time, like an onion until you find yourself face to face with Jesus and what he is saying to you in the Word.


Perhaps our preaching is driven by our fear.


My sermons are nothing like Bill’s.


Unlike Bill who grew up listening to sermons that had nothing to do with Jesus and the Bible. I have listened to too many sermons who were all about Jesus and the Bible but were disconnected from life, at least from my life—or worse, full of platitudes.


I told Bill my greatest fears in preaching are that I will be boring and irrelevant.”


Like most Lutheran preachers my sermons begin with the Bible lessons of the day but where my friend Bill gulps it down and goes deep, I generally take a sip and wander off where it takes me.


While serving a call in Virginia I recall the Bishop there once saying, “It’s a poor preacher who can’t make the sermon fit the text.”


I don’t think he meant it as advice although I took it that way.


Take today’s lesson for instance. Paul says, “…do not lose heart…”


There is a great devotion book by Eugene Peterson, a psychologist and professor at Loyola, titled the Joy of Being Human in which he says, “there is a special place in hell for those who tell others, ‘Don’t worry.” Cheer up! Don’t worry, be happy. Just say no!


Meant to lighten our burden, all platitudes do is increase the pressure—insisting we do that which we are incapable of doing.

_________


I was losing heart. To say I was anxious abut my sermon was an understatement.


I had been serving St. Dysmas, a congregation inside the SD state penitentiary for a year. We worship on Thursdays and Thanksgiving was on the horizon. Worship was moved to Wednesday evening but the dilemma was still inescapable.


How do I talk about giving thanks to a bunch of guys who are going to get 4 oz. of turkey on their tray, won’t see their friends or family and who will spend most of their day locked up because the shops were closed and staffing reduced so CO’s (correction’s officers—they don’t like to be called guards) could spend time with their families?

I had told the men I served before, and I do believe, there is much to be thankful for, even in prison.


However, for me to say it on the eve of Thanksgiving before heading off to gorge myself would be an insult to them and shameful and embarrassing for me.


So, I asked the men at our Wed. night Bible study if it was possible to be thankful in prison on Thanksgiving.


I didn’t get an answer. I got a question from David Rocky Mountain.


“Have you tasted our food?”


“Have you tasted our food?” He said it like that, like a question.


Like, are you some sort of special idiot to ask that question?

______

As if he was wondering too, how do you be thankful when even the basic joys of life are not yours: things like a good meal—and as much as you care to eat.


A relaxing day with family or friends


Hunting, fishing, a cold beer, a warm hug…


…another piece of pumpkin pie? Well, I’ve had two but that would be wonderful…and could you slather on a bit more of that whipped cream please?

____________


Have you eaten our food?


Yes, I had eaten it. Every Wed. after the chaplains meeting we went to the officers mess and every Wed. the menu was, is, and ever shall be (as far as I know) the same:

chicken patty with fries (an option the inmates don’t get)

or the pasta or potatoes that the inmates are eating that day.


I’ve eaten in the chow hall a couple times too.


Some of you know Ken Jones, he is a professor at Grandview and spoke on one of our Zoom meetings. Ken spoke at an event we had at the penitentiary.


When he returned home he told the students he teaches at Grandview University two things about his time behind the walls: “I loved the men I met in prison, and “I ate the two worst meals of my life.”

__________


“Have you eaten our food?”


Not really. Unless you live in prison you can’t really say you’ve eaten the food, you’ve only tasted it. If you leave at the end of the day, you can only taste it. You have to eat it day in and day out for days, months, years at a time to say you’ve eaten the food.

____________


And yet, here it was Thanksgiving and I was ready to head off to gather with family and friends while they languished in prison with 4 oz. of turkey.


I thought of Jesus words to the disciples:


…“Don’t worry…

consider the lilies of the field, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

…do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?”

your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

…all these things will be given to you as well.

________________


I will tell you what I told the men that day because some of you may be languishing in dying congregations, dying dreams, or worse yet, dying relationships, even as we celebrate the resurrection as we gather around the table.


Hear Jesus words, not as a platitude, but an invitation and a reminder


if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

or as St. Paul says:

“…do not lose heart…”


I told the men of St. Dysmas and proclaim to you,

Jesus words would be platitudes except for one thing.


Jesus has eaten your food.


Your story is his story, whichever side of the wall you live on. Prison wall, Border walls, Church walls, Depression walls, Addiction walls, Shame, grief, you name it.


Jesus has eaten your food.


Are you being falsely accused? Blamed for everything? The scapegoat? Him too.


He has eaten your food.

Have those you thought would be there for you scattered when you were most in need of their support? Are they missing even now?


He has eaten your food.


Do you feel abandoned, even by God? Like crying out, “Whey have your forsaken me?”


He has eaten your food.


Do you wish with all your heart there were another way?

Is his prayer before his arrest and crucifixion your prayer? Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”


He has eaten your food. He drank from your cup.


he invites us to share his food.

he invites YOU to share his food.


The bread of heaven. The cup of salvation.


As we gather around the Lord’s table to celebrate the Resurrection we feast on hope,

hope that finds our deepest pain and begins to heal us.


You have tasted bitterness.

Come, taste forgiveness…for you, and for those who have hurt you so deeply.


You have tasted regret.

Come, taste hope…hope for today, hope for tomorrow, hope for ever and ever.


You have drunk deep from the cup of anxiety.

Come swallow his peace. Peace now. Peace beyond understanding.

______________


He has eaten our food. He invites us to a banquet which will never end.


Just a taste for now, and a small one at that. A bit of bread, a sip of wine, a foretaste of the feast to come.


But more than that, assurance that God’s promises are bigger than our worries, stronger than our pain.


A promise more real than iron bars and broken promises, broken dreams and death, itself.


A promise to carry you through this life and into the kingdom of God forever and ever.


Amen

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