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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Food Revolution

2010-05-02 Acts 11:1-18
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

The book of Acts is the sequel of the Gospel According to Luke. If the books of the Bible had been arranged by story and author, Luke and Acts would be back to back since they were both written by the same person, part 1 and part 2 of the story. Throughout the book of Acts, and especially in this section, something really weird is happening. Jesus was Jewish, and most of his followers were Jewish. His disciples didn’t see him as “Christian” at all. They didn’t see him as any break from traditional Judaism. They saw him as its fulfillment. They saw Jesus as the Messiah, the one all the Jewish prophesies had been predicting for centuries. They believed Jesus was the savior who was going to restore David's kingdom, restore the wealth, restore the success, restore the preeminence of the Jewish people, and show the world once and for all that they were God's chosen nation, God's chosen race. And then, something really weird started happening.

It began with the Apostle Paul. But Paul was kind of odd to begin with, so he was easier for the Jesus-followers to dismiss. When things really got strange was when the Apostle Peter began to change. Peter, the Rock, the hand-picked, number one disciple of Jesus the Messiah changed. How did he change? What was it that was so deviant? Peter developed a taste for Italian food. It's true. Chapters 10 and 11 of Acts are all about Peter eating with the Italian Regiment. To the other Jewish Jesus-followers, this was worse than sacrilegious, it was creepy. It seems innocent enough to us. Everybody loves Italian food. You're really can't compare cold, dry, unleavened bread with a steaming veal and mushroom lasagne. Who could blame Peter? But it’s not just about the food. It’s about the identity. If Peter suddenly could give up religious dietary laws, what other laws could he give up? If Peter didn’t follow the laws of his people, was he really one of them?


It's hard for us to understand why Peter's new diet was so controversial. We'll eat anything. Italian, Mexican, Stir-fried, Southern-fried. We don't care. You put enough ketchup, cheese, or gravy on it and it’s all good. Sure it gives us heartburn and clogs our arteries. That’s why God gave us Pepcid and Plavix. We're even OK with imitation food, stuff that’s not even native to planet Earth. Like, chicken fingers. Buffalo wings. Twinkies.

I’ve been watching a TV show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” It’s about this British chef who has come to America to teach us about good cuisine. It’s pretty sad when the British are teaching us about cuisine. You know we’re in trouble when the people of kidney pudding and haggis want to improve our diets. I have to confess, the reason this show caught my eye wasn’t so much because of my interest in food. I watched because Jamie Oliver filmed it in what the CDC has named the number one, unhealthiest city in the entire USA: my hometown, Huntington, West Virginia. (It’s also the hometown of Michael and Sharon. Ask Michael about Stewart’s Hot Dogs and Jim’s spaghetti sauce. Yes, they’ll both kill you, but you’ll go out with a smile on your face.) Honestly, growing up, I didn’t think we were that unhealthy. It probably changed after I left. In the first episode, Jamie went into a Huntington elementary school cafeteria kitchen. He proceeded to show the “lunch ladies” (as he called them) how they were doing it all wrong. I’m trying to imagine how the Jewish Jesus-followers looked when Peter told them about his new food. I’m guessing it was a lot like the cold, icy, murderous stares of the “lunch ladies” at Jamie Oliver. You do not want a lunch lady mad at you. You could feel the loathing through the TV screen. It was scary.

You can criticize someone’s politics or maybe even their religion. But you better not go insulting mama’s pumpkin pie. When a recipe’s been in the family since Noah landed the ark, it IS a matter of religion. We very much are what we eat, both physically and spiritually. We may not always be discriminating or healthy, but people are very sensitive about food. Even today, our diet, our regional cuisine is a huge part of our identity. Imagine being Southern without sweet tea. We get fuddled when we go up North and not only do they not have sweet tea, they charge for refills. How can people live that way? So, we can understand a little of why the Jewish Jesus-followers were so upset with Peter. Jewish food rules had been handed down from God, and were as much a part of their religion as the Ten Commandments. Their food was as much a part of their identity as their names. In their eyes, Peter didn’t just develop a taste for Italian food, he developed a taste for sin. Peter was starting a true food revolution.


They say, “change comes slowly.” That’s not true. The world around us may change by degrees, but when we have to change, it doesn’t come slowly at all. Change hits us suddenly, and it’s always shocking. “What do you mean, I can’t do this (or that) anymore?” “When did this happen?” The truth is the world around us changes all the time. We, on the other hand, do our best not to change. So when the need for change hits us, it’s always as if it comes out of nowhere. We resist change, we ignore change, we think we’re immune from the need for change. Until it smacks us in the face. Thirty years ago, the president of Radio Shack couldn’t imagine why anyone would ever want a computer in their house. Do you remember what the first home computers were advertised as being good for? Storing recipes. There’s some irony for you: new ways to remember old food. Even then, the message was, it’s OK to change how you store the menu, but don’t go changing what’s on it.

It’s not as if Peter woke up one morning and said, “I’m really in the mood for pizza.” The world may have been changing around him, but Peter resisted. Peter was praying and a vision from God came to him. In his vision, something like a tablecloth was lowered down by its corners from heaven. And it was filled with all kinds of four-footed creatures, reptiles, and birds of the air. And Peter heard a voice saying, “Get up Peter. Kill and eat.” And Peter said, “By no means, Lord.” (Do you realize what’s going on? Peter’s arguing with God. God says, “Do this,” and Peter says, “No way.”) Peter says, “Nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” In other words, “I’ve been doing things this way since I was a boy, and I’m not going to change, now.” So again, God said, “Get up Peter. Kill and eat.” And Peter said, “By no means, Lord.” So a third time, God said, “Get up Peter. Kill and eat.” Three times God had to tell Peter it was OK before Peter accepted that it was really, truly OK to change what he ate, what he believed, who he was. Would that it only took the rest of us three times. Peter was an exceptional disciple, because it only took him three times to get what God was saying to him.

How many times does God have to hit you over the head with something, before you believe it’s true? How many times do your family, or friends, or doctors (or preacher) have to tell you something before you relent, and give in? If it took Peter, the Rock, three times of a vision from God, what in the world will it take for the rest of us? Most of the time God comes to us through tradition and repetition, but every now and then, it takes a revolution. Every now and then, God needs us to jump the tracks and go off into uncharted territory.

So how do you know? How do you know it’s a real, live vision from God telling you what to do, and not just something you ate? “An undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato?” Ebenezer Scrooge argued to the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley. Fortunately, there was more of gravy than of grave about the Apostle Peter.

What Peter did wasn’t so much enlarging his diet as expanding the kingdom of God. You see, it’s not about the food; it’s about the people you eat with. It’s not about how intelligent you sound; it’s about the people you talk to. It’s not about correcting ignorant ways; it’s about the people who learn about the risen Lord by sitting at a table beside you.

You may not think about it very much, but the centerpiece of our house of worship is a supper table. Right there it is, the Communion Table, the Lord’s Table. It’s not the pulpit - I’m over here leaning to the left. The centerpiece of our worship is a constant reminder that people of all different sizes, shapes and stripes are here because of a food revolution. The centerpiece of our worship is also a constant reminder that someone else needs to be invited to the table, maybe someone we haven’t even met, maybe someone who’s a little weird. The centerpiece of worship reminds us that the guests at Christ’s table are always changing, and maybe, maybe, we should, too.

How do you know you’ve got a real, live vision of God telling you what to do? Maybe it comes down to this: Is the Spirit giving you a word to set extra places at the table, or is it telling you to take them up? The gospel of Jesus Christ is about welcoming the strangers, and not about keeping the strange people out.


In verse 17, Luke has Peter say, “If then, God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” And then, Luke writes, all the disciples “praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’” Now, I don’t have a word from the Lord on this, but I’m wondering if the Blessed St. Luke didn’t leave out a few steps in between, there. Just knowing how people are, I’m wondering if the disciples didn’t have to hear this story one, two, even three times or more before the news became good news.

Something I can say with absolute certainty is that 99.9% of you are going to leave worship today, and go to lunch. In the past, I have joked that the perfect sermon is, “God loves you; go to lunch.” It’s too short to sleep through, and it gets us to the restaurants before the Baptists. I have a strong feeling that the Apostle Peter would approve. I think Peter (who was not known for short sermons), would like that idea, but with one caveat. I think Peter would say, “God loves you; go to lunch, with someone different. Someone who doesn’t eat at the same places you do, someone who doesn’t necessarily look, or talk, or think like you.” If you do these things, then, you have evidence that, wonder of wonders, God has given the repentance that leads to life not so much to them, but to you.

Expand your tastes. The Apostle Peter did. The disciples eventually did. What about you?