Food, Hospitality and Fun

The following sermon was given on Sunday, Sept. 1 in Wishek, ND at St. Paul’s First UCC Church there.
Scriptures used was Luke 14: 1, 7-14 and Hebrews 13: 1-8 & 15-16. I must confess that I did go off script most of the time, but at least this was the gist of the sermon.

Food, Hospitality and Fun

I had a thought earlier this week about the heat we are experiencing and the problems that it has caused for schools and sports teams and such. I know there is a petition circulating around North Dakota some place about holding off with school until after Labor Day. South Dakota tried that route and ended up changing back. It was many, many, many years ago when James and I lived in Eagle Butte before any of our children were born. It was on the ballot, and it passed. Somehow before it really got going, it was rescinded.

I think that maybe a better idea would be to switch Labor Day and Memorial Day. Maybe not the actual days, but the way they land. Have one at the beginning of June instead of the end of May, and the other at the end of August instead of the beginning of September. Well then again, it probably won’t help with the heat, but it seemed like a good idea at the time that I was thinking of it.
So what is this Labor Day Weekend stuff all about? I was curious about how it started, so I decided to look it up on the internet. Apparently it grew out of a movement by leaders of manufacturing laborers as a way to support or honor what they did. It had something to do with the American Federation of Labor in the 1980’s and technically started Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. It became a federal holiday before the 1900s, so it has been around for quite a long time.

At any rate, after tomorrow it is full steam ahead for another year both in our schools and in our churches. On this weekend many people across our country take time to go to the lake or go camping or at the least have some sort of family gathering. We don’t usually do anything major, in fact my dad used to treat it as just another Monday until the year that his hay hauler burned when a spark started a stack on fire and the wires melted before he could get in unloaded. My mother suggested he take a break on holidays after that event. James and I don’t often do much on this weekend either, but this year I decided we should have a family gathering since we really didn’t do anything like that all summer. I invited all of my siblings, and James invited one of his, and we will be having our picnic and fun this afternoon and tonight.

At first I thought this was just going to be siblings until I found out a couple of days ago that my grown children decided to join the family. I am happy to have them, but I could have used more advanced warning to get their rooms ready. Oh well I guess it doesn’t hurt to have them help out a little here and there. In light of the first story that we read from Luke’s gospel, maybe it is better that any of us come to a gathering with the idea that we are going to help out instead of wanting to be served and pampered.

As I say this, I think of the pampering that my siblings and I got at my Grandmother Lizzie’s place when we came there for a meal. It didn’t matter if we were there for a major holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving, or just a regular afternoon lunch. She always had plenty on the table, and always asked if there was something else that we might like. One of the things in particular that I think of is that she always had Jello at every meal. Also she always had a jar of homemade pickles or jelly or something extra, and during holidays, she didn’t sit until she was sure that we had what we needed or we insisted that she eat with us. In thinking back, I believe that the more we ate, the more she felt appreciated.

I always thought that our area had a corner on the idea that food and hospitality go together, but the more Bible stories I read, the more I realize it is a theme in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Both parts of this story of Luke are about hospitality and connect to eating. The first part deals with how you should respond when you attend an event. It advises us to be humble and to take a lowly seat rather than the seat of highest importance so that we will not be embarrassed when we are asked to move to a seat of lesser importance. The second part is essentially for the host telling him/her who to invite to an event. It suggests that we are NOT to invite only those who will do us good politically or financially or even just family members.

I guess James and I have been messing this up for a long time. When we lived in Jamestown, we often hosted picnics for either his school staff or mine. For a few of the last years that I taught in Montpelier, we hosted the entire staff and school board for the back to school picnic. Not everyone made it every year, but it was always a good time, and never as much work as it sounds like when I think of it now. I guess remembering those times is what pushed me to decide on hosting the picnic at our place today.
I few years ago, James and I attended the South Dakota Conference meeting of the UCC. It was the beginning of on-going talks they are having with the Dakota Association, which is the group of Native American churches in the South Dakota Conference. In one of the break out groups a Native American woman, a minister’s wife from the Eagle Butte area talked about the financial differences in hospitality and food. What she explained made such an impression on me that I hardly ever host an event without thinking of her words.

Toni compared our attention to food to our financial status. She said that the really rich, think of the Food Network and their competitions in gourmet cooking, the really rich evaluate food in terms of presentation. Think about that and watch one of those shows sometime. Though taste is a factor, one of the first things the judges comment about is how the food is plated.
Next Toni said that the middle class, which is where I am thinking many of us would choose to place ourselves, the middle class looks at food primarily in how it tastes. Oh, I can relate to that one. From my grandmothers to my mother who ran a local café for many years to myself. It is always a critique of “how does it taste?”

Finally Toni said that in their culture where many of the people live at the low end of the financial spectrum, where the people live in poverty, they look at food in terms of “Did you get enough to eat?” It was almost more than I could stand to hear. I understand that statement when I am reading frontier literature about the things that our ancestors went through when settling in this area. I understand that statement when reading about the Great Depression of the 1930s, but I don’t understand that statement when talking about the United States in this time when for the most part crops are good and the harvest is plentiful, and there is no excuse for hunger.

The gospels have many stories for us about food and hospitality and status. Jesus uses all sorts of parables about banquets and feasts. Jesus performed several miracles involving food and drink from turning the water to wine at the wedding feast in Canaan to feeding the 5,000 on the hillside with two loaves and five fishes. With Jesus there is always enough to eat, but food isn’t the only thing that he offers to us.

Through his stories about food and hospitality, he shows us the way to his kingdom. It isn’t always the righteous or those who think they are righteous that will be chosen. He didn’t come to earth for the most “important” guests at the banquet. He came for the lame and the beggars and the sinners and us. He came for the lowly, the humble, for the servant. So what does he want us to learn today? We need to remember that the first will be last and the last will be first, and we need to know that it is when we go out and serve him, do his work that is when he brings us to himself and lifts us to the status of guest of honor in his kingdom.

Remember as you go out today to the rest of your Labor Day weekend activities, go with the intention of spreading his gospel and caring for his people. Amen!!

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