“Making Peace: What’s the Recipe?”

The Rev. Dr. Seth Weeldreyer, First Presbyterian Church of Kalamazoo
October 1, 2023 – World Communion / Peacemaking Sunday
Exodus 16:2-15; Romans14:7-19

He asked who’s preaching … what are you going to say? Well, World Communion / Peacemaking Sunday … something about bringing peace to the world. Oh good! Tell us the secret! What conflicts come to mind? Big ones in society or church, more personal situations that strike to the core of who we are. What barriers and biases keep people from knowing and sharing the fullness of life God wants for each person and for all? Earliest Christians were Jews following Jesus, but one of the first big questions was what to do when non-Jews joined the faith. Do they, too, have to adopt Jewish rituals, or can their holy life together itself adapt? What’s really core to our living faith? Specific practices like what to eat or how to worship? Or something deeper. Hear what the Spirit may say.

{my own translation, with thanks to Gene Peterson and others who worked on other translations – Romans 14:7-19}

What’s important in all of this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. We do not live for ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. We are all answerable to God—all the way from life to death and everything in between. That’s why Jesus lived and died and lives again: so that he could be our Lord across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

So where does that leave you when you criticize your kin? Where does that leave you when you condescend to a sibling? It leaves you looking foolish, or worse. For we’ll all stand or kneel before God, where critical or condescending ways won’t improve our position one bit. As it is written in scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.”

So then each of us will be accountable to God.

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve never to put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of another, making life more difficult than it already is. For I’m convinced, persuaded in Christ Jesus, that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat or talk about it, can contaminate it. If you confuse others making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love. Do not let what you eat cause harm and ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a question of food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ, and thus, please God and received human approval. Let us all then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

For the word of God scripture … among us … within us, thanks be to God.

Good food makes a good pilgrim journey. On our recent Camino we savored local delights—fresh fish, Galician beef or vegetable soup, octopus, wines from nearby vineyards and cheeses through an older woman’s window—can’t get more fresh than that! Yogurt, muesli or potato omelet for breakfast, paella for dinner, pastries with coffee or tea. And “a gelato a day keeps the doctor away.” Just please, for me, no more French fries!! Often, we all ate together, especially when staying in the countryside. The first night around a long table we began several courses passing savory meats, bread in baskets, fresh cheese and divine tomatoes just off the vine. The next night it was soup and beef / vegetable stew over rice. At times, friends, I’ve wanted to know exactly what I’m eating. Potlucks? Curiosity and stress. By God’s grace, I’ve grown more adventurous, finding varied cuisine can be rich, nourishing, pleasurable. Good food makes for a good life journey. Now, more appreciative than suspicious I want to know: what’s the recipe?

That’s what ancient Hebrews in the Exodus countryside asked—their desert fare much simpler. Quails and fine, flour-like, flakes that left them asking: What is it? Manna … what the Hebrew word literally means: what is it? Beyond tummy practicalities, this gift new every morning is about core spirituality, how we relate in heart with God. You see, “What is it?” (the people’s query), echoes Aaron and Moses’ question: what are we (as God’s servants for the people)? They’re hangry, complaining, hope slipping, memory twisting. “If only we could still eat all that meat and bread we did back in Egypt”—that is, bread of oppression and exploitation. Well fed, but opposite of flourishing, they’re starving for abundant life. As they journey to the Promised Land of abundant life in peace, here’s the main ingredient. Will they trust God—to care amid their fear and anxiety, to guide when they feel lost in a foreign land, to fortify them with courage and endurance when weak … never losing vision of what’s possible, imagination of life in peace. In our food, Moses tells the people, we’ll know God’s presence. As we feast, we’ll see God’s glory.

Today we celebrate that Divine vision for all people and creation to flourish in peace. That’s God’s glory among us. Yes, absence of conflict and war, and much more: resources for basic needs, purpose to make a meaningful life, fulfillment of joy. How far away that Heavenly Promised Land can seem. As we see the stress widely in society, feel the hurt deeply for others, maybe know the struggle intimately. If honest (frustrated?), we also hear voices accuse faith of feeding biases, defending inequities, breeding violence, harm. Ireland and Iraq, Armenia, India, Africa, and through so much of America—all we hear in media and maybe our families. Makes so many want to say: I’m done with it, Christian no more. Not me. I want to know: what is it … we can say and do? What’s true in our living faith that feeds peace? What good spiritual food can we make to keep us fortified with hope, courage, endurance on our pilgrim journey?

“Here’s a way for me to stay Christian,” writes Brian McLaren, in a bit we noodled last Tuesday. We unearth blessings and confess shortcomings. Humbled by failures, inspired by treasures, we work with all people and creatures, re-ligamenting ourselves with God, and retelling our gospel story where time and again Jesus embodies that there is no us and them—building bridges of love where walls of division have crumbled to rubble.[i]

St. Paul would be pleased with Brian. That’s what he tried to convey and inspire in early Christians living in Rome. Some people said that to follow Jesus, keep making the old kosher family recipes passed down over generations, all the instructions for food, worship, daily living concocted and preserved in the holy cookbook of faith. The Bible tells us Paul and Peter split over this dispute—a kitchen disaster conflict among early Christians. On one side, I get it. They keep living what seems most important to preserve identity. It’s hard in a society with threats insidious and outright hostility. On the other side, I get it. God creates and loves all people, no exclusion or need to prove worthy. We all pulse with Holy Love. How can we connect, cook up life in true Grace with others seemingly different on the surface? How can we nurture all people to flourish in the fullness of shalom? As they argue about food and prayer practices, Paul yearns to know: what can we say and do? What’s the recipe for peace? He appeals for us all to center in God, like Hebrews receiving Exodus manna. We do not live for ourselves—our agendas and egos. We live for the Lord until the day we die through everything along the way. The real taste test is if what we do offends, inhibits another person from relating with God. From feeling “you are loved” … and going to live that promise for others in some way.

So, friends, what does it mean to live for the reign of Christ beyond rules about food and drink? What’s the recipe for such faith that feeds righteousness, peace, and joy? World Communion Sunday seems like what our faith is really all about—living freely and fully in peace. Jesus gives us the recipe as he always hangs out with Roman soldiers, tax collectors, people ill or ailing or otherwise outcast as not holy enough. That’s why he feeds thousands by the sea and goes to the homes of Centurions and Pharisees.

That’s why we serve dinner every Wednesday. Amber, Chrissy and I concocted chili and cornbread for CTV that afternoon. I was told I’m moral support! Then I got the crucial task of browning onions and meat. While Chrissy dumped cans of beans, tomatoes, whatever else. Not quite a Galician delicacy, but personal, from whatever we found on our shelves, if not the garden … we all start with what we have. It was four bean chili … which became five, then six bean chili. Huge container of enchilada sauce. A jar of chopped garlic. If people ask for our secret recipe, we agreed, we’ll just say the Holy Spirit! Amber made gluten-free cornbread along with regular, and we had a vegetarian bit to help everyone receive the grace of a good meal, later added to the rest. I expect Paul would be pleased. I was pleased to savor a taste test, scraping before rinsing the huge stock pots!

Just before heading down to help with dinner, we shared noon prayer. I gave backstory for our texts, then invited others to help concoct a recipe for how we live to the Lord, how we see and seek God’s glory—fullness of peace amid our everyday lives and world. She began by frowning “it’s so sad—why someone shot all those people in the Pittsburgh several synagogues come together for holy days.” And so, friends, sometimes like melting butter to start a recipe we begin by lamenting the world not as God wants it to be. “Challenging,” he said. Hard to keep going, yearning, but not knowing what to do. Whether we eat or not, this or that, in some way all people want peace. She’d always prayed trying to center in God, but then I found a home, this church, a community of people to share the journey.

That’s when a prayer companion told a story. She went to a Queen Fan Club gathering a few years ago. I confess I didn’t know if she meant the Queen of England, or a trans gathering. No, the rock band Queen. Unexpected. Impressed, at her age. I didn’t listen to the music she said. My daughters did. They took me. All kind of ironic as we talk about the reign of Christ, not Freddie Mercury. Then she went on. Husband died two weeks before the convention. Go, her daughters urged. You need it. They’re good people, kind. They’ll care for you. She met people from around the world—Japan, UK, all over the US. They’re an official charity supporting AIDS research, providing stuffed animals for kids. They hear great real stories. Like when the band came to the US and found they needed security. So they hired the Northwestern football team. They hadn’t won a game in years, knew nothing about being gay. But they were treated like royalty in food and hotels, and they all bonded to help each other. As the convention ends, they circle hands and sing “Friends will be friends.” Now her grandson loves to go.

Humbled by failures, inspired by our treasures, McLaren celebrates, we find neighbors religious and secular engaging, connecting—no us and them, building bridges.

As our prayer conversation continued, she yearned with moist eyes. What can I do? When I see how people do such mean things, how can I really make a difference for peace? And so, the Queen fan of sorts concluded what God really wants is for us to do small things, important things out there beyond these walls. We make a difference, affirms our stewardship campaign this year.

Soon, friends, we’ll eat all together, passing bread in baskets—a holy meal. In and beyond our food and drink, the reign of God is really about righteousness, feeding vital living faith in God, with peace and joy. It’s a gift we receive new every morning, like manna in the wilderness. And grateful, we ask what is it? As I savor the recipe of grace this day, what is it I can do to make a difference, to touch another heart, to feed another hunger? I love the recipe the Holy Spirit mixes up among us. I’m mostly here for moral support, and glad to give it however I can! And I’m pleased to savor every taste test of local delights among us, as we all start with whatever we have in mind and heart!

Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Abridged from Brian McLaren, Do I Stay Christian? (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2022), 101.