Taste and See

May 5, 2019

Series: May 2019

Category: Faith

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Psalm 34:1-8

I will bless the Lord at all times; God’s praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt God’s name together.  I sought the Lord, and God answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.  Look to God, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear God, and delivers them. 
O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in God.

 Taste and see, taste and see, the Lord is good, the Lord is good.

Taste and See

I find it interesting that when Jesus meets up with his disciples on that beach, he wants to have breakfast with them.  I would think that Jesus would have so much to tell them, so many lessons to impart.  Do they really understand the significance of the resurrection … the fact that he is standing there right in front of them?  There is major theology to tackle here.  But he doesn’t get in to any of that.  No, instead, he invites them to breakfast.  They sit down together and share a simple meal of bread and fish.

Jesus seemed to know that it was not a long lecture from him that the disciples needed.  What they needed – perhaps what Jesus himself even needed – was a time to simply be together.  To share a meal.  To sit in one other’s company.  To let the conversation go where it may as they sat together with open hearts and open minds.

There is something about sharing a meal together.  Author Barbara Coloroso calls it “one of the oldest and most fundamentally unifying of human experiences.”  Now, I know that sharing a meal is not always like that.  Has anyone ever been on a painfully awkward first date?  Or shared a frantic, rushed meal on the way to somewhere else?  No, not every meal is a beautiful experience.

But, when we approach a meal together with intentionality, with the desire to learn from and with one another, with careful listening and honest speaking, with hearts open to the dancing of the Spirit, then something special can happen.  We can taste and see together the goodness of God, and the goodness of one another.

You just heard the story of Jesus sharing breakfast with his disciples.  Today I want to tell you two other stories about sharing meals together.  These stories are wonderful examples of how people have tasted together, and seen that God is good.

The first story comes from a woman named Tina Singleton.  Several years ago, her work took her to Kabul, Afghanistan, and she struggled to fit in to the culture and the community there.  Until she planted a garden.  This is her story.

“The last three years that I lived in Kabul, I planted a garden behind the high walls and razor wires of my compound.  I planted this garden for purely selfish reasons … I wanted my collard greens!  I figured, if I was going to live in a war zone, girl was gonna to have her greens.  I planted, in addition to the collards, swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, a bunch of different lettuces, and a whole variety of herbs.  I had never planted a garden before.  I always killed every plant I ever had – including cactus – so I just planted everything at once.

Now, I don’t know what was in that soil at my compound, but everything came up.  All at once.  So here I am with all of this produce, not quite sure what to do with it.  I gave some away, and I also started cooking for friends.  That evolved into cooking monthly dinners for ex-patriots. These gatherings were an opportunity for us to be more than just our jobs.  It was an opportunity for us to relax in this stressful environment, to tell stories, to laugh, and to share a great meal.  It was then that I saw the power of food to bring people together.

 I then began to share meals in the homes of locals, like Ali and Durhani, which gave me an opportunity to learn about the people and the country through food. Afghanistan became less about the war, the security rules, and suicide bombers, and it became more about the personal relationships that I would develop eating in Afghan homes.  It didn’t matter that I was a black American woman and it didn’t matter that they were Afghan and Muslim.  We were just human beings sharing a meal.  In a war zone, I had inadvertently created a gathering space for people from diverse backgrounds to enjoy a delicious meal, promote healing, and form friendships in the process.

 Nothing brings people together like sharing a meal.  When you create space for conversation, dialogue, and connections, the labels, stereotypes, the preconceived notions that we often have about each other begin to disappear.  We begin to see each other’s individuality.  We can sit around the table and move into celebrating both our diversity and our common humanity.  It’s difficult to hate someone when you’re sharing a meal – when you sit in love and connection.  We can move from hate and fear to love, compassion, and empathy.”[i]

 Taste and see, taste and see, the Lord is good, the Lord is good.

Tina now lives in Charleston, where she has launched the “Transformation Table” organization, which regularly gathers people together for meals where they are invited to share their stories with one another.

The other story I want to share is from Shauna Niequist.  She is an author and blogger, and describes herself as a “a passionate gatherer of people … especially around the table.” This particular story comes from her book, “Bread and Wine,” which is part cookbook, part memoir about the ways that meals have been transformative for her.

“I’ve always had visions of a really great New Year’s Eve party – fancy and fun, glamourous and stylish – but we are usually out of town at New Year’s.  So this year, I decided to laugh in the face of the calendar and have a New Year’s Eve party on the 21st of January.  I invited my friends and began to obsess about the menu.

 Now we had decided to have our house painted early in the month – we were sure it would take one week, tops.  But, Tom, our painter, turned out to have lots of great ideas and became more of a general contractor as the list of projects grew.

 On the afternoon of the party, Tom’s paint cans and tools were still on one half of the kitchen counter, while my cutting board and knives and bowls were on the other.

 I have a policy of always trying new recipes for dinner parties – it’s not a performance; it’s a meal, and I like trying new things. This usually works in my favor, but the day of this party, I had grossly underestimated the prep time required and was seriously in the weeds.  I had chosen to make a lobster-and-mango salad.  Are there two harder items to prep than mangoes and lobsters?  Slippery skins, pits, shells, veins.  I whacked away at them, watching the clock.  I was off my game, scrambling, messy, shortcutting.  For the main course, I made ginger chicken which turned out mealy and pale.  I served it over rice that I overcooked by about half an hour, and a carrot souffle that looked exactly like a batch of brownies.

 It’s easy, when you love planning, to start thinking that each moment will go just so.  I thought the twelve of us would sit at my perfect table, arriving just on time, laughing and eating perfectly prepared food.  But I wanted my brother there, and that made us an inelegant thirteen.  Then Brian and Jorie told me they were coming late.  Then Matt and Kristi had to go to a funeral. Then the house was a last-minute mess and I overcooked the rice.  The chicken was unsightly.  I destroyed a souffle.  And then our first guest, Paul, came without his wife and with a fresh heartbreak. So much for my perfectly laid plans.

 But then, everything changed.  Before we said grace, Paul filled everyone in, and we prayed for him as we thanked God for the meal and for the gift of gathering around the table.  Jorie came mid-dinner, and Brian came even later than that.  They both slipped right into the conversation, and I warmed plates for them.  Matt and Kristi came from their funeral after we were already done eating, but we moved chairs around and warmed plates for them while they told us about the service.

 The night wasn’t even close to what I’d pictured.  The table was a wreck, like musical chairs, with people coming and going and switching seats all evening, but this is the thing: it was perfect.  It was just as it should have been, and nothing close to what I could have planned.  The food and the evening and the people and the conversation and the feeling in the room were allowed to be whatever they needed to be for that night.

 When the table is full, heavy with empty platters, napkins twisted and crumpled, forks askew, candles burning down low, dessert plates scattered with crumbs and icing – it’s in those moments that I feel a deep sense of God’s presence and happiness.  I feel honored to create a place around my table, a place for laughing and crying, for being seen and heard, for telling stories and creating memories.”[ii]

Taste and see, taste and see, the Lord is good, the Lord is good.

 In just a few moments, we will share a meal around this table.  May it be a place for laughing and crying, for being seen and heard, for telling stories and creating memories.  May it be a place where we can move from hate and fear to love, compassion, and empathy.  May it be a place where we feel a deep sense of God’s presence.  May it be a place where we taste and see that the Lord is good.  And may there be many tables and places like this in your life.  Amen.

  [i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bisf4GtySyE and https://transformationtable.com

 [ii] Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, Pp. 190-194, 251.