True confession: I love soul food
- fried chicken–GOOD!
- collard greens–GOOD!
- black-eyed peas–GOOD!
IT’S ALL GOOD!
Talia Syrie and Steve Ackerman run The Tallest Poppy in Winnipeg. They serve the best fried chicken and collard greens north of St Louis. And on Wednesdays, it’s Waffle Wednesdays!–that means fried chicken and waffles all day long!
I worked one block away from The Tallest Poppy when I worked in Winnipeg. These days, I don’t get there too often (I think I’ve lost 10 pounds since I moved to Calgary). But in a world of fast food, frozen food, and processed food, it was always a pleasure to walk into The Tallest Poppy and get good food–soul food.
Today’s lesson from the Gospel of John is about soul food–that is, food that’s good for the soul. Jesus says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27). He adds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
For Jesus, the bread we feed our bodies is literally a given; i.e., it is given to us: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
So, when Jesus says do not work for the food that perishes, he’s talking about not becoming so preoccupied with bread … or all the other things that consume our time and energy … that we starve our souls.
Incidentally, Jesus seems to be referencing the manna that the Israelites ate in the desert. This manna did not “endure”–it spoiled. In fact, it perished if anyone tried to keep it overnight (Exod. 16:19–21). More to the point, the Israelites were constantly complaining they didn’t get anything else to eat … or, ironically, frantically trying to gather up as much of it as they could. They spent so much time focused on food that perishes they lost sight of the big picture: the journey to freedom, the promised land.
Unfortunately, in our materialistic culture, we give a lot of time, energy, and money to perishable food and other perishable items:
- we’re always trying to get more (because we’re trying to fill a void that perishable things can’t fill)
- we don’t want to share, because we don’t feel we have enough for ourselves
- we grumble because we think we deserve more
And we lose sight of the big picture: freedom, the promised land.
Presian Smyers Burroughs teaches at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. She’s written an engaging article on this lesson from John’s Gospel, and suggests that we need to “stop grumbling and start eating”–start eating soul food, the bread of life.
There is a relationship between these two choices: you need to start grumbling in order to start eating. Conversely, if you’re complaining, you’re not eating–you’re not feeding your soul.
Today’s lesson suggests that the soul food diet is all about eating Jesus. (John 6: 24-27, 35)
- Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (v. 35)
- Jesus says, “… the bread which I will give is my own flesh;” (6:51b)
- Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells continually in me and I dwell in him” (vss. 55-56).
- “Eating Jesus” is obviously a powerful (and maybe unsettling) image for a soul food diet.
But this soul food diet has always been on the menu for the followers of Jesus:
- Eating Jesus happens in a SACRAMENTAL way when we celebrate communion
- Eating Jesus happens in SACRIFICIAL way when we–as the epistles say–“live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.”
Or, as Paul says in Romans 12:1, when we “present your bodies as living sacrifices, which is your spiritual worship.”
The Abundant Community
So, let us go forward with a newfound passion for soul food.
And let us look for the soul food lovers all around us in our communities.
There are people everywhere who are living in love, giving generously of themselves, and creating abundant communities.
John McKnight and Peter Block are the authors of The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods
THERE IS A GROWING movement of people with a different vision for their local communities. They know that real satisfaction and the good life cannot be provided by corporations, institutions, or systems. … People are discovering that satisfying possibilities for their lives are in the neighborhood, not in the marketplace.
First, we see the abundance that we have—individually, as neighbors, and in this place of ours.
Second, we know that the power of what we have grows from creating new connections and relationships among and between what we have.
Third, we know that these connections are no accident. They happen when we individually or collectively act to make the connections—they don’t just happen by themselves.
Just this past week, I came across a powerful story of abundant community in my hometown of Winnipeg:
Rinelle Harper was only 16 years old last November when she was brutally assaulted and left for dead on the banks of the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg. She’s been recovering since then.
In July, her family was preparing to move back to Garden Hill First Nation to find summer employment.
But on July 13, an arsonist burned their Garden Hill home to the ground.
So, their home in Garden Hill was gone and they couldn’t afford to keep paying rent in Winnipeg. They were about to become homeless … twice.
But Jessica Woodward couldn’t stand by and watch that happen.
She started a GoFundMe campaign on Monday in the hopes of raising $13,000 to cover rent for the teen’s family for a year.
People donated the whole $13,000 in just a few days.
The people who contributed to this campaign stopped grumbling … about crime, about their city, about first nations people … and they started eating a soul food diet–living in love, very much the same way as Christ loved us.
My prayer for Knox is that we become known across this city and across this country for our love for soul food … for living in love as Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us.
When we start eating Jesus, and the word gets out about the incredible soul food found here, this place will be full and our community will be whole.