Good Things to Eat


Rev. Dr. Joyce Antila Phipps

Old First Church

December 17, 2017

Text: Luke 1:39-55

       Now, I have cookbooks but my friend Alice had a collection of over 800 cookbooks. Her kitchen looked like a combination of the Barnes & Noble remainder shelf and the condiment shelf in TJ Maxx. Overwhelmed at her collection, once I asked, “Alice, how do you remember what’s what?” “Oh,” she replied, “I don’t. That’s what makes cooking so much fun!” And, the truth was, of course, that she didn’t remember which recipe came from what book. By the time she was through, we all liked it anyway.

       Alice loved to share the many good things she made for not just family and friends, but for strangers as well. “Just remember,” she used to say, “a stranger is a friend you haven’t gotten to know yet.” She was generous with her time in cooking and her time in sitting down and sharing what she had cooked. 

      Alice especially loved Christmas. She had a collection of Christmas recipes that was a match for Williams Sonoma. She made a fruitcake that even I liked–not with the candied stuff, but with real dried fruit that had been soaked in rum for two days and more nuts than a squirrel could imagine. When Alice became ill and realized that she was dying, she told her friends that they each had to take at least one cookbook. As we tearfully chose our cook-books, we saw that Alice had marked each one with the date she had tried the recipe; she added her comments on the recipe and marked any modifications she had made in its preparation. Alice was such a great cook that she could figure out when to cut the sugar, eliminate the salt, add this, change that. I learned to mark my cookbooks as well. I, too, like to share good things to eat with family and friends and people who will become friends.

       Good things to eat. There are so many ways to fulfill God’s promise to the poor. Each of us must receive at least two to three pitches in the mail every day–everything from the direct feeding programs of the Salvation Army to development and micro-credit programs of Acción or Heifer International. My priorities tend to run to development, women’s education in the Third World, and micro-credit. But in addition to giving money, there are other ways to help fulfill God’s promise to the poor, namely, changing the priorities in our national and state budgets, not to mention a law or two.

       Good things to eat. The poor–the working poor–need affordable housing in order to afford good things to eat. Not just in Newark and Camden, but right here, right here in Monmouth County. “I smell trouble,” says Professor Harold Hill, trying to con the small town in Iowa, but there was trouble, just not the kind that Hill was pushing. And there is trouble here, right here, in Monmouth County and its name is our fear of the term “affordable housing.” But now communities are lobbying the State to change the affordable housing plan. Fortunately the courts stopped Christie’s attempts to destroy the Council on Affordable Housing. If people who professed themselves to be Christian really cared about the working poor, then they should support affordable housing.

        Good things to eat. Mary’s song tells us that the rich will be sent away empty. That’s what will happen if the rich–that’s us, not just in the First World, but those of us in the upper middle class–ignore those who work to make our lives easier. It’s not a threat, but God’s warning to those who make money off the misery of others. Our community at Old First is incredibly generous to the less fortunate; we fill up the food table for the poor; we feed the homeless; we support the Calico Cat; and we donate to Heifer and what seems like a million other organ-izations. But in addition to all this good work, we need to look at the structural issues that affect our wider com-munity. And affordable housing is only the beginning.

       Good things to eat. We tend to think of the phrase only in terms of material wealth, and, to be sure, Mon-mouth County has good deal of it in New Jersey. When he was running for mayor New York, Bill DeBlasio spoke of two cities; well, we certainly have that division here in New Jersey. The median family income here in Monmouth County is more than $85,000. But Monmouth is not the highest; in fact, Monmouth is fourth. Hunterdon with over $100,000 is first, followed by Morris with around 96k and then Somerset in the same range, then Bergen with only 91k and here is poor Monmouth with only 85k.per family. The poorest city in New Jersey is Camden, parts of which still look like Europe right after World War II.

       Good things to eat is God’s promise of true justice, a term that is more expansive than our modern day idea of justice. The Hebrew word for righteousness, tzadik, means to be in right relationship with God and with others, and it encompasses justice, equity, mercy. It involves a covenantal relationship. And that is how we are to live–in a covenantal relationship with others because we cannot be in that relationship with God unless we are in it with others. The word also encompasses shalom, which means more than the lack of war; it means an all-encompassing peace, the one we have when the community is whole. And the community cannot be whole if part of the community cannot afford to meet its basic needs.

       Those needs are more than just material. This past Thursday was the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting. On one of the news websites I frequent, there are the photos of 26 persons, mostly children, of course, and I look at the Congress this Nation elected loosening the already loose gun restriction laws and I ask myself: How is this possible? How disconnected from life Adam Lanza must have been to do what he did. And, on Thursday, of course, Trump had to weigh in about how restrictions on gun sales could not have prevented Sandy Hook. As Jefferson wrote, “I tremble for my country when I think that God is just. And that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

      Good things to eat. The poor do not get it in this new tax bill being touted as so-called “reform” I’ve never been able to figure out how every so-called “reform:” was nothing more than big business getting what it wanted while the poor suffer.

       Good things to eat. The promise involves a total reversal of the order of things. And that should be a warning to us here in the First World. If we do not share our resources with others, reduce our outrageous con-sumption of natural resources, it will be more than a heartsick photo of an emaciated polar bear that will haunt us. It will be the future we are creating through our care-less and conspicuous consumption. The America Firsters are the “me firsters” without much thought or consid-eration of their children and grandchildren. The reversal will come and our future will reap the whirlwind.

       Good things to eat. Alice shared her fruitcake recipe with all her friends before she died. Back in the day when I had hordes of kids trampling through the house–my kids and all their friends made up a horde, I went through the Christmas baking routine, using the recipes from Alice’s Greatest Cookie Cook Book Ever, turning out a tray of cookies a day. I don’t do that anymore, but I love going through her book, seeing her great comments on the recipes, one reading, “This would have been good for Herod–doughy and tough” or the one for a cookie called “Mary’s Star”: soft and tender, almost too good to eat.              May we all have good things to eat as we share our resources with our families, our friends, and the people who will become our friends.

        Let us pray: God of good things to eat, give us a new vision of the kingdom that Jesus came to share with us so that we may be truly faithful to him throughout our lives. Amen.