In the dictionary of pastoral care and counseling, burn out is described as thus, “a syndrome often occurring among individuals in helping professions, involving emotional and physical exhaustion, depersonalization, and a feeling of reduced personal accomplishment. Other symptoms include headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, lingering colds, loss of weight, sleeplessness, shortness of breath, feelings of tension and anxiety, overuse of food, coffee, or chocolate, memory loss, irritability, daydreaming, tendency to blame, withdrawal, cynicism, marital dissatisfaction, impatience, feelings of inferiority, emotional flatness, loss of interest in hobbies, preoccupation with one area of one’s life, and spiritual dryness.”
Burnout is common in non-profit work, in helping professions, in churches, in parents, in educators—the list goes on. I would wager that most of us here have felt this way at one time or another.
Jesus came so that we might have life, and that we might have it abundant! But sometimes our abundant lives overflow, become out of balance, get out of control, and we’ve got to nourish ourselves before we take on anything else. Amen?
Nourishment. This word rose to the top quickly in the work of our visioning team. To nourish ourselves and others is the first goal on our vision as a church. So that, I might add, we can nourish the world. Sometimes we are nourished by nourishing others! It is a mystery how the cycle of nourishment begins, but it never ends. Nourishment, mmm, it’s a yummy word, it’s a food word. It means we will feed ourselves and each other.
The early-church met over meals, always. The text from Acts that we have today follows the Pentecost story, which as you will learn on June 4th when we celebrate it here, is the birthday of the church, the memory of how a community continues on after Jesus has died. Christ has risen, Jesus has left us with the Holy Spirit, now what the heck do we do?
We eat together often, they concluded. Last week in our text from Luke, the followers of Jesus finally recognized him in the breaking of bread. He met them on the road to Emmaus, but they had no idea who he was, even though their hearts were burning within them. But their hearts and eyes were finally opened when he broke bread at table with them.
“In the Beginning was the Meal,” is a book by The Rev. Dr. Hal Taussig about the importance of meals to the early Jesus following communities. In Greco-Roman culture, festival meals were common, and as the Roman empire continued to colonize and break up local tribal and ethnic groups, inflict violence in the name of Pax Romana, peace, meals became a place for social experimentation, for new identity formation, for preservation of local culture, and it was in this context that the early Christians met. There was stability and structure in the meal setting, and slowly the early Christians could form their identity in subversive ways without risking the larger consequences of denouncing the roman imperial forces.
In our text from Acts, the breaking of bread, the act of eating together is mentioned twice in this short passage about what the Resurrected Jesus following community was up to. There is a deep economic equality here- it looks more like a commune. They knew the world, the empire, wouldn’t take care of the sick and the weak, the outcast. There certainly wasn’t universal health care. So this community was dedicated to taking care of anyone in need. Acts 2 says, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” They took care of each other. They physically and spiritually nourished one another.
The early-Christian community put forth a social vision of liberation, equality, healing, salvation. Not salvation, of professing the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior and being done with it, but literally salvation to save people from the death dealing forces of the world. To pool resources together and to live as one body, in contrast to the separation and division and violence in the world. At early Christian meals were comprised of diverse people, who usually did not mix, people of different ethnicities: Jews and Greek, people of different economic status: slaves and free, people of different gender identities: male and female, all reclined together, a posture usually only granted for the upper class, eating, singing, having conversation.
When it came time in traditional Greco-Roman meals, which is what the Christians pretended they were doing, to honor the Emperor, to honor the King, they would lift a glass, exchanging knowing looks- “to the King,” meaning Jesus, the one who truly comes in the name of peace. And when it came time to lift a cup to the God’s Juno or Jupiter, with a knowing look in their eyes, those gathered would lift a glass to the God of Israel, the God of liberation, who has been steadfast to an oppressed people. And the powers of the world couldn’t tell the difference. This was the form of first-century Christian worship.
Jesus was present in the breaking of the bread- which in itself was a subversive act because in other festival meals, the main blessing would happen over the meat- the piece of food that the men were in charge of, only afforded to the wealthy. But Jesus, broke bread, a common food, made by the hands of women.
In the beginning was the meal- central to the identity of Jesus-followers, and a place of resistance to the evil in the world, a place to act out a new social vision of equality and liberation from an oppressive empire. So when we break bread together, when we nourish ourselves at this table, remember these roots. That the bread was made by the hands of women, that people across difference would come together in radical equality and nourish each other, and recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. That people, burnt out from the world, broken, needing salvation, could come hungry and leave nourished. Not just because of the food, but because of the social vision, because of the human relationships that formed, because of the presence of the living Christ. Because in the brokenness of the bread people recognized their own brokenness, their own tired and hungry and burnt out bodies, desperate for the love of God, desperate for a world that looks different. And they became nourished by these meals, knowing their brokenness was not in isolation, and that a God of liberation and freedom follows them from life into death.
So we now have a new question to ask of each other! “How do you become nourished? How do you nourish others?” Perhaps we could create a nourish-o-meter. To become nourished, we need to discover the places of mal-nourishment, of hunger within us and in the world. So maybe the question is, how hungry are you, and for what?
What would it be like to truly nourish ourselves and each other? What would it be like to pool our resources and dedicate intentional time and space to healing? In a culture where insurance companies profit off of the sick, what would it be like to have a co-op of healers that come into the church once a month, and create free alternative health care? In a culture where only the elite get to be part of the wellness movement, what would it be like to bring alternative modalities of healing to the people of Middletown? What would it be like to save people from the death dealing forces in our world by eating together, by feeding people, by focusing on nourishment? What would it be like to always worship over a meal?
Today as we approach this table, know this meal as hope for the hopeless, food for the hungry, freedom for the captive, healing for the sick and nourishment for your hungry soul. Let it be so, amen.