feast or famine?
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Trinity, October 17, 2021
“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness.”
SEVEN THIN and sickly cattle come up out of the river and eat seven fat cows, yet they look as weak and skinny as before. Seven dried up ears of grain withered by the east wind eat all the plump, ripe grain and still look ill and ugly. Feast or famine? The Pharaoh, after his dream, consults his chief prisoner and learns the fate of Egypt.
We live in a land of eternal feasting. Things get bigger, richer, more fattening, and more available until we stagger under our weight and our doctors use terms like obese.
I remember the first McDonald’s hamburgers. You could buy one for a quarter. One thin brown patty, two flat white bread halves, a squirt of sauce and three light green pickles so thin you could use them as sunglasses. Today, you may buy a Triple Whopper with cheese and chomp down 1200 calories. Want fries with that? Nobody notices the excess until something breaks: your zipper, your health, your car’s front seat, or the economy. America is the wealthiest nation on earth, and yet we’re scared—and for good reason. We haven’t learned the lessons of feast and famine.
Not satisfied with the huge produce already able to grow on vast plains of waving grain and lush soil, abundant with vegetable crops, we invented chemicals to push the process, increase size and kill competing life forms. In fact, we created large newly engineered foods that magically defied imagination for color and size and perfection, but lacked nutrition, even taste. Why not? GMO corn, high fructose syrup, soy in everything we call Protein. We’ve done it to our houses, televisions, cars, even our bodies.
You know what I mean. Every time there’s an oil crisis, we invent the economy car. It’s tiny. Everyone buys one. Two years later, the tiny car announces it’s a few inches bigger and boasts a greater cargo load. It continues to grow from there until the next embargo.
Western man can’t settle on what, as Goldilocks said, is just right. Size impresses us. We cease to care about quality and values that take time to discover and appreciate. Just make it big. The world’s tallest building keeps the title only until a taller one goes up somewhere.
God ordained feasts and He commended fasting as well. Food is a powerful force. It’s a function we connect closely with life. And when we feast, we feel good, we share our table, we pour the wine, and we toast each other’s good health. Sumptuous aromas rising from the kitchen on Thanksgiving make us dizzy with anticipation. It’s also a symbol.Feasting is a sign of favor, of fellowship, of our future in heaven. In an agrarian society, when crop yield means eating or starving, a feast was a sign that all was well. You could eat, because there’s enough.
A feast didn’t go on interminably. You’d get sick if it did. Your body doesn’t do well on too much food. There comes a time when you have to reel back and stop. The human body can go quite a long time on no food at all. It’s a surprise, but Christ’s 40-day fast was not a miracle. It was hard. But there are people who do that now.
Fasting is another kind of feast. It’s a feast on God. We know little of this. You stop the body’s constant cycle of digestion and turn it into a fuel burning machine, finding and breaking down your stored energy. The body naturally stores energy for famines that humans used to endure, so we store it up right around… well, here. You can burn that off by fasting. And not spend hours cooking and eating, but on meditating the mysteries of God that He shows you when your mind is clear of digestion.
Our lives have cycles. There are times of gain, and times of loss. That passage in Ecclesiastes offers Solomon’s greatest wisdom: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; … a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Eccl 3:1-7 Would that we all knew when to keep silent. When to mourn. When to lose or cast away.
Jesus not only fasted on the wilderness, and suffered most likely a lot of missed meals on his other journeys, but he also enjoyed feasts aplenty. St. John’s Gospel mentions many of these, including a wedding that Jesus aided tremendously in the beverage department. His central legacy with the Apostles gave them an all-important meal to reenact frequently in order to call Him back among them so they might feed upon Him. He used the feasting motif in His parables, and our Gospel today is an important example.
He tells of heaven by means of a king and the wedding feast he holds for his son. The king’s best friends are invited, but at the hour appointed, they all refuse to join the feast. These friends were so abusive they even killed some of the king’s messengers. His armies were then sent to destroy his ungrateful former friends.
So, the king fills his house with just anyone who can be found and the hall fills with people, bad and good. One has no wedding garment on, whom the king discovers and questions over it. “Friend,” the king calls him, “how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” And the man was speechless. Having thus no excuse, he was thrown out.
This last bit needs explaining. Just as in a fine restaurant where a coat and tie are required of its male patrons, the establishment also has a closet with coats and ties to loan you to meet the dress code. That achieves the sense of refinement everyone wants when dropping that kind of money for dinner. No California casual here, thank you. So it was with wedding garments: you’d be given one to wear. This man had been offered one, but he refused— “My clothes are good enough. Where’s the food?” Yes, I’m afraid the fellow had an American accent.
Salvation is a feast won by great sacrifice, by and for the Son of God. It cost Him dearly, but His pains won Him His bride. The bride will be sought out from among every social stratum, every race and nation and language and color. Those who really want Him will have Him. And then heaven, and that feast. The feast goes on forever. A shadow of that feast begins subtly now. We don’t gorge on Jesus, or on coffee hour goodies, or burgers off the grill. We delight in what we’re offered, looking forward to an even better table, finer dining, higher fellowship with our Prince one day. We will then wear garments given us, robes washed white. It makes us worthy to be there. Our old clothes look ratty amid such splendor. The new gowns elevate us to glory.
In this life, feasting gives way to fasting. It has to. We are subject to overloading, fleshy desires pushing our intake to the limit and past. In silent retreats we discover that just 36 hours of not talking resets our blabbermouths to where we truly think before we speak, and then think again. Fasting from media, from entertainment, from all the cell phones and noise can reset our senses to appreciate the inner world of the spirit. Fasting, or getting a serious look at what we take in, and disciplining our flesh, can give us a fresh appreciation of the things we consume, things we take in. We may finally taste it. We feel full sooner. We may even lose weight. We will certainly look up and meet someone else’s eyes.
When we are unwilling to fast—in any of the ways I mention—we might fall subject to famine. God sends famines, the Bible says, because He knows we grow by hardships. We turn back to Him and stop thinking we’re the source of our own lives. We learn what is important and what is merely icing on the cake. We learn basic life lessons and distinguish the fluff from the essential.
Corporations may lay off 10,000 employees and make news. It sounds like doom. But sometimes they’ve realized the overload they had in a department that had ceased a productive role, but they’d been unwilling to reassign or lay off non-productive workers. The US auto industry has countless tales of this over-hiring of non-productive people. That’s why foreign automakers overtook us. We needed a fast, but we didn’t take one. A famine resulted. GM went down first.
How much do you really need? This is not to spoil the feasting today: never feel guilty about a worthy celebration. We all need it. But in-between: how much stuff do I have to have? What is my necessary intake? How big a house, how many cars, what kind of furniture, how many clothes, how much food? When you feast all the time, in all ways, to all your senses—you stop really feasting and only stuff yourself. There’s no more enjoyment. It isn’t special anymore.
We need a sense of scale. We need perspective, and that only can be found in the meaningful, conscious selection of your times of feasting, and your times of fasting. Else the famine sets in and God will teach you unlearned lessons.
America is in famine right now, and may be for years to come. We didn’t learn it ourselves by fasting. We haven’t learned it yet, not by half. We keep spending like there’s something in the bank. The thin cows eat the fat, but not the cattle of the past years. They are eating the fat cattle of our future.
Feast or famine? There is another answer. Christ said if we seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, then what we need will always be there. Enough of everything has seemed to always be there, and it will if we give up that pursuit and look for God in all things.
Then you can “See that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Eph 5:15-16