Rev. George Miller
“Comforting Milk ”
July 4, 2010
I was having one of those days. Ya’ll know the kind: outside the weather was muggy and buggy, the computer was running slow, the phone wasn’t working right and the clothes in the dryer were still damp. I went to empty the dishwasher to find some of the bowls were filled with water.
We all have those uncomfortable days, when its best to stay inside, not make any rash decisions and not talk to anyone because you may just say something you’ll regret.
Yes, we all have those days, as did our parents, as did all the people who came before us, such as those addressed in today’s reading.
The author of today’s portion of Isaiah is writing to the people around him who are living during uncomfortable times. Not only were they having one of those days, they were having one of those centuries.
They were dealing with the after affects of the exile, a period in history in which they were attacked and the enemy took a portion of the population into captivity. It was 50 years before they were set free and allowed to go back home.
But what they discovered wasn’t pleasant. Their land, their businesses, the place they worshiped was destroyed. They tried to rebuild everything, but it just didn’t feel the same.
The land didn’t fully recover from the abuse it underwent, the economy was a bust and the country was torn in political turmoil. People were stressed out dealing with the economy and everyone felt as though things weren’t improving fast enough. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The writer of this text was aware of everyone’s low spirits. He also knew that people have a tendency to only see what is currently happening, reducing all expectations to the present moment.
So the prophet relays to the people a message from God, a message that reaffirms to everyone that God has a goal and will not rest until the world is restored to its rightful integrity.
In ch. 65 the prophet gives the people something to look forward to: a vision of a new heaven and new earth, in which there will be rejoicing in their city, where weeping will no longer exist, and they will all have a place to call home.
And then God, through the prophet, offers an image of comfort. Jerusalem, the city that they love, that has suffered politically, economically and environmentally, shall become like a mother, nursing all her residents with bosoms rich in milk.
“For thus says the Lord...you shall nurse and be carried on her arms...As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you: you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66:12-13)
In case you missed it, the key word is comfort. Comfort to people who have lost everything. Comfort to people trying so hard to get it back. Comfort to folks having one of those days, one of those years, one of those decades.
What does that word mean to you? What images cross your mind?
It should be no surprise that when I hear the word comfort I think of food. Comfort food. Soul food. Momma’s home cooking.
Press me further, and I’ll tell you that a favorite comfort food of mine is fried chicken. Good ol’ crispy, crunchy chicken. But it’s the cooking, not the eating of fried chicken that offers me comfort.
Back in ‘98, when I was working at a home for abused children, the staff was responsible for cooking the meals. On my night it was fried chicken. I don’t know why they thought a boy from L.I. knew anything about fryin’ chicken.
But fortunately one of the mothers was there and she walked me through it, showing me how to heat the oil, clean the chicken and season it, saying that Lowery Seasoning Salt was a must.
Thus began my affair with making fried chicken. It’s a process for me, one that begins by picking out the right music (because fried chicken needs to be sung too). Then having something to drink (preferably wine). Cast iron skillets, cause its not fried chicken unless it’s done in a cast iron skillet.
And the ultimate secret: dipping the chicken not once but twice into the wet and dry mixtures.
Making fried chicken is a comfort not because of how it tastes but because I only make it for picnics or when people come over.
The best part? How the place smells afterwards, of grease and seasoning, an aromatic reminder that there has been food and people.
That is the power of comfort food. The bond it forms, the comfort it creates. That is part of what makes today’s reading so powerful.
God understands just how uncomfortable and worried the people are, so God offers them an image of comfort: a child being breast-fed by it’s mother, the original comfort food
There has been a lot of discussion about breast-feeding. The pros and cons, the responsible public actions, the proper age to stop. But the more research that has been done, the more scientists find the benefit of it.
Mother’s milk is easy to digest and an excellent source of nourishment. Breast-feeding improves the child’s immune system, staving off infection, reducing the risks of intestinal and respiratory tract problems (Time, 7/5/10, pg 18).
But breast-feeding does something more: it provides the child comfort. The baby, weak and vulnerable, is held in the protective shelter of the mother’s arms. The infant, with its head next to the mother’s chest, can hear the sound of her heartbeat, the source of life. The child can look up and sees its parent looking back.
Taste, touch, sight, sound, every sense incorporated, every sense saying you are comforted, you are mine, and you are loved.
Breast-feeding is about a relationship in which one is dependent on, and loved by, another.
Imagine how powerful of an image that is for people during a time of economic, political and environmental hardship.
This image invites folks to look beyond their current situation and to look towards a future in which they will be comforted, a time in which their every need is met, a time in which every sense says to them “You are OK, you are well.”
Comfort, comfort, comfort. Like the smell of fried chicken after a party, like a suckling infant receiving its mother’s milk.
That is what God wants for us. That is what the Spirit is busy working towards. And that is what Jesus is calling us to offer to one another and to the community around us.
And that comfort comes in so many ways, doesn’t it? Here at church we have members who provide pastoral care by volunteering at hospitals and hospices, offering comfort to the sick and dying by sitting with them so they are not alone.
Last week we offered comfort to a man released from jail by donating clothes and self-care items.
Currently we are gathering loose change in our Tuppence Tree and encouraging folk to go to the Salvation Army to support children in need of new school clothes.
How else can we offer comfort?
By speaking words of forgiveness, by saying that we are welcoming of all, by celebrating communion and having an open table.
Communion, the Lord’s Supper, means so many things. Last week we talked about how it was a way for Jesus to face his death.
Communion is also a sign of grace, freely given; grace that we receive, grace that we pass on to the person besides us.
Communion is a form of comfort. And like most comfort foods, it’s made from simple ingredients, in this case grain and fruit, two items you can find in almost any home, two items that transcend rich and poor, blue collar and white collar.
The bread, as the body, the juice, as the blood; meant to nourish us, sustain us, let us know we are comforted, we are the Lord’s and we are loved.
Communion is a chance for us to taste, touch, hear, see, a chance for our heart to rejoice, our bodies to flourish and a time for it to be known that the hand of the Lord is with us.
In conclusion, we all have those days. We all have those weeks, we even all have those years.
But we are not alone, nor does our current situation define us. We are more then our finances, we are more then our cell phone carrier, we are more the land around us.
We belong to God, and our God is holding us in tender yet strong hands, and our God is comforting, caring, and cooing: “Comfort, O comfort my people...” (Isaiah 40:1)
Thanks be to Jesus who invites us to the table, to the Spirit that leads the way and to God, our Father/Mother who desires to feed us all with comforting milk.
Amen and amen.