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If you know very much about me, then you know that I am a hobby gourmet cook.  Few things are more enjoyable to me than being in the kitchen and few things bring me more joy than preparing food for family and friends.  As a friend once put it, “You express love through your food.”  Lots of people do.  At last month’s Calvin University January Series I had the chance to do the post-lecture interview with cookbook author and TV personality Caroline Randall Williams.  In the long prologue to her cookbook, Soul Food Love, she traces her family’s history of love expressed through food back multiple generations.  (Excellent cookbook, by the way.  The Peanut Chicken Stew is over the moon good.)

Recently I mentioned Neal Plantinga’s new book Gratitude.  Plantinga also notes how being thankful for the gift of food goes back as far as there was such a thing as praying in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Doubtless other religious traditions could say something similar.  In one of Neal’s own prayers he frequently gives God thanks for the gift of food and drink and then says, “We are grateful because this shows, O God, your enthusiasm for our lives.”   Plantinga also encourages us to reflect on the long chain of people and markets and equipment that is required just to get something like a Brussels sprout onto our plates.  All thanks finally goes to God in the end but we widen our ambit of gratitude when were remember also farmers and truckers and warehouse workers and grocery store owners and the people who stock the shelves at such stores.

When God hands us our food—and when more immediately we hand food to a loved one—God is saying and we are saying, “I want you to live.  I want you to flourish.”  God could have, of course, made eating and drinking a necessary but somewhat bland affair.  Instead God has gifted us with whole cornucopias of foods, food types, ethnic specialties, and more.

Perhaps my favorite dish to make is Spanish-style paella (I have mentioned it before on the Reformed Journal blog!).  It is a one-pan wonder that showcases that abundant variety of food.  Dig into one of my paellas and you will encounter clams, mussels, shrimp, sausages, chicken, beef, (now and again lobster tail), fish, roasted red/green/yellow bell peppers, peas, Arborio rice seasoned with the most expense spice on the planet: saffron.  Talk about your enthusiasm for life!

A year ago I cooked a dinner for my parents on the occasion of their 64th anniversary.  I wanted it to be special and so spent weeks planning it, sourcing the ingredients, etc.  In the end they got a salad with a variety of cherry tomatoes, pickled red onion, and a hazelnut-crusted warm medallion of chevre (goat cheese).  They had a fish course of Chilean sea bass in a yuzu-carrot broth; a game course of grilled venison chops with a pomegranate-juniper sauce; a main course of filet mignon over truffled potato puree and roasted carrots with a cabernet reduction sauce.  And Mom’s favorite dessert: orange-scented Crème Brule.  (I posted photos of all this on a Facebook Jacques Pepin fan page and it is the only post I ever did that actually went viral!)  All of it was my extended act of love for my parents.

People respond to food.  Post something about food to Facebook or Instagram and you know people will come out of the woodwork to comment and like it.  Recently in a church service I listed a variety of specific foods in thanksgiving to God including spicy tacos.  People thanked me after the service for giving thanks for spicy tacos!  (How often do our prayers even get mentioned to us as pastors?)

Is it any wonder that in Scripture one of the leading images for the joy of God’s kingdom is that of a feast, a banquet.  “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines” (Isaiah 25:6).  Is it any wonder that apparently Jesus enjoyed good food when he came as our incarnate Savior.  People enjoyed inviting him to dinner parties.  Jesus enjoyed those dinner parties so much that when the Pharisees were looking for a way to take a swipe at Jesus, they called him a glutton and a wine-bibber.  Jesus was neither but he was a far cry from an ascetic or an abstemious individual. 

“God is great.  God is good.  Let us thank him for this food.”  How many of us can count this as the earliest prayer our parents taught us?   With good reason we are taught to give thanks for food first and foremost.  We are also painfully aware that we render up such gratitude in a world where food scarcity and famine is a tragedy without end.  Those who work to end hunger, especially the hunger of children—and those who like Chef Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen that gets hot food into places like Haiti after earthquakes and into war zones throughout the world—are doing the Lord’s work for certain.

Those of us blessed with pantries, fridges, and freezers with an abundance of food owe God our thanks for every morsel we eat.  And we give thanks for those who are God’s hands to grow and prepare food.  Some years ago I ran across a church tradition centering on Rogation or Rogate—a time of prayers around the weeks when seeds are planted for a new year’s crops.  I will close with a traditional prayer offered at Rogation.

Lord, when you came among us, you proclaimed the kingdom in villages and lonely places.  Have mercy on those who work hard at lonely jobs, where they can’t talk to others or can’t be heard when they do.   Remind all country people that you are never far from those who plant and harvest.   Help everyone in our nation to say grace over their food and to respect those who produce it.  O God, hear us as we bless earth, sun, wind, and water, in the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Jeff says:

    I like the concept of rogation and have wondered about observing it now I’m in a rural area. Your photos look as if they could be eaten!

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Bless3d are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Here zege deze spijse Amen.

  • Marlyn Visser says:

    This morning I am bewildered that a leader in the CRC is eloquently encouraging all fellow believers to express gratitude for and petition God to bless the work of food providers. I being a planter and harvester of food reminisce when grandfather and father tilled the soil of this farm, the leadership of the CRC always designated a special midweek worship service in March labeled “Prayer for Crops”. Haunted by inclusiveness and diversity it was later called ‘Prayer for Crops and Industry”. Than it was rationalized it could be incorporated into “National Day of Prayer” and it certainly could also be included in the weekly Sunday congregational prayer. This spring when I order my drought tolerant, insect resistant seed, and custom mixed plant food, I must not forget to order adequate moisture and sufficient heat units. Perhaps Grandpa needed a traditional “Prayer for Crops” service more than I do.

  • Jerry Kramer says:

    A wonderful article. The blend of rich food is the Master’s gift for every palate. Why do we tend to be more into fasting than feasting? Sin is the nasty culprit. Grace sets us free for every abundance. In the retirement community where I live they serve a sumptuous dinner while Julie and Julia is being shown. Food and movies go together. Think of Babette’s Feast and lavish French cuisine. Who’s doing this creativity in the church? A pastor who loves to tinker with spices in the kitchen could have quite the following.

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      Jerry, I thought of Babette’s Feast immediately as well. It should be required viewing for those who struggle with the blessing of life that given for our pleasure, and pleasure is NOT a bad word. See all this wonderful talk about food above.

      Thank you, Scott. One wonders if we received a delightful meal as you describe right in the middle of our annual Synod or Assembly with all its goodness, extravagant flavor, and delightful bodily pleasure, could we enter into the next session of our meeting with different hearts and minds?
      Can’t hurt to try, at least I’d get one lest college cafeteria meal!

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    Being of the same bent as you, Scott, although not to gourmet extent you pursue, there is nothing better than having a table full of friends and/or family! The internet has cracked open the possibilities for any recipe one might want to try and I love providing new and different tastes. Each time we share around the table I hear Wendell Kimbrough’s “we will feast in the house of Zion, we will sing with our hearts restored”, anticipating the eternal feast of heaven and earth!

  • Steven Tryon says:

    Over the decades I have come more and more to appreciate the simple prayer I say over my morning egg and toast. The older I get the more I realize what a mighty big ask the second line is.

    Thank you, God, for all this food;
    make me strong and make me good.

  • Rodrigo Cano says:

    Here at church we have something we call the BLESS practices. Each one of those letter represents a practice to live on mission. B is for Begin with Prayer, L is for Listen, E is for Eat which we find to be one of the most transformative experiences. The first S is for Serve and the second S is for Story.

    We have found out that when we open up ourselves and share meals, spiritual conversations start to happen and people come to receive God’s grace!

  • Lynn Setsma says:

    And I just added the Peanut Chicken Stew recipe to my Paprika app. Cooking kept me sane during Covid so thanks, Scott, for this blog.

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