Monday, October 3, 2016

Gluttony Versus Hungering and Thirsting For Righteousness

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 6:25-34:

At the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew, we are introduced to John the Baptist and are told that he wore a camel hair coat, which was not very comfortable, to say the least, and that his meals consisted of “locusts and wild honey.” I’m hoping that the honey makes the locusts a little more palatable, but I don’t really want to try it to find out. What these statements about John tell us is that he was living the lifestyle of an ascetic, or someone who denies themselves of any worldly pleasures in order to try and contain and control, or tame, the body.  Around the third century, some Christians started moving out into the Egyptian desert to live solitary, ascetic lives, to replicate what John the Baptist had been doing, in the hope of dedicating their full lives to God, and to do that to cut everything out of their lives they thought was unnecessary, or distracting to them. And so like John the Baptist, they limited not only what they ate, but the amount they ate as well. Known as the desert fathers and mothers, they began what we now know as monastic communities.  They were also the ones to talk about the sins that would become the seven deadly sins, which includes the sin of gluttony. It is also then little wonder that it is Pope Gregory the Great who does the final compilation of this list of sins and begins promoting them since he is the first pope to come out of the monastic community and thus had been steeped in their ideas, so that even while he was combining and eliminating different sins that he would leave in the sin of gluttony, the one sin that truly deals with ascetic lifestyles, or the lack thereof.

Now gluttony is probably the hardest of the sins that we will deal with, at least for me. In our new Wednesday’s with Wesley group this week we were talking about Wesley’s advice for Methodists, as well as his general rules, and we were talking about that there are some rules that it’s really easy to say we will follow, but they are the ones that we don’t have any problem with to start. But the rules that actually apply to the things we really do, or want to do, those are the ones we dismiss or say they don’t really apply anymore or we make excuses about why they don’t apply to us, or why we aren’t really violating them. I want to do that with gluttony, as I’m guessing most of you do as well, because whether we want to admit it we are all gluttons at one point or another, although we are much more likely to point out this sin for others.

We look with disdain on people who are overweight and wonder why they can’t control themselves, why they don’t exercise, and this is especially true for women who are held to a standard that just isn’t reasonable for most people. And so we judge appearance and, while we might not say it directly, we certainly give the idea that they are sinners for their self-indulgence. Except that being overweight or obese is not the sin of gluttony. It can be, but there are lots of other reasons for obesity besides for overeating, and you can be a glutton and be really thin because you also happen to have a fast metabolism that allows you to burn it off, so let’s move past the issue of weight or size as being a clear sign of the sin of gluttony, or I might say let’s worry about the plank in our own eyes before we worry about the splinter in someone else’s, because we’re gluttons.

We are quickly coming up on the national day of gluttony. It is the day in which we are to give thanks for what we have and we do that by gorging ourselves on food and football, and then blaming our laziness, or we might say sloth, that follows on the tryptophan. But unless you’re eating the entire turkey it’s not the tryptophan doing it, because chicken actually has more of it then does turkey, it’s the fact that we’ve stuffed ourselves so much that our body begins to shut down unnecessary systems to try and focus on digesting all the foods we’ve just inhaled, which makes having football on a convenient excuse to be able to sit on the couch and take a nap in order to prepare ourselves for the next round of eating. And also to prepare for going out and getting all the things we think we can’t live without even though we just said we were happy with what we already have, which we can explore more in the next two weeks as we look at greed and lust. But this should also help to remind us that gluttony is about much more than just food. In the deadly sins it was also about drinking, but it can take many, many different forms, and we even use the same language for other things. So, for example, we will even say we are going to binge watch whatever the newest and greatest show that Netflix has just added.  For Gregory the sin of gluttony was about “Too soon, too delicately, too expensively, too greedily, too much.” It’s to want something more than it’s needed and to want it now, not at some time in the future, and thus gluttony is a sin, which I am going to be bold enough to say, is one we have all committed. It takes what is essential for survival and elevates it beyond what’s needed so that the things end up owning and controlling us rather than us controlling them, and that’s one of the things that makes this a sin.

Paul warns against those who make their belly their god, who do things based on what their body tell them to do, rather than what they tell their body to do. That’s why the antidote to gluttony has been a call for abstinence, or fasting, and yet there is also an understanding of not just the need for food, but perhaps even the enjoyment of food. Jesus spends large amounts of time dining with other people, and many of his miracles also surround food, and thinking of the miracle of Cana when he turns water into wine, it’s not just mediocre wine, it’s not wine in a box, but instead, according to the servants, it’s the best wine.  So it’s not the desire that’s wrong, or even enjoying things that’s wrong. Now there has been a trend within the church to try and downplay the enjoyment of food, and sometimes even the enjoyment of everything, but that’s not the only voice that’s been heard. But we still do the same thing today.

We look down on people who are overweight, or who gain too much weight to any longer be considered beautiful and yet at the same time we celebrate food. There are multiple channels about food, and few of them talk about healthy eating, and there are magazines, and we celebrate the newest and best restaurants and even have entire stores dedicated to selling things for your kitchens, and then of course holidays and family times tend to center around food. So it’s not the food that’s the problem, or even the love of the food, but what we are doing with it and what we are making a priority in our lives. When Jesus tells us in the passage we heard from the Sermon on the Mount not to worry about what we will eat and drink, it’s not because these are bad things, but it’s about striving for these things, about making them our priority, when our worries, or our strivings, won’t make a difference in our ultimate outcome, except to say what we consider important, and the verse that come immediately before this passage in Jesus saying that you cannot serve two masters, that you will love the one and hate the other. So put your priority and your energies and worries into the things that really matter, and that is striving for the Kingdom of God. And when we you strive for the Kingdom of God, Jesus says, the things that you worry about will be given to you as well, or we might say those who hunger and thirst for the kingdom will be filled.

Now what makes this particular beatitude unique is what he says of those who will be blessed. The normal refrain is blessed are something, the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, that is people who are already these things, and presumably will keep doing them. But there are three given different language, for we are told blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Jesus could say, blessed are the persecuted or blessed are the righteous, but he doesn’t. Now perhaps it could be that he approaches these the way he does because it’s a temporary situation. That is those who mourn do not mourn for the rest of their lives, or at least not in the same way, and that at some point persecution will stop, but what about righteousness. Do we stop pursuing righteousness, perhaps because we have achieved it? Or that it has been given to us? To give a very basic definition, righteousness is to be living in right relationship with God and with each other, it’s part of that love the Lord with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. In scripture people pursue righteousness, as we are supposed to do, or hunger and thirst for it, but it is also given to us by God. Paul makes very clear that while the prophets say that our highest goal is to pursue righteousness that it is a gift given by God. Paul wants to make sure we understand that it is gift because if it is the result of our own actions then it is something that we can boast about, or be prideful of, which leads us into self-righteousness and away from God. So perhaps we might even say that it’s possible to be a gluttony for righteousness in seeking so much of it that it actually distracts us from true righteousness, of the pursuit of it, knowing we will only ever get there and only achieve it through God’s grace, that as John Wesley would say, we are moving onto perfection.  And when we know that and do that then we begin to focus on the things that truly matter, which is not the things of the world, not the food for our stomach, as important as that is, but the things of God, loving God and loving neighbor, and always wanting more.

In the passage we heard from Isaiah this morning, he says “why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” That is fill yourself, or be filled, with the things of God, not the things of the world. Those things we are trying to stuff ourselves with, regardless of what they are, will not fill us up, they will not leave us satisfied. Instead be filled with the love of God which will fill, but also leave us wanting more in a positive way. It’s like this table, we leave the table having eaten and drank but we leave wanting more, and that’s as it should be, because there is always room for more. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness, which is not just for us but for the world, that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven, while knowing that God will also provide us with our daily bread. So don’t worry about what you will eat, or drink, or wear, for those are the things of the world. Instead seek to fill yourself with God’s righteousness which may be given to us because we love the Lord our God with all of our hearts and minds and soul and strength and we love our neighbor as ourselves. That is what we are called to do and that is who we are called to be in everything, and not only will those who hunger and thirst after righteousness be filled, but as Isaiah tells us, we will go out with joy and be led back in peace and even the mountains and the hills will burst into song and the trees of the field will clap their hands. I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

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