Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Food and Spirituality (Signs of Life: Nutrition)

We’ve been looking at the seven Signs of Life.  These are also called the processes of life.  Everything that is alive does all of these things.  This is how you know something is alive.  As we look at the biology of this, we are also learning how these fit with spiritual life.  
Today is the last day in the series, and we’re looking at NUTRITION.  Every living thing eats.

There is a surprisingly close connection between food and spirituality.  
  • It starts all the way back to the Garden of Eden. 
  • Other than “Be fruitful and multiply”, God’s only command was regarding food (Don’t eat from this tree.)
  • The first sin was about food - eating the forbidden fruit
  • One of the first consequences for sin was: “by the sweat of your brow you will have food.”  Eating good food is hard work.  Play this out theologically, and you realize that Twinkies are a direct result of the Fall.  Bad food is easy; good food is hard.  We’ve really messed this world up.
  • The first offerings to God were food - vegetables and meat
  • The first murder was about food - farmer vs. shepherd.
  • The first worship service (with Melchizedek and Abraham) involved food: bread and wine.
  • Food was a major player in the Jacob and Esau conflict.
  • Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of food.
  • Jacob stole Esau’s blessing by cooking food for their father.
  • When God promised to rescue Israel from Egypt, he promised good food: “a land flowing with milk and honey.” 
  • God rescued Israel in the midst of a ceremonial meal, in which each Israelite household ate the lamb that had given its blood to save them.  The Passover meal is the single most important Jewish holiday, and for 3,000 years, the center point of the holiday is a food.
  • In fact, food factors large in all of Israel’s annual festivals: first harvest, harvest, unleavened bread, etc.
  • Most of Israel’s complaints against God in the dessert were about food and water.
  • The blessings for obedience would be safety and abundant food, and the consequences for disobedience would be war and not enough food.
  • God defined several kinds of food that were “clean” and “unclean” foods as a way of keeping the people faithful and healthy in their daily lives.
  • Israel’s whole sacrificial system dealt with food: offerings of animals and grains.
  • After describing each kind of offering, Leviticus says again and again, It will be “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”
  • And then we have that beautiful passage from Deuteronomy.  Let me highlight a few points here.  
    • Israel’s offerings were essentially worshipful barbecue parties.  If you read the description of the worship tools in Exodus, the altar to God was basically a bronze barbecue grill.  I’m not kidding.  They had bronze grating, bronze tongs, bronze meat forks, bronze ash buckets.
    • These were big community parties.  “Buy whatever food you like: cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other alcoholic drink.  Then feast there in the presence of God and celebrate with your household.  And do not neglect the Levites.”  Throw a rip-roaring party with God, and be sure to invite your pastor.
  • At least every three years, invite the foreigners, the orphans, and the widows.  

  • Fast-forward a bit.  The Bible consistently describes God as preparing a feast for us, and it seems to be both physical and spiritual. 
  • A few weeks ago, we read some classic feast imagery from Proverbs 9.  Wisdom says, “Come and eat my food and drink the wines I have mixed.” 
  • Psalm 23 says, “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.”
  • Isaiah 25:6, “... the LORD ... will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world.  It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.”
  • Several of Jesus’ parables describe God as a father or king preparing a huge feast and inviting people to come.
  • Jesus’ critics called him a “drunkard and a glutton,” and Jesus responded that it makes sense to party hard during a wedding (implying that he is the spiritual groom for Israel).

While we’re on Jesus, let’s talk about him for a while.  
  • Jesus’ first recorded temptation involved food (stones into bread).
  • Many of Jesus’ parables involved food: yeast, mustard, grain, fish, fruit, crumbs.
  • Several of Jesus miracles involved food: turning water into wine, feeding thousands, miraculous catches of fish.
  • Food goes deeper though and gets more personal for Jesus.  
    • Jesus said, “I am bread of life.”
    • “Anyone who is thirsty can come to me.”
    • “Take this and eat it, for this is my body. ... this is my blood ... it is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.”
    • “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life ... for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
    • Every time celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are honoring the intimate connection of food and spirituality, a connection that Jesus cemented in his own body and blood.
  • In Acts, we see the early church making food a huge part of their common life.  “They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity - all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”  (Acts 2:46-47)
  • Some of the biggest debates for the early church were focused on food.
  • how to make sure all the ethnic groups were treated fairly at the church food pantry 
  • what foods are actually OK to eat now that Jesus has shaken everything up
  • how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a way that honors God and includes everyone.
  • Skip forward to the very end, and we have a wedding feast again.  In Revelation 21, John looks up and sees “the new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”  Then, the Spirit and the bride open the table at the wedding feast: “‘Come.’  Let anyone who is thirsty come.  let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.”

We are both spiritual and physical.  Our bodies and our spirits are intimately connected.  Food is spiritual.  Healthy spirituality involves food.  That’s just how life is.
Now what do we do about it?  How do we engage food in a spiritual way?  How do we maximize the connections between food and spirituality?  How do we get at the connection that God wants us to experience here?

First, we simply need to eat healthy.  I’ve been very encouraged by our church’s get healthy campaign, where we’re keeping track of our weight loss together.  But here’s my question.  Can I count the SAME 3 pounds lost over and over, as I go up and down.
Don’t pray for the McDonalds Miracle: “Lord please bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.  Please, don’t let this big mac clog arteries.  Please don’t let these fries increase my blood pressure, and God please don’t let this super-sized oreo fudge shake add to my waistline and increase my risk of heart disease.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
John Wesley said, “Most Christian’s prayer lives would be significantly improved with a 20 minute walk every day.”  That’s still true, and most Christian’s prayer lives and sense of God would also be improved with a little more real food and a little less food that comes in vacuum packed plastics and tin cans.
Don’t separate your physical life and your spiritual life.  All of life is spiritual.  God cares how you nourish your body as well as your soul.  Eat healthy.  
But let me be clear.  I’m not talking about going on a diet.  I’m not eating less to try to look better or to fit into a tighter pair of pants.  Diets are temporary and mostly selfish.  Diets have a role in very extreme circumstances, but most of us don’t need diets.  
In the USA, we will spend 66 billion dollars on the diet industry in 2013.  Just to put that into perspective, that is enough to accomplish the UN Millennium Goals to end extreme poverty around the world.  Why are we spending so much money on diets?  80% of dieters go from fad to fad.  We like diets because we don’t want to change.  We want someone else to solve the problem for us.
We don’t need need diets.  We need life change.  We need totally new habits and perspectives on food.  Don’t eat or not eat to look good.  Eat healthy to honor God with your body and your food.

Second, bring some up, in, and out into your food.  Think back to those holy barbecues from Deuteronomy.  They had all three: up, in, and out.
  • They were feasting with their tithes and offerings in the presence of God.  
  • They were feasting with their whole households: sons, daughters, and servants.
  • At least every third year, they made their feast outward focused, inviting the widows, orphans, and foreigners who were excluded because of ethnic divides or lack of money or both.
Add some UP to your food.  Whenever you eat, thank God for it.  I mean really thank God for what you are eating.  Think about the immense chain of people involved in putting that food on your table.  One day, thank God for the people who plant.  The next day, thank God the people who tend the farms and orchards.  Thank God for the people who harvest and for the truck drivers and shipping crews that bring the food to you.  Thank God for the stock boys who put it on the shelf and for the cashiers and store managers.  Thank God for the food safety people who work hard to make sure our food is safe and clean.  Thank God for the rain and the sun and the soil that make food possible.
Your plate is a holy place.  Ask God to feed your heart and soul just as he feeds your body.
Add some IN to your food.  As much as possible, eat with your friends and family.  I know this can be really difficult because of our schedules.  Start with a Family Night.  One night a week, eat together as a family.  Ask real questions and wait for real answers.  In our house we often ask, “What was the best part of your day?” and “What was the worst part of your day?”
Plan time to eat together with your huddle or small group, with your family, with your neighbors.  Let eating and feasting play its God intended role of bonding us together with others.

Add some OUT to your food.  Be intentional about inviting people from outside your normal circles.  Maybe you’ll throw a neighborhood party.  Maybe you’ll invite a neighbor to actually sit down and eat with your family.  Maybe you’ll tell your kids to invite their school friends over for dinner once a month.  Maybe you’ll invite someone to sit with you when you are eating out, or maybe you’ll pay for the person behind you in line.
However you do it, just make reaching out a regular part of your food experience.  That honors God, and it will enrich you and our world.

Everything that lives eats.  But not everything that eats truly lives.  Eat well, my friends.  Celebrate God.  Celebrate life.  Eat good food, and honor God as you eat.
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