*Sermon notes for 081615 for John 6:51-58
It is not enough to know about Jesus, we must know him deeply, inwardly, as if we were taking him into ourselves. He wants to transform us from the inside out until we become like him.
“Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no part of me.” – Jesus
The phrase “you are what you eat” has been common in our culture since the 1960s. It was introduced to the US in the 1930s by nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, though it originates in 19th century French Philosophy. In modern times it referred quite directly to the idea that our bodies are literally formed by the food that we intake. In the earlier philosophical context the meaning was more connected to our mental and emotional health and how they might be impacted by our diet.
Either way, the connection seems fairly straight forward. Our popular mythology recognizes that what we eat late at night can impact our dreams. We are aware that we may have more or less energy through the day, and a brighter or darker outlook on things, depending on our food intake. Irregular digestion is both physically and metaphorically related to people with difficult personalities. We call someone “anal retentive”, for instance, if they are obsessive and controlling, and may suggest that they need more fiber in their diet. We say someone has diarrhea of the mouth if they are unable or unwilling to exercise restraint in their speech. The awareness of this connection goes back to biblical times, when the digestive system was thought to be the seat of the emotions (see the Greek word splagchnon). What we eat can disrupt our emotions, as can hunger. Conversely, being in emotional turmoil can cause us to lose our appetite or have digestive distress of various sorts.
In our modern context, there are also social and environmental justice components to this phrase “you are what you eat.” At various times groups have promoted the boycotting of certain foods or companies because of the human impact of those industries, including the Unite Farm Workers Union boycott against grapes and the boycott against Nestle’ Corporation for promoting the use of formula over breast milk in developing countries. Environmental impact has been addressed as well; I remember in the 1980s when my friends and I participated in a boycott and protest of Burger King and other fastfood chains for the way their whitefish harvesting impacted whale populations.
There are two very contemporary and forward looking expressions of these protests. The No_GMO movement seeks to remove genetically modified foods from our food chain over two primary concerns: the impact of genetic modification on our bodies, and the impact on future food production and the environment as plant pests and diseases begin to develop resistances to these products, leading to the “solution” creating even greater problems for the future. Similarly, the “Eat Local” movement that includes a resurgence of Farmers Markets and Community Gardens recognizes that 1) fresher food is better for us, 2) transportation and storage of food increases cost and has a high carbon foot print, and 3) huge multinational corporations that run the “food industrial complex” displace family farms and disrupt communities. These movements have been so powerful that large grocery and restaurant chains are promoting their locally sourced and non-gmo foods. (cf Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Central Market, and Chipotle as national examples. Here in Dallas some of my favorites are The Green Spot Market & Taqueria near White Rock Lake in Dallas, Harvest Farm-to-table Restaurant on the square in McKinney, Ellen’s Southern Kitchen in the West End, and Café Momentum which also trains incarcerated youth to develop life and job skills so that they can be leaders in their community.
The implication in all of this is that our moral compass (a central aspect of what we are as human beings) is directly related to the food we consume. The question they raise: “Are we complicit in any act of injustice along the food production system?” and their answer is a resounding “YES!” When the prophets cry out for justice for the poor and oppressed to roll down like an ever flowing stream, when Jesus calls us to serve our neighbor and love our enemy, and when both remind us that even the rocks will cry out praise to God and longing for salvation and restoration, then how can we not take the moral implications of our food system and our daily diet seriously? (Deut 27:19; Amos 5:24; Matthew 5; Hab 2:11; Rom 8:19-22)
One final thing we might add to this litany – We are called to be stewards of God’s gifts to us (1 Peter 4:10), and to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable (Rom 12:1-2). This means that we should take care of our bodies and avoid patters and habits that do them harm. Reasonable dedication to health and wellness, which include diet, exercise, rest and avoidance of unnecessary risk, are spiritual commitments for people of faith.
Having said all of this, the text from John 6 is actually about something very different. In this chapter John shares with us his understanding of Jesus’ own teaching about the Lord’s Supper which was instituted by Jesus at the Passover celebration which John recounts in chapters 13-17. In those chapters we do not get any of the bread and cup story found in Matthew 26, Mark 14, or Luke 22. John does that work here in chapter 6 by speaking theologically and metaphorically about the union of body and spirit, of human and divine, of Communion and communicant, of Teacher and disciple, of Jesus and his followers.
But just what does John have in mind when we hear Jesus say, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no part of me?” What does “You are what you eat,” mean in this context?
Dear Jesus, you have given us very yourself to feast upon. Your words to us are so compellingly provocative that early Christians were suspected of cannibalism. Theological councils have met and argued over how bread and wine might also be your flesh and blood. Dear Lord, we don’t want to argue any more over these things, we simply want to be transformed by your real presence deep within and among us. We want to become you by taking you into ourselves even as we are taken in and consumed by you. Surround us, clothe us, fill us, transform us to your image and likeness. Redeem our flesh, mind and spirit until they fully reveal your light, life and love. We humbly ask through your amazing grace. Amen.
Download pdf here: Sunday 081615 – You Are What You Eat