You Are What You Eat

*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

Connecting the dots – Law, Freedom, Identity, Compassion

Connecting the Dots

Over the last few weeks we have been thinking about our identity in Christ. Because we are in Christ we are no longer living according to the written laws of God. Instead, we are guided internally by the Spirit of God, which guided those who first wrote down the scriptures. So we follow the spirit if not the letter of the law. This is more difficult, and requires more of us – it is harder, not easier, to live out this kind of righteousness. It requires that we seek continual fellowship with God in Christ – only then can the Spirit guide us. It also requires a community of likeminded people who are walking the same path and will agree to mutual accountability.

We then explored the way that Jesus calls us IN our identity, and respects who we are individually and culturally. When we call others to follow him, or come together with those who already are, we must do likewise. That means recognizing and respecting the background and experiences of each person – as a whole person. Christ will transform them. We don’t need to change them. We are created for wholeness. Our Identity can become our opportunity, but only if along the way we don’t try to remake other people in our image.

Compassion for others informs and energizes our ministry. We “treat others as we want to be treated.” We realize that we already “suffer with” (the meaning of “com-passion”) as co-humans. Life is difficult. There is plenty of pain and sorrow to go around without imposing more. Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and that life abundant.” (John 10:10) If we, who are of one culture and heritage, are to reach, call and nurture people from another culture, then we must honor both our identity and theirs. Paul describes his attempts to do this: “I become all things to all people, so that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor 9:22) That is precisely where he is leading us in this discussion about food, and having compassion for the uniqueness and weaknesses of others.

** NOTE: Reflections for a sermon – “Our Freedom is limited by Compassion” based on 1 Corinthians 8.

Some may be more lost than others

The Parable of the Good Shepherd Separating the Sheep from the GoatsThe bible often uses imagery of a Shepherd and flocks of sheep or goats to illustrate the relationship between God and humanity and among humankind. One particular passage suggests at least three things under this paradigm:

  1. That God will seek after God’s lost sheep;
  2. That at least some of God’s flock are responsible for fouling the nourishment of others; and finally
  3. That God will judge in favor of those who are disadvantaged at the hands of others.

I wonder how this might apply to today’s local, national and geopolitical and religious conversations?

Originally this seemed to refer exclusively to the people of Israel. In Matthew’s gospel (MT 25:31-46) we hear Jesus reinterpret the story. Now it seems to apply not only to Israel but to all of humanity – “All the nations will be gathered before Him” (v25:32). Thus, as with much of scripture, we have multiple layers or lanes of interpretation which are simultaneously offering us truths.

One of the obvious questions to be asked is this: who is whom? Good sheep? Bad sheep? Goats? Lost sheep? Where do we locate ourselves and our group?

The tendency I often hear is to think that “our group” are the good sheep or lost sheep for whom Jesus searches. By implication, the folks who disagree with us on one or another matter of interpretation are thus the bad sheep. This is a very dangerous path to take.

At the very least, let us ask ourselves:

  • Who around us is lost and in need of rescue?
  • Where around us is the nourishment (water and pasture) for others being fouled by our actions?

Some time ago I proposed that we are all goats, at least according to the definition of Matthew 25:42-43. If ever you or I have seen someone in need and withheld aid, then we are goats. End of story. Unless…. God’s grace intervenes because we are at the same time lost sheep. Then, perhaps we have some hope.

The folks who are worst off are those who think they are safe, who think they are the privileged sheep when in fact they are responsible for the suffering of others. They may be more lost than others. (cf EZ 34:1-10 & MT 23)

What do you think?

Here’s the text:
Ezekiel 34: 11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out….. 17 As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?
(Click here for the full text)

Evangelical Godly living

A friend of mine sent me a New Year’s greeting email letting me know he was thinking of me. That’s nice, I thought. He said that what brought me to mind was listening to an online broadcast of a very popular evangelical preacher who was talking about the importance of, and means of, living a godly life. The friend went on to offer some encouraging words for the year ahead and to muse on the past year’s transitions.

Yes, it is nice to be thought of. So, though I had some hunches, I decided to go listen to the broadcasts mentioned to see if I could determine what particularly had prompted his reflection.

I want to say at the outset that I went in knowing I’m not a fan of this particular teacher. You’ll soon learn why. And, though I disagree with him substantively, I also claim the label evangelical, though I do not mean by that word what many others mean.

The word evangelical (lower case e) comes from a Greek word meaning “related to the sharing of good news”. In common Greek, it can be used about any telling of any good news – if you just got a raise, or got engaged, or learned you are going to have a baby, then you might become evangelical about that.

From a Christian and Biblical perspective, the word relates to the good news, Good News, or Gospel, of/from/about/regarding Jesus. (Prepositions in Greek are somewhat ambiguous when being translated over into English.) The Gospel gets articulated in multiple ways in the New Testament (and often those are with allusion to the Hebrew Scriptures – First or Old Testament). In its essence, I believe, the Gospel is that in and through Jesus of Nazareth, the one called the Christ, humankind encounters God’s restoring and reconciling love. This love is described as proclaimed by Jesus (Luke 4:16-30, quoting Isaiah 61), embodied in Jesus (John 1), and accomplished through Jesus. The Christian Bible, as we have it today, is a human record of the faith experiences, blessings and struggles prompted by encountering Jesus. John 10 records Jesus saying these words, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

The Good News is a rich, full, abundant life that is revealed and accomplished in/through Jesus and received/ experienced by believing in him. An abundant life as described in Luke & Isaiah (the Hebrew word is “shalom”) means freedom from captivities, the ability to provide for one’s family and participate in the community, and the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) which is like setting an economic and social reset button – debts canceled and the lost restored. Jesus consistently named this incoming reality the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. It often brought a reversal of fortunes – those who were rich and powerful were brought low, and those who were poor and lowly were elevated. I think this is a vision worth giving one’s life for – it is the vision that Jesus gave his life for – the restoring and reconciling of humanity to one another and to God in creation.

Now, to be fair, our unnamed preacher was working from Paul’s writing, not the Gospels. In particular, he focused on Romans 12:1-2 – “1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Said preacher then proceeded to spend an hour talking about how the sinfulness and debauchery in our country is increasing compared to his memory of days gone by. His almost exclusive illustration of this was sexual immorality. Though he did not identify any particular incident, to my ear he was stirring the crowd in response to recent news and pop culture stories.  I don’t know this for sure, but that’s how it felt to me.

Either way, I think his viewpoint is unfortunate and in error. I am a proponent of sexual morality, and even of the church teaching people how to think about what it means to live out our sexuality in healthy, God honoring ways. That said, using the bible as our ONLY source of information and guidance is naive at best. The vast majority of marriages described in the bible were polygamous, and were understood as economic exchanges rather than a loving covenant between equals. I’m not sure that’s the foundation upon which we want to build today’s marriages or families. And I agree with him that the more crass illustrations of sexuality in our popular culture do have a negative effect on relationships – I am well aware of their impact on me as an adolescent, and we work hard to help our children live thoughtfully in this regard.

Here are my concerns, though, with his message as I heard it (not in priority order, necessarily).

1)      Misreading scripture, or more accurately misspeaking for scripture. Paul describes explicitly what he means in Romans 12:1-2, and he does not mention sexuality at all. Instead, he says this:

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. 9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

He sounds to me like he is talking about how we live in community, in relationship with one another, and using our talents, abilities and spiritual gifts to be a blessing and work together. Paul calls us to not exalt ourselves above others, but rather to live out what the prophet Micah says in 6:88 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

2)      Circumscribing a narrow circle of ‘truth’ around only a portion of what concerns and interests God as revealed in the Bible.  He speaks as though “a Godly and pure life” were only about sexuality and private moral failings like, “spending too much time at the bar,” which he says at one point. While healthy sexuality and avoiding destructive and addictive personal behaviors (like alcohol or other chemical additions) are important, they are by no means the only or even the primary concerns of scripture. Simply read the prophets, the Psalms, Proverbs, the Mosaic law, and the four Gospels. The primary concern is Justice. Rightousness – i.e. right-relationship-ness, is about living a humble, honest and just life in community. You can be pure as the new-fallen snow sexually and still be as wicked and corrupt and ungodly as any of the worst kings in Israel.

3)      Misremembering history – While sexuality is more public, and even aspects of it that he and I would agree are destructive to individuals and families and thus society, these things are by no means new. Men objectifying and using women is unfortunately not new, though now it seems more visible, which likely affects its impact. Promiscuity is not new, though it certainly is more acceptable to discuss openly and even admit – again, I would agree that this is a negative thing. These things being true, the world is not going to hell in a hand basket and we are not racing headlong to become Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19). We are increasingly becoming intolerant of sexual relationships that include abuses of power, whether by an abusive spouse, rape by a stranger, or sexual molestation of a child by an acquaintance. We are gaining courage in speaking about these things, shining light in dark places, and empowering victims to become survivors and thrivers.  In addition to all these gains specific to sexuality, vast improvements have been made in the areas of justice – though we arguably still have a long way to go.

4)      Conflating God and Country These two messages from our preacher sounded very much like patriotic concerns as much or more than faith concerns. I am a patriot, and I love my country. I do not believe that we are in any way God’s special nation, nor that the fortunes of the United States or US culture are to be equated with the increase or decrease of God’s “kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Our primary citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) even while we may celebrate and support our earthly nation-state. While one can love both, we are called to love God and God’s kingdom more. Confusing the two leads to dangerous loyalties that can make us blind to the justice claims of our neighbors and the love claims of our enemies (Luke 6).

5)      Using fear to motivate – Fear is a strong motivator, and a powerful rallying cry is built around US versus THEM arguments and harkening back to the good old days. The problem is that this is the same argument used by the Hebrews when they wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt rather than forward into God’s blessings. Would the journey forward be difficult? Yes. Would there be dangers and challenges? Yes. Did Moses or the prophets or Jesus use nostalgic fear as a motivator? No. Honest assessments of the future risks of the current path? Certainly. But always with hope and promise of blessing and peace.

6)      The presumption of exclusive truth – The preacher explicitly said, “They will come to us, because we have the answers.”  The implicit presumption here is, “If you disagree with us, you are wrong, because we are right about everything.” To his credit, he did earlier state, “Many things we may never fully understand…” Why then presume to say that he is right about what he thinks he does understand. Obviously, if I hold strongly to a position it is because I believe it to be true – this is logical. And yet, I can hold to my understandings in such a way that room remains for me to be humble before the truth claims and understandings of others. I heard none of this humility.

Ultimately, Godly living as witnessed to in the Christian Bible is holistic in nature. It will encompass every aspect of life. No one sermon can address all of this. However, any sermon that presumes to address “Godly living” certainly needs to clearly acknowledge the breadth and complexity inherent in the concept. Now that I think about it, perhaps my friend sent me the link because he does not know what I believe about these things – because I have failed to speak clearly and consistently when called upon to speak the truth as I understand it. Or, perhaps he does know, and is concerned for me because I hold these views. Either way, as I said, it is nice to be remembered. And I am grateful for the prompting to think critically about these issues, attempt to articulate my positions clearly, and to enter into conversation about them. I only pray that this energy and effort put forth might serve to edify and build up those who seek the shalom which God has always intended for us. God’s dream is our wholeness, and the entire biblical witness reflects this dream and human encounters with God’s efforts to work with us to bring this dream to fruition. And, finally, that along with our best and in spite of our worst, God will redeem, restore and renew us all. We will dwell together in perfect harmony with self, others, creation and God. And that, my friends, is Good News. See, I’m and evangelical after all. Who knows, I might even reclaim the big E!