Let me first say how grateful I am to share Labor Day Sunday with you. Typically we see low attendance on this day because there are some who take the day off from laboring through another one of my sermons.
Historically Labor Day is the unofficial end of wearing your summer whites. And is often marked with parties, picnics, and other social gatherings. For me, it’s another chance to over eat. For I cannot think of a better way to retire my bathing suit for the season than with a couple of extra helpings of bacon on my chili-cheese burger. Hey, don’t judge. Didn’t Jesus just say, “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, but what comes out of your heart?”
Which leads me to this important point. “Do Not read the New Testament… on an empty stomach.” All the talk of eating bread, enjoying great feasts and wedding banquets are enough to make you want to run out to Margo’s for a Denver omelet and a slice of homemade rye.
The fruit of New Testament is in sharp contrast to the hunger pangs and famines that are so prevalent in the Old Testament. But just as it is with in everything in the Bible, the placement and discussion of food is no accident. It draws our attention to focus on how God uses food to teach us how to find ultimate fullness in him. Whatever you’re soul is craving, God will provide for you.
Beginning with our reading from Genesis, we see that God has given us everything we need to sustain life. We get water, plants and fruit, animals and even the creative imagination to turn those ingredients into sweet cakes and savory pies.
By the time we get to the Gospels, we get a little more meat chew on. In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as the Bread of Life; adding, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never be thirsty.” Repeating again the idea that as long as we have him in our lives, we will have everything we need to be truly filled and satisfied.
Last week, in First Corinthians, Paul stated rather poignantly, “whether we eat or drink, we are to do everything for the glory of God.” It might be in the way we offer food to a sick friend, or give water to a thirsty child. Or the way we invite the hungry to our table.
Whatever we do, or however we do it, we must never lose sight that we are God’s invitation for others to join in the great heavenly feast.
With all this talk about food, you might have guessed I’ve been on a diet for the last two weeks. In fact, I’m on two diets…the first one didn’t feed me enough! Truth be told, I joined Weight Watchers not just to lose weight, but also to reassess and rethink the way I eat.
You see, over the last few years my eating habits have gotten out of whack. For example, I’d tell myself that if a small blueberry donut hole can taste that good then a box of ten must taste ten times better. For me, it’s all or nothing. This is an unhealthy way of thinking about eating or anything else for that matter. In my recognizing of this, I began to take a personal inventory of my life and decided some things had to change.
If you’ve ever done Weight Watchers, then you know that everything you eat has a particular point value. As you track your meals throughout the day, you add up the points. Because I only get so many points per day, I have to really think about what I eat.
As I retrain my brain to make healthier choices, I must constantly remind myself that “diet” is not a four-letter word. Instead it’s an acronym for: Dive – Into – Eating – Tomorrow.
I tell myself that if I can stick to the plan today, then tomorrow I will be able to literally have my cake and eat it too. This seems to work because every tomorrow brings a new today. Jesus said, focus on the moment…for tomorrow will bring it’s own set of problems.
If we think about it, the same application can apply to all aspects of life; especially as we try to quit those unhealthy behaviors that are engrained in us.
I invite you to listen again to the words that Jesus spoke. “Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
What do Jesus’ words say to you personally? Do they make you feel uncomfortable or angry? Are there things that you have said or done recently that might have offended God’s love within you?
Leave it up to his disciples to worry that Jesus has offended the Pharisees by making this statement. I can see how it might seem like Jesus is condemning them for putting too much attention on their ancient kosher laws. I’m sure we’d be offended too if someone came into our sanctuary and told us our customs and rituals are meaningless because our hearts are not in the right place. Jesus reminds us that we must be mindful of the things that come out of our mouths because those thoughts and words proceed from the heart, the very place where God’s love dwells in us all.
Like the Pharisees, we hold up certain long held beliefs and practices as evidence of our devotion to our faith. Like them, we too can get caught up in complacency, and become blind guides. This can make it difficult for us to see the unhealthy habits we have formed. And so we must take inventory from time to time. Reevaluate and retool the way we live and love, for it’s love that matters most to God.
Jesus’ sharp words remind us all that it’s more important to feed the spiritual needs of God’s people, than it is to keep the laws in-between us. This is why it is so imperative that we remain in the present moment with God always. It’ in this mindfulness that we find our strength, and are nourished to do God’s will… “on earth as it is in heaven…” Jesus is our daily bread, and his words are what we must feed on.
God knows we all need a steady diet of love and grace to survive. He sent his Son to offer it to us. Jesus, the very Bread of Life, is the one who feeds us, sustains us, and nourishes our spirits, souls and even our physical wellbeing.
And it was Jesus who set a place for you and me at God’s table. By his love for us, he has prepared the sustenance of grace and peace that will sustain us now and forever. As long as we sit there with him, Jesus will make sure that we will always be full.
Invitation to Communion:
Let’s face it, we are not perfect, yet God loves us, and invites us to embrace the great feast of life. So it is with our church that we invite all to come to this table of God’s blessing. Believers and seekers alike, no one will be turned away.
It is here that we eat the bread as individuals to remind us that Jesus’s body was broken for you. And then we drink the cup together to symbolize the new covenant that was made for us all. Many have come from the East and the West, the North and the South to eat of this bread and drink of this cup. Come not because you have to but because you want to. Come feast with us in presence of God, and be filled on the never-ending meal of God’s love for you.
Begin Communion Service…
The Bible (NRSV). Genesis 1:29-30; Matthew 15:10-18.