Saturday, May 08, 2010

May 2 Sermon: Eating Like a Christian

Sermon Texts: Revelation 21 and Acts 11


I’d call myself an adventurous eater.  Especially in comparison with Lara, anyway.  It’s either pork, chicken, or beef with her.  At my bachelor’s party, we ate alligator tail.  I’ve eaten swordfish steaks, gazelle, and elk.  It even grosses Lara out when I order a buffalo burger.  For this reason, I’ve taken to pointing to the menu silently when I decide to get something out of the ordinary.  I think if Lara doesn’t hear it, it’s okay. 

One time, Lara and I went out to a Japanese steakhouse with a good friend’s sister and her fiancé.  The fiancé was from Texas, and wanted to impress everyone (as Texans seem to always want to do) so he picked up the tab for everyone at the table (his fiance’s parents were also eating)  Before he did this however, he ordered the big sushi platter for everyone, and it included raw quail eggs.  You can imagine Lara’s face as my brother in law and I and this girl’s fiancé all downed them like shots. 

Perhaps the gentiles similarly grossed out Peter and the first Jewish disciples of Jesus.  Much of the early church’s attention was on the eating habits of new converts.  The kosher diet included prohibitions against shellfish,  and animals without  cloven hooves. 

Deuteronomy 14:3-20

It may be that if not for this strange vision of Peter’s we wouldn’t be sitting here in this church today.  If not for Peter advocating along with Paul for the mission to the gentiles, the followers of Jesus may have remained, and perhaps fizzled out, as a small sect of Judaism.

It may seem like an antiquated argument over an issue of identity that no longer applies to us, but think of all the distinctive diets that are part of our lives. 

Vegetarians, radical political vegetarians, and those who tend to poke fun of all of them.  I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker “Save a cow, eat a vegetarian.”  What is it about people who choose not to eat meat that so annoys people who do? 

One of the little known facts about John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism, was that for most of his adult life, he was a vegetarian. While it was true that Wesley was concerned over the suffering of animals and their participation in the future redemption of the world (see his sermon "General Deliverance"), it does not seem to be the case that Wesley refrained from eating meat for moral reasons, as some modern day vegetarians have suggested. He wrote to the Bishop of London, who criticized his vegetarian ways, mentioning that he did return to eating meat for a while in order to demonstrate to his detractors that moral scruples had nothing to do with his diet (quote below). It is also important to note that Wesley never encouraged others to become vegetarians.

Rather, Wesley refrained from meat and wine because of health concerns. He wrote in the same letter to the Bishop of London, "Since the time I gave up the use of flesh-meats and wine, I have been delivered from all physical ills."

He states the matter at length: "By 'extraordinary strictnesses and severities,' I presume your Lordship means the abstaining from wine and animal food; which, it is sure, Christianity does not require. But if you do, I fear your Lordship is not thoroughly informed of the matter of fact. I began to do this about twelve years ago, when I had no thought of 'annoying parochial ministers,' or of 'captivating' any 'people' thereby, unless it were the Chicasaw or Choctaw Indians. But I resumed the use of them both, about two years after, for the sake of some who thought I made it a point of conscience; telling them, 'I will eat flesh while the world standeth' rather than 'make my brother to offend.' Dr. Cheyne advised me to leave them off again, assuring me, 'Till you do, you will never be free from fevers.' And since I have taken his advice, I have been free (blessed be God) from all bodily disorders."

In addition, Wesley encouraged other behaviors related to health. He promoted moderation in food and drink and he discouraged the use of certain medicines (e.g. opium and quinine). Wesley recommended two hours of walking a day, he believed the sick should exercise in the fresh air, and he made a connection (virtually unknown in that day) between cleanliness and health.

Wesley understood the connections between health, diet and exercise, even though some of those particular connections he made may now be understood as tenuous. Nevertheless, since Father John believed Paul's claim that the body was a temple to the Holy Spirit, he also knew that health was a matter of discipleship.

In any case, Peter’s vision isn’t just a trump card for those who argue with vegetarians that they should eat meat.  It is saying something about God’s priorities.  God prioritizes our fellowship and willingness to love one another and make his message of grace known to the world more than he cares about cultural laws making a distinct community.   God wants us to sit at the table with one another, not on the high horse looking down our noses at each other.

Paul also speaks to this issue in the church when he’s writing to the Romans (and the Corinthians).  There are some in the community who are vegetarians because they don’t want to risk eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols

Fellowship if more important than dietary identity. 

Chocolate summary.  Pere Henri's (the young priest) Easter Sermon: “I want to talk about Christ’s humanity, I mean how he lived his life on earth: his kindness, his tolerance. We must measure our goodness, not by what we don’t do, what we deny ourselves, what we resist, or who we exclude. Instead, we should measure ourselves by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.”

Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

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