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March 7, 2021 Sermon: Return from the Wilderness – Gluttony

March 7, 2021 Sermon
“Return from the Wilderness: Gluttony”

1st Scripture Reading – Proverbs 23:19-21

19 Hear, my child, and be wise,
  and direct your mind in the way.

20 Do not be among winebibbers,
    or among gluttonous eaters of meat;

21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
    and drowsiness will clothe them with rags.

2nd Scripture Reading – 2 Timothy 2:20-26

20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work. 22 Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, 26 and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

“Return from the Wilderness: Gluttony”

You remember the city of Sodom, right?  It must have been rather an important city with regard to God’s efforts to communicate God’s desires to people in the scriptures…because the city’s name appears in the scriptures 50 times: 39 times in the Old Testament and 11 times in the New Testament.  Lest you think all of these mentions of Sodom come from one place, one book – the book of Genesis where the story of Sodom’s sinfulness is initially told, only 42% of the mentions of Sodom come from that book.  Sodom is mentioned all the way from the first book of the Bible to the last…and 14 books in between.

I wonder what you remember about Sodom?  

  • Probably that it was destroyed for its sinfulness.  
  • Maybe that Abraham pleaded with God to save the city – a city God considered wicked – from destruction…but God was unable to identify even ten righteous people in the city and so ended up destroying it.
  • Maybe that God sent some angels to Sodom, seemingly to survey things for God (maybe to try to find even ten righteous people in the city).  Abraham’s nephew, Lot, encountered the angels at the gate to the city and showed the angels hospitality, but a crowd identified as “the men of the city” surrounded Lot’s house and acted very wickedly toward the angels. 
  • You might remember that God gave Lot and his family the opportunity to escape from the destruction of Sodom.  You might even recall that Lot and his family were told to flee and not look back, but Lot’s wife DID look back and was turned into a pillar of salt.  (By the way, how is it that we’ve turned this aspect of the story into a children’s story????  It’s one of the biblical stories I can remember from my earliest childhood.)
  • You might even remember how God destroyed Sodom (and Gomorrah)…by raining down sulfur and fire.
  • You might even THINK you remember what the sin of Sodom was…since the wickedness of the men of the city of Sodom in the encounter with Lot and the angels was a sexual wickedness and since there are some modern English words based on the city’s name, and those words have to do with sexual sins.

So you might be wondering why I would bother mentioning the city of Sodom in a sermon about gluttony instead of in a sermon about lust – a sermon I won’t be preaching, by the way.  We’ll get there.  But first:

(PAUSE)

Today is the third Sunday during the season of Lent this year.  As I’ve mentioned the past two weeks,   Lent is a season during which we prepare for Holy Week and Easter by considering the ways we stray – and have strayed during the past year – from God’s desires for us.  It’s a time during which we carefully examine the ways in which we have turned away from God…and the extent to which we have strayed from God.

During our sermon series this Lenten season, we are examining some of the most egregious ways people turn away from God, the most egregious ways people sin.  These ways have been deemed “the seven deadly sins.”  If we are to begin turning away from sin and back toward God, these seven sins are a good place to start…not so much because any one sin is inherently worse than another but because these sins have been deemed by the Church to be the sins that lead to the commission of even MORE sins.  Which means, if we can turn away from these sins and back toward God, we might just be able to leave ALL sinfulness behind, we just might return from the wilderness of sin to a God-focused life.  (By the way, in my newsletter article this week, I provide a bit more history of these “seven deadly sins” and the images from Bruegel the Elder I’m pairing with the sermon series this year.)

With each of the six sermons I preach during Lent, I will be considering one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Since there are seven sins and six Sundays of Lent, I will not be preaching a sermon about one of the seven, the sin of lust.

Like I did last week with the sin of envy and like I will do with each of these sins,  I’ll consider the sin of gluttony by defining the sin and then looking at a biblical example of the sin in action.  From there, I’ll look at some modern examples of the sin in action, as well.  These biblical and contemporary examples will lead to a discussion of the consequences of the sin, and I will conclude by discussing how we can work to return from the wilderness of this sin.  This is the model I’ll use for each sin in this series. 

(PAUSE)

Ok.  Gluttony.

Before I really get going about gluttony, I’ve got to tell you that one of the reasons I’m really excited to get to preach a sermon on gluttony is because – since the sin is mentioned by name in Proverbs 3:20 – this is perhaps the only time in my entire life I will get to say out loud the word “winebibber”!  I’m pretty excited about that!  In case you couldn’t figure it out from the word, itself, a winebibber is “a person who drinks much wine” or, more contemporarily, “a habitual drinker of alcohol.” 

But we’re not here to talk about winebibbers specifically today; we’re here to talk about the more general terms “glutton, gluttonous, and gluttony”.  So, let’s define “gluttony”.

As I looked for English definitions of the word “gluttony”, and then examined the meaning of the Hebrew word that gets translated as gluttony or gluttonous (as in our reading from Proverbs today), I became confused.  

The first few English definitions I saw concerned the excessive eating of food. This shouldn’t surprise you; it’s the commonly known definition of “gluttony”.  It’s the definition of “gluttony” I’ve always known.

But the definition of the Hebrew word that gets translated as “gluttonous” in Proverbs 3:20 doesn’t have ANYTHING directly related to excess…or food.  The definition of this Hebrew word is about being “worthless” or “making light of”.  How could such a word possibly get translated into an English word that’s about excessive eating? 

As I dug deeper, I found English definitions that went beyond food; they were about the overindulgence or overconsumption of anything…to the point of waste.  If you think about it, this makes sense.  Eating more food than your body needs for energy would be worthless…and wasteful.  It would be “making light of” the very important bodily function of providing the energy you need for the day.

Now THAT seems to be connected with the Hebrew understanding of what this sin is about: worthlessness.  In Proverbs 23:20, where the word is connected to eating and drinking, this word is used to mean the worthless eating of meat; this word is about eating or consuming in a manner that is WORTHLESS, that has no meaning, that has no utility, helpfulness, toward the PURPOSE for which you were made. And THAT, my friends, is gluttony, and it’s easy to see why it would be a sin.  God wants – intends, really – everything we do to have purpose.  When I say “purpose” here, I don’t mean just any ol’ purpose or even a purpose that is consistent with OUR desires.  No, God wants everything we do to participate in God’s purpose for us and for the world.  Which means that anything you do that is NOT purposeful – in terms of God’s plan and desires – is gluttonous, is practicing the sin of gluttony.

Which takes me back to our biblical example for today, the city of Sodom.  Through the prophet Ezekiel, God identified EXACTLY what sin of Sodom was – so we don’t have to guess – and while I’ll show you in a second how sexual sins could have been a subset of the sin of Sodom, the true sins of Sodom were pride and gluttony.  Hear God’s words through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 16:49:

49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Notice: no mention of sex.  Since we already talked about pride two weeks ago, I won’t go into detail about that sin.  But look at the rest of what God says about Sodom’s sin: excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Y’all, Sodom had everything it needed to live purposefully: plenty of food, plenty of prosperity…but Sodom’s inhabitants did NOT use those resources purposefully. Rather than eating purposefully, they ate worthlessly.  Rather than use their prosperity purposefully, they rested and enjoyed their “ease”.  One possible translation of what gets translated “prosperous ease” is “careless ease” or “careless quietness”.  Paired with the end of the sentence , this is a rebuke of the people of Sodom relaxing worthlessly while those around them perished from lack of resources.

I probably don’t have to say much of anything to help you make the leap from the ancient world to the modern world.  This description sounds an awful lot like the sin of so much of what we call the “first world”  today.  I took a look this week at a report from the United Nations claiming the mean annual income of more than a handful of nations was below $1,000/year (in some cases below $100/year), while the average wage in places like the United States was between $20,000 and $30,000 per year. 

In other words, some people in the world – ourselves included – need to consider whether or not we’re enjoying an excess of food and prosperous ease while others remain poor and needy (which means we’re not doing enough to help them in their poverty and neediness.)  In other words, we’re earning and consuming in ways that are worthless in God’s plan…we are behaving in ways that are “gluttonous”.

But there are plenty more specific contemporary examples; I’ll just share a few.

  • Did you know you can be gluttonous with time?  Actually, I would imagine most of us are…to some degree.  If you made a pie chart of all the places where you spend your time – watching television, reading, movies, surfing the web, other forms of entertainment, enjoying the company of your closest family and friends – I wonder, what percentage of that pie chart would be devoted to things God would consider purposeful for you?
  • How about working out?  Sure, we all need to keep our bodies in decent enough shape to be able to live purposefully, but I know all too many people who work out well beyond what is necessary for peak purposefulness.  Using last week’s definition of an idol – giving time and attention and focus to something that detracts from your time and attention and focus on God, I imagine quite a few Americans are gluttonous with respect to their workouts.
  • I know I already mentioned time, but I’m going to get a little more specific with one aspect of our time in 2021.  Did you know that the average adult in the USA spends 3 hours and 43 minutes on mobile devices EACH DAY?  That’s approximately 50 days a year…or almost 15% of our time…and it doesn’t even include time on computers or televisions.  While I would imagine SOME of that time on mobile devices might be purposeful, when you consider Americans ALSO spend an additional 12 hours per day on computers and televisions – while away from work – I’m thinking we’ve given ourselves over to some rather unpurposeful tech-time.
  • And then, of course, just as many, if not more, modern Americans, are gluttonous in the traditional sense of food and alcoholic beverages.  In terms of food, alone, approximately 36.5% of American adults are obese, and another 32.5% are overweight.  Y’all, that’s 69% of American adults who are very likely eating in a manner that is beyond purposeful…and so worthless.
  • And people today are gluttonous with their speech, not unlike the ancient people to whom Paul referred in his letter to Timothy: speech that has to do with stupid and senseless controversies that lead quarrels.  But gluttonous speech goes well beyond controversies and quarrels.  Consider the form of speech called gossip, or speech that involves talking behind the backs of others or putting others down.  None of these kinds of speech participate in God’s purpose for us that includes the building up of the common good.
  • There are obviously a great many other ways we act out of gluttony: shopping and hoarding way more stuff than we need; the way we’ve become addicted to disposable, throw-away items (which certainly doesn’t fit with our God-given purpose of being good stewards of God’s creation); beauty care; even health care to some extent – trying to prolong our lives a few more hours or days in ways that use extreme amounts of resources but often don’t add purposeful time to our lives on earth; illicit drug use and addiction – just think of what it says that we are increasingly seeking to make the use of highly addictive and purpose-destroying drugs legal; and, of course, our pursuit of money and wealth – a pursuit that for most people is ANYTHING but purposeful.

But, what can we do?

Fortunately, the answer to this one is rather simple.  I’m not saying it’s easy to do, but it IS simple to understand.  It involves two parts.  

If you want to do purposeful things rather than worthless things, rather than gluttonous things, part one – or step one – is to identify your purpose.  You can identify the part of your purpose that is the common purpose of all people of God by reading the scriptures with an emphasis on our common purpose.  Go back and read the creation stories to get a sense of God’s purpose for people.  Whatever you glean, write it down in some kind of “purpose journal”, something to which you can refer often as a reminder.  Read also God’s words through the prophets…because through the prophets God reminded God’s people how they had strayed from God’s purpose for them.  And, of course, read the New Testament.  Jesus’ commandments and commissioning of the disciples are filled with purpose, as are the portions of Paul’s letters dealing with Spiritual gifts.  Once you have a sense of your purpose as part of humanity and the Church, then prayerfully seek God’s specific purpose for you.  Paul’s words about Spiritual gifts are a great place to start for this…but, to discern your specific purpose, you will need to do more than read scripture; you will need to listen in prayer, talk to other people of God and ask them what they discern about your purpose, and consider the things that bring you contentment and energy while participating in the uplifting of the common good.

That’s step one: discover from God your general purpose as a person of God and your more specific purpose as an individual.  And the second step involves living out of that purpose…with intentionality.

This second step involves quite a lot of different things; Paul expressed some of these things to Timothy in our second scripture reading.  Paul expressed them in terms of things to shun and things to pursue.  I want to focus on just one for today.   It is more general than Paul’s advice; it’s what comes AFTER Paul’s advice.  Once you have a sense of your purpose and so the kinds of things that include living into that purpose and the kinds of things that won’t help you live into that purpose, make a daily plan of purposefulness for yourself.  Really!  In the same place where you’ve recorded your purpose in writing, make a plan each and every day of some things you could and should do to live into that purpose.  Look at the plan throughout the day.  Make sure you make and take time to DO those things.  Change some big things about your life – circles of friends, club memberships, etc. – if that’s what it will take for you to DO these purposeful things.  And then, when you do anything and everything during the course of your day, right before you start whatever you’re going to do, even say anything you’re going to say, ask yourself, “will this help me live into God’s purpose for me?”  If the answer is “yes”, proceed as you plan to proceed.  If the answer is “no”, stop and change course.  It’s that simple.  Not easy, as I said, but simple.

(PAUSE)

You’re probably wondering how this advice I’m offering will help you stop eating too much or gossipping or spending too much time on your mobile devices.  But the answer is right in front of you.  If you’re doing everything you do and saying everything you say as a way of living into your purpose, you won’t do “too much” of anything.  If you ask whether that third desert will help you live into God’s purpose for you before you order it or eat it, you probably won’t be eating it!  It pretty much gets back to Paul’s summary statement to Timothy in our second reading: if you ONLY do things that help fulfill God’s purpose for you, you WILL become a “special utensil”…”dedicated and useful to [God,] the owner of the house, ready for every good work.”

Which brings me back to Sodom.  

  • If the people of Sodom had been living purposefully, they would have had no excess food, there would have been no poor and needy people because everyone around Sodom would have had their needs fulfilled.  
  • If the people of Sodom had lived purposefully, that crowd of men would have gathered outside Lot’s house to take care of the needs of the visiting angels, rather than to take advantage of them.
  • If the people of Sodom had been living purposefully, when Abraham pleaded for God to turn away from God’s plan to destroy Sodom, God would have been able to find the fifty righteous people Abraham suggested as a reason to NOT destroy Sodom.
  • And if Lot’s wife had ONLY partaken of purposeful actions, she would NOT have turned back to look at Sodom and so would NOT have become a pillar of salt.

(PAUSE)

My friends, today God calls to us to return from the wilderness of the sin of gluttony, of worthless living, of purposeless living and actions and speech.  God calls us to return to living the way of purpose God places before us, the way that is best, given and directed by the One who made us and KNOWS what is best.

Amen!