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Rosthern Mennonite Church

"Gluttony - Temperance"

Krista Loewen

February 25, 2018

PART ONE
The stereotypical glutton comes to the table ready to eat until they can eat no more. The results of which John Crysostom describes as “discharge, phlegm, mucus running from the nose, hiccups, vomiting, and violent belching… the increase in luxury is nothing but the increase in excrement.”(Rebecca Konydyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, 139.) St Thomas Aquinas adds to the list: excessive and unseemly joy, loutishness, uncleanness, talkativeness, and an uncomprehending dullness of mind.” That is quite a
deadly image indeed. This spiritual offence, however, is rarely talked about in our circles. No one wants to be labelled as a glutton or point the finger at another for carrying a bit too much weight around their hips. Well I am here to ease your mind: we are all gluttons. There is no need to be shy about what our bodies look like for the root of this sin is far deeper than the amount of food we put into our mouths. Instead, it looks at where we seek pleasure. Lust and Gluttony are linked in that they are the only 2 of the 7 deadly sins related to our body’s  functioning. And so it is not surprising that both speak to that which gives us pleasure. It is said that the most necessary things in life, that is sustenance and procreation, were designed to give us the most enjoyment from God. Whether fat or thin, wide or narrow, or somewhere in between all of the body types, there lies a glutton. I came across a helpful acronym to outline the 5 types of gluttons: FRESH
F stands for Fastidious eaters. Gluttony can be rooted in an attitude that is overly concerned about the accuracy and details of the meal. These gluttons “arrive at the table focused on their expectation of getting a certain pleasure and with an equally focused determination to do whatever it takes to get it.”(Rebecca Konydyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, 139.) The revealing test is if the experience of eating is spoiled for you when it isn’t want you expected. When David and I were in BC celebrating our anniversary, I planned a romantic morning date for us. We were to go to Starbucks, buy a newspaper and enjoy it on the patio looking out onto the wonderful scenery. However I am particular. I had a specific vision of what I wanted to drink that morning. A cappuccino made from whipped cream with a sprinkle of brown sugar on top, in a ceramic mug. Starbucks plays into fastidious gluttony: you can order your drink exactly the way you like and return it if it isn’t right, no questions asked. So i ordered my whipped cream cappuccino with brown sugar in a ceramic mug. And what did I get? A whipped cream cappuccino with brown sugar in a paper cup. I was devastated. In my mind the whole morning was ruined because the foam of my drink would be stuck to the paper. I was still with David, the newspaper, the beautiful outdoors and drinking Starbucks. I was overtaken by gluttony in that moment. My desire for the perfect meal overshadowed my enjoyment of the experience.
William Willimon writes that “The fat guy in the tee shirt, swilling vast amounts of beer with buffalo wings, is surely no more disgusting than the priggish person, daintly observing, sniffing and picking over his food.”(William H. Willimon, Sinning Like a Christian: A New Look at the 7 Deadly Sins, 25.) Fastidious gluttony highlights our propensity to value the particularity of food more highly than bodily sustenance.
S stands for eating Sumptuously. It is defined by the preoccupation with fullness and splendid looking food. Most often this means eating rich and filling things (bring on the butter and pasta please!). While in Korea, David and I ate the most
gluttonous meal I have ever experienced. The Michelin star restaurant featured 7 courses of food, each expertly prepared, highlighting different flavour profiles and intricate presentation. I enjoyed every minute of the meal. When I started to read about sumptuous gluttony, however, I remembered that this meal was overly concerned with being splendid and expensive looking. The Food Channel is one of the most widely watched TV programs. When does a concern about good food become too much of a concern? With modernization of food preparation and storage, our society has turned the preoccupation of what we will eat next to survive into a fetish in the kitchen.(Henry Fairlie, The Seven Deadly Sins Today, 159.) Sumptuous gluttony highlights our propensity to see food as something created for our singular pleasure. Hasty eating is a more familiar image of a glutton. It is easy to imagine someone shovelling food into their mouths without the ability to slow down or take in their surroundings. Our dog, Lucy, has mastered the inhalation of another dog’s kibble. She struggles to fit in another gulp before chewing the previous one. She embodies the words of Ecclesiastes 6:7 “All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is not satisfied.” These words serve as a warning by using language similar to other biblical texts. It harkens back to depictions of rich oppressors ready to consume humanity with an insatiable desire and brutality. Our propensity to focus on the pleasure of our guts represents deadly social, even cosmic, repercussions.
The Excessive over eater eats past the feeling of fullness to indulge the senses. They do not intended bodily harm, but are willing to take the risk in order to experience a new flavour. They are the person who says, “I am so full but I can’t resist having just one more!”(Konydyk DeYoung, 144.) Excessive overeaters are allured by the promise of pleasure. Lastly, The ravenous eater is one who is overcome by greed at the table. Imagine a family supper table with 3 hungry teenage boys all sitting down after a long hockey practise. They jockey, push, and shove, eating quickly to ensure they have an opportunity to eat seconds before their brothers. Ravenous gluttony highlights our selfish interests.
Gluttony paints an undignified image of human behaviour. When we are overcome by hasty, greedy, excessive and self-pleasuring eating we become hunched over the table like an animal. This starkly contrasts the embodiment of a
created and loved child of God. “If there’s anything simple about gluttony, it is its focus on pleasure. One’s own
pleasure. Excessive pleasure. Immediate, tangible pleasure.”(Konydyk DeYoung, 139.)
Eating is meant to be pleasurable but it becomes gluttonous when our desire for food runs out of control. It isn’t so much about what our bodies look like, or whether we are acting politely at the table, but whether we are consuming resources to satisfy our own wants above all else. The act of gluttonous eating distorts what we are really hungry for.
Gluttony is the opposite of godly contentment. When we get caught in the “futile cycle of avoiding spiritual starvation by indulging ourselves physically,” we eventually lose sight of what other types of fulfillment feel like. it becomes the only type of satisfaction gluttons know. Gluttons “are left with a hollow at the core.”(Fairlie ,171.)

Food is often misused as a coping mechanism for stress, lack of rest, or joy in our lives. Food provides the euphoric hit of a drug in moments when we need a quick fix. Within our cultural milieu of instant gratification, food is an easy solution. This is often referred to as emotional eating in women’s dieting circles. Abusing food only provides a temporary sense of satisfaction because it is simply a material fix. The things causing us to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and out of control, are deeply rooted in our souls: the inmaterial. Fredrick Buechner describes a glutton as “one who raids the icebox for a cure for spiritual malnutrition.”(Fairlie ,171.)
This is the nature of sin: it takes something ordinary and elevates it to a level of importance which blinds us to the beauty and simple pleasure in food that is around us. Our feelings wrapped up in the topic of gluttony are complex. When I imagine the overweight monster, I feel most uncomfortable with their being overweight. The repulsive thing is the fat, not the sin. As preachers we haven’t needed to preach against gluttony since there is enough shame for those who overeat on a daily basis. “The sinner who commits lust can go about his or her way secretively forever and never be found out. But the glutton is exposed for all to see… [this] certainly suggests that we are much more concerned with externals than internals, that we care more about the state of our waistline than the state of our souls.”(Willimon, 128.)
Elna Baker is one of those people who has lost a lot of weight, 110 lbs to be precise. Before losing the weight she denied that it was affecting her future. She had dreams of having a boyfriend or being an actress but continually felt
roadblocks along the way. Eventually she lost the weight and a whole other world for thin people opened up Suddenly men were interested in her. She was seen as a nicer person. All she had to do was not eat. However, “It wasn’t enough to lose the weight of an entire adult woman.” Her mental health wasn’t addressed and was left deeply troubled by the dichotomy in treatment she received. She had been taking phentermine, a weight loss pill, that she brought from Mexico, in order to maintain her weight. She recollects “I tell people that I have insomnia but really I am on speed. And I am on speed because I need to stay thin. I need to stay thin so I can get what I want… I don’t like what I am but I’ve accepted it as part of the deal. “(Elna Baker, This American life, Act Two: “ It’s a small world after all,”
https://www.thisamericanlife.org/589/tell-me-im-fat.) Elna Baker is willing to drug herself because our society is more concerned with the external than the internal. Our gluttony highlights our pride and obsession with our bodies in ways that are disordered. On one hand we are told to treat ourselves with the most luxurious food available on the Food Network. But, if you overindulge, and end up like poor fat Elna, shame on you. This vicious cycle of gluttonous desires and obsession with body image further removes us from intimacy with God who created us in her image.
It is easy to lay the blame and sin on the hands of those that create the system. But as Christians, the root of the sin isn’t the system but our own guts. Our pursuit of excess pleasure in food isolates us from the beauty in a shared meal. It forces us to feel guilt and shame about our bodies but addicts us to the very thing that brings us shame. We are left hollow and “full of hungers that we attempt to satisfy in ways that bring us, our neighbor, and God to grief.” We are, by our nature, sinners…. Sin is not some alien force, some demonic possession. Sin looks like me.” (Willimon, 136.)
PART TWO
Temperance is suggested as the foil to gluttony. If we eat in temperate ways, we should be rid of our sin. I have three
suggestions of temperate eating for you to consider. First, eat in a way that contributes to your overall health and well-being. It’s not my job or in my training to teach you about nutrition, but I think we all know the basics: stop eating when you’re full, eat your vegetables and fruits, and enjoy desserts sometimes! If our eating is disordered, this “mistreatment of the body- by excess or deficiency - demonstrates a flawed sort of self-love” (Konydyk DeYoung ,150.) Choosing to love and respect our bodies by fuelling it with what it needs is one of the best ways to practise self acceptance and rekindle our physical connection with God. Eating only what we need also helps keep the Hasty, Excessive and Ravenous glutton in check.
Secondly, our eating should take into consideration the needs of others. This includes our immediate family, communities and creation. Eating is designed to be a social act. When gluttony rules our habits it gets in the way of our appreciation and care for others. This anecdote from a Nigerian family demonstrates this: “The eldest child would be served first and given the largest helping. That child had to eat slowly enough, however, that if a younger child who finished first was still hungry, that younger child would be served seconds off the eldest child’s plate. The eldest child’s
seeking of the pleasure and fullness of eating was thus always disciplined by and responsive to the needs of others eating with them.”(Konydyk DeYoung ,151.)
Gluttony also affects our neighbours. If we continually eat in ways that only benefit ourselves we leave many people vulnerable. Lazarus and the rich man is my favourite biblical example of this scenario. There was a rich man who lived in luxury every day. At his gate laid a beggar named Lazarus longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. When both men die, the rich man is chastised for ignoring Lazarus’ needs. While he gorged himself in the finest, sumptuous, pleasure, Lazarus yearned for just a small portion of this.

This story is one of Jesus’ most direct parables and teachings against gluttony. Jesus did not preach against overeating. Jesus’ primary concern was how our eating affected our brothers and sisters. This might mean a bit of personal suffering for the sake of those around us. Jesus doesn’t bless the overzealous but the persecuted. Those who suffer for their
beloved’s sake and choose to eat less so that all may have some are the embodiment of the beatitudes.(Jeff Cook, Seven: The Deadly Dins and The Beatitudes, 150.)
In our context it is appropriate to extrapolate the sins of gluttony and apply them to all resources we consume. In a time when shortages of raw materials are commonplace many still continue to consume recklessly. Take for example the water shut off in Cape Town, South Africa. Three consecutive years of drought severely reduced their water reservoirs to levels, which are unsustainable. It is projected that by April 16th the water will be shut off in the whole city. In Cape Town inequality runs rampant. New vineyards continue to be opened and place a serious burden on water supplies. While the poorer neighbourhoods are nervous about the government fulfilling their promise of bottled water, “Wealthy homeowners
have drilled boreholes and invested in water tanks so they have an independent supply...Some residents have called environmental groups to complain their neighbours are filling swimming pools.”(Jonathan Watts, “Cape Town Faces Day Zero: What Happens When the City Turns Off the Taps?” https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/03/day-zero-capetown-turns-off-taps) This is gluttonous consumption of our resources. If we fill our plates and swimming pools without consideration of how our consumption is connected to others, we choose to ignore the injustices that YHWH and Jesus both condemned. “Whereas Marie Antoinette said, ‘let them eat cake,’ Mary sang at Jesus’ birth about a saviour who would ‘fill the hungry with good things’ Luke 1:53.”(Willimon, 123.)
My last tip for temperate consumption is to eat in remembrance of our vocation.If it is our goal to be in the world but not of the world, how does our dinner table reflect this? Choosing food that supports local markets, ecological stability, reduced waste, and moderate consumption of limited resources, such as fish, can set us apart in the grocery line. In doing so we pursue health in the whole person (mind, body and soul), rather than being a slave to our pleasure centres.

Fasting is one way to consider how we fuel ourselves for our spiritual journey. Jesus fasted in the desert to prepare
himself for what was ahead. Isaiah 58 clearly outlines what kind of fasting we should participate in: “Is this not the fast I
choose: To loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor unto your house… Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly… if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted… The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places… and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.” Isaiah was written in the context of what is right and wrong worship. Right worship and fasting is that which rejects oppression and changes what is on our dinner table: share bread with the hungry, offer food and satisfy their needs. The words of assurance ring clear, if we physically fast from that which controls us, we will be guided and prepared to bring light and healing to the nations.
Lent is the Christian season of fasting. Fasting itself does not need to be a violent undertaking. It does not seek to “do
violence to the body but rather restore it to health and equilibrium.The purpose of this [fast] is to lead us in turn to a sense of inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us, that is, to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ’s statement, ‘without me you can do nothing.’” (Konydyk DeYoung ,156.)
Participating in the communion feast also trains us for what we spiritually need. Just as the Olympians in Pyeong Chang pay special attention to how many calories they need to keep their bodies in prime physical condition, we too as Christians need the drink of wine and small taste of bread, as fuel for the journey ahead. It is not a large enough portion to engorge ourselves. But by offering a celebratory drink of wine, the communion table lays a feast ahead of us, ready to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death. Often when you hear of a new diet it relies on will-power and self control. It promises that if you just avoid eating all carbs for 30 days, you’ll lose the weight you’ve always hated around your hips. The problem with the technique is that will power is a limited resource. Eventually we run out of steam and our ability to stay away from carbs diminishes. Successful long term diet change plans more often talk about going slowly and addressing the root causes of why you turn to food for pleasure. It is only once we recognize where our souls are hungry, and satisfy that hunger, that we will be able to make long term changes to our gluttonous appetites. Simply choosing to be temperate at the table will not succeed on will power alone. Let us put our mouths in the right place
and pray “ O Lord, open thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.”(Fairlie ,170)  May our mouths be used for praise and righteousness, rather than a gluttonous fix, so that we may draw nearer to the love and acceptance of God.

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Rosthern Mennonite Church

“Stuck in the Past or Remembering the Future”

Craig Neufeld

September 10, 2017

 

Introducing Gratitude

Something I’ve been trying to work at for the last little while has been to foster an attitude of thankfulness, gratitude.  Growing up I was always reminded to say please and thank-you. My aunt, was always told to say the ‘magic’ word but because she could never figure out which one people were looking for she developed the phrase “please-thank-you-god-bless-you-amen” to try and cover her bases.

As a culture I think we’re not as grateful as we used to be.  I think, gratitude as been replaced with a sense of entitlement.  And I’ve noticed that if I’m not deliberate about it, I don’t express my gratitude very well, and I can take people and actions for granted.

Introducing the things that get in the way of Gratitude

For the next few weeks, when we don’t have a special service, we will be looking at the things in our lives which get in the way of us being grateful.  Those things that inhibit us from showing gratitude. Those things which prevent us from being gracious people.

We’re going to spend time considering things like Nostalgia, a kind of sentimentalizing the past, worry, something that I think we all do, entitlement, an attitude which prevents us from recognizing the broadness of God’s grace and love, greed, and disappointment.  

We’re going to reflect on all these attitudes, whether we recognize it or not, which get in the way of us being able to see the generosity of God around us, and our own calling to be a grateful and gracious people.

So this morning we’re going to begin with an attitude which I think we all need to fess up to.  Nostalgia.

Jacob

So a story for us:

Jacob’s feet hurt.  His stomach grumbled, and his lips were cracked.  He wasn’t used to living like this.  He wasn’t used to the dryness, the heat, the sun beating down on him.  He wasn’t used to walking this much.  It didn’t feel much like walking it was more like wandering, at least that’s what he thought.  They’d been following Moses for some time now.   The first while was exciting, they had left the city in the midst of a celebration.  Or at least they were celebrating. The Egyptians, the ones who had owned them, the ones who had enslaved them, weren’t very impressed with Pharaoh’s command to release the Hebrew people from slavery.  But Jacob and his family and all the other Hebrew slaves were pretty excited.  That was the first day, the second day was exciting for a different reason, Pharaoh had changed his mind, and had sent an army to capture them.  And they were trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea.  But Moses got them through that, and the people were excited and they celebrated, but now it was different, it wasn’t exciting anymore, the novelty of a ‘wilderness camping’ trip had worn off.  Their water had run out, and they were down to rationing the food.  No one was celebrating anymore, in fact, people were starting to complain.

They were complaining because they weren’t sure that Moses knew what he was doing.  It almost seemed like Moses was just as lost as they were, and worse yet, it looked almost like Moses had brought them into the wilderness to die.

While wandering Jacob began to remember the nice food that his master used to have laid out on the table each time he came in to clean up.  He remember the ripe fresh fruit, he remembered the seemingly bottomless carafes of water and jars of wine.  He remembered the shelter that he had over his head.  He remembered how comfortable his shoes were, not worn out like these ones.  Was it that bad in Egypt?   Looking back on it now, it wasn’t that bad, he was very tempted to go back, or, at the very least join in with the others complaining.  Moses had promised them freedom, a land of milk and honey, and instead…instead Moses was leading them to almost certain death in the wilderness.

Now Jacob was beginning to get bitter, he could feel his anger welling up inside of him. Why did he ever leave Egypt? He had it so good there, it wasn’t nearly as bad as this.

Just then, he stumbled, his foot caught a rock and he tripped, and fell face first into the hard desert ground.  Just as he was about to say a curse and scream out of frustration, he was picked up by two neighbours and offered some water.  And it was then that he realized how crazy he was.  What was he thinking, “Back in the good ol’ days, when we spent all day making bricks for building pyramids, when we had no rights, when we couldn’t stand up for ourselves, when Pharaoh occasionally killed us, THOSE WERE THE DAYS?!?!” My goodness.

Jacob began to laugh at himself, sure this is tough living, but it’s living and not slavery.  And that makes this better than where we were.

Nostalgia

There’s a saying that goes, yesterday is behind us, and it’s called the past, tomorrow is ahead of us, and it’s called the future, and today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.  It’s a challenge to live in the present.  Or at least it is for me, my mind is either thinking ahead of what the next project is, or trying to figure out that one puzzle, or I catch myself dwelling on the past, sometimes reliving situations and regretting that I didn’t act, behave or respond a particular way, or I find myself romanticizing the past, remembering the good bits, and selectively forgetting the not-so-good bits.

And I imagine that some of you might catch yourself from time to time in a similar situation.  We call can be caught up in remembering the past, or even romanticizing it.  Sentimentally focusing on the highlights.

The Problem of Nostalgia

The problem with Nostalgia is that never leads us forward.  It’s a candy-coated, much improved rendering of what once was.  And the present in which we find ourselves can never live up to such an idealized past.  Nostalgia can leave us stuck in the quicksand of our own edited memories.  And we can find ourselves perpetually ungrateful for the place we find ourselves because it doesn’t match up with a glorified past which we remember.

Nostalgia most acutely manifests itself in churches as an idealized memory of the church as it once was.  And we’re not immune here.  I hear it when people lament that we’re not the church of 400 people that we once were.  I hear it expressed that it was so nice when there were so many young families here.  I hear the deep longing to return to how things were.  I hear a sadness of how we are not what we once were.  And I can feel that sadness that grief.  And when we give in and hold onto these memories that this is how the church should be Nostalgia quietly steals our joy away, and it prevents us from seeing the ways that God is at work around us right now. 

Sometimes we need an abrupt reality check to open our eyes to what is present, and what is our own idealized fiction of the past.

When I look at the church ledger, our records show that we were at our largest with over 415 members in 1975, six years before I was born.  And a lot has changed in since then, and you’re right. The church isn’t was it what it once was, it’s different now.  And you’re right, when we used to have so many kids.  And when we had so many young families, the church was a really vibrant place to be, there was a lot of energy, there was a lot of activity, and it made it easy to come to church.  And you’re right. It’s not like that anymore.  And it’s sad, it’s tough.  But living longing for that memory, living hoping for the return isn’t living, it’s something else.

Peter

In our gospel reading, following the resurrection of Jesus, Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus, tried to go back to what he knew, he tried to go back and be a fisherman.  Either it was out of a sense of guilt, or out of a sense of shame, or maybe it was just because Peter didn’t know what else to do, Peter decided to go back to the one thing that he knew how to do, the one thing that he knew he could make a living from. Peter decided to fishing.  It’s like he needed that memory of the familiar, he needed to live out some of the happy memories to replace the sad reality that he was living.  But it didn’t work.  Peter was faced with the ugly reality that he wasn’t the fisherman that he remembered himself being, instead of catching a bursting net-load of fish, Peter got skunked on his fishing trip, that is, at least, until Jesus appears. 

If you read on from where our scripture reading stopped, you’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t allow Peter to continue on living out of the past.  Instead, Jesus offers Peter, redemption, and a new calling in life.  Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, mirroring the three times that Peter denied Jesus, and this time, three times Peter confesses that he does, and each time, Jesus commissions Peter to feed his lambs, to tend to his sheep, and to feed his sheep.  Jesus offers Peter a new calling, Jesus offers Peter hope, a new future to look forward to.

Remembering the Future

As followers of Christ, we must also live as a people of hope, a people who remember a future.  It sounds a little silly to say, it might even sound a bit confusing.

However, as followers of Christ, we are a people who are remembering the past actions and promises of Christ, and living with those past actions and promises as we gaze ahead to a unknown future , but a future that has Christ as our cornerstone.  But this past and future living is difficult, because the temptation is always there to remain in the past, remembering the ‘glory days.’ 

Remembering the future, and living with hope doesn’t mean that we forget how things once were, it doesn't mean that we have to get rid or not acknowledge those memories.  What it means is that we remember and appreciate how things once were, and know that God has something just as good in store for us.  In a way it’s an act of trust, trusting that the future, which we don’t know, is going to be just as good as the past that we remember fondly.

Remembering the future means making a different decision than the Israelites did, and not remaining stuck thinking that Egypt was better than the wilderness, and instead, being more like Peter and accepting Christ’s grace, and Christ’s calling for who we could become.

When we live with one foot in the glory days of the past it’s difficult to see fully how God is at work around us.  And yet, if we can be courageous enough to allow the past to be the past, and cast our gaze around us, perhaps we can notice the work of the Holy Spirit, and the evidence of God with us as we strive to be the Church in Rosthern.

Amen.

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Rosthern Mennonite Church

“Faithfulness: Living into God’s Kingdom”

September 3, 2017

Craig Neufeld

 

Sometimes, coming back from holidays is the hardest part.  When I prepare to go on a trip or a vacation there’s usually excitement and anticipation.  Putting together a packing list, thinking about all I’m going to need, and figuring out whether or not it will fit gets me excited for the adventure to come.  And then…well, and then it’s soon time for the holiday to end and for me to pack back up and come back home.  Except when you return home, you’re not the exact same person you were when you left. 

Returning from a short canoe trip this week I found myself struggling to return, it could be because it was too short a trip, or it could be because it was so different than my usual rhythm that I was a little disoriented, whatever the reason, I struggled to return; to come home.  And I found myself asking questions.  After living out of a 60L barrel, I was wondering, do I need all the stuff I have at home? After being so mindful of my waste, I started to wonder what habits or things could I do differently at home?  And after living with a different rhythm, I was wondering, what changes could I make at home?  I had come back from my trip a little different than when I had left. 

When we come back from trips, and many of us have, or are doing this in the next week or so, we’re changed.  We’re different, we’ve seen and lived and experienced new and different things.  We’ve might have seen different parts of the world, or maybe experienced a different way of living.  Familiar routines are interrupted and replaced with different routines.  We become changed. 

So at the end of summer I want to reflect a little on this change.  We’ve spent the last 6 weeks, and a few before then thinking about creation care, and we’ve learned some new things.  We’ve heard a variety of voices reflect on God’s creation and our call to care for that creation; to treat it gently, to not exploit it.  Today, our scripture from Isaiah grants us a glimpse of God’s kingdom, and our scripture from Romans, draws our attention to the groans of creation.  And we’re called to hold onto both as we explore our final fruit of the spirit, Faithfulness.

Faithfulness

As I see it, when I think of faithfulness in relation to the care of God’s creation, I can’t help but wonder how it’s connected to the other fruits we’ve reflected on this summer.  I think faithfulness, or at least faithful living, is tied into each of the fruits that we've explored.

A common question connected to creation care that I’ve been hesitant to answer, has been the “What do we do about it?” question.  I’ve been reluctant to offer an answer for a couple of reasons, first, I want you to think about it, and maybe come up with your own response.  Secondly, because I don’t feel good prescribing how to ‘fix’ a problem like climate change, and thirdly rather than jumping to a solution, I’ve wanted us recognize our role in creation care and climate change,.

Now that we’re onto talking about faithfulness, and faithful living, I think it’s come time to answer the question, ‘what can we do about it?’ or to phrase it another way, “How do we live faithfully into God’s kingdom?”  And I think that living faithfully into God’s kingdom is embodied in all of the fruits of the spirit which we have talked about this summer.  Faithful living is not isolated from other practices, rather it’s a combination of many practices.

Peace

So how is it that we can live faithfully into God’s Kingdom, firstly, Sabbath rest, for both creation and for us.  When we talked about peace last week, Krista focused on Sabbath, and reminded us how the Sabbath creates a distinctive community, a community of peace.  She also talked about how Sabbath expands our community because it shapes us as a people.  While the rest of society might prefer to run at a 24/7 pace, God has assured us that there is enough grace for us to take time to rest, whether that’s once every seven days, every seven years, or seven times seven years.

Creation needs a rest, whether it’s from being used, or from being exploited. Creation and humankind also need a rest from many of the ongoing conflicts.  We need to find and foster peace with ourselves, peace with creation, and peace with our neighbours, whether they be nearby or far away.

So what does or can that look like?  What might it look like for you to rest one day a week?  Maybe it means finding for yourself a place to retreat to, a place where you can be still and know that God is.  For me that is what the wilderness is, it is a place where God is, and where all of my defenses are stripped away, and I am completely vulnerable to God and God’s creation. And, interestingly enough, it’s a place where I feel relaxed.

It’s important for us to remember that Sabbath is just as important for creation as it is for those who dwell within God’s creation.  As much as we need rest from work, so too does God’s creation.  And I wonder what that might look like?  Creation can’t exactly take a retreat from us.

Self-Control

But Sabbath isn’t enough, we have to remember that part of the problem with creation’s pains and groans, is that humankind keeps taking without giving something back.  To satisfy our longing for more, humankind has plundered creation for goods and resources, some of which can never be replaced.

So in addition to Sabbath, we must learn to practice and live with ‘enough.’  When I reflected on my own struggle with ‘stuff,’ I was shocked and surprised with how many also echoed the same struggles.  There seemed to be a lighthearted lament or perhaps it’s best described as a groan, as we pondered and reflected on how much stuff we had.  And it wasn’t just the acquisition of stuff that we struggled with, but also how do we responsibly get rid of stuff.

In a world where disposing of stuff on one hand can be very easy, just throw it in the trash, we’ve learned that there are consequences, consequences to the earth, consequences to our water, consequences to other human beings.  Somethings that are thrown away will never go away in our lifetime, or even our children or grandchildren’s lifetime.  Think about those styrofoam cups next time you take one out of the sleeve.  And so we must learn some sort of self-control when it comes to stuff.

One way we can practice that is to learn where our stuff comes from, and where our stuff goes when we’re done with it, even before we choose purchase it.  Or better yet, we can learn to “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Generosity

Many of the issues that we discussed this summer were tied closely to justice.  I don't think many of us will think of cell phones or computers in the same way after Todd’s reflection.  Creation Care and Justice are never really too far apart from one another.  And for many, to practice creation care is to be engaged in acts of social justice.  It is hard to separate creation care from justice. Creation care, justice and generosity are interwoven in how we live our lives.  When we practice creation care it is our response to the question “What does God ask of you?”  By being generous in caring for creation we bring justice to brothers and sisters all over the world.

All of this ties into the spiritual fruit of generosity because we must be aware of how we participate in all of these situations, our actions affect others around the world, and if we are to live justly, kindly and humbly, we must consider the consequences of our actions.  We must consider where our water comes from, and where it goes, where many of our creature comforts come from and how they get to us, because what we do matters to others.  It matters to others because we all inhabit God’s creation, and there’s only one of it.

But this requires an attitude adjustment.  The many natural resources around us are finite.  And we must be responsible with them.  We must think of them less as something to gain profit by, and instead, something to be borrowed.  With humility I reflect that we are only caretakers and residents in God’s creation for a period of time.  Knowing that creation has existed before us, and trusting that creation will exist after us, and that we are privileged to be a part of its story for the time of our lives. And we must treat creation with generous respect.

Patience

And to live into God’s kingdom with the kind of generous respect that we reflected upon, we must have a patient attitude.  We must foster and attitude that is more humble than entitled, an attitude that remembers that others are also apart of this creation.  An attitude that doesn’t need things immediately, but can wait for it to come in it’s appointed season.

Todd challenged us to think about how patience is an important part of creation care and how convenience often turns out to be bad for all of creation. Todd suggested that if we want to enjoy and experience God’s creation to the fullest extent, and if we want to treat all of God’s creatures, including ourselves, as God wants us to, we would do well to display the fruit of the spirit that is patience.

When we focus on convenience, we risk trampling the pasture and muddying the water for other creatures—creatures who may be very close and creatures who may be very distant. Our quest for convenience could have unexpected and unintended results around the globe. Displays of patience may have similarly far-reaching consequences that add to the glory of God’s kingdom.

Living with the fruit of patience in our hearts, helps us to not only protect creation from being molested, it also helps us to live fuller and more faithful lives in greater appreciation of the creation that surrounds us, faithfully engaging with God’s creation.

Kindness/Gentleness

And by living patiently, we are more likely to be kind and gentle to God’s creation.  I reflected on this while I was out paddling this week.  I frequently found myself relishing the sound of my paddle gently moving through the water, the rhythmic sound of water splashing was enough to calm my spirit.  I found that this calmness was reflected in other ways, I walked with care, I looked at what I was stepping on, and I noticed what was around me.

In Genesis we are called to have dominion over creation, but I don’t think that means we’re supposed to control and command creation, rather, I think, that this is more about a mutual relationship with creation.  And this can be an attitude shift.  For so long humankind has thought that we can take as much as we want without consequences, and in the last few decades have we begun to learn that we may have taken too much.  That we weren’t gentle enough with God’s creation. 

We must shift our attitudes to remember that we are to live alongside God’s creation, yes, we relish in it’s bounty, but we are also to be gentle with it, not taking too much, and leaving enough for others. 

Love

And none of this is possible without a love for God’s creation.  Out of love God has created, and God has called humankind to tend to, and to care for creation.  And so it’s my belief that through this calling, God continues to create in this world.  We are but one part of God’s great creation, and yet, we have been given the privilege to be called to care for Gods’ creation.

As Christians we must remember that we are a part of God’s story of Creation.  That we are but one chapter, and that we have been tasked to be caretakers for this time, and that we pass on this Holy privilege to the next generation.  This is ultimately Gods creation, and while we are humble caretakers of it, God still is active in it.

The Fruit of the Spirit

So you see, they’re tied together, all of them, Faithfully living, is a part of all of the fruits which we explored this summer, faithfully living in God’s creation and into God’s Kingdom requires that we live lives of peace, patience, self-control, generosity, kindness gentleness and love.  And by doing so, we help in caring for God’s creation, and also we work with God in helping create the Kingdom which Jesus proclaimed.  We become co-creators in God’s Kingdom.

I started this morning by reflecting on how coming back from holidays we’re changed.  I like to hope that after spending time with this series, we’ve been changed a little.  Maybe it’s in our attitude to creation, maybe it’s in a practice or two, maybe it’s in being able to have conversations that we didn’t know we wanted to have.  Maybe it’s in a new realization.  I don’t know but I want to hope and believe that we’ve each been changed a little by exploring how the fruit of the spirit can connect to the fruit of the earth.  I know for me at least, I’m going to think a little bit more about practices around the house and maybe I’ll make a couple of changes.  And in my own little way, I’m going to try a little bit harder to practice faithfully living in such a way that I live a life of peace, patience self-control, generosity, kindness gentleness and love.

Amen.

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Rosthern Mennonite Church

Sabbath Identity - Krista Loewen

August 27, 2017

The Mennonite game is easy to play - but difficult to master. For years Mennonites have been playing it, but after all this time, no winner has been determined for the simple reason that there is no clear set of rules. According to Daily Bonnet, a satirical Mennonite blog, “This game is appropriate for all ages, and although younger people will have more time to tally points, older Mennonites certainly have the advantage when it comes to knowledge about aunts and uncles and cousins-once-removed.” While the point system may be fictional, it is true that within our circles, we prioritize our collective identity. When we meet someone new, we ask ‘Who are your parents”, 5 points. Actually knowing the new acquaintance’s parents, 20 points. Owning a family history book?  5 points.  Discovering a non-mennonite in your family tree? - minus 10 points.

I find myself doing this often. It puts me at ease to know where someone comes from and it is a fairly efficient way of quickly finding out who’s in and who’s out of the fold. This matter of identity is central to Sabbath.

            Sabbath practice is often considered a break from work, or perhaps a nuisance when you need to buy something on a Sunday. But the life altering practise of Sabbath is an identity forming ritual. The Old and New testament tell stories of God’s people observing the Sabbath and taking on new identities.

The first new identity which is cultivated in God’s people is that of an inclusive community.

The prophet Isaiah writes to help the Israelite community learn to live together after their exile. This is where our first passage comes in: Isaiah 56 :1-5.

 1-3 God’s Message:

“Guard my common good:

   Do what’s right and do it in the right way,

For salvation is just around the corner,

   my setting-things-right is about to go into action.

How blessed are you who enter into these things,

   you men and women who embrace them,

Who keep Sabbath and don’t defile it,

   who watch your step and don’t do anything evil!

...

make sure no physically mutilated person (in other words a Eunuch)

   is ever made to think, ‘I’m damaged goods.

   I don’t really belong.’”

4-5 For God says:

“To the mutilated who keep my Sabbaths

   and choose what delights me

   and keep a firm grip on my covenant,

I’ll provide them an honored place

   in my family and within my city,

   even more honored than that of sons and daughters.

I’ll confer permanent honors on them

   that will never be revoked.”

 

So what did the Israelites learn about how to live together? First and foremost the message is clear that keeping the Sabbath, choosing what delights the Lord, and upholding the covenant are paramount. Then Isaiah has a special message regarding groups of people more often excluded from the temple and people of God: Eunuchs, foreigners, those that are physically mutilated. To these people Isaiah opens the door to the temple and announces that they are welcome!

Unfortunately I can’t relate to the Eunuchs. My skin colour, religion and ethnicity invite me into many spaces freely. But perhaps it is a bit like I feel when I’m in the airport after 12 hours of flying and see the reward members in their luxurious lounge. I see the goodness and just wish I had the card to be able to go inside, feast on the fresh fruit and enjoy the good company. Isaiah declares in this passage that you no longer need a card to get in! You just need the right Sabbath attitude to experience the holy grail of lounges. It doesn’t matter how you were born: russian or swiss Mennonite heritage, Ammonite or Israelite, fertile or infertile.

It isn’t proficient players of the Israelite game honored in God’s family. It is the physically mutilated individuals who hold fast to the Sabbath. This turns things upside down from what the Israelites might have expected. However it demonstrates that upholding the Sabbath includes and unites all believers based on their attitudes, not birthrights. (check slide)

Inclusive Sabbath practises aren’t just for the Eunuchs of the world. Our Leviticus passage indicates that the year of Jubilee was also focused on inclusion. The harvest during the sabbatical year should be shared with everyone (your family, male slaves, female servants, hired migrant workers and aliens living in a foreign land). All of these people deserve a share in the harvest. This list is significant. It includes everyone on the end of the totem pole of hierarchy.

And let’s not forget that the harvest for sharing is not guaranteed to be plentiful. The land has to lay fallow, untended, or pruned. I’m sure many of you have a lot more experience than I do with harvest and farming and can imagine what kind of mess the fields might be in after a year of growing wild. I only know that when I take a couple of weeks of vacation from weeding my little garden patch, it is hard enough to catch up!

I was, nonetheless, intrigued by what came up in my garden this spring. After the surprise snow in fall last year David and I failed to clear out everything from the garden and some things continued to grow in the spring warmth. We had  rubbery parsnips ready to eat in no time! Some of Larry’s infamous tomatillos sprouted up and, well we all know what Dill does when left to it’s own devices. I could have scraped together a sad little meal from our garden plot if I had to without doing anything to the land. But it would’ve been pretty funky and a meagre meal. Now imagine having to do this for a whole year, for every meal, and being told to share it with those people who are considered inferior to you. This would require a pretty radical humbling of oneself for the sake of others.

But the Levitical laws don’t stop there. You also need to share it with all of creation: the cows, the goats, sheep, and wild animals. (It wouldn’t be as much of a sacrifice to toss some rubbery parsnips to the goats though….) There is no separation in the sabbath laws between humanity and creation. They insist that all of creation come together and trust in God’s provision.

Sabbath is written as law for Israel during a time that their collective being is changing. And right in the rule book are indicators that this new community was cultivating a culture of inclusion by practising Sabbath. The Eunuchs were invited into the place of worship because they upheld the Sabbath. The animals and the lowly slaves of the household  were welcomed to the harvest table to share in the meager meal. Those with plenty were called to share what little they might have with those of inferior social standing. Sabbath creates a new inclusive community for God’s people.

Upholding the Sabbath gives a new identity to individuals as well.

Let’s look at the Eunuch’s experience. Previously this type of mutilation wasn’t acceptable in God’s community. However, Isaiah declares that God’s love is open to them, fully knowing what baggage they bring with them.  

I was struck by the isolation in the voice of the Eunuch. V3 reads “I am just a dry tree.” In the MSG translation it reads:  ‘I’m damaged goods. I don’t really belong.’” How many of us have heard that refrain in our head from one time or another and can relate to how alone he must have felt?

The Eunuch’s self identity is wrapped up in what he can, or cannot, produce and contribute. Upholding Sabbath puts aside the ethos of production and efficiency as prerequisites for inclusion in God’s community. No one is considered damaged goods by God if they cannot produce enough, keep up to Egyptian slave masters, or participate in the rat race of our current economy. Sabbath reminds us that we can stop seeing ourselves as vehicles for production, and start seeing ourselves as children of God.

            So often we get caught up in thinking that our value is tied to what was can do or produce. Mainstream society is really great at convincing us that more money, more food, more sex, more friends, more likes on facebook etc. etc.  are going to bring us a sense of peace and fulfillment. But yet these promises let us down and more often than not, these expectations leave us anxious, stressed out and overwhelmed. Practicing Sabbath is your ticket out of that mindset for a while. A chance to be reminded that you are unproductive, maybe even lazy according to other standards, and beloved by God.

            I am someone who lives with anxiety.  I often get caught up in planning and keeping busy as a way to cope. Recently I came to the realization that this pattern wasn’t actually working that well. In trying to do everything I wasn’t doing the things which drew me closer to God or gave me life. So I am try to do things a bit differently these days. I’ve chosen to work less than full time because that is what is healthy for me. In a sense I am taking a Sabbath so that I might have time to release myself from unhealthy patterns return to a rhythm of life more conducive to inner peace.  It has not been easy to explain to people that I am intentionally working less. I get a lot of questions wondering what I do with my time or whether I’ve found a job yet. Initially each question was a blow to the efficiency monster inside my head telling me that if I wasn’t doing everything all the time, I was failing. But I’m slowly learning to change the narrative and embrace my new sabbath identity: unproductive and beloved by God.

One author I read this week defined the message of Sabbath as this: I [God] will feed you with heritage and allow you to take delight in this heritage. I love the image of being fed our identity when we spend time in Sabbath. What does this look like?

Despite what I shared earlier, I am not someone who has found the way to practise Sabbath. I usually follow the pattern of retreating and unplugging for a while, feeling great, and then rushing back into “real life.” Last fall I had a Sabbath opportunity like this.  I went camping in Waskesiu and there was no one else around me. It was incredibly life giving to have time to soak in the slow pattern of fall, take some photos,  and be reminded of how much work it is to live. I thought, in my typical productivity mindset, that I would finish reading 5 books, journal every day, write a sermon and go for hikes. This is all in 2 days! It was completely unrealistic. The time it took me to make my meals, heat water for coffee, and set up my shelter took up most of my time. Friends have asked me afterwards, what did you do that whole time alone? And I honestly can’t say much more than “I lived!” I didn’t do anything but slow my thoughts down.

When I tried to enter into prayerful times, my mind would not. I was reminded of how difficult Sabbath as a practise is. We forget how to slow down and our minds go on rapidly before our souls can catch up to where we are. So what I took away from my Sabbath experience wasn’t a completed sermon but a renewed sense of where my soul was at. Walter Brueggeman writes this prayer in his book of poems which sums it up: “Giver of good gifts, Give us the simplicity to put ourselves down in your rest, whereby we may receive back our true selves by drawing close to you."

The last New identity offered to us in Sabbath is to be cultivators of peace. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians outlines that through Christ’s death and resurrection we are offered reconciliation for our sins, and called to offer this to others as well. In baptism we become new people and are called to be ambassadors of this reconciliation. As Mennonites our primary way  of this type of missional living is through discipleship - modelling our lives after Christ’s.

So, we strive to live like the one who rested and retreated with God in the garden; who was given to us because of God’s faithful timing, not by our own efficient work; who showed us that we are beloved, despite our ability to produce or our social standing; who calls us to listen and attend to the patterns of creation. How can we follow Christ if we do not spend the time practising and acquainting ourselves in the Sabbath rhythm?

In Buddhism there is a lot of discourse about seeds and what we choose to sow. All of our being (heart, soul, mind, bodies) have seeds of potential within. We have seeds of joy, peace, grace, and contentment. But we also have seeds of anger, hate, judgement, and impatience. Those seeds which we water and cultivate will flourish and grow into our identity. Those that are ignored will grow smaller and become less of who we are.

Sabbath gives us a chance to cultivate and grow new identities in the same way. Sabbath gives us rest from feeling outcast, and urges us to water the seeds of hospitality and generosity. Sabbath gives us the opportunity to water seeds of contentment and acceptance of who we are as inefficient people and urges us to water the seeds of patience and kindness when met with circumstances and people who do not perform up to our societal standards.

            As the seasons change and we enter into, and complete, fall harvest, which type of seeds will you be watering? What new identity might God be offering to you in the form of Sabbath?

Please join me in praying the words on the screen: Giver of good gifts, Give us the simplicity to put ourselves down in your rest, whereby we may receive back our true selves by drawing close to you.

Grace to all of you as you explore and receive your new Sabbath selves this fall. Amen.

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