Thursday, 25 April 2019

Easter- The Cross and Resurrection

It's hard for us to understand how the disciples felt after Jesus' crucifixion. Just a week earlier Jesus was riding into Jerusalem. He came as their king. The people were singing and shouting, “Hosanna!”, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, “Blessed is the king of Israel!”. Those who had been with Jesus for the last 3 years had been hoping and waiting for this day. Finally, Jesus will take his place as the people's true king- the Messiah. … What was it like to be with Jesus entering the city, believing that this will change everything? Justice. Peace. A good King.

Suddenly things change. Jesus is betrayed. He is arrested. His followers are frightened. Jesus stands before the authorities under the weight of heavy accusations. Suddenly, the man they had put their hopes in is being made to look like a criminal. The goodness of Jesus is being overshadowed by accusations of heresy, blasphemy, and treason. The true King is being mistreated by cruel leaders and a corrupt system. Jesus is whipped bloody and is nailed to a cross as an example to those who think there is hope that things could ever get better. His bloody body is hung like a flag, as a signal, against all hope of God bringing justice.

The few disciples who haven't scattered and hid now watch the greatest man they have ever known die slowly and painfully- Wrongfully accused as a criminal. … Like most death, the death of a loved one brings many deaths- the death of a relationship- the death of an identity- the death of hope. With him dies their dreams. With him dies their future. …

And that is where we meet Mary Magdalene. She is crushed. She goes to his tomb because... what else are you going to do? The choices are to sit and cry at home, or sit and cry at his tomb. When she gets there she sees that his body is gone. It is one more insult. It is salt in the wound. They can't even let him be dead in peace. They need to pull him out of his tomb and humiliate his memory even more. She goes for help and Peter and John come to investigate, but all they find is the burial shroud his body was wrapped in. (It’s not like grave robbers to unwrap a body before stealing it.) They go back home, but Mary stays at the tomb. Cry at home or cry by the tomb?

Mary's tears drench her face. There is no consolation. There is no stiff upper lip here. This is deep, profound, bottomless weeping. …

A mysterious thing happens. Jesus is standing in front of her and for some reason she doesn't see that it is him. Maybe it is the grief. Maybe it is that there is something about resurrection that transforms the body of Jesus. She doesn't see him until he says her name... "Mary". Then she sees him.

Can you see her eyes- squinted, red, and puffy from crying for three days? Suddenly she hears her name and she sees that it is him and her eyes widen in amazement. Can you imagine a greater emotion than the one she was feeling? Jesus is alive. He is well. He hasn't just survived. He is not hobbling on crutches, or crawling along the ground. He is well. He has gone through death and has come out the other side. He is more alive than ever. The story hasn't ended. Her hopes and dreams for the future that died with Jesus, have now been resurrected with Jesus. …

Before Mary saw Jesus resurrected the cross looked horrible. Could she even look at it without becoming angry? Or without tears welling up in her eyes? The cross was evil. It was horrible and ugly. It was created by a cruel empire that was very good at killing and humiliating. It was created as a torture device to show the people what happens if you don't behave and kneel before your Roman rulers. It was the most horrible and shameful thing they could think up. The Cross was a symbol of brutality, evil, and shame. It was a symbol of power and if you were on the cross that power wasn't yours.

Something amazing happens on Easter morning. Despite expectations, the tomb is found empty. People start saying that they have seen Jesus. … We sometimes think that because they lived a long time ago that they are more likely to believe unbelievable things. These are not stupid people. They know that people don't just come back from the dead. ... They say they have conversations with him, and eat with him, and touch him. Large groups see him. Small groups see him. Individuals see him. Enemies see him. And suddenly instead of being scattered and scared the followers of Jesus become bold and confident. They go public saying that 'Jesus is alive'. The reply from the hostile authorities isn't to exhume Jesus' body for everyone to see and to disprove the claim. They can't find his body. They actually accuse the disciples of stealing the body. However, the followers of Jesus continue to build in their boldness and confidence that Jesus really and truly is alive. Their fear and horror is transformed into joy.

Have you ever wondered how strange it is that we wear crosses around our necks, and put them on our walls? Have you ever considered wearing a gold electric chair around you neck? Or maybe a gold hangman's noose? Or, maybe a little silver guillotine? We have made an instrument of torture into jewelry. How did that happen? How did a symbol of death and shame become a symbol of hope and comfort? ... It is because of the resurrection.

From the point of view of Good Friday the cross is brutal and horrible, but after the resurrection the cross becomes a symbol of Jesus' victory. In that act Jesus took on the world's evil. He took on the corrupt political system. He took on injustice and cruelty. He took on evil. He took on death... and he won. He defeated it all. He took it all on and he won. After the resurrection the cross becomes a symbol of hope. It becomes a symbol we can wear around our necks to remember the victory of Christ over evil and death. The cross becomes a symbol to remind us that no matter how bad things seem, God will have the last word- and that last word will look like resurrection.

There is something amazing and mysterious about the resurrection life that Jesus invites us into. Imagine the most horribly painful thing that has ever happened to you. What in your life symbolizes pain, shame, and cruelty? ... From the point of view of our resurrection we will look back on those things as symbols of our victory as children of God. Just as Jesus and his followers can look back on the cross as a symbol of victory and hope, so those hurtful events in our lives will become symbols of victory for us. Just as Mary's tears at the tomb are transformed into joy by Jesus' resurrection, so our horrors will be transformed into symbols of our victory.

The incredible thing about this is that we don't have to wait until our resurrection to look at these moments with a sense of victory. Because of Jesus' resurrection we can approach those difficult times in our lives and have a sense of hope and victory as we are facing them. ...

Some of you are thinking that this all sounds good but terribly impractical. Let me give you an example. Athanasius lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries. He lived while Christians were being persecuted. So you might have heard about Christians being thrown to the lions to be devoured for the amusement of bloodthirsty crowds. This is when Athanasius lived. This is what he says of Christ's victory over death, 
" is the very Saviour that also appeared in the body, who has brought death to nought, and Who displays the signs of victory over him day by day in his own disciples. For ... one sees men, weak by nature, leaping forward to death, and not fearing its corruption nor frightened of the descent into Hades, but eager with soul challenging it; and not flinching from torture, but on the contrary, for Christ's sake electing to rush upon death ... [Christ] supplies and gives to each the victory over death ... For who that sees a lion, ... made sport of by children, fails to see that [death] is either dead or has lost all his power. (On the Incarnation, xxix.3-5) ... So weak has [death] become, that even women who were formerly deceived by him, now mock at him as dead and paralyzed." (xxvii.3) "For man is by nature afraid of death and of the dissolution of the body; but there is this most startling fact, that he who has put on the faith of the Cross despises even what is naturally fearful, and for Christ's sake is not afraid of death" (xxviii.2). 

Athanasius is speaking about Christians who were tortured and killed because they were Jesus followers. These Jesus followers laughed at death. These people were not suicidal. They did not hate their lives, but they no longer feared death. Even their children didn't fear death and would make fun of the lions that were about to kill them. Athanasius is saying that this is evidence that Jesus has defeated death- his followers no longer fear it.

We might make another mistake and think that these Christians were all about going to heaven when they die, but no. Their lack of fear meant that when a plague hit a city, instead of fleeing, many of them stayed to help the sick, even if that meant getting sick and dying themselves. It meant that they were willing to stand up for what was right and just even in the face of cruel kings and rulers. They knew that whatever was thrown at them to stop them would become their cross and, because of Jesus' resurrection, their torture - their very death- would become a symbol of their victory. (e.g. saints holding symbols of their martyrdom). Jesus' resurrection allowed them to live amazing lives free from fear. These Christians saw the resurrection as having very real day to day application for how they lived their lives. They were able to live their lives free from fear.
We don't face lions, or persecution at the hands of cruel kings. Some Christians do face horrible deaths even now because of their belief in Jesus. There are places in our world where what we are doing right now is illegal, or even if it isn't illegal we might still worry about our safety being gathered together like this. … We might not face persecution like this, but we face our own tragedies. I think about the things you have all been through just in the year and a half that I have been with you. There is an incredible amount of pain in this congregation. … We have our own worries and fears. We fear cancer. We fight disease. We deal with past abuse and betrayal. We have the death of a loved one to face. We have financial issues to face. Some of us fear commitment, or rejection. ... What are you afraid of? … What horror or crisis have you faced? Or maybe you're facing it right now. Could it be that when you look back on this from the point of view of your future resurrection that this moment will be a symbol of victory in your life? ... Could you live believing that victory even now? Even in the midst of your pain? We need to celebrate every year, every Sunday even, because we need to be reminded that we don't have to be afraid. God will have the last word in our lives, and if we are followers of Jesus, that will be a word of victory. We know this isn't just wishful thinking because we have seen it happen to Jesus.

Mary's tears on that Easter morning were transformed. Her grief was transformed at the sight of Jesus. Her fear was released and replaced with joy. Jesus offers the same to us. Jesus asks us to be his followers. He asks us to give our lives over to him and truly find life. We are invited into a life free of fear- free of anxiety. We are invited into a life where our worst horrors are transformed into symbols of victory over evil, sin, and death. We are invited to look upon the cross and know that Christ invites us into his victory. AMEN

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Palm/ Passion Sunday- Anger and Forgiveness

This is our last week dealing with the Seven Deadly Sins. We have been looking at them as diseases of the soul. We might not like talking about diseases, but a diagnosis is actually ‘good news’. Usually it is worse to know there is something wrong with you, but to not know what it is specifically and therefore not know how to treat it. When we have a diagnosis, then we can really start to treat the problem.

“Sin” is our word for soul disease. The saints taught that this soul-disease can be broken into a few types. All sin seems to have some element of Pride- That is why pride is often considered to be the chief sin, or the root of all other sin. The other types are Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Greed, Sloth, and today we are looking at Anger. Without a diagnosis it is difficult to find a cure. A lot of the brokenness we experience in our lives is a result of these sins- either as a result of the disease inside us, or because we feel the effects of someone else’s disease.

Jesus, along with the prophets, invite us to repent. Repentance is the beginning of healing. They call us to see the disease clearly, rather than deny it. In repentance we are invited to face Sin and then turn from it- Turn away from every unloving act and unloving thought. Don’t justify it. Don’t shrug your shoulders and say, “oh well”. Recognize the disease, and take it seriously. See it and then turn from it. Repent.

When we recognize the disease and stop denying it, then we are ready for the cure. The medicine is in the form of God’s grace- humility treats pride; kindness treats envy; charity treats greed; chastity treats lust; temperance treats gluttony; diligence treats sloth; and the medicine for anger is forgiveness.

As I said earlier, today we are looking at anger. Anger is not automatically sin. We will naturally feel anger when something doesn’t go our way. If something or someone we value is disrespected or mistreated we will naturally feel anger. If someone is not behaving the way we think they should, we might feel anger. That initial anger lets us know something is not going according to how we think things should go.

One of the problems with anger is that our anger makes us believe that everything actually should go our way. … We don’t have all the information, so we really can’t be 100% sure that our way is truly the right way. We can’t really be angry about an issue, AND think the other position might have a point.

Anger also comes easy when we are dealing with someone else’s sin. Look how David reacted when he heard about the rich man stealing to poor man’s beloved sheep. In anger he condemned the rich man to death. … David had just conspired to kill a man to cover his own adultery with the man’s wife. … Where was David’s anger for the sake of justice then? … That was the genius of what the prophet Nathan did. He allowed David anger to arise at an unjust situation, but little did David know that his anger was directed at himself.

God can handle anger in a way that we can’t (whatever anger might mean for God). Our soul is not fully healed, so our character cannot handle anger without being destructive. I would venture to say that all outward expressions of anger are sinful- they are wrath. Both words and actions that come from a place of anger are destructive. Even Anger held onto inwardly, which we call bitterness, is a destructive expression of anger. … So, anger is destructive not only for those on the end of our angry outburst, but it is also destructive to ourselves. It eats away at our souls.

When I speak about this, people usually fight against relating anger and sin. We want our anger. Sometimes we avoid it by simply renaming it- “I’m not angry. I’m frustrated”. Our first reaction to any sin is often to avoid defining as a sin and thus justify it. With anger we usually justify it by saying that it is necessary for justice. We feel we need to point out the wrongdoing so they will know that what they are doing is wrong, and our anger lets them know we are serious. We need to make sure they don’t get away with this evil. … The letter of James confronts our attempt to justify it saying, 
"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." (James 1:19-20).
 We try to justify our anger as fighting for justice or righteousness, but James says it is impossible. Use something else to get to that justice- use compassion, use kindness, use love, but not anger. Anger leads to destruction. Anything that can be done in anger can be done better when motivated by some other emotion. So, it is best if we can transform anger into some other emotion before we act or speak.

Jesus and his saints have given very strong teachings about anger. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that anger in the soul is the equivalent of murder (Matt 5:22). We can imagine someone filled with murderous rage but unable to commit the act because of being in prison or because of a physical handicap, but the condition of the person’s heart could be the same as if they actually committed the act of murder. … Jesus correctly sees that anger is the seed of murder. How many murders would happen if we removed anger from the world?

Paul teaches the churches, 
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." (Eph 4:31; Col 3:8).
 And throughout the ages the wisdom of the saints has cautioned against anger. St Augustine said, 
“It is better to deny entrance to just and reasonable anger than to admit it, no matter how small it is. Once let in, it is driven out again only with great difficulty. … There never was an angry man who thought his anger unjust”.

Anger killed Jesus. The anger of the people shouting “crucify” and the anger of the religious and political leaders. But, it wasn’t anger alone. Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Greed, and Sloth were all there nailing him to the cross. … We shout “hosanna” as he enters the city. Part of us knows he is our king, but part of us rejects him. Part of us doesn’t want to change. Part of us doesn’t want the repentance that is necessarily part of submitting ourselves to his Lordship. Part of us doesn’t want to have a king because we want to be king or queen. … Very quickly our “Hosanna”s turn to “Crucify him”. Whenever we submit to our anger, or pride, our soul shouts “Crucify”. Whenever we allow Envy, or Gluttony, to have its way we are nailing his wrists to the wood. When we let Lust, Greed, and Sloth take over our lives we nail his ankles to the cross and mock him. It’s these sins that hold Jesus to the cross.

If ever there was a just reason to be angry … Jesus had it. As an innocent man tortured and nailed to a cross he had a right to anger if ever anyone had a right to their anger. He could have spit curses from the cross, … but he didn’t. Instead of a curse Jesus prayed, 
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” 
 Jesus took all the damage human sin could do to him. And he responded not with anger, but with forgiveness. He lived what he taught and he opened a new way of life for his followers.

For those who saw that anger and revenge don’t work, Jesus opened a new way of life. Jesus loving from his cross made it possible for Martin Luther King Jr. to preach these words in the midst of violence and turmoil. In a sermon entitled “loving your enemies” he says, 
“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. … We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non co-operation with evil is … a moral obligation. … Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” (Strength to Love, p 40).
 That is the power of Christ’s cross. That is the power of love that destroys sin. So journey with Christ this holy week and remember his suffering, but also open yourself up to the transformation he wants for your heart. Open yourself to the heart surgery he wants to correct your heart disease.

Helps with anger (these notes are from the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality):

1) "Temporary silence and containment that allows one to recall the mercy of others in light of one's own past transgressions, [this] widens the heart to offset the pressure that increases with anger's constriction, and allows a reappraisal (or reframing) of the situation that aroused the anger to consider whether the harm suffered was really done out of any forethought or ill will."

2) "One should not blame others for one's own inability to exercise the virtue of patience."

3) "People should seek the wisdom and exposure community provides"

4) "They should practice opposite behaviours, such as blessing persecutors and singing psalms."

5) "They must rebuff the need to be in control or possess."

6) "They must have self knowledge and recognize patterns and triggers so as not to be ambushed."

7) "They should Confront the injuring party (Matt. 5:23-26)"

Here are some notes I toke from a Lecture given by Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard has defined Anger as "will to harm", "an announcement of pain", "the will to change". Anger is caused by the will being crossed. We think circumstances should be other than they are and this causes anger. Human character in most cases cannot handle the fire of anger. Anger also produces more anger in the one we are angry at. Everything you can do with anger you can do better without it. Anger justifies itself in the moment and therefore justifies actions done in anger. Dealing with anger: 
1)Surrender your will to God (you don't have to get your way) 
2)Living in thankfulness to God, rather than complaints to God for how God has treated you. 
3) Confront the situation, but not in anger. Confronting in anger produces more anger and then the situation is harder to deal with because communication breaks down. 
4) Recognize that God love both you and the people who offended you. Do not see them as worth less than you. 
5) The answer to contempt and anger is willingly love instead.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Lust and Chastity- 7 deadly sins

This week the deadly sin we are looking at is lust. We are swimming in temptations to lust. Sexual imagery is blatant on tv, in songs, on magazines, and in advertising. We are immersed in an overly-sexualized culture that is often using sexual imagery and to manipulate us into buying things.

The media that holds our attention tends to exaggerate the importance of sex and fools us into believing that our happiness depends on being forever sexually attractive and sexually active.

 Thinking about our sexual desires, C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity asks us to imagine a culture where people gather around a covered dish. The cover is slowly lifted while people hoot and holler. The cover is finally lifted to reveal a pork chop. Now we might suspect that these people are starving. So, then we look into their culture to see if they have a lack of food available to them. If we find that, in fact, they are not starving and are actually eating quite well, then we would suspect that something has gone wrong in their desire for food. 

Now we imagine that instead of a pork chop, say we have under the cover, a naked woman. It is an image of strip clubs and the pornography industry. Is this evidence that we are sexually starved, or that something has gone wrong in our sexual desire?

To strengthen his argument, Lewis points out that if a young man were to obey all his sexual urgings (in a pre-contraception environment) he might well populate a small town quite quickly. Isn't this evidence that our sexual desires have become twisted or exaggerated in some way?

The result of this twisting is that we can end up treating each other as objects for our own personal sexual gratification. We forget that we are persons to be respected, valued, and made in the image of God,  not to be used and abused for our own selfish use.

Lust is an excessive desire for the pleasures of the flesh. It is usually focused on sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure itself is good and a gift from God, but sex out of its proper context can become dangerous to us and to others. Lust is inherently selfish. And it is ultimately a delusion. Lust asks of sex something sex can’t deliver. It promises intimacy and fulfillment. Movie after movie shows lust and romantic love as a cure-all for life’s problems. Like other sins it acts like an addiction. It leads to a habit as we continue to reach for what it will never be able to give us.

Lust also effects more than the lust-sick person. Lust may lead to adultery, which effects spouses, children, parents, extended family, friends, and co-workers.  Lust might also lead to a child being conceived in an unstable relationship, which might lead to an abortion, or living the difficult life of a single parent family. … Lust can also have other more violent consequences, like sexually assault. … Sin will also often lead to more sin. In King David’s case, lust for Bathsheba led to the murder of her husband Uriah to cover up their adultery. We might not be led to murder, but we might be drawn into a life of lies as we try to hide our lust.

Sex is meant to reinforce and strengthen a truly loving relationship, but lust tends to objectify the other person- it uses them for self-centered pleasure. The psychologist Solomon Schimmel compares love to lust saying, 
“Love is firm in the face of obstacles. This is because it is joining of personalities, not bodies. Aging, loss of exterior beauty, illness, or misfortune do not diminish love when the emotional bonds upon which it is based remain intact. Lust is transient, fickle, and egocentric. Love is permanent, steady, and altruistic. Lust uses another’s body to satisfy its appetite for pleasure. Love gives of oneself, soul and all, to make another happy.” (Schimmel p 122).
We seek to cure the disease of lust by seeking to attain chastity. We do this by understanding the role of sexuality in God’s bigger design for life. Chastity is sometimes equated in peoples' minds with celibacy- which is abstaining from sex entirely. That's not exactly what I mean by 'chastity'. It is that for some people, but not all.

Here's how one theologian puts it 
“Chastity is the virtue by which a person integrates his or her sexuality into his or her own Christian life” (Lower, Boyle, May- Catholic Sexual Ethics).
 That means it is a discipline for both single and married people. It's how we integrate our sexuality into who God has called us to be and what He has called us to do. How we express our sexuality will be different because we have different callings.

The virtue of chastity is formed in us as we follow the teachings of Jesus who taught us to watch our hearts, which is where the root of lust begins. Sexual sin begins with a thought and if it is not addressed then it may lead to more thoughts, and then habitual thoughts, and then actions, and then habitual actions, and before we know it our life and character are coloured by it. … Jesus rightly advises us to deal with lust when it is just a small thought in our minds- while it is still a seed and hasn't grown roots. It is easier to deal with a spark than a forest fire. … We should remember too, that Jesus does not condemn us for having any sexual thought, or for looking at a beautiful person. A thought is not the sin. Jesus warns us about looking for the purpose of lusting. The Greek word implies a leer, rather than a look.

To limit sexual thoughts, some have found it helpful to avoid situations that might cause us personal temptation- whether that be television, the internet, instant messaging, certain acquaintances, visiting particular places, reading harlequin novels, or anything else that might cause temptation to arise within us. … Often, we don’t have the strength to fight lust directly. Usually we have to flee the situation that is causing the temptation. The strongest among us are still susceptible. We should fight this even if it means deep sacrifice. I know of one spiritual adviser that recommended to someone tempted by pornography that they get rid of their TV.

The ultimate cure, though is not merely to run from pornography but to find a pleasure greater than the pleasures of the flesh to devote yourself to. When we seek God’s Kingdom first, then life will order itself properly. When we focus on the Kingdom we are focusing on our true and original purpose.

The assumption of the Bible and Christian Tradition is that the proper context for sex is marriage. This isn’t about God trying to ruin anyone’s fun, it’s about where sex belongs and what it was made for- Where it is of most benefit to us and to the Kingdom? Where is it least likely to do damage? We are  happy for a fire to be in our furnace, or the fireplace, but a fire on the living room carpet is dangerous. Likewise with sex, in the proper context sex is useful and beautiful, but out of its proper context it can be damaging (to us, our partners, families, or the broader community). 

Chastity is the virtue whereby we keep our sexuality in the context for which it was designed. Chastity is not an end unto itself, rather, it is a practice that helps us draw closer to God as we live a life that is more in tune with who God created us to be. Chastity puts sexuality into perspective. It helps us keep our priorities straight. And so, Chastity is a practice for both single and married Christians.

Chastity trains us in love. Chastity teaches us that there is more to human relationships than sex. Chastity teaches us that intimacy is different than sex. Chastity teaches us to not objectify people. Chastity teaches us to live in freedom, rather than being enslaved by our sexual desires.

Chastity, especially in the context of a marriage (a high-commitment covenant relationship) trains us to love even when we don’t feel like it. Love is beyond our own grumpiness, or our state of digestion. While the romantic feeling of love is important, that is not all love is. Love is also an action and a commitment. Chastity teaches us to become less-selfish and more generous and self-controlled as we are also living for our spouse and possibly children. We also learn to be more courageous because we understand that others rely on us.

Through God’s grace, the Virtue of Chastity will become a part of who we are. That means someday, for those of us who still fight with this, it will be less of a struggle and we will have peace and tranquility in our lives as we become more who God created us to be as our sexuality finds itself integrated into our lives in a healthy balanced way. AMEN

Monday, 1 April 2019

gluttony- 7 deadly sins

We are continuing with our series on the Seven Deadly Sins. We are looking at them as diseases of the soul, which are treated by the opposing virtue. This week we are looking at the sin of Gluttony. It is a sin that is hard to avoid in our society. We have an incredible abundance of food. And we also have an incredible variety of foods. Even in the middle of winter we have fruit available to us from all over the world.

We have abundance in quantity and in variety. And we are also bombarded with stimuli trying to convince us to partake. We see tv commercials telling us about new foods at the grocery store, and fast food restaurants. The radio tells us about the latest restaurant specials. The magazine rack is full of pictures of cake recipes. We are bombarded by information about food.

This often results in us eating too much, and often eating what isn’t good for us. Our instincts served us well in the past when food was scarce. We were attracted to foods that gave us quick energy and which could result in stored energy in preparation for seasons when we didn’t have much available. But, now we don’t have seasons of scarcity, yet our instincts still draw us to those rich foods that used to be rare.

One of the things that becomes obvious when we practice fasting is how much time we spend on food. We spend time thinking about what to make. Then we spend time making the food. Then we spend time eating the food. Then we have to clean up the dishes and the pots and pans and counter. If we do that for breakfast, lunch, and supper, that is a lot of energy spent on food. And if you are someone who is particularly obsessed with food you might even day dream about food, or reflect on past meals.

We can sometimes think that gluttony has to do with sheer quantity of food eaten. It is more than that, though. Gluttony can include an inordinate amount of money spent on food. An inordinate amount of time spend thinking about, preparing, and consuming food. Gluttony can be exposed by our pickiness about food- having it spiced just right, prepared just right, or at just the right temperature. Gluttony is an obsession, of some kind, having to do with what we consume. It is an unwillingness to exercise self-control around food- having to do with the timing of our meals, snacking between meals, or maybe even our unwillingness to exercise table manners.

So we shouldn’t think Gluttony is just about eating too much. and we definitely shouldn’t connect it to body shape or anything as crude as that. Gluttony is much deeper than that.

I think it would be reasonable to include drug and alcohol abuse in the category of gluttony as well, since gluttony has to do with the pleasure we receive from what we consume.

St. Thomas Aquinas says Gluttony is an “Immoderate appetite in eating and drinking.” He goes on to describe this- “We regard an appetite as immoderate when it departs from the reasonable order of life in which moral good is found.”

Gluttony forgets the passage Jesus quotes during his temptation in the wilderness, “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:3). Gluttony elevates the pleasures of food until it starts to eclipse God. Paul talks about those who are enemies of the cross saying, “their god is the belly” (Phil 3:19). They allow their immediate pleasures to take precedence over the pursuit of God’s kingdom.

Gluttony can also be an issue of justice. In our Gospel reading from Luke 16 Jesus describes a man who “feasted sumptuously every day” (Lk 16:19) and perhaps because he was obsessed with the pleasures of life ignored poor Lazarus at his gates. … I sometimes wonder how often that is how we appear. We feast sumptuously as we pursue every pleasure and because of this we are blinded to the poor Lazaruses of the world.

The virtue that is the cure for gluttony is temperance. Temperance is to control our appetite so that our consumption is under the control of our reason. To work towards this virtue we should consider what role food should play in our lives as disciples of Christ. It is meant to sustain us so that we have the health and vitality to do what God is calling us to do. It is okay to enjoy eating (after all, it is God who made it taste good, and who gave us taste buds!), but we should beware of obsessing over the pleasures of eating. Just as Paul warned about the pleasures of the belly becoming our God, we can become slaves to the pleasures of consuming rather than being the masters of what we consume. This is why alcohol and drug abuse should maybe fall under this category of sin. Addiction is slavery.

This means that we should not necessarily eat until we are full. And we should be careful about being too finicky about maximizing the pleasure we get from eating.

But, this is not black and white. For example, Bishop Jeremy Taylor says that if we experience times of depression that allowing ourselves more food or wine might assist our mood and should be allowed.

If we are concerned with pleasure we should remind ourselves that a life of temperance brings more happiness in the long run as we will probably life longer and more healthy lives. We might actually enjoy food more if we practice temperance- doesn’t food taste better when you are actually hungry and you haven’t eaten in a while? It is also likely that we will be more able to focus on our spiritual work and service to God when our minds are not clouded by gluttony. We have a responsibility to maintain our health (as much as that is within our power), so that we can be useful to God in mind and body. It is also good stewardship to treat the body God has given us with care. Temperance helps us to worship better, study better, serve better, pray better. The organ of our body is our means of worship and service. Gluttony gets in the way of all that.

To move towards temperance it can help to try to think from a heavenly perspective. When thinking about how gluttony looks from the point of view of heaven Bishop Jeremy Taylor says, 
“when thy soul dwells above, and looks down upon the pleasures of the world, they seem like things at a distance, little and contemptible, and men running after the satisfaction of their [drunken] appetites seem foolish as fishes, thousands of them running after a rotten worm that covers a deadly hook” (Rule and Exercises of Holy Living).
 If we keep the big picture in mind then the temptations of the pleasures of the moment will have less power to overwhelm us. Maturity is often about the ability to delay gratification.

There are a number of things we can try to overcome the temptation of gluttony. We can eat smaller portions. We can eat slower. We can find something to divert our attention when we are tempted. Go for a walk. Read a good book.

This doesn’t mean we live lives that are grim and devoid of pleasure. The Bible commands times of celebration and feasting during holy days, and to celebrate certain important moments in life. But, surely celebration and feasting means more when we are not constantly feasting.

The virtue of temperance allows us to resist the immediate pleasure we get from consuming for the purpose of a greater long-term pleasure. God does not want to deny us pleasure. God is concerned with the greater, eternal pleasure that he wants to bestow on His people. In John 15:11 Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”. Jesus is not about denying us pleasures. What he wants is a joy that can be complete. Our joy can only ultimately be completed in God. Gluttony promises something it can’t give. It cannot complete our joy. Only God can do that.

"Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." Jn 6:27 
"For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink." Jn 6:55
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