Preached November 14, 2010 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC
Readings: Psalm 34: 5-14: “O taste and see that the Lord is good” Matthew 5:1-12: “Blessed are those who hunger …”
Sheldon Allan Silverstein was born in Chicago on September 25, 1930. Many children, and some adults will recognize him as “Shel” Silverstein, who authored many children’s books like The Giving Tree and A Giraffe and a Half. Silverstein was also a songwriter, and he wrote the first song we’re doing tonight. “The Diet Song” was recorded by Bobby Bare in 1983 and released on his “Drinkin’ from the Bottle” album. Let’s try it:
Breakfast, black coffee, one slice of dry toast, No butter, no jelly, no jam Lunch, just some lettuce, two celery stalks, No booze, no potatoes, no ham. Dinner, one chicken wing, broiled not fried, No gravy, no biscuits, no pie And this dietin’, dietin’, dietin’, dietin’, Sure is a rough way to die.
I really identify with this song – as I’m sure anyone here who has tried to lose weight can. For the past couple of years, I have been working the Weight Watchers point plan program. The good news is, I ultimately lost 25 pounds on the program. The great news is that I have managed to keep at least 20 pounds of it off for the past year. That last five pounds and I keep going back and forth. The one thing I’ve discovered is that losing weight, and keeping it off, is hard work. Scientists and scam artists have been trying since time immemorial to find a pill or gadget or a program that will easily melt away the fat and make us all into hard bodied beauties. In the end, the rule remains the same. To lose weight you must take in fewer calories than you expend – which often means a lunch of lettuce and celery stalks – and definitely no booze, no potatoes, or ham. Many in our society have lost, and continue to lose, the ongoing battle of the bulge. In fact, Americans are getting fatter and fatter – with obesity rates reaching 30 percent or more. That means nearly 73 million people in our nation are considered obese. It’s easy to get fat in America. Most of the natural foods we need to maintain a healthy weight, like fruits and vegetables, are actually quite expensive. While it only costs three or four bucks to get a Happy Meal with a cheeseburger and fries. Fast, fatty, food is cheap and readily available, while healthy food is often too expensive for many people – and often, in our busy lives, we barely have time to cook at home, so the drive-thru becomes our first stop on the way home. Not only is fast, fatty, food easily accessible, it’s also constantly advertised to us – and often advertised as “healthy.” Daily we’re told that if we eat McDonald’s we’ll be “lovin’ it.” We can get it our way at Burger King, and we can double-down with the Colonel at KFC. Each moment of the day, our cravings, our gluttonous habits, are reinforced through advertisements and the lure of a special prize in our Happy Meal. And each day, our gluttony makes us grow ever larger.
So pass me a carrot stick, peel me a prune, A glass of skim milk and that’s all
Turn off the TV for the Big Mac commercial, It’s drivin’ me right up the wall.
And I’m thinkin’ of french fries, sausage and waffles, Spaghetti and cookies and cake, And each night I’m dreamin’ of chocolate ice cream.
And I’m starvin’ to death when I wake.
Supper, two pieces of cauliflower, raw, Some beefsteak the size of a nail One sliced tomato, a small dab of slaw, I swear I ate better in jail.
Stop eatin’ that pizza right under my nose, Girl that’s the least you can do Put down that candy bar while I’m singin’, I’m starvin’ my buns off for you.
O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want. The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
The ancient Hebrews were well acquainted with hunger. They made their living off the land – farming, raising livestock, fishing, and hunting. There were no drive-thrus and Happy Meals at their disposal. Whatever they could grow, catch, or buy from farmers and fishermen, is what they ate – and sometimes they didn’t eat all that well depending on whether or not the harvest was good or the catch was big or small, or what their finances would allow. Still, these ancient desert dwellers knew that there was more to life than physical hunger. They were keenly aware of their spiritual hunger – their need for spiritual satisfaction that could only be sated by a relationship with the Holy. “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” It was only through the tasting of a life lived within the total mystery of the Holy that they found true satisfaction. They were truly filled when they took refuge in God – there they would have no want, and lack for no good thing. Ah, but aren’t we continually hungry? Here in America, our bellies may be full, but spiritually we are starving to death. Our minds are hungry for knowledge, our hearts are hungry for love. Our ears hunger for beautiful sounds, our eyes hunger for awesome sights. Our noses hunger for pleasing smells, our hands hunger to hold another hand and make an intimate connection. Our feet hunger to feel the soft grass of the earth beneath them. Our bodies hunger to feel the tenderness of other bodies as we hunger for one another. We are all hungry and seeking to be satisfied. We are like those hungry lions, suffering in our want and need. So often though, we go for the Happy Meal instead of the carrot stick. We feed on knowledge that pollutes our minds and leaves us less intelligent. We feast on love that leaves us heartbroken and lonely. We feast on screeching sounds that deafen us to the cries of the birds and the rustle of the wind in the trees. We fill our sight with ugly scenes of violence and despair that leave us feeling powerless and depressed. Our noses are filled with stench of life’s garbage all around us and the hands we hold crush ours with their need to control us – and body after body is held against our own until we don’t really feel them anymore. We gorge ourselves on the fast food of life – the shopping malls, the Internet, the television, the movies, the gossip magazines, the reality shows, the daily news. All delicious, but ultimately deadly. We eat until we are overfull, and wonder why we still feel so empty. But, this is what gluttony does to us – it encourages us to indulge in the excesses of our world. The advertisers promise us that if we eat this food, take this pill, buy this product, watch this show, or do this exercise, that we will be happy, and full, and satisfied. So we eat the food, take the pill, buy the product, watch the show, do the exercise, and yet we’re still unhappy, empty, and dissatisfied. So, then we go in excess the other way – starving ourselves to death. Going on the cabbage diet, or the banana diet – or any diet that tells us we can lose 50 pounds in a month. Those diets always fail and we put on even more weight than we had before when we go off of them. Instead, we need to learn today what the Hebrews knew a long time ago – anything that consumes us as we consume it leads to gluttony. “O taste and see that the Lord is good;” The only way to overcome our gluttony is to taste the gifts of the Holy – to take what God offers us – that full, inner, spiritual life – that deep relationship with Holy. Until we can live fully into the mystery of the Holy – taking our strength and our spiritual food from God – we will always be hungry for more and more. Breathe deeply.
You’re fixin’ the kids all those creamed mashed potatoes,
But it’s bouillon and water for me, Hey, you got a lock on the refrigerator
Lord knows where you’re hidin’ the key.
While I’m starvin’ for food late at night, I’m starvin’ for lovin’ from you But you say that when I can see my own what? You’ll be glad to look at it too.
So pass me a carrot stick, peel me a prune, A glass of skim milk and that’s all
You and Jane Fonda and old Richard Simmons, Are drivin’ me right off the wall.
Now when I am dead with the insurance paid, You’ll look down at me and you’ll grin
You’ll say, well the girl tried and she suffered and died But don’t she look good when she’s thin? oh my.
And this dietin’, dietin’, dietin’, dietin’ Sure is a rough way to die…
Matthew Fox writes that “gluttony creates hands that seize, hold, grab, grip, grasp, clutch, clench, clamp, buy, purchase, take, loot, plunder, snatch, steal, rifle, own, posses, and have.” When our souls are empty, it is our flesh that pays the price. Unless we can learn to live from the inside out – from that authentic place of spiritual strength and maturity – we will forever be grabbing and grasping for more and more – and seeking more and more ways to escape the pain of daily living. This kind of dieting, dieting, dieting, dieting, sure is a rough way not only to die, but to live. Breathe deeply. Back in the 70’s and the 80’s, the British band Supertramp was a mainstay at the top of the pop charts with songs like “Take the Long Way Home” and “The Logical Song.” Tonight, we’re doing one of this band’s hits. “Give a Little Bit” topped out at #15 on the Billboard charts in 1977. Let’s try it.
Give a little bit
Give a little bit of your love to me I’ll give a little bit I’ll give a little bit of my love to you There’s so much that we need to share So send a smile and show you care
In our Jesus story, we find our guy doing what he always did – talking to a large crowd of people. This passage contains Jesus’ most famous sermon that these days we commonly call “The Beatitudes.” The word derives from the Latin “beatus” which means “blessed.” That’s how most of his sermon is phrased with each sentence beginning: “Blessed are.” Those who are blessed, according to Jesus are those who we probably see as cursed: the poor, those who mourn, and those who are meek, those who are pure in heart, and those tree-huggin,’ granola-eating, anti-war peaceniks. These are the people who are scorned in our society – not blessed. Jesus has some pretty odd ideas of what it means to be blessed. But, he also has some fairly odd ideas about hunger here. Instead of talking about our physical hunger – he talks about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – these are the ones he says, who will be filled. What Jesus is telling his audience, and us centuries later, is simply this: Pay attention to what is in you – because you cannot give blessings in this world unless you first take in blessings. We cannot improve the lot of the poor unless we ourselves know what it’s like to be poor. We cannot comfort those who mourn unless we have mourned ourselves. We cannot empower the meek unless we have also experienced the powerlessness of meekness ourselves. We cannot teach others to be pure in heart unless we have purged the impurities from our own hearts. We cannot bring peace into the world until we cease the wars within our own hearts and minds and disarm our own violent thoughts and actions. And we cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness unless we have experienced the injustice and indifference of the world. Certainly, each of us has suffered injustice in some way, whether we’ve been discriminated against because of our gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political leanings, or our race. Each of us has experienced rejection in some way. This is important – this taking in of suffering. Jesus says we must ingest these strange blessings of mourning, and truly internalize the world’s pain and grief. It is only through this taking in – and truly digesting these things through the Holy that lives within each of us – that we will be empowered to put blessings back out into the world. We have to take in a little bit – so we can give a little bit of our love to the world. There is so much that we need to share. Breathe deeply.
I’ll give a little bit
I’ll give a little bit of my life for you So give a little bit
Give a little bit of your time to me
See the man with the lonely eyes
Take his hand, you’ll be surprised
The really good thing about going through Weight Watchers is this: I have to be very aware of what I’m eating. I have to be aware of what I’m taking into my body at all times and often I have to be very strict about what I eat. Weight Watchers gives you a set amount of points a day, and you only lose weight if you stick to those points. Often I would skip a candy bar if I had to write it down and subtract it from my points for the day. Oddly, though, I don’t feel deprived. Instead, I feel but empowered, because I have taken control over what goes into my body. As a result, my weight and my health have improved. To overcome gluttony, we all need this kind of discipline – we have to pay attention to what we take in. Every day, we mindlessly consume not just food, but the fatty fast food of information that is devoid of anything nutritional for our minds and bodies, and then we wonder why we feel so bloated and unsatisfied. Instead, we must make it a point – on a daily basis – to taste and see that the Lord is good, and hunger and thirst for righteousness. But, to overcome our gluttony we can’t just watch what we take in – we also have to watch what we put out into the world. Matthew Fox tells us that we must begin to see our throats as Holy – as God’s sacred instrument – through which we speak God’s words into the world. He writes that “Through our throats we sing, chant, croon, carol, yodel, tune, warble, chirp, cry, moan, lament, keen, hoot, whine, murmur, groan, scream, roar, bellow, screech, shout, shriek, wail, whoop, yell, weep, speak, chatter, gossip, confer, pronounce, declare, proclaim, publicize, and announce.” 14th century mystic Meister Ekhart urges us to “pay attention to what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it, and give birth to it.” What are you announcing, pronouncing, producing, and giving birth to in this world? Are you speaking words that empower, that inspire, that uplift, that build up, that bring joy, and happiness, that are Holy? Or, are you speaking words that disempower, that debilitate, that tear down, that cause despair, division, or anger, or violence? Are your own gluttonous ways poisoning your body and getting in the way of you returning blessing for blessing in this world? Jubilants, our throats are holy instruments – and when we take in only what we need and give out what the world needs, then we overcome our gluttony and live into the mystery of the Holy. We are called to use our holy instrument – our voices – to be God’s prophets, God’s messengers of hope, God’s messengers of peace, God’s messengers of justice. We are to bring these messages not just to ourselves – but everyone who suffers and hungers in our world. Our inner spirituality must be healthy so that they words we say will be able to nourish and fill those who feed on them. How would it change the way you lived – how would it change the way you talked, if you knew that just through the power of your words alone, you can give a little bit of your love to the world? How would it change the way you lived – how would it change the way you talked, if you knew that just through the power of your words alone, you can give a little bit of your life for those around us? Fox writes: “Every word we utter has the potential to be the word of God. Who would want to take such a power for granted?” I invite you, Jubilants, do not be careless with your words. Share them wisely, so the world may taste and see that the Lord is good.
Give a little bit
Give a little bit of your love to me I’ll give a little bit I’ll give a little bit of my life for you Now’s the time that we need to share
So find yourself, we’re on our way back home
The founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, Rev. Candace Chellew earned her Masters of Theological studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Her first book, “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians”, was published by Jossey-Bass in 2008. She currently serves as the Spiritual Director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C.