It takes a fairly secure minister to preach against gluttony only days before Thanksgiving. This past Sunday our congregation wondered whether our priest planned it that way or if his sermon series on the seven deadly sins just happened to fall out that way.
Really, is there ever a good time to talk about eating as a sin?
Things got particularly meddlesome when Father Cliff pointed a finger at the Hostess brand - Twinkies, Donettes and Ho Ho’s - as an illustration of our American penchant for excess. This verdict came so soon after headlines about Hostess liquidating, closing factories and stopping production on our nation’s favorite snack cakes. We paused for a moment during the illustration, nodding our heads in agreement. On the screen in front of us we beheld two golden cake logs, creamy filling oozing from their middles. In bold font the epitaph: We Will Never Forget.
We Anglicans thought that was pretty funny.
We’re not laughing, of course, at the 18,500 lost jobs across the United States. We’re also not laughing at the millions of people across the world who can’t get a piece of bread, let alone a chocolate-covered, preservative-filled Ding Dong.
As Christians we choose to let God - not a pink, sugar-crusted Sno Ball - fill our need for comfort and love.
So how are we to think about gluttony? How did our respected rector have the courage to broach the topic the same week most of us are digging through our closets for the pants with the loosest waistbands? Because gluttony is not only about excess.
By definition, gluttony is an obsession with our stomachs. This plays out in more ways than stuffing our faces with Twinkies. Sunday’s message reminded us that when we approach food in any of the following ways, we just might be a glutton. (Notice the helpful acronym, F.R.E.S.H.)
Fastidiously: being picky and peculiar about food.
Ravenously: eating like we’re truly starving or have a fear of being hungry.
Excessively: as a pattern, not an occasional feast.
Sumptuously: demanding only the finest, richest fare.
Hastily: our attention is consumed with what’s on our plate rather than the relational qualities of our meal.
Frederick Buechner defined a glutton as “one who raids the icebox for a cure to spiritual malnutrition.” This week it might be fitting to substitute “one who raids the Twinkie aisle for a cure to comfort cravings.”
As Christians we are motivated toward a Biblical stewardship of our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit. We choose to let God - not a pink, sugar-crusted Sno Ball - fill our need for comfort and love. We are compelled to eat thoughtfully, caring about the nutrients, the growing and making practices of our food, the hunger that consumes our global neighbors.
Two ancient spiritual practices bookend this daily stewardship of our stomachs: fasting and feasting. We join our spiritual fathers and mothers, taking up periodic fasts in order to surrender our stomachs to God. When we fast we fill our hearts with prayer rather than our bellies with food.
In the same way we walk with holy people of all ages in the practice of feasting. We feast thoughtfully, honoring relationships of those who are gathered and those who are unable, giving thanks for hands that cultivate, bake, serve. We take up the Scriptural imagery, feasting on rich food and well-aged wine. When we feast we practice the way of Jesus, the Lord over feasts of fish and loaves, bread and wine, forgiveness and the fatted calf.
In this season, may our feasts - and our fasts - be Christian. Let our thanksgiving be what we never forget.