You Are What You Eat (begins at 24:42)

September 1, 2019

Series: September 2019

Category: Communion Sunday

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Jeremiah 2:4-13

4Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? 6They did not say, "Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?" 7I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. 8The priests did not say, "Where is the LORD?" Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.

9Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children's children. 10Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. 11Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. 12Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, 13for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

You Are What You Eat

          “You are what you eat,” the phrase has become so commonplace its origins aren’t entirely traceable.  We see it as a dietary dictum, though works on a much deeper level as well.  What we take in becomes us, or to reverse the direction, what we go after, what we pursue in this life, drives what choices we make and therefore on some level makes us who we are.  In the same way taking in good, nourishing, delicious food will bring us health and joy, so will seeking after good, fulfilling, and delightful endeavors in life.  Conversely, when we take in junk or pursue it, we waste away from the inside out. 

          Given the simplicity of this reality, it is amazing how often people seek things which not only destroy others, but themselves.  We are not a lazy in this culture, but our choice of pursuits could stand some wisdom.  Each of our sacred readings speaks to this curious tendency to go after that which does not truly profit, in a deeper sense of the term profit.  Hebrews tells us not how to go out and get more for ourselves, but instead commends to pursue opportunities to show hospitality to strangers.  In doing so, we host angels.  Attend to the imprisoned and the tortured, it says, as if their captivity and their suffering were ours, because, of course it is. 

Patricia Pearce, who preceded me in my last church, is a great spiritual teacher.  I still follower some of her writings and she wrote in her blog recently an entry entitled, “An Open Letter to Future Generations.”  She describes this era as dark in the sense of being lost, unclear, bumbling.  Calling it “the ego era,” she says,

We truly believed, and therefore perceived, that all things, including ourselves, existed in isolation: separate entities living out separate lives. Crazy, I know.

This feeling of being existentially alone in the Universe, cut off from the web of Life, gripped us with fear. It was a primal fear of being alone, left to our own devices to scrape for our own survival, a fear that pitted us against one another and other species as though we were competitors rather than companions expressing the One Life. We weren’t able to grasp that Reality is, in its essence, interdependence, relationship, Love expressing itself in myriad forms—and that we were that Love.[1]

           No doubt, you picked up on the irony – we cope with our fear of isolation by building evermore isolated lives sitting alone on crowded freeways to tired when we’re home to build community where we are.  Hebrews wants us to eschew the things that undermine relationship and community.  This is why it speaks of the marital bed as it does.  It’s not some prudish ethos.  It's concerned with what behavior damages relationships and community.  This is why Hebrews says to steer associating love with money.  Love is for relationship and to love money is to believe that if we can just acquire enough we don’t have to be in relationship or community. 

          Jeremiah uses stark terms as well.  In it, God says, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?  They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?’ I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things” (Jer. 2:5-6).  Jeremiah makes an important link between memory, gratitude, and desire.  Because the people have forgotten the goodness they have experienced even in the midst of terribly difficult circumstances, they are left feeling empty.  As a result, they pursue things to fill up that empty space, but since they have not cultivated an ability to recognize their own potential for gratitude and contentment, they embark on an endless cycle of consumption and ever-growing appetite.  The cultivation of gratitude, on the other hand, attunes you to what is worthy to pursue.   

          The spiritual path, which does not deny material needs—it just instills a proper sense of proportion—leads to a garden of plenty, where we can taste, be nourished, and delight.  That has sadly been far too few people’s experience of religion.  I have just finished the memoir by Tara Westover entitled Educated, which depicts a fundamentalist family, with an authoritarian survivalist father fixated on conspiracy and threat.  His is an angry expression of what was supposed to be divine, and everyone suffers for it, shriveling up.  It is rotten theology and it bears violent fruit.  Another colleague of mine from back east Rev. Beverly Dale often highlights how societies with oppressive norms, often out of religious sentiment, are often the most violent and sexually violent cultures.   The measure of a particular religious or spiritual expression shouldn’t be the numbers it draws, but the kind of fruit it bears. 

          An angry, vindictive expression is not the one I seek because an angry vindictive person is not who I want to become, even as I am true to the anger I feel at the injustices of the world. 

I want to plant in a different field, so(w) to speak, so that what comes up is a just peace, grace, beauty, and space where healing can take place and new paths may be chosen. 

          When I was a boy, I used to go to the local YMCA to swim.  It was before cell phones, and so I would arrange a time for my parents to come and pick me up.  However, I would always build in some extra time, during which I would go outside and sit quietly in the parking lot, right by a bike rack on the asphalt out front.  There I would gaze for I don’t know how long at the fading light of the summer sky and the rising of the starlit night. 

          I don’t know why I did that.  I had no name for what I was doing.  Only after religious training do I now recognize this as the contemplative way.  About a month ago, I returned to my hometown to visit family.  I went to get some exercise and returned to that YMCA.  When I rounded the corner from the parking lot to approach the front door, I lost my breath.  Out front where the bike rack used to be, where the asphalt was no longer, in that very spot was, for no discernable reason, a little garden, with windchimes and native plants.  That has become an image for me.  You can grow gardens with your presence.  What you seek to take in, you will emanate back out, and it will manifest in the world. 

          This is why Jesus identified with the bread and the cup and said to take and eat, drink.  Jesus wasn’t caught in the ego era – though that is often how the church conceives of him.  Who was Jesus?  Not an ego primarily.  Jesus was compassion on legs, love on the move, truth and justice in the flesh, grace embodied.  Jesus was telling us to take these things inside us that we might become them, because even back then Jesus knew we are what we eat.  Amen.