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The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
June 30, 2013
The Epistle: Galatians 5:1,13-25
Sermon: "Slow Food Diet"

The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles

The Epistle:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'

"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

Galatians 5:1,13-25

Slow Food Diet

When you think about it, nearly every country in the world has a cuisine or dish it’s known for. France and Italy come to mind immediately of course. But so do China and Mexico among many others. Certain regions in our country are also renown for their singular contributions to the American diet; New England for its clam chowder, Maryland for its crab cakes, the Southwest for its TexMex dishes, and here in the South we are especially known for barbeque, fried chicken, and biscuits. Even some of our cities have become famous for their signature delicacies: Philadelphia for the Philly cheese-steak sandwich, New York for the Coney Island hot dog, New Orleans for Jambalaya and all things Creole and Cajun, and San Francisco for ciopino and sourdough bread; Yes, San Francisco has much more than just rice-a-roni. 

And then there is my old home-town, Los Angeles. Even LA has its signature contribution. In fact, it is recognized world wide for its singular item. International travelers can read all about the best places to sample the best examples of this item in nearly every travel guide printed anywhere in the world. And just what is LA’s great epicurean delight, the gastronomical contribution that is nearly universally attributed to it, the one that tourists actually look forward to going there to try the reputed greatest examples of? It is, ta-ta-ta-daaa, the hamburger! 

Believe it or not, revel in it or regret it, Los Angeles, with its outlying urban satellites, is credited as the home and birthplace of the world’s best hamburgers. It is there, after all, that the Big Boy began its storied career. The McDonald brothers built their first “Golden Arches” there. The examples of familiar LA burger eateries go way beyond those two: today there’s IN-N-OUT, Fat Burger, Tommy’s, and independent shops such as the world famous Apple Pan in Westwood, Tommy’s Grand Burger and Pete’s Grand Burger; not to be confused with Pete’s here in town. Though I have to say that’s a really good burger. Just had one last night; (I was doing research for this sermon, of course.) 

Now the reason that I’m mentioning all this, this morning, is that this singular great claim to food fame has come under attack. No, I don’t mean by the usual diet and health food critics pointing out all its bad for us trans-fats and over-kill calories. We already know that and we love to eat them anyway. No, this time, the beloved hamburger is actually under theological attack. 

A Roman Catholic priest in Tuscany is suggesting that the road to Hell is paved with hamburgers. Adding grease to the fire, he argues that hamburgers, French fries, and Coke are “the fruit of a Protestant culture. Fast food reflects,” he says, “the individualistic relation between man and God introduced by Luther.” (Now there’s a priest who’s still mad about the Reformation.) The Rev. Massimo Salani said all this in a full-page interview published awhile back in the Catholic daily newspaper Avvenire. In addition, he insisted that fast food lacks “the community aspect of sharing.” 

With Italians deeply divided over McDonald’s and other fast-food chains having entered their country, a land that takes its three-hour lunches almost as seriously as soccer, other newspapers leapt on the story with obvious glee. “Theologian Excommunicates the hamburger,” proclaimed a headline in the Rome daily Il Messaggerro. 

Perhaps, though, this priest is on to something. Oh, not for the reasons he’s suggesting, but for something else. We have a preference for bad-for-us food, because, as we’ve so often observed, bad-for-us food seems to taste better than good-for-us food. Better to wolf down a super-sized quarter-pounder with fries and Coke and enjoy it, than pick at a tofu salad and hate it, we say. Of course, if you’re a tofu lover, you’ve got the best of both worlds: good food that is also good for you food. 

Now, you may be wondering, “This is all very interesting, but what’s any of it got to do with any of our Scripture passages?” Well, just this: the Apostle Paul, in our reading from Galatians speaks to this very dilemma. He warns us that certain behaviors may cause the flesh to feel good, but they’re ultimately destructive. Paul’s bad-food, fast-food menu includes fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness and carousing. Would you like fries with that?

This is not the nourishment for our souls that God wants us to take in. “Live by the Spirit,” says Paul, “and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Just say “no thanks” to these “delicacies” of the flesh, despite their appeal to our palates. 

Let’s face it, we may do quite well pushing away fornication, licentiousness and sorcery, but anger and envy, for example, do have a certain appeal. In fact, the theologian, Frederick Buechner, argues that anger is possibly the most fun of the Seven Deadly Sins. “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.” Now that adds meaning to the expression, of being so angry as to taste it. But anger is not very nutritious. The chief drawback, says Buechner, is that what we are wolfing down is ourselves; literally eating ourselves up from the inside; literally, for as we now know, such feasting causes physical and neurological disintegration. 

Paul offers an alternative lifestyle option: the fruit of the Spirit. Rather than a vice that one manufactures, the fruits of the Spirit are virtues that are generated from within as the Spirit of God works within us. Spirit virtues can fill us, satisfy us and strengthen us, and best of all, no spiritual dietitian or gastronomic theologian will say that such fruit is bad for us. As Paul insists there, “…is no law against such things.” (v.23)

The fruit of the Spirit, though, is slow food, not fast food; the fruits take time to cultivate and develop. We are called to slowly cultivate and nurture spiritual virtues. These fruits won’t sprout up quickly, and they won’t be ripe and ready overnight. In fact, converting to a fruit-full lifestyle means that we’ve taken over what Carlo Petrini of the Slow Food Movement originating in Italy calls “the rhythms of our life.”

Selecting the slow food, fruit option, allows us, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to gain control over how fast we go; to set a pace that enables us to cultivate and nurture virtues such as generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We do not have to be victims of our schedules, no matter how harried and driven we feel. We are in control of deciding how fast we have to go. Remember what Paul said to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (v.1)

For too many of us, the pace of our lifestyle is a form of slavery. It rules us, rather than we governing it. Paul could agree with Petrini: “If I live with the anxiety to go fast, I will not live well,” says Carlo. “My addiction to speed will make me sick. The art of living is about learning how to give time to each and every thing. If I have sacrificed my life to speed, then giving time to growth is impossible.” 

The art of Christian living; choosing a “slow-faith” rather than a “fast-faith” approach to living, also requires community. Christianity is based on a shared Communion meal, on a steady diet of worship, and life together in the body of Christ; not on fast-faith pit stops and individualistic approaches to the Christian life. It is within the community that Paul challenges us to become, “servants to one another” through love, resisting the temptation to use our Christian freedom “as an opportunity for self-indulgence” (v. 13) It’s as the Italian priest said: fast food lacks “the community aspect of sharing.” Fast faith is as deficient as fast food; an approach to Christianity that is rushed and self-indulgent. 

So what are we to do? How are we to live this slow, fruit-of-the-Spirit, diet-life? Well, first, remember that your purpose in life is to be a faithful servant of God. If your life is too full of activities or other distractions to give real time to that purpose, then empty some things out of your schedule. Take time to focus on growing the fruits of good character that the Spirit has planted in you. Nurture those good fruits with prayer, Bible study, and acts of good will and service toward others. Remember, growing in the image of Christ in virtue and service is why we were put here on this earth. Focus first on your purpose.

Second, stay in community with your fellow believers. We can’t grow good fruit and serve without others to support us and to serve with us. Make time for worship, not just as a solitary exercise, but as a chance to be with others who are seeking to grow in the Spirit with you. Take time to gather together with others to study your faith. Discuss how it can make a difference in how you live singly and in community. Some of the most important help we can get in how well we are growing is through the observations of others who are sharing the experience with us. 

If we will do these two things, remembering our purpose and seeking community, we will grow in the Spirit’s virtues. That is the Slow-food, good-fruit diet that will fill us up, heart and soul, and truly satisfy our deepest hunger.

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