Believing the Unbelievable
9 May 2010
Easter VI - Mother's Day
Leif Sanford introduced a very controversial subject among a group of members, and I asked
if I could share it with you. The subject is gluttony! Gluttony is an awful subject - especially
when you consider the group Leif was addressing and the fact that I had gained my
mandatory five pounds while I was on vacation and on study leave.
The scripture does not look kindly on gluttony. In the book of Deuteronomy, when a person
is having problems with their adolescent son, it counsels them to take rather drastic measures.
Scripture says, "The parents must say to the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and
rebellious and refuses to obey. He is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town
must stone him to death." (Dt 21:20) I do not look kindly to Leif bringing up such a horrible
subject. But the counsel of scripture does not end there. In Proverbs it says, "Do not carouse
with drunkards or feast with gluttons for they are on their way to poverty and too much sleep
clothes them in rags." (Pr 23:20-21) Luke begins one of Jesus' parables by identifying the
'bad' guy as, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen who feasted
sumptuously every day." (Lk 16:19) Paul, in his letter to Titus, supports Titus' discomfort in
Crete when he writes, "Even one of their own men, a prophet from Crete, has said about
them, 'The people of Crete are all liars, cruel animals, and lazy gluttons.'" (Tit 1:12)
Gluttony was such a horrible vice that it was one of the early criticisms of Jesus. Jesus speaks
of John the Baptizer who was by no means a glutton and points to the critical element raised
against himself when he says, "To what can I compare this generation? It is like children
playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, 'We played wedding
songs , and you didn't dance - so we played funeral songs and you didn't mourn.' For John
didn't spend his time eating and drinking, and you say 'He is possessed by a demon.' On the
other hand, the Son of Man feasts and drinks, and you say, 'He's a glutton and drunkard, and a
friend of tax collectors and other sinners!'"
Imagine Leif's cruelty toward the people in the group. There were more than a few that
marked the beginning of Jesus parable - "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple
and fine linen who feasted sumptuously every day." (Lk 16:19) I was not prepared to admit
my sinful nature, and like the others I feasted on excuses for gluttony. And we didn't have
problems with excuses. Someone ventured that some people apparently suffer from
depression and try to rid themselves of that feeling by eating robust meals. It was pointed out
that some have been injured physically or emotionally, and there is nothing like a Snickers
bar and a Sundae to rid oneself of the feelings of injury. Some of us take great pride in our
lack of addiction to alcohol and cigarettes, and in light of that virtue, what are a few extra
But Leif introduced a deeper issue - a much deeper issue - that goes far beyond gluttony. Is
our scripture the guidebook against which each one of us must be measured? Is the Bible a
mirror like manual in which we can see ourselves - if - only if we can keep our eyes open? Is
the Word of God the guide to our lives - even depriving us of the readymade excuses
intended to pardon our behavior?
That is the agonizing essence of our gospel lesson of this morning. Jesus utters painful words.
He says, "All who love me will do what I say…. Anyone who doesn't love me will not obey
me." Do you buy Jesus' words? Do you relinquish full and complete authority of your life to
Jesus Christ? Do you acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus by refraining from excuses to
satisfy your common place desires?
Tommy Nelson wrote a book entitled, The Essentials of Godly Success. In it he speaks of
being the chaplain of a football team in Texas. Now in Texas - football is a religion. In fact
football is so demanding that whole families are more dedicated to its success than they are to
Nelson says that on this football team was a young man who was the greatest athlete he had
ever seen. In fact, this young man was one of only a handful who were elected three times to
the national high school All-America team. He was such an excellent athlete that he could
choose the scholarship to the college of his choice. He chose the school whose previous
running back had been a finalist for the Heisman trophy. The question was not whether he
was good, but whether he was good enough to win the Heisman.
Nelson approached the young man's coach, and said nonchalantly, "What do you think? Will
he win the Heisman some day?" The coach was strangely quiet, and he answered, "He'll
never carry the ball in college." Nelson was shocked. "What do you mean?" The coach
responded, "He has a serious character flaw, and I know the college coach will spot that right
away. That flaw will end his career."
Nelson revealed that the coach had a keen perspective. The coach reflected, "He cannot
submit to authority. He cannot submit to his parents. He cannot submit to an employer. He
cannot submit to a teacher. We've carried him along for the sake of the ball club. But I assure
you, he will not submit to his college coaches. His football career is done."
Nelson had to admit that the coach turned out to be correct. The young athlete attended four
different colleges. He quit at two of them and was thrown out of the other two. He never got a
degree, and he never made it as a college football player.
That coach had genuine and keen insight. If we had had the talent to play like that young
man, we would have been much more in tune with the requirements of our parents or our
school or our coach to never fail as he did. But would we have been so much in tune with our
world that we would sneak two extra whoppers with cheese and bear a few extra pounds. Or
would we have engaged in a 'wrong' but understandable vice?
Jesus said, "All who love me will do what I say…. Anyone who doesn't love me will not
obey me." Do you buy Jesus' words? Do you relinquish full and complete authority of your
life to Jesus Christ? Do you acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus by refraining from excuses to
satisfy your common place desires?
I must confess, however, that Leif did me a favor when he brought up gluttony. I am guilty. I
have lost 500 pounds in my lifetime and I have regained 550. Jesus never directly took people
to task for gluttony. In fact he points out that he enjoyed good food and wine. But I truly
enjoy dwelling on this sin because it enables me to hide from a much more serious malady.
When Jesus says, "All who love me will do what I say," I am confronted by what Jesus says
in the Sermon on the Mount. Few of us can hide from those words. There I am confronted by
the first of Jesus statements - the chief of my sins. "You have heard that our ancestors were
told, 'You must not commit murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.' But
I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an
idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court! And if you curse someone, you are
in danger of the fires of hell."
Gluttony is a vice - especially in our well to do times. I really respect Leif who manages his
weight and is thin as a bean pole. But I dare not avoid the vices that Jesus outlines in the
Sermon on the Mount. Next week, our gospel lesson will be on prayer in Matthew 6. It ends
with the injunction to forgive those who sin against you. Jesus says if someone slaps you on
one cheek turn the other cheek - which is horrible advice to those prefer to sue the offending
party in a court of law. Jesus remarks on a number of shortcomings. Jesus says adultery is
bad, but if you are playing with someone in your mind - indulging in your fantasies - you
have committed adultery in your heart.
Can you hear the voice of Jesus calling you to be accountable? Are we reconciled to Jesus'
statement, "Anyone who doesn't love me will not obey me." Are you obedient or is your
inclination to cut yourself some slack. Is our scripture the guidebook against which each one
of us must be measured? Is the Word of God the guide to our lives - even depriving us of the
readymade excuses intended to pardon our behavior?
Chuck Swindoll rewrites one of Jesus' parables in which there is a company whose president
will be away for a period of time. He says to his most trusted employees, "Look I'm going to
be away. And while I am away, I want you to pay close attention to the business. You will
manage things while I am gone. I will write you regularly. When I do, I'll tell you what you
should do until I return." Everyone agrees to the president's instructions.
The president leaves for a couple of years, but he writes constantly about how his business
should be run. He finally returns and he is met by a disaster in the business. The flower beds
are full of weeds. Many windows are broken across the front of the building. He walked into
the business and there he encounters the receptionist who is sound asleep. When he looks at
the fiscal report, he gets even worse news. The firm has suffered huge losses. Exasperated
and somewhat livid, he asks, "What in the world is going on?"
His leaders ask, "What do you mean?" The president responds, "Look at this place. Didn't
you get any of my letters?" "Letters? Yeah sure! We got everyone of them. As a matter of
fact, we have a letter study every Friday night since you have left. We even divided the
personnel into small groups and discussed many of the things you have written. Some of
them are really interesting. You'll be pleased to know that some of us have actually
memorized some of those sentences and paragraphs. One or two have memorized an entire
letter or two. Great stuff in those letters."
The frustrated president responds, "Okay, okay -- you have gotten my letters. You studied
them, and meditated on them, and discussed and even memorized them. But what did you do
about them?" "Do?" asks an employee. "Uh we didn't do anything about them."
"All who love me will do what I say…. Anyone who doesn't love me will not obey me." Do
you buy Jesus' words? This is an impossible requirement - except Jesus does send help. The
Message puts verse 27 this way: "The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in
my request will make everything plain to you….That's my parting gift to you. Peace."
William Willimon spoke to a group of students at Duke University on - what is today - very
very difficult topic: The Christian Faith and Sex. He writes, I had explained to them, among
other things, that the historic position of the church is 'no sex outside of marriage.' The
marriage covenant is that which makes sex interesting to Christians…. We are not as
interested in sexuality as we are in fidelity….'
After my presentation, a student came up to me and asked, 'Do you seriously expect anybody
to live this way? If you do then I am surprised you have anybody show up Sunday morning at
chapel. This is about the strangest thing I have ever heard of. Impossible!'" I replied, "Jesus
doesn't expect you to do any of this by yourself. You can only do this if there is a Holy
Spirit." That is the good news of the gospel.
"All who love me will do what I say…. Anyone who doesn't love me will not obey me." This
is really difficult in the real world, but Jesus does not leave us without a coping mechanism.
He sends us the spirit so that we might truly endeavor to do what he asks of us.
Let us pray: Father, the scripture lesson of this morning is simple. In it you suggest that you
wrote the rule book of our lives. We can subscribe to your rules when they forbid us from
murder or robbery. But what is wrong with not being in great shape. In fact - can you fault us
for our feelings of resentment or from our sexual imaginations. Jesus words answer our
doubt. Give us the endurance to be faithful servants. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen!