When Diane first asked me a couple weeks ago if I would be willing to deliver the sermon for this Green Sunday, I hesitated. “Green” is a large topic.
When I heard the theme, “Nourish your body, nourish the earth and nourish community,” I thought I could put together something.
Right from the beginning reading in the Bible, we read what God created: On the First day, morning and evening; On the Second day, the sky; On the Third day, earth and sea and vegetation; On the fourth day, sun, moon, and stars for seasons; On the fifth day, living creatures and birds; On the sixth day, cattle, creeping things, wild animals and humankind.
The seventh day was for rest. And God saw that it was good and in God’s image.
In Genesis 1:29, which is part of the creation of humans, God said “I have given you every plant with seeds on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit with seeds. This will be your food.” God created that with which to nourish our bodies. Examples of plants with seeds [include] tomatoes, beans, lentils, wheat, berries, squash corn, rye, just to name a few. Examples of trees that have fruit with seeds: apples, avocados, grapefruit, oranges, pecans, papaya, cherries, olives, to name a few. It sounds rather simple doesn’t it?
I still have the diet prepared for me in 2002 by a nutritionist who worked at the gym where I was going. You see I believe that some people live a life as a great example for others to follow or they live a life that is NOT a good example, and we either learn from the good example or the bad example. Now there are good things my mother did, but taking care of her body was not one of them. She had high blood pressure, diabetes, was over weight and ultimately had a stroke. She very minimally followed a “diet,” like less salt — well maybe unless she felt like having salt. Later, she was diagnosed as diabetic. She would follow a “diet” as long as someone else prepared the meal – my father – or if she wanted pie or cookies or whatever, she just ate it. I couldn’t understand that behavior 30 years ago and I still don’t. But what it did was make ME more vigilant about NOT walking down that path, at least as much as I could and can control. So in 2002 when my weight was beginning to creep up, I decided I needed to get committed to healthier living. I made an appointment with the nutritionist and had an assessment of my weight and my habits. That started me on a path of reading LOTS about food. I believe we are what we eat –or as it says in Galatians 6:7 we reap what we sow.
I learned such terms as antioxidant, lycopene, vitamin C, beta carotene, portion size. I learned that acidic and alkaline foods cause reactions in the body. I have this chart about alkaline and acidic foods. You know why they tell us to eat lots of vegetables — because most are alkaline. But what do we eat a lot of? Meat, which is acidic. And what makes us sick? High acidic levels in the body. I am interested in what food does at the cell level in the body. To have healthy cells is to have a healthy body. I still have Betty Crocker cookbooks, but I have added a whole new collection with tons of recipes for vegetables. Luckily I have a husband who will eat almost anything I try to cook!!
There is the DASH diet, which is Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, the RAVE diet, which is No Refined foods No Animal Foods, No Vegetable oils, No Exceptions, and Exercise.
And here I am trying to ground it all in our Christian faith tradition and scripture! What fun!! We are all on a continuum of learning and growing.
Leviticus describes in great detail the Holiness Code that the Israelite community would live by. Leviticus 20:25 says You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and you shall not make yourselves detestable by animal or by bird or by anything that creeps on the ground, which I have separated for you as unclean.
Deuteronomy 14:3-20 gives a very detailed description of clean and unclean animals. I am not going to read that long passage
In short it meant Land Animals should chew cud and have split hooves; Sea Life should have fins and scales; Birds and Fowl should not be birds of prey or scavenger birds; and no flying insects.
Now, how does this apply to us today? We can take some of it seriously and literally but I think what is more important is ordering our lives around something that works for us.
This holiness code was written for the food supply that existed about 3000 years ago. People grew their own food, tended it, butchered it, and sacrificed it. They were intimately involved with it. It would make it nice and simple if we could just go to the Bible and simply find the answers and follow the rules. Let’s do that just for a moment. The Bible says: land animals that chew cud and have a split hoof. Simple. We can go to the grocery store and fulfill this easily; there is lamb, pork, and beef. All fit the description. BUT in the 21st century, we now have to pay attention to where it is raised, how was it butchered, what sanitation was used in packaging? My father was a USDA meat inspector and he had appalling stories even 50 years ago when he was working. There is a movie we hopefully will watch sometime called Food, Inc. It is eye opening on many levels. The Bible also says fish with fin and scales. Simple. Fish counters are full of fish. Again, are they farm raised, how far are they shipped, what were they fed?
The Bible says Birds and Fowl, No birds of prey, No Scavenger birds, and No flying insects.
Again, grocery cases are filled with chicken, turkey, and other birds. The film Food, Inc has pushed my husband right to the brink of not eating chicken. We are more vigilant about where we are buying chicken. Earlier this summer I was driving through Gray and pulled up beside a tractor-trailer size truck stacked with chickens in cages. I was about 8-10 feet from this truck and I had to stare to see if the chickens were alive or dead. I did see a twitch or two so I surmised they were alive. Where were they going? What are we doing?
We live in a time when our food system is industrial; the food itself may be genetically engineered and often transported a great distance. We are feeding thousands, not just our own family or neighbors, but thousands of people. Rick Small, director of the Good Shepherd Food Bank, can tell us of the many difficulties of feeding people. We rarely go to our own back yard to get food. I am sure some of you, and me included, grew up planting a garden, harvesting the food, freezing or canning (packaging) what we would eat through the seasons until another garden year came around. The grocery store was to buy what one could not produce. Now I suspect there are children who think every food item comes in a package from the grocery store! It takes a lot of discernment to decide what to purchase. We are what we eat! And I don’t think this means we are going to turn into pigs or fish or corn, but the unseen micro parts of food is what keeps us healthy or not.
I have a friend who felt the need to attend a support group called food addicts. One thing I learned from her was to look at the grocery store layout. Mostly we need the essential food groups from the perimeter of the store. All that processed and packaged food in the middle is not essential! Think about it. Vegetables, fruit, meat, grain, milk, eggs: Where are they located?
I have another friend in Vermont who purchased some collard greens from her local grocery, which would certainly fall under plants. She got them home, opened the bag and found they were all yellow, half dead-looking, and didn’t smell healthy. The package said they were packaged in Ohio. It was February. She knew that Ohio weather is similar to Vermont’s. She called the company. In her own words this is what she said:
“They danced around the issue and said, ‘Well they are packaged here.’ So I asked, ‘Where are they grown? Are they grown in another part of the country?’
‘Well, they are imported, but not from far away.’
‘Mexico?’ I asked.
‘No,’ finally they admitted, ‘China.’
I nearly leapt through the phone. ‘China? We are shipping greens from China to Vermont? We have lost our minds.’ So I trotted the bag back to the store and told the manager he should be ashamed to sell Chinese collard greens. He admitted he did not know where they came from either. Now, of course, the labeling is changed and ‘Packaged in Ohio’ would not fly; it would have to say ‘Grown’ or ‘Imported from China.’ But even the idea of bringing greens from China, even if still alive and healthy, the use of fuel and people to transport something we could grow in the backyard if we wanted is insane. Free trade run amok.”
We have much more to consider about our food choices — even when they are the RIGHT food choices and even when they follow the Biblical mandate. This mandate came from the Israelite community’s need to order their lives. In the first century after Jesus’ death (the congregation) was also reordering their lives. We are doing the same thing, ordering our lives. And what better place than a congregation to discern the ordering of our lives! Again I return to Leviticus and the Holy Code about nourishing the earth:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. Lev 19:9-10.
Whether it be your backyard garden or the large industrial farm, you are to leave what the reapers did not pick up or the grapes or apples or whatever for the poor and the alien. And don’t cut right to the edge of the field. Honestly, when and if you see this film Food, Inc, you will be amazed at the expectations placed on farmers from the great food conglomerates. They are pitted against one another and mandated by large food processors. I mention this as another aspect of concern in the world we live.
It is important for us to go back to Leviticus chapter 19, for this is where God speaks to Moses, telling him to speak to the congregation and say to them: You shall be Holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy. There are about 35 mandates from God and each one ends with “I am the Lord your God,” I am God your God. All of you know as well as I do that there is an absolute plethora of information around diet, and healthy eating, books, internet, TV posters, friends, clergy on and on. BUT it is here in church as a congregation where we are to be reminded that God has a part in this. We are created in the image of this holy God who wants us to be in his image. Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).
We come to Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate image of God on earth. Our Savior! The head of the church! And how does all of this center on our Jesus? John 4:34 Jesus says my food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Jesus was a Jew and faithful to the Law which would have been what I mentioned before from Leviticus. These ritualistic food laws distinguished Jews from the surrounding world. The changing world put Jesus at the center of the new movements. Jesus’ teaching was still grounded in the Torah, but he put at the center of his teaching to love God and one another. Yes, he challenged the food laws when doing so would save or enhance a life. Jesus challenged individuals or the temple when their habits or laws separated them from God. He challenged humans’ relationships to each other. But always he called the congregation or individuals to the awareness of the “kingdom of heaven,” God in their midst.
I have shared with you some of my knowledge and passion about what we eat how it is grown. This may or may not pluck a chord with you. Honestly, the green team could have any specialist come and talk on any one of the hot button issues that confront us: global warming, toxic waste, urban sprawl, wilderness preservation, personal diet, gardening techniques, food distribution, mental health, our health care system. What issue frustrates you, angers you? Each one of us, I dare say, has some issue that frustrates us, angers us. It is this anger or frustration that moves us to hope. Some examples: Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth, came from his life frustrations of work toward environmental care. MADD, Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, came from a mother’s anger over the death of her child.
The framework I leave you with is anger and hope. Because our anger isn’t just anger; it moves us to action. And action moves us to hope. Now we can hope FOR many things: that the Red Sox will win, that everyone will color eggs with natural ingredients, that everyone will have a garden, or that everyone will change to CFL bulbs or that every church will have a solar hot water system. But real hope is the hope we put IN God, in Jesus. It is what God told the congregation of Israelites: I am the Lord your God, God your God. Jesus was at the central crossroad of many issues! He reminded all who came into his presence that God and the kingdom of heaven are to be put first.
How profound that Jesus left us with a meal. It is the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine we celebrate the first Sunday of every month that we, a 21st century congregation, are reminded of the Hope IN God. And Hope in God is different than hope for something. For Hope IN God means we place our trust and confidence IN God’s purpose. So I say let your anger work and put your Hope IN God, allowing God to work through you. Your efforts and accomplishments are important!!!
Judith L Braun, MDiv