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05.22.11 Gluttony: More than Food, Luke 16:19-31, 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 27-34 Sermon Outline

by on May 23, 2011

Summary Points

  • Gluttony: a gateway sin?
  • How turning to food becomes sinful for us
  • Some strategies for overcoming Gluttony

If what Methodist Bishop Will Willimon writes is true, I commit the sin of gluttony almost every day. And so do you. Willimon writes, “Gluttony is sinful just to the degree that some consume too much in a world where others have not enough of the necessities of life.” Scruples over Gluttony have the potential to ruin much of our lives? Should it?

Let me answer immediately that I don’t believe occasional over-indulgence is necessarily sinful. But Gluttony does become deadly because of its nature as a “gateway” sin. Think about the story of Adam and Eve from this perspective. They were tempted away from obedience to God by “fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6). Later, Jesus as the New Adam was tempted to forfeit his identity and ministry by turning stones into bread.

What these stories show us is that Gluttony isn’t just over-indulgence of food. It’s preoccupation with food. Adam and Jesus weren’t going to eat too much. The temptation was rather to ignore God’s will. Whether we eat too much or our concern with food is too great, in both cases Gluttony enters in. Willimon again, “Gluttony consists in that little word too.”

Gluttony is a gateway sin because it reduces our faculty of self-control. It’s a perfect test case because we need food and we regularly consume food. And if we regularly fail to control ourselves around food issues, we won’t control ourselves around the other deadly sins either. Without self-control, we fall more easily to Lust. We give up the spiritual life in Sloth. We esteem our achievements too highly in Pride. We develop the sin of Anger.

Why do we turn to food, make it an idol, and commit Gluttony with it? Some of us turn to food for comfort. It is foundational to our friendships, perhaps, or maybe there is some unconscious awareness of God’s providence in it. (Think of that pint of ice cream, bag of chips, or six-pack you crave when things aren’t going well.)

Others turn to food because it’s a control issue. Women and children who are abused often develop eating disorders because what they eat is the only thing with regards to their bodies that they have control over.

Still others use food to impress friends. We boast in our ability to eat certain delicacies or at fine restaurants. In all these cases, Augustine’s words are instructive: “It is not the nature of things we use, but our reason for using them, and our manner of seeking them, that makes what we do either praiseworthy or blamable.”

How can we avoid Gluttony as a deadly sin? One thing we can take away from all this is that we can begin to avoid gluttony simply by becoming aware of our thinking around food. When we look to food to do things only God can do, that’s Gluttony. We can overcome Gluttony by refocusing our attention appropriately on God.

It’s interesting that of all the deadly sins, it’s Gluttony that most obviously makes us remorseful and repentant. We’ve all woken up “the day after” with new resolve “never to do that again!” Rather than beat ourselves up over this, we can use it to learn to be more sensitive to all the Deadly Sins. Increased sensitivity can help us be remorseful and repentant over all the other sinful behaviors and attitudes in our lives. We can learn from “the morning after.”

In his letter to the Corinthian churches, Paul gives us another antidote to Gluttony. When the Corinthians gathered at the Lord’s Table, some were gluttonous. They ate before everyone else arrived, and they saved none for the latecomers. Their “me first and only me” attitude actually cancelled their worship, according to Paul. They participated in the Supper in an “unworthy manner.”

To participate worthily, according to Paul, we must “discern the presence of the Body of Christ.” He’s not referring to one’s theology about the Bread and Cup, but their communal attitudes. Every person is a member of the Body of Christ, and when we fail to respect each member, we fail to discern the Body.

In their disregard for one another, the Corinthians failed to discern the Body, and partook of the Supper unworthily. One way to overcome Gluttony is to make true worship a priority.

Jesus’ parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus gives us further insight. The Rich Man lived in luxury, and Luke tells us Lazarus the poor man was placed at his gate. This means the Rich Man intentionally stepped over, looked the other way, and otherwise ignored and neglected Lazarus.

The reason we have to discern Christ’s Body at the Table, is so we recognize his Body at the “gate.” In each of our lives there is a Lazarus placed at our gate, someone God intends we take care of. Not to do so is Gluttony, and not just with food, but with every resource with which we’ve been entrusted. Another way to overcome Gluttony is to find our Lazarus and provide for him.

Our best antidote to sin is, of course, to follow Jesus’ example. On one hand, he was the one who resisted the first temptation to let food sidetrack his identity and mission. With the power of his resurrection, given to us by the Spirit in baptism, we can discern and resist such temptations also. On the other hand, he was the one who was radically inclusive at his table, who provided generously, and who partied hard enough to be accused of gluttony himself. Somehow he was able to fulfill his vocation while avoiding the Deadly Sin of Gluttony, and he calls us to do so also.

As an immediate step, think about this. The quality, convenience, and amount of food available to us makes it easy for us to commit Gluttony. If we changed our eating habits with regard to any of these qualities, it would help us. For example, perhaps we don’t need to eat high quality meat as often as we do, or enjoy a latte so often each week. What would happen if you resolved no longer to eat convenient food, but only food that was well and lovingly prepared? Or when you’re at a restaurant, have the server bring you half the meal on a plate and the other in a box. Then save the food for later or give it away. These are easy, immediate steps to start our journey away from the Deadly Sin of Gluttony.

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