Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, February 26, 2017
Scripture Reference: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Sermon: Spiritual Affective Disorder: Leave Room for Dessert
I can’t imagine that anyone would have anticipated our series on daily disciplines to lighten our mood and draw us closer to God would have us turning to the book of Leviticus. This tends to be a book that people pass over because it is full of one law after another. It feels dry and even a bit oppressive, not freeing or uplifting. Yet, here we are. The key for us to hear this reading, to discover how it can help us is in the first verse, “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
Normally it is with God and God alone that we associate holiness. It is even hard to define, but we know it means sacred, beyond or distinct from that which is ordinary. Only here God is calling us to be holy, to be distinct in our living because we are God’s people. It means living in relationship with our neighbors in ways that demonstrate the very nature of God. When we do, when we are holy, there is a joy we experience.
If there is any doubt one only needs to listen to those who have been on a mission trip. Often when asked why they go, repeatedly it has as much to do with how they benefit personally as it is about helping others. It is a holy time of experiencing community as we work together to make our meals and do dishes. It is a holy time of being attentive to the presence of God as we do devotions and evening worship. It is a holy experience as we serve our neighbors painting, cleaning, playing with children, gardening. In this experience of the holy, of living and working together as a community of faith, there is joy.
Our reading today offers us insight, guidance, in how this can be true for all of us, whether we go on a mission trip or not. It guides us in the ways that we can be holy in our daily lives, what practices we can incorporate. We can glean our crops, keep our promises, be honest and fair in our business dealings, speak the truth, settle differences or conflicts with others rather than holding grudges. All of these are ways that we ourselves can be holy. As we repeatedly hear God say, “I am the Lord your God,” we don’t so much cower in fear and obedience, but we remember, we recognize that in this living, in doing these things, we convey the very character of God who is just, merciful, generous and forgiving.
While all of these are important and all can be daily practices, today we are going to focus on the practice of gleaning. It is the practice of collecting or gathering excess food for those in need. We read in verses 9 and 10 how ancient Israelites were to leave the edges of their crops or fallen fruits for the poor and foreigners. We see how important this practice was in the story of Ruth the Moabite who goes to the field of Boaz to gather grain for her and Naomi when they had nothing, but for many of us it may be a struggle to see how this can be applicable to us since many of us don’t have farms. Yet, this law calls us to examine our lifestyle, particularly our practices around food.
We know from listening to the news and even from our own ministries with the rising number of backpacks of food going home with students or the people we serve at the warming shelter, hunger is an issue. In fact, according to the “Let’s Glean” website, 49 million people, 16 million of whom are children, are at risk of going hungry. It’s an alarming number, especially considering 20% of America’s entire food supply goes to waste. It’s a story that in light of today’s reading, of God calling us to be holy, leads us to ask what are we going to do about it as God’s people? How does our lifestyle contribute to the problem and what changes can we make?
Perhaps it starts simply by looking in our refrigerator and cupboards. Are we among the many who waste food because we buy too much or make too much? Are we eating fresh food that is better for our bodies, or are we eating more processed food that is quick and easy? What do we do when eating out? Do we share the larger portions or bring leftovers home to eat, or do we have it thrown out?
God reminds us we have the power to change things. I can remember a mission trip to Toronto when we were having our eyes opened to the homeless. Within a few days I started to notice a change among the youth when we ate out. They no longer left the extra food, but asked for a “to go” box and upon leaving the restaurant would find someone to give the food to.
We can see some of the changes in our communities as more people are going to farmer’s markets or as community gardens are becoming more widespread. Here in our own church we see how people share produce so it isn’t wasted, whether it is leaving it in the entry for people to take or Josephine Husman inviting us to use her apples for the backpack program. Jane Haas even uses some of the bruised, less appealing apples to make applesauce for Wednesday night dinners. Lois Dalke collects older products from Don’s bakery to distribute through the Salvation Army. All of these are ways in which God’s people are living holy lives as they practice good stewardship for the well-being of all.
I have heard others share that every time they go to the grocery store they buy extra for the food pantry. Not only are they sharing from their abundance, but it helps them plan more so fewer “excess” items are bought for their own cupboards. Others have changed eating habits to include more grains and dairy or grains and legumes so they are more in line with what many in this world eat. There are a variety of ways our daily eating habits can be spiritual, holy acts, but how do they help us feel better?
For one thing eating fresh food and even smaller quantities can help us feel better physically. We know this from our own experience and the testimony of many who speak of having more energy as they diet and change what they are eating. There are others who speak of how powerful it is to garden. It is not just the satisfaction of eating what you have planted, but it is also growing in spirit and connecting with God. As people garden they speak of learning patience, of recognizing how little control they have on things, of seeing our interdependence with God and creation. Living a holy life, of giving out of our abundance of food, can lift our spirts, for we know we are giving witness to and experiencing community as God intends for us. There is joy in community.
Recently I read a story about Michael Debakey, a physician who has probably influence many of our lives. For one thing Debakey is credit with developing MASH units as well as the VA Medical system. In addition, he was part of the medical team that performed the first successful coronary-artery bypass and before that he invented the pump for blood transfusions that makes open heart surgery possible. He even used his wife’s sewing machine and a synthetic cloth to make the first graft to be used for replacing diseased aortas and arteries.
As a young boy he had learned to sew from his mother, who was teaching young girls, but Debakey says this wasn’t the only important lesson he learned from his mother. Every Sunday his parents laded the family car with extra clothing and homemade meals for the children at the local orphanage. One week, Debakey noticed his favorite cap was among the giveaway items. When he protested, his mother reminded him that he would get a new cap, but that orphans had no parents to buy them caps. Then she added something Debakey says he has never forgotten: “There’s nothing that can warm your heart more than making someone else feel better.”
Debakey says that his mother’s words played a role in his choice of professions. He was drawn to medicine because it allowed him to improve people’s lives. He chose surgery because he was able to use the manual dexterity he had learned in his mother’s sewing room. Debakey says, “Learning to sew as a child isn’t a prerequisite for becoming a good surgeon, but caring about people certainly is. I’m convinced I would not have grown up to be the physician I am today had I not received my mother’s lessons and taken to heart her most poignant message, “That making people feel better is the highest calling of all.”
“Be holy,” God says, “for I the Lord your God am holy.” God’s very essence is holy, and as God’s people we are called to be holy, to give witness to God in our everyday activities, even in our habits of eating.