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Built on Love

Built on Love

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Food is one of the great pleasures in life. It fuels our bodies. It ignites our senses. It brings us

together. Food links us with the natural world. It intimately links us to Creation: to God’s felt presence

in the world.


Food sometimes gets reduced to a mere necessity of survival because (let’s be real) we need it

to survive. Sometimes, food is used to fill spaces in our life which no amount of physical nourishment

could fill. Other times, food is a joyous celebration shared with great companions and great

conversation – much like you may have experienced here at the Common Ground worship service.

When I was a freshman in college, and just learning how to live on my own, I made a pledge to

myself to be more mindful of my eating. I was looking for a healthy mix between nutrition, joy, and

socializing. As you might imagine, I began to eat more vegetables and to drink more water. At the same

time, I rarely turned downed the opportunity to jump in a car with a friend for a 2 hour journey. We

spent the time gabbing in delightful anticipation of the most amazing baked good waiting for us when

we arrived. This kind of dance between food as nutrition and food as a social joy served me well in

those early years.


When I graduated from college, and began attending church for the first time, I was introduced

to an added dimension to nutritional consumption. There was this notion that my faith should permeate

every aspect of my life. I heard about how the mark of a lived faith was allowing my understanding of

God’s ways to direct every aspect of my life. This was challenging on a number of fronts.

One of those fronts was what I supplied my kitchen with. As I became more knowledgeable in

my faith, creation care began to inform my kitchen behaviors. Recycling and reducing packaging

slowly became second nature. Ingredient choice was evaluated by affordability and, increasingly, by

how the food was grown or raised. I cyclically experimented with decreasing animal products in my

diet.


Over the years, I have continued to be shaped by such a mode of living. Nevertheless, there

always remained more to do. I regularly reminded myself that I have a lifetime to keep working on it.

The mantra day by day could easily describe this attitude.


In a way, we could say all of this knowledge (about right living, developing a lived faith, and

healthy eating) puffed me up. I was working hard and doing my best. So, who could ask for more?

Well, all that puffed up knowledge deflated last week. Last week, my wife introduced me to a

Netflix docu-series on a recent Stanford University study conducted with 22 pairs of identical twins.

You Are What You Eat follows 4 sets of these twins and showcases the results of the small scale study

spearheaded by Christopher Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention

Research Center. Gardner, working alongside a number of researchers from a variety of related fields of

human health, utilized twins in an effort to isolate the impact of genetics and lifestyle. The focus was to

better determine the impact of diet on human health.


For eight weeks, one twin ate a vegan diet while the other ate a healthy omnivorous diet. Each

set of twins were giving the same access to a personal trainer throughout the study to ensure they could

exercise at similar levels to one another. The show allows us to glimpse how the twins cooked and

exercised, as well as glimpse the scientific tests they were given. There were full-body scans to test for

body composition, as well as blood tests and cognitive exams.


January 28, 2024I won’t ruin it for you by telling you everything. Instead, I want to draw our attention to some of

the side reflections made on the show. In pursuit of how consumption impacts human health, the show

looked at more than just the end product. They also looked at how the end product was produced in an

effort to explain the differences they were finding in the vegan and the omnivorous diet.

As the scene cut to the images of factory farms and a former chicken farmer began to talk about

the reality of what he did for twenty years, as well as the reality of what similar operations do to pigs

and cows, I recognized how all my work in conscious living was simply puffing me up. It was a lived

experience of how knowledge puffs one up. It was a striking contradiction to how love builds up.

Over the years I have often grappled with how much it matters whether I eat organic, bio-

dynamic, vegetarian, vegan, sustainably farmed, wild caught, or grass-fed. I’ve carefully examined the

differences between conventional, pasture raised and regenerative. I’ve weighed the benefits between

cost and supporting the local economy in the name of health, in the name of equity and in the name of

creation care. I tell you all this not to lessen the confession, not to lessen the public witness. I am

sharing this with you this morning because it became clear to me as I watched the show the power of

complacency to creep into our lives.


Cutting back to the images of the barren waste land in which cows are made to live their lives or

back to the way chickens and pigs are stuffed into barns for the totality of their God-given lives, my

heart called out, “If these were people, we would call these places a concentration camp.” My heart

recognized my idolatry long before my head made sense of my culpability. The Spirit descended on me

and a knew (head, heart and soul) I allowed myself to be lulled into following a god that was not God.

At the end of the day, time and money still held sway. The idols of ease and mamman had not

been completely conquered. Knowledge puffs us up; love builds us up. The Apostle Paul was on to

something here. God resides where love builds up both self and other.


In 1st Corinthians, Paul was writing to the church he founded in Corinth. They are in the midst

of conflict and he delves deep in the name of building a community rooted in love, mutuality and care.

This morning we heard a snippet about the conflict they are having regarding the eating of meat at

animal sacrifices. Paul was grappling with the intersection of food, social striving, complacency and

having a lived faith, also known as following the ways of God.


During the Roman period, most people were predominantly vegetarian. Meat was incredibly

expensive. So, people mainly ate meat at the celebrations in honor of a Roman god. At these festivals,

animals would be sacrificed and the meat consumed freely by all in attendance.

These festivals were also the place where one cemented their social standing. Roman society

was very particular when it came to social stratification, just as the Hellenistic world was before it.

Social standing, along with all that social standing brings, was tied to attendance at these festivals.

Consequently, many of the members of the Corinth community found it necessary to attend.

Paul uses a clever mix of quotes taken directly from the members of the community to weave a

response. Essentially, he says, “If you are clear about who God is to you and the feast means nothing to

you outside of physical and social survival, then by all means eat the meat. But, if you are unsure of

who God is and what God calls you to do, you may want to refrain it. More importantly, if someone

who feels unsure about God and unsure about the ways of God, sees your eating as encouragement to

honor the ways of Rome over the ways of God, you better not eat it.”

Oh, Lord! The Spirit is descending again!


January 28, 2024The minute I eat meat of unknown or questionable origin, what does it matter how carefully I

normally consider my consumption? I sin. I endorse whatever method of farming the meat producer

used. I endorse the building up of methane in our atmosphere. I endorse the desertification of our planet

and the depletion of natural resources. I endorse animals being kept in concentration camp conditions.

Seeing my endorsement, my dining companion might decide that eating in a way that focuses on

availability and ease is okay. They may come to see consumption this way even when their monetary

circumstances do not require them to do so.


Love builds up. God’s love builds up. It builds you up. It builds me up. It builds every part of

creation up.


Jesus shares a similar message through his actions in our gospel reading this morning. To our

modern ears, a lot of what happens here in Mark sounds like some mystical mumbo jumbo about

exorcisms along with the familiar exultation that there is no God but Jesus and Jesus’ god. There is so

much more going on than that.


Our reading this morning comes early in the text. The fact that Mark puts this as the first

miracle Jesus performs illustrates to us that it was the most important one. It comes so early we are still

in chapter one.


The Holy Spirit just recently descended on Jesus at his baptism. Jesus began preaching and

assembling the disciples only moments ago.We jump in as Jesus set off to preach and teach in

Capernaum.


As he spoke, a man with “unclean spirits” called out. This was a man deemed unfit for worship

in the synagogue. In the middle ages, they would have described him as being possessed. We don’t

know exactly what was wrong with him. What we do know is that the unclean spirits were afraid of

what impact Jesus might have on them.


There certainly are things in this world that seize hold of our senses. There are things which

take hold of hearts and minds. These things are not always of God.


To help the man, the text says Jesus rebuked him. The Greek word there is epitimaō. This word

can be translated rebuke. It can also be translated as to honor.


People are rarely healed through a rebuke. But, honor? Honoring where they are coming from

and what they are experiencing. Now, that has been known to move mountains!


The possessed man goes on to describe Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” Receiving a word from

him, whether it felt like a rebuke or like being honored, healed him. The text tells us it was not a

cheerful process.


We hear how the man convulsed and cried out. It was painful to be shown where one was not

acting in the ways of God. Yet, the man endured. The things which possessed his mind and heart left

him, and he awoke to a new way of being. He awoke to a new realization.


Robert Greene, in his book Mastery, describes the acquisition of knowledge as an initial

necessity in any human endeavor. This very same knowledge, however, can eventually be a hindrance

to the mastery of the endeavor. He describes this as the Conventional Mind, a mind which gradually

tightens up and becomes upset if our beliefs or assumptions are questioned. 1 The Conventional Mind

locks us into a reality that already exists instead of calling us forward into possibility.


For us, people of faith, possibility is the realm of God. God is the source of possibility, the

source of the impossibly possible. Put another way, knowledge alone puffs us up. The God of Love,

and acts rooted in love, build us all up.

In the tradition of Paul, let us get real about the motives our consumption. Some of us have the

economic freedom to choose what we consume and where it comes from. When that is our truth, Paul

reminds us that the love which builds up all of creation must be our guide. In this way, God is the one

we follow and the unclean spirits are driven out of this world.


1 Robert Greene, Mastery (NY, NY: Viking Penguin, 2012), 175-176.

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