A Lenten Devotion – “Gluttony”

A few Lenten seasons ago, a colleague and friend of mine did a Bible study series entitled “The Seven Deadly Sins and How to Commit Them.” I don’t plan to use that approach in our Wednesday evening gatherings, but the topic of the “seven deadly sins” does serve as a good penitential topic for this penitential season. And since we have only five weeks to cover them, we might call this “Five of the Seven Deadly Sins” or perhaps, with a little doubling up, we can cover all seven.

So what are they and where did this list come from? The list comes from the biblical pattern of sin lists one finds sprinkled all over the old and new testaments. The most common is, of course, the ten commandments. But that’s not the only list. Proverbs has one. Paul’s letters have several. The modern concept goes back to a 4th century monk named Evagrius Ponticus, who listed eight evil thoughts. John Cassian translated these into Latin and brought them to the West. Pope Gregory I revised the list to seven (seven is a nice number, after all) and Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval doctor of western theology repeated and defended the list of seven in his Summa.

They are called “deadly” or “capital” sins in Catholic theology because they are the origins of all the other vices. They are considered “mortal” or “deadly” in that they destroy the life of grace and love within a person. Now in Lutheran theology, all sin is “mortal” apart from Christ, and before God, all sin is sin, regardless of what it is or how big or bad it is. Still, the list of seven is useful to us Lutherans because they all being within, in the heart unbuckled from the fear, love, and trust in God above all things. And there, we can all agree. As Luther put it, where the first commandment is kept, all the others are kept as well. Where any commandment is broken, the first is broken. Luther rightly saw that sin begins in the sinful heart, and that all sin, regardless of what it is, is ultimately and finally idolatry.

So what are the seven deadly sins? Traditionally, they are: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride. And if we say we have none of these, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. This is the heart corrupted by Sin. This is the inner working of the sinful flesh. This is where it all begins, in the heart.

And so tonight we consider the sin of gluttony, and it’s twin, drunkenness. They go together. Gluttony is the idolatry of food, drunkenness the idolatry of drink. Food and drink. What you say of one, you can also say of the other.

Sin has disordered our eating and our drinking. Recall that the first sin was a sin of eating. Eve and Adam ate from a fruit that was forbidden to them. A false sacrament. The tree of knowing good and evil which brought death. Eve was tempted to do this by desire and pleasure. She saw that the fruit was beautiful, it was delicious, good for food, it was useful, made one wise. And reasoning from that, she did what God had said not to do. She ate. She enlisted Adam, and he ate. And our eating has been disordered ever since.

Food and drink are gifts from God in the 1st article. They are part of God’s provision and care of his creation. We need them for life. Pleasure in food is also God’s good gift. Our noses point down toward our mouths so we can smell what we’re eating. Our sense of smell is tied to our sense of taste. Deliciousness sets off the same pleasure center in our brains as sugar, drugs, and sex. We are designed to enjoy what we eat and drink.

Food is not just fuel. I’m convinced in watching my brother’s dog that the dog doesn’t taste her food. She just inhales it as fast as she can. When you drop a table scrap for her, it disappears without so much as a bite. I don’t think she tastes what she eats, in spite of her keen sense of smell, which is far keener than yours or mine. For her, food is fuel. She’s hungry, and she need fuel. Or she’s not hungry, but better stock up just in case.

We savor, we study, we wax eloquent over our food. We set it out on nice plates. We plate it artistically. It’s not “dinner and a show.” Dinner is the show. And food is fellowship. Whenever we get together, whether for Christmas, a birthday, New Years, or the Super Bowl, there will be food. We have food magazine, books, whole channels devoted to the topic on cable television. And it’s all good in its own way – food, fun, fellowship, nutrition, vitamins, and minerals. Sustenance and pleasure all together. What a wonderful gift!

But then Sin invades and turns the gift into an idol. Like the two trees in the garden, the tree of life and the tree of knowing good and evil, the gift, in this case food and drink, come into the center. The God place. And instead of a gift of God, it becomes a god. The thing about false gods is that they always consume their communicants, one way or another. Gluttony and drunkenness are no exceptions. Our consumptiveness is killing us.

Gluttony is more than eating too much, according to Gregory and Aquinas. That’s the obvious one. The word gluttire means to “gulp down.” It is overconsumption and waste, like all the food that goes into the trash instead of the mouths of the hungry. Aquinas had six ways to commit the sin of gluttony. They were: Eating too soon (that is, eating when you weren’t hungry). Eating too lavishly and expensively. Eating too much. Eating too eagerly. (That’s kind of interesting. Can’t wait for lunch!) Eating too daintily. (All those artistically plated things.) Eating too wildly, referring to exotically seasoned food. So I suppose, if you wanted to systematically avoid the sin of gluttony you would eat at the appointed time, not too lavishly, not too much or eagerly, not daintily and very, very bland. Perhaps a food pill taken three times a day would do it. But then, that’s not exactly receiving the gift with joy and thanksgiving, is it?

The issue is not really how much or how little, how expensive or cheap, how seasoned or bland. The issue is idolatry, what is central and defining. What rules and governs your life. One reason that we give thanks to the Lord at the table is to keep gift and Giver straight. Food and drink are gifts of God, not gods. They need to be kept in their place, not only by prayer but also by fasting. Not the hungry kind of fasting, but the intentional kind of eating that says “no” to thankless gulping like my brother’s dog or the kind of eating and drinking that scratches an itch rather than delights in the thing for what it is.

Idolatry always destroys things. The person and the thing that is idolized. The glutton doesn’t enjoy food. He just consumes. The drunkard doesn’t enjoy drink. He just uses it to get through the day or the night or his life. Using a thing for what it does is not the same as enjoying the thing for what it is. That’s where the Sin-distortion comes in, and what begins as a first article gift of God’s goodness and mercy becomes an instrument of our own destruction. Gluttony dulls the appetite and diminishes the joy. We become nothing more the food processors, metabolizing machines, the anti-feast, as joyless as its opposite: the dieting teetotaler.

Jesus came eating and drinking. Freely and joyfully and thankfully. So much so that the religious types called Him a “glutton and a drunkard” though He was hardly guilty of either. They also called John the Baptist “demon possessed” for his extreme fasting. You can never please the religious types, one way or the other.

Jesus refused to turn stones to bread to fill His empty stomach. He lived by every Word that proceeded from the mouth of God. He multiplied bread and fish for 5000. He turned water into wine overflowing at a wedding in Cana. He ate and drank with tax collectors, prostitutes, and “sinners” of all sorts. He brought joy to the table and promised and endless feast in the resurrection. He came as the Bread of Life, living bread come down from heaven to fill our hunger and thirst for righteousness and to bring order to our disorder.

He gives us His Body and Blood and true food and true drink. Bread and Wine from heaven come to us. His Supper orders our suppers. His Feast orders our feasts. His Body and Blood brings order and healing to our disordered eating and drinking.

You are baptized watchmen, keeping watch for the coming Day of Christ. Excessive eating and drinking leave us sodden and sedentary, unresponsive to God’s Word and Spirit and to the neighbor in need. You know how you feel after a big meal or a long night on the town. You’re lethargic, slow, not firing on all cylinders. We are watchmen on sentry duty, standing at the night watch until the day breaks. “The night is far gone, the day is at hand. Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The watchmen isn’t full of food and drink. He’s sober, alert, watchful, ready. As anyone can tell you, gluttons and drunkards make horrible watchmen.

Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Bread sufficient for the day, and if it be Your will, enough to share with others. He comes to us in the forms of bread and wine, making this food and drink into something more, something greater, something eternal. He sanctifies our tables and our mouths. He doesn’t kill our appetites but He frees them from their enslavement to Sin and our old adamic Flesh. He gives us the freedom to feast and to fast, to raise a toast to God and to forego a toast to spite the devil, to enjoy our food and drink and to see in our feasts a glimpse of a Feast that is to come.

In the name of Jesus,