About ten years ago, I was living in Nashville and was in the middle of my seminary journey. I was overwhelmed by studying and coursework and I was working full time at a local church as a part of an internship. I was burning the candle at both ends and learning a lot… but I was worn out a lot, too.
One afternoon, I stepped on the scale at my parent’s house… I didn’t have a scale myself… and I was blown away by the number listed right by my toes. It was the most I had ever weighed in my life.
I had been so busy doing all of this work that I hadn’t been taking very good care of myself. I was using food to get me through the day. I wasn’t taking time to exercise. And part of the reason I felt so worn out wasn’t all the work… it was that I wasn’t giving my body the right kind of energy to sustain the work.
I started preparing healthier meals in smarter ways – cooking up a whole crockpot on the weekend to last me through the rest of the week.
The next week, I started going to the gym with a friend of mine.
And suddenly, I discovered I wasn’t nearly so tired. I could focus more and tasks didn’t take as long. My mind was more nimble. And my soul felt more whole than it had in a long time.
We have been exploring Michael Slaughter’s acronym “DRIVE” over these past few weeks. He is inviting us to think about all of the things that give us momentum to keep following Jesus Christ.
D – for Devotion… for that personal one-on-one time with God in scripture and prayer
R – for a Readiness to Learn… for the ways in which we allow ourselves to be taught by God and one another.
I – for an Investment in Relationships with other people who are on this journey with us – through mentoring and being mentored and honoring our families.
V – for Vision… and understanding that we have a clear sense of where we are going… together!
And lastly E.
E is for Eating and Exercise… but when I look at this topic, it is really about how we honor and care for our bodies so that they have the energy and the focus they need to keep making this journey of discipleship.
Ten years ago, when I decided to focus on being healthier, I found a community of support online. There was a website that I visited every single day and I logged what I ate and how long I worked out and I found that there were kindred spirits who could encourage me or help me resist temptation or who needed MY help in their own journey.
I’m not sure I could have done it without them.
That sense of community is important when it comes to our bodies. Because we as Christians do not believe that we exist as individuals completely set apart from other people. This walk of discipleship is one that we take with others.
And Paul agrees. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he talks a lot about our bodies and what we do with them.
Before today’s reading, Paul writes about how the community should hold itself accountable for faithful living.
He doesn’t want us to live apart from the world – completely separate from those who engage in unhealthy activities. We can’t! It’s impossible to totally shut ourselves off from every sinful behavior we see.
But as we live in the midst of our communities, those of us who claim to follow Christ can hold one another accountable for what we eat and drink, who we sleep with, what we say.
Why should we do these things? What does it matter?
As we heard in our reading today:
It may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor God with YOUR body! …
Or didn’t you realize that your body is a [temple, a] sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? (1 Cor 6:13-20)
As we think about the role of eating and exercise in our journey of discipleship, there are two basic ideas at play here.
First: life itself is a precious gift. These bodies are a precious gift from God.
On Wednesday of this week, we will gather once again for Ash Wednesday and the putting on of ashes reminds us that from the dust of the earth we were formed. We were made by our Creator who breathed into us the breath of life. Every life, every body has value.
And when God took on our human flesh and was born as one of us, Immanuel, he came so that we might have life and life abundant ( John 10:10).
The very concept of momentum reinforces the fact that we need energy to go the distance. We need a healthy system of food and relationships, active lifestyles and spiritual care in order to sustain long and abundant life.
A team of researchers discovered in 2004 that there were small communities around the world where people lived measureably longer. In what they termed “Blue Zones” folks reached the age 100 at a rate 10 times greater than the United States.
What was the difference? What made their communities healthier?
Nine characteristics were discovered… characteristics that I think echo what we have heard from Slaughter during this series:
- They exercise as a part of daily living
- They understand their purpose – they have a vision of what we are here to do
- They down shift – they find ways to relieve stress and take Sabbath
- They abide by the 80% rule – they stop eating when they are 80% full.
- They eat more plants – they sometimes eating meat only once or twice a week
- They have a drink with friends –moderation and community are key!
- They belong to a faith community – attending a church service four times a month adds 14 years to life expectancy (REPEAT!)
- They put their loved ones first – they care for their elders and invest in their children.
- They choose a healthy tribe – they surround themselves with people who support healthy behaviors
Do any of those sound familiar to our D.R.I.V.E. acronym?
By being part of a faith community that supports a healthy lifestyle, we can help one another, in the words of the psalmist, “experience Jerusalem’s goodness your whole life long…. And see your grandchildren.”
But we also have to remember a second very important point. Our bodies are a gift… but they don’t belong to us. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:
“Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? They physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:16-20)
As Slaughter writes, “You cannot be a healthy influencer and agent of kingdom change if you are not demonstrating the reality of the kingdom of God within yourself.”
We have to live what we are teaching and preaching. Our lives, our bodies, witness to the faith we follow.
We are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, after all. And if you are not taking care of yourself, you will not have the energy you need to serve where God calls you.
But this also means that advocating for health and the care of other’s bodies needs to be a part of our ministry.
One of my leadership commitments in the community is that I am on the board of the Des Moines Area Religious Council. Every month, we as a church contribute food and resources to DMARC for use in their 12 food pantries across the greater Des Moines area.
A few years ago, DMARC made a conscious decision to change the food it was providing to clients. Researchers from ISU had helped the organization to discover that rates of diabetes and obesity were much higher in the clients we served than the general population. So a very intentional shift was made to provide more whole grains, to focus on fruits in their natural juices and not in heavy syrup, or vegetables with no salt added. The shift means that the food we provide is a bit more expensive, but contributes to a healthier overall lifestyle.
I’m going to close with a confession.
I have personally not been living out these principles lately. I stepped on the scale this winter and found myself back up to where I was about 10 years ago. Actually, a couple of pounds higher.
We are entering the season of Lent… a time of fasting and transformation. A time to recommit ourselves to the journey of discipleship. A time of accountability.
People all around this world give up indulgences for this six-week season, but I, personally, have felt convicted by the reality that I cannot serve God if I do not have the internal resources and energy to do so. So my commitment this Lent is to a healthier lifestyle… and I hope you will help hold me accountable to that… to eating better and exercising more.
And I hope that you will think about the momentum of our faith journeys we have discussed over the past month. Do you need to spend more time in devotion? Do you need to practice humility and an openness to learning? Do you need to invest deeper in relationships with your family or community? Do you need to spend time discovering the vision of God’s future for your life? Do you need to re-evaluate your eating and exercise habits?
This is the perfect moment to shift gears. This is a perfect time to create a new habit. This Lent is God’s gift to you and to this church as together we follow Jesus in the walk of discipleship.