Tuesday, September 19, 2006

“Spinach, Wheaties and Gatorade”

John 6: 24-35
Ephesians 4: 11-16

“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man, (toot toot!)
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man! (toot toot!)
I’m strong to the finish, ‘cause I eats my spinach,
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man!(toot toot!)

When I was a kid, the old Popeye cartoons were rather easy to find on TV, especially in the afternoons, after school. I think you don’t see them around as much anymore, because in our age, they raise troubling questions about violence, the objectification of women, and well, frankly, as an advertising ploy for spinach, they rather overstate their claims! Spinach does not immediately strengthen you to superhuman strength, balance and endurance.

The old Popeye cartoons do, however, remind us that there is strength in the food that we eat. We can find out all the information we want to find about what food can do for us. We can find out more than we want about how bad some foods are for us. This is not a sermon about keeping a proper diet, and frankly, I am not the person to be giving such a sermon.

But I can remind us of all the foods that claim to have special strengthening properties. If you are my age, you can remember how powerful we were told Wheaties would make us, and, indeed, the cereal still has a strong connection to athletics. It still is a measure of an athlete’s success when they can be on the front of the Wheaties box.

I can remind us all about the claims for Gatorade, that it replenishes body minerals that have been depleted through exercise, giving athletes greater stamina with which to defeat their tiring opponents. We see Gatorade, or Powerade, or some other type of “performance beverage” at every time out in almost any game, when the players will run to the sidelines, listen to the coach, while the trainers drape Gatorade towels on their shoulders and hand them cups marked Gatorade from big 5 gallon Gatorade coolers.

Most serious successful athletes, and many who wish to be successful, will hire both a nutritionist and a chef, who work together to provide meals that will help the athlete perform to their best standards. Steroids aside, this concentration on food is probably why so many modern athletes play longer and better than the ones of years past.

They want to play better or longer. If they are basketball players, they need food to give them stamina for four quarters of constant running up and down the court, with jumping and quick side to side movements. If they are football linemen, they need food that will bulk them up without adding too much body fat, (though for them, some body fat is an asset). If they are runners or cyclists, they need food that gives stamina without adding bulk. And modern dietary science can provide them with most of that information.

But what about us? What about those who are not highly specialized and trained athletes? What if our goals are less to swim the 50 meter freestyle in world record time, and more to get through a day of driving, working, thinking and being? The ones for whom the food pyramids were designed for?

And what about those of us who seek to do God’s will according to the gifts that Paul names in Ephesians 4? Are their specialized foods for prophets? (Please Lord, don’t let that answer be “Yes, locusts and honey”!) Are their specialized foods for apostles and teachers?

We have a whole dietary range of foods of the spirit, both ones that will help us endure, and ones that will give us quick energy. Some of them are specialized for teachers, some for apostles, some for prophets. But all of them involve various combinations of reading and studying the Bible, praying, being together in Christian fellowship, and as John Wesley would call it, Holy reading.

And one more, one that we actually physically eat. Now, I know that as Methodists, our first reaction is to say “potluck?” No, it is a smaller meal, one that Wesley ate on average every five days over his lifetime. When we gather together for communion in a few minutes, we are doing nothing differently than those basketball players gathering on the sidelines. We are coming to listen to the coach and to get a little replenishment. The calories we receive from this meal are slight, physically. But we know, we believe, that “the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” It is truly the Breakfast of Champions to our souls. Through communion, we are reminded of God’s gift for us, and we become “strong to the finish”, no less than Popeye. We rehydrate, replenish, and refuel our souls to go do God’s work in the world.

When we eat properly, in Christian love and fellowship, then we are promoting a healthy whole body that is, according to Paul, “joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Communion is our spinach, our Wheaties, and our Gatorade.

So when we gather for communion in a few minutes, gather your hearts and minds to your task in God. If you are a person who knows your gifts, have them in the forefront of your mind as you eat. You may kneel at the rail after taking communion if you need a few extra bits of direction from the coach. If you do not know what you may have been given by God for God’s service, you may also wish to kneel to ask what you may do.

And let us all be in the attitude of a team. We have disparate and conflicting personalities, it is true, every team does. But the best teams are the ones that willingly choose to subordinate those personalities to the mission, and the mission of the church is to spread the love of God.

I pray that my words have been the Lord’s intention this day. Amen.

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