Beautiful, Life-giving Words

Speaker: John McLarty

Audio Recording:

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists

For February 20, 2016
Daniel 6:1-10
Matthew 15:29-32
I was at Cypress Adventist School yesterday to do chapel. Every Friday morning they give out awards for miles walked by the lower grade students. One of the kids, Andrew—a second grader or maybe he was in third grade—received an award for walking a total of 50 miles!
How cool is that!
Fitness is part of the culture at Cypress School. And it’s not just the kids. Mrs. Mittleider told me about 18-mile walks with her husband, pushing a stroller. And near the end of their walk, when the old dog got tired and they were heading uphill, they had to put the dog in the stroller, too.
When I go running around the lake across the street (Green Lake) I often meet church members doing their own circuits: Sellyna and Unique pushing Chloe in the stroller. Elmo or Heather or Ellen running.
One of the essential elements of Adventist spirituality is the cultivation of health.
The cover article of the latest issue of Outside Magazine is “Five Habits of Healthy Living.” The first habit is eating. The author cites the book, Blue Zones, and writes. The Adventists in Loma Linda, CA, “live up to a decade longer than other Americans and rates of heart disease and cancer are more than 60 percent lower. . . . The Adventist diet . . . resembles what your hyperfit yoga and ultrarunning buddies graze on: lots of fruits and vegetables, small amounts of dairy, smaller amounts of meat, and almost zero added sugar.”
The author wonders how the Adventists in Loma Linda manage to pull this off? How do they manage to resist the allure of fast food and junk food that is endemic in Southern California? Adventists do this, the author concludes, by deliberately creating a society that encourages healthy eating. Even the grocery store in Loma Linda supports healthy eating, the author marvels, by not carrying any meat.
Adventist health in Loma Linda, the author concludes, is, at least partially, the result of positive peer pressure, positive social support.
If we imagine that the point of church is to provide fire insurance—to help people avoid hell—the Adventist advocacy of healthy habits seems misplaced. What do healthy habits have to do with avoiding hell? If the great threat facing humanity is burning in hell forever, why worry about little things like disability, pain and early death? If you believe in eternal hell fire, there is a certain logic to this. But, we don’t believe in eternal hell fire. Further, this notion that Christianity is all about some eternal future, good or bad, utterly ignores the ministry of Jesus. Jesus was a healer. He eased the troubles of this world. He fed hungry people. He healed sick people. He even brought the dead back to life. Jesus cared about the quality of life we experience here and now.
In the gospel, healing forms the dramatic core of the story of Jesus. Jesus was a preacher, of course. And across the millennia theologians have developed elaborate metaphysical explanations of the meaning of his life and death. Still, when we go back to the actual words of the gospels, Jesus’ ministry of healing formed the grand central motif. His words were built a platform of prodigious healing. Everywhere he went he healed.
When Jesus sent his disciples—the inner circle of twelve men who were his key assistants and apprentices—out on missions of their own, Jesus told them to do what he had been doing.
“Go preach.” He told them. “Announce the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick. Cure the lepers. Resurrect the dead. Exorcise the demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” Matthew 10.
The church is the community of Jesus. We are called to live out the mission of Jesus. Central to that mission is the ministry of healing. That’s just something we’re supposed to do. It’s part of our identity.
Part of our ministry of healing is advocacy of healthy habits. Most of us cannot miraculously heal our friends who are sick. We can’t all be doctors or nurses or medical technicians. But most of us can cultivate healthy habits. And when we cultivate healthy habits in our lives, we become contagious. We help each other take steps in the direction of optimal health.
Health is not merely an individual thing.
This is demonstrated by what happens here in this neighborhood. Green Lake is a running neighborhood. The Seattle Green Lake Running Group on has over 5000 members. When I checked their event page yesterday, 97 people had signed up to run around the lake together this morning at seven a.m. Some of those people would run no matter what, but many of them run because other people are running. I run because I read a book about other people who were enjoying running.
This congregation is full of runners. A number of us have run marathons. Some have climbed Mt. Rainier. Some are skiers. We have an entire softball team sitting here every Sabbath. (This is an advertisement. Spring is coming and Ken Fairchild is going to be recruiting.) Every summer, Green Lake Church sponsors a series of Sabbath afternoon hikes ranging from easy strolls to ten mile mountain adventures.
All this movement is contagious. When the tenth or fifteen person tells you about a hike they’ve taken, you begin thinking maybe I’ll take a hike. When you meet other people who walk around Green Lake, you are tempted to think, maybe I could walk around Green Lake.
When several of your friends talk of adopting healthier eating habits, you feel a little social pressure to eat more oranges and fewer donuts.
I’ve been doing a series of sermons on spiritual disciplines—habits, behaviors we can engage in that consciously bring us into cooperation with God. Behaviors that nourish our souls. One such habit is engaging in behaviors that promote health.
Engaging in habits that promote health is a spiritual practice. It aligns us with the purposes of God. No amount of healthy habits will allow us to live forever. All of us get sick. All of us will die. But right now, we are called to live. And healthy habits promotes enjoyment of the life God has given us. Healthy habits nourish the strength we need to serve others.
I was at Starbucks to work on today’s sermon. My favorite barista, Sunny, was at the cash register. Another woman, Angie, was waiting the drive through. I said something about seeing both of them on the trail last Sunday. Angie, who is in better shape, said that Sunny was way more regular in her workouts. Which started a conversation about running and fitness.
Sunny had gotten a fit bit or some gizmo like that for Christmas and she had been doing lots of exercise. “I’ve lost fourteen pounds.” she said with pride. Then added the classic American lament, “But I have a long ways to go.”
She was contrasting her fitness level with that of Angie and me. I protested the comparison was not helpful. I have been running off and on for forty-five years. Sunny has been walking for two months. Obviously, if she compared what she had accomplished in two months with what I had accomplished in 45 years, her accomplishment would appear rather meager. But if she contrasted where she was in November with where she is now, she has made huge leaps in fitness and healthy discipline.
Nearly all of us could imagine some small change we could make in our lives to improve our health. We could park farther from the entrance to stores when we go shopping and walk an extra fifty feet. We could skip the ice cream or eat one scoop instead of two. We could close our computer and leave our desk at lunch time. We could sit in a sweeter, more beautiful place to eat our sandwich. We could eat one more meal a week sitting at our table at home with the entire family. We could go to bed earlier. Drink more water. The options are endless.
One way to view this possibility for improvement, this potential for wise action, is to lament what we haven’t done. But I wish we wouldn’t do that. I prefer to view it as opportunity. There is still something to do, something to reach for.
I said something off the cuff a few weeks ago that people have said was very helpful. I think it’s worth repeating over and over. It applies to health and all the other areas of life where good habits make a big difference: it’s better to be inconsistent in doing something than to be consistent in doing nothing. Most of us can think of some ambition, some goal, we could have pursued more faithfully this past week. Oh well. Whatever. That was last week. Now we have this week. Let’s aim again at health, at goodness, knowing that God takes great pleasure in the life and efforts of his children.
This coming week, do something to promote health. It will be good for your body and make you a partner with God.