My grandmother lived her entire life on a farm. First, it was cotton, then it was soybean, and finally it was cows and chickens. I spent every summer of my childhood and teen years on that farm, working in my uncle’s chicken houses, chasing stray cows, bailing and stacking hay. I learned the very first day that farming is hard work. The days start early and run late. It takes a lot of fuel in the body to work that hard for that long. But my grandmother, a master in the kitchen, could meet the demands. She cooked for everybody working; my uncle and aunt, several of the grandchildren, the hired help, the neighbors. On any given summer day, you could gather around her big oak table and find it running over with everything battered, greased and deep fried.
Chicken, gravy, biscuits, squash, coconut pie, mashed potatoes, sweet tea, cornbread – all the things that doctors now say will kill you. It was wonderful. A man or a woman could eat like that for lunch, take a thirty minute power nap, and have the energy to work the rest of the day. Then he or she would come in at dark and sit down at the same table and eat it all again. And guess what? No one on the farm was obese, had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or had cardiac issues or diabetes. No one. Why? Because when you toil like a serf for sixteen hours a day, you can eat what ever you want and as much as you want. You need it, and you burn it up.
Now, my grandmother is gone. She died more than five years ago. Most of the family farm has been sold as well. Mass-produced little houses and subdivisions sit on the land that used to produce cotton or graze cows. No one in my family works as hard as they used to. Many of us never even leave the comfort of air-conditioning to make a living. That’s fine. The problem is a few of us still eat like we’re working on the farm. The result: Obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, open heart surgery, diabetes. We’re not working off the calories like we used to.
Christians are over-eaters. No, not necessarily at meal time, though you will find more than one rotund Bible-thumper in front of you at the Sunday buffet. We have an eating disorder when it comes to getting “spiritual food.” Give me good music. Give me good preaching. Pass the bread and the wine. Fill up my belly. And before you know it we are so plump and drunk we can’t get off the pew to help our neighbor. We have become spiritually obese: Church potatoes that sit, feast, and nap, but refuse to get up and “work it off” in the fields of God’s farm. So we are fat, slow, and unfit.
There are more than 300,000 churches in the United States. Americans give $93 billion dollars a year to houses of worship, and then we spend eighty-five cents out of every dollar on ourselves. Only two cents out of every dollar put in the offering plate ever makes it out of the country. Further, we mow down acres of forests and spill gallons of ink, buying $5 billion of Christian books, studies, and other products every year, just to aid in our personal spiritual growth. We have more than we need – spiritually and physically.
To lament that you can’t get spiritually “fed” is like complaining of starvation while standing in line at the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. We’re not hungry. We aren’t getting rid of what we have been given. The challenge for us is to live out the revelation to which we have been exposed; to take the hundreds of sermons, the countless books and Bible studies, the millions of Christian words that have crossed our ears, and put them to action in our hearts, hands, and feet. We must take the multitude baskets of broken bread and jars of flowing wine, spread out on the table before us each week like a Southern feast, and share it with those who are hungry and thirsty.
Our challenge is to push away from the table, shake off the sluggishness of too many carbs and too much wine, and get back to work in God’s world.