Home » Sermons » New Testament » The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony


The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony


Romans 12:9-13      Genesis 18:1-8        Luke 15:1-7


Did you come to church today expecting me to lambaste fat people?  It isn’t my task to lambaste anyone.  Besides, not all fat people are gluttons.  The truth is, many skinny people are gluttons.  The last thing I want to do is get into an argument over how fat is “fat” and how skinny is “skinny.”   We’re not going to point a finger at anyone today.         We’re going to do something much more profound and helpful.


I: — First of all, we have to understand that it’s good to eat.  According to Genesis God provides food, looks upon what he’s done, and then pronounces it good. According to Genesis God provides food not once only, not merely initially, but continuously as he promises seedtime and harvest, harvest and seedtime, the never-failing provision of our elemental bodily needs and all that our body supports. The writer of Ecclesiastes insists, “Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart.”   Then the same writer adds, “For bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life.” Eating, he tells us, is God’s gift.

Stained glass pictures of mediaeval “saints” often depict those folk as tubercular, malnourished, emaciated, seemingly in the last stages of starvation or wasting disease. Unfortunately, there are people who starve and there are people who suffer from wasting disease, but there’s nothing virtuous about this.  There’s nothing commendable about looking like a death camp prisoner.

Scripture extols the goodness of God’s creation. Scripture commands us to delight in whatever God has made to sustain us.  John the Baptist ate the plainest food, to be sure, if not the bizarrest food: honey and grasshoppers (high energy and high protein); but he ate. Jesus maintained that John the Baptist was anything but an anaemic wisp or frail wimp, anything but a reed trembling in the wind.  “Eat your bread with enjoyment” says the writer of Ecclesiastes; “for bread is made for laughter.”  Jean Vanier, who has spent his life on behalf of developmentally challenged men (those whom we used to call “retarded” but whom Vanier prefers to call “defenceless” – “Why do we label a man ‘retarded’ just because he can’t defend himself?” Vanier asks us) insists throughout his L’Arche communities that the food be good, the food be abundant, and a light-hearted tone, even a rollicking tone, accompany each meal. Vanier knows there’s nothing God-honouring about eating sawdust in a dismal mood. Jesus ate with relish and ate enough to be accused of gluttony.


II: (i) – Then what is gluttony? Here’s the surprise: gluttony isn’t eating too much food; gluttony is being preoccupied with food, regardless of how much or how little we eat. Gluttony is that preoccupation with food that distracts us from profounder aspects of life. At some point we’ve all sat by someone at a wedding reception who couldn’t have cared less about the happy occasion.  He had no interest in the joyful send-off of the happy young couple and the future opening out before them.  He wasn’t even interested in the party that would take up the evening. Instead he was wholly preoccupied with three matters:

What’s for supper?

Will there be enough?

Is the bar free?


Gluttony, remember, isn’t a matter of eating too much.  Gluttony is a matter of according food a concern that’s entirely inappropriate.

Not so long ago I attended meetings of a higher court of the denomination. The issues concerned were important: how the denomination might stem its haemorrhaging and thrive again; how younger people might be reached; what sorts of challenges the next decade or two are likely to bring us.  Throughout these meetings there was sober reflection, searing pain, and ardent enthusiasm. On the way home I said to my travel companion, “What did you think of the meetings?”   “The food was sure good” he replied.  Being fifteen pounds overweight isn’t the lethal aspect of deadly-sin gluttony. The lethal aspect, rather, is being so very preoccupied with food as to lose sight of the kingdom’s collision with the world, lose sight of the spiritual contradiction all of us are, lose sight of friends and neighbours whose suffering is simply atrocious.

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were three young men of great promise in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.         Nebuchadnezzar recognized their talent and wanted to make them the highest-ranking civil servants.  There was only one problem: the three young men knew whose they were, and therefore who they were. They knew, honoured and obeyed the God of Israel.  As long as they obeyed him, they were of no use to Nebuchadnezzar and his self-promotion in Babylon . Nebuchadnezzar would have to re-program them. He offered to feed the three fellows at the royal table.  They could have caviar, goose-liver pate, pheasant under glass, wine costing a thousand dollars per bottle.  Nebuchadnezzar was aware that once he had quickened a taste for elegance in the three young men; once he had introduced them to ever-ascending social elites, they would forget they were Israelites.  Faith and obedience would shrivel.  They would retain their immense abilities, of course; but now their abilities could be bent to serve Nebuchadnezzar’s purpose as he re-programmed people who were as plastic as all of us are.  Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego saw in an instant what was about to happen. They told the king they would eat cabbage soup.

It happened only in 586 BCE?  It hasn’t happened since? In 1781 John Wesley saw what was happening to the Methodist people.  Newly rendered sober, industrious and thrifty by the power of the gospel, they had spare cash that they had never had when they were drunken and dissolute. They began to frequent – not the gin shops; that was behind them – the coffee shops where both coffee and tea were consumed.  Coffee and tea, imported from halfway around the world, were enormously expensive in 18th Century England (far more expensive than liquor.) Soon the Methodist people were hob-nobbing with other social climbers; soon the Methodist people had a cultivated, refined taste for items they couldn’t have afforded when they were face-down in the gutter.  They became preoccupied with what Wesley called “genteel tasting.” The men and women now infatuated with “genteel tasting”, Wesley noticed, gave up all sacrificial service on behalf of the suffering neighbour.  They became increasingly self-important, snobs in other words.  As they became more self-important, they became touchier, more readily affronted, quicker to take offence.  As they became quicker to take offence they became more vindictive. The spiral down in one’s character, noted Wesley, begins with that genteel tasting born of social privilege, and it ends in cruel vindictiveness born of super-sensitive snooty touchiness. Wesley’s advice? His people should get out of the coffee shops and shed their snootiness.

(ii) I am persuaded that gluttony is found among food-faddists, as well as among those who are extremists in any respect where food is concerned.  The food-faddist hears there’s something wrong with oats.  Only horses should eat them.  Or there’s something wrong with eggs.  No one should them. I’m always amused when people tell me that today’s food processing is harmful in this respect or that respect.  Do they have any idea how many more people, vastly more people, sickened, even died, decades ago when food processing was much less sophisticated? My father told me many times that when he was a boy he could remember seeing in grocery stores tins of food where the tin bulged because of the rotting underway in the sealed tins. Do we really want to go back to the days when roast pork from scrap-fed pigs gave people trichinosis if they happened to undercook it?  People tell me I shouldn’t drink Mississauga ’s tap water. I happen to think that billions of people in other parts of the world would give anything to have access to Mississauga ’s tap water.

I’m convinced that this preoccupation with food-fads is rooted in one thing: fear of dying. The health-food faddists unconsciously think they can eat their way into immortality. But we are mortal creatures. Death is inescapable. The provision God has made for our death, both physical and spiritual, is the sin-bearing Son whom he has raised from the dead and whose righteousness becomes ours through faith. Food-preoccupied people unconsciously think we can transcend our frailty and fragility.  Eating so very carefully is supposed to overturn our mortality.         Food faddism is gluttony not because these people overeat (they never overeat) but because this kind of food-preoccupation keeps us feeding ourselves lies about ourselves.

(iii) What about skinny people? Let’s be honest: many skinny people count calories as though calories were germs. Remember, a preoccupation with food-avoidance is still a preoccupation with food.  Our Lord couldn’t care less if we are ten pounds overweight.  He knows that an obsession with slenderness is a form of pride.  When the Duchess of Windsor remarked, “One cannot be too rich; one cannot be too slender,” she was touting social superiority.         A preoccupation with slenderness points to a pride that has ballooned.

(iv) The worst feature of our preoccupation with food, by far the worst feature (I’m convinced) is this: it destroys fellowship.  Food ought to be the occasion of fellowship. Even the slightest bit of food brings people together.         Think of how many people gather profitably at our weekly coffee hour following worship, where the cost of the food is pennies per person. Food is supposed to function like this; it’s supposed to be the occasion of human meeting.

But something dreadful has happened.  I have found so very many people reluctant to invite others into their homes for a meal. They are simply afraid to bring others in.  After all, the person they invite might be a better cook.         Whatever happened to the meal where food was a side issue, almost a pretext for meeting others, while the real issue was opening ourselves to others and inviting them to open themselves to us as our intertwined lives became richer than anything we had imagined?

If we are afraid to open our homes, we are also afraid to open our hearts. And we are afraid because of three preoccupations concerning food.  The first has to do with novelty: is our dinner different or unusual? The second has to do with quantity: will there be enough?  The third has to do with quality: is it cordon bleu? In no time we are so very anxious that we can’t invite others to share a meal with us.  Now our homes are closed, and with our homes, our hearts.   When food is given a false value it loses its real value.  Its real value is that it fosters friendship.


IV: — All of which brings me to the last point of the sermon.  In fact I introduced the last point a minute or two ago; namely, the place of hospitality in Christian discipleship.  Hospitality looms large with God’s people.  Jesus ate with many different people in many different homes on many different occasions.

On one occasion a woman off the street (today we’d describe her as a “streetwalker”, and everyone would know she wasn’t walking the street because she felt like exercising) ended up at a meal with him. Jesus had been invited to the meal; she had not.  When she arrived at the venue of the meal, the host, the homeowner, didn’t say to her, “I invited him; I didn’t invite you.”   Instead the host welcomed her when he saw that she had invited herself. Plainly his home was open.

In the course of the meal the host mentions that the woman has shown poor taste in wetting our Lord’s feet with her tears and wiping them dry with her hair. Jesus doesn’t disagree with him. Instead he uses the occasion to speak the parable of the two debtors, the point of the parable being the more we are forgiven, the more we love.  At the conclusion of the meal at least two things have happened.  The woman has been confirmed in her love for Jesus as her expression of gratitude is received and honoured, while the homeowner, the host, has come to know what he would otherwise never have known; namely, the more we are forgiven the more we love.  And it all happened just because one man opened his home to the Nazarene by pre-arrangement, and opened his home to a dubious woman on the spot. The result of it all was that Jesus was fed, a woman was honoured, and a man learned what would alter his life forever. This is what is gained all around whenever you or I offer hospitality.

The biblical word for hospitality is philexonia.  Literally it means “love of strangers”.  Hospitality is a huge item in scripture.  In the Pastoral Epistles hospitality is one of the qualifications for leadership in the Christian community.         Not only must leaders be honest; not only must they be maritally faithful; not only must they be schooled in the gospel; they have to be given to hospitality.

In ancient Israel a householder was obliged to extend hospitality, obliged to extend it to his enemy, even his worst enemy. Once his enemy had accepted the hospitality, then had taken his leave and gone on his way, the householder couldn’t pursue him for four and a half days. Jesus goes one step farther. He insists that as we accord hospitality to anyone, that person ceases to be our enemy. Hospitality scatters strangeness and overcomes enmity.

For many years I have thought that loneliness is the affliction wherewith people are afflicted. Several years ago I mentioned this in casual conversation to a congregant, a physician who, along with his wife, was born into social circles that I shall never penetrate and who has the medical fraternity as well as society’s glitterati at his feet.         In other words, he’d never be lonely, would he?  When I casually mentioned that loneliness afflicts so very many he remarked soberly, “The whole world is lonely.”         He meant, of course, the he is lonely.

A woman whose husband left her served on the same presbytery committee as I.  One evening at the presbytery committee meeting she mentioned casually that she might drive east for her holidays.  I told her, equally off-handedly, that Maureen and I and the children were going to spend ten days at Shining Waters Cabins on Prince Edward Island . Nothing more was said.  I forgot about the conversation.  Several months later she appeared, unannounced, on our doorstep at Shining Waters Cabins. She had driven from Mississauga to Summerside , PEI , in one day – to visit us. Loneliness is the affliction of our society. Yet Christians know that food is meant to foster fellowship.  And therefore we know what is required of us.

My mother was only 51 years old when my father died. She remarked to me, “The pattern of my life will change now, because I’m single again and single people are marginalized in a couple-oriented society.” “Oh no, mother”, I disagreed in my 23-year old unwisdom; “the couples with whom you and dad were friends won’t drop you now.”         I was wrong. And since then Maureen and I have made sure that we never overlook people who are not married for any reason.

Hospitality, philexonia, love of strangers, food. They all hang together. As soon as we rid ourselves of the false value of food we perceive its real value: an open home, open hearts, strangeness dispelled, enmity overcome, loneliness alleviated.

How important is hospitality?  Paul says we should pursue it, make it a priority.  Peter says we should practise it ungrudgingly.  The author of Hebrews maintains that as we show hospitality to strangers we entertain angels unawares.  Angels are messengers of God who convey God’s blessings.  In other words, in according hospitality we shall find that some of the people we receive will bring with them a word from God or wisdom from God or his comfort and consolation – all of which we should otherwise never know and enjoy.


Our Lord ate with anyone at all at homes, parties, weddings, anywhere.  He couldn’t care less whether we are ten pounds overweight or not. He does care, however, that we delight in the food he has given us.

Equally he cares that we avoid the preoccupation with food that gives food a false value.  Instead he insists on the real value of food.  Food fosters fellowship. Food facilitates hospitality. And hospitality dispels strangeness, overcomes enmity, alleviates loneliness. Food is even the occasion where angels are entertained; which is to say, when we eat together God himself visits us and presses upon us what we should otherwise have to do without.


                                                                                               Victor Shepherd

March 2006