The Grateful Fed

Today’s scripture: 1 Timothy 4:1–5 (NRSV) (The Message) (KJV) What might God be saying to me?

My thoughts (Keith Phillips):

No one could possibly believe that I’m a conservative, although I am certainly a traditionalist. I’m in church every Sunday with rare exceptions. But if you don’t see me where I am a member, then you can be sure that I’m worshipping where a tolling bell calls us to worship, where a robed choir sings an anthem, where we reverently sing the Gloria Patri and the Doxology, where hymnals are enjoyed, where the people of God recite the Lord’s Prayer, where the organist plays majestically, where the sermon follows the lectionary, and where the peace that passes all understanding prevails. You get the idea. If I can’t worship the way Jesus worshipped, I want at least to worship the way the Reformers worshipped.

The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) are concerned with tradition in the church. Only a couple of generations have passed since Pentecost, and already there’s a group in the church who think that things have to be forever new and changing. They claim that the reason for the changes is the knowledge that the Spirit has given to them and, sadly, not to anyone else.

I clearly remember that in my second pastorate a member of the Board announced in a meeting that we needed to do something in particular that was different and new, and the reason she gave was that “the Spirit told me.” I responded, “I wish the Spirit had told me, too,” which is one of the many reasons that I make a better chaplain than a pastor.

In this passage of scripture, the early Gnostics (from the Greek to know) were apparently forbidding Christians from engaging in sexual activity and from eating certain foods. Well, it’s been far too long since I’ve been sexually intimate with another human being, so I won’t speak to that; but I do enjoy eating food and all kinds of food, and that’s the focus of the rest of the scripture passage anyway.

In addition to worship, I am a traditionalist when it comes to saying grace at meal times. Even when at McDonald’s, my son with autism, Geoffrey, and I always bow our heads, and he prays, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank God for our food.” Then, he will “God bless…” half the family by name, and I will ask God’s blessing on the other half by name. Why is this important to me? I’d like my son to understand that God is the ultimate source of that plain cheeseburger, small French fries, and medium Coke, that he orders every single time. And I’d like my son to practice thanking God for what God has given.

But this passage gives another, a conditional, reason for Geoffrey and me to say grace: “For everything [every food] created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided [my emphasis] it is received with thanksgiving.” Then the author of 1 Timothy adds, “… for it [our food] is sanctified [made holy] by God’s word and by prayer.” Wow, I had no idea that’s what was happening when we pray over our McDonald’s meal. God, throughout the New Testament, has declared that all food is good and appropriate for humanity. But it requires our expression of gratitude to transform the mundane stuff that we eat into a holy, life-giving sacrament.

My guess is that to be grateful, and to verbally express it, in other aspects of our life has the same power, in cooperation with God, to make our lives holy, to provide a sense of the sacred. And that’s something the whole world could use a little more of.

Thought for the day: Can you say grace?

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the suggestions on the How to Pray page.