Wednesday, 21 November 2018 00:00

"The Daniel Plan" - November 18, 2018

“The Daniel Plan”

Daniel 1

A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley

November 18, 2018

University Baptist Church

Minneapolis, MN

The Story of Daniel

Good morning. My name is Daniel. Actually that’s my just one of my names. The king of the Babylonians gave me the name Beltheshazzar (That means protected by the god Bel).­ I am actually a servant of the Hebrew God, sometimes called “El.” Dani-el means “God is my judge”.

I lived in the second century BCE, that’s Before the Common Era. I lived during the time of the Maccabees when all hell was breaking through on earth.

There’s a book in your Bible about me, but it’s really a bunch of stories and folk tales attributed to me.

The second half of my book is full of apocalyptic visions. Your Book of Revelation uses the imagery in my book to tell that wild and graphic story.

Most people know me from the first half of my book. That’s where you read about my encounter with the lion’s den and the fiery furnace. Radical stories, fanciful, a bit far-fetched. They made me famous.

I like to think that I was one who saw clearly.

I was the advisor to kings Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Belshazzar and others. You’ll hear about Belshazzar and his grand feast next week.

All of these stories are set during the Babylonian exile, when the Hebrew people were in a foreign land and often performed at the whims of the leadership. They were belittled and persecuted. My stories show us as proud and as having God on our side. Isn’t that what we want too? God on our side, a little touch of bravery, a certain disdain for what the world calls power? We love hero stories. They help put our present struggles in to perspective.

In the first chapter of the book attributed to me, King Nebuchadnezzar heard of my abilities to see what he could not see. So he invited me and my friends into his court. He gave us royal-looking robes to wear, gave us lodging in the palace and they gave us the same catered food as the royals. We noticed something amongst the royals. The more they ate, all that meat, fat and wine, the less clear they became. They started to get tired. The more they ate, the more they wanted to eat. It was like a drug. But it made them feel bloated and made their minds foggy. So, we decided to do an experiment. If we ate our own food, mostly veggies, would we retain our clarity of mind? Sure enough, it worked.

The king relied on us to help him interpret the age. He even called my by my real name Daniel which means God is my judge.

I hear many of you are going to eat a big meal on Thursday. Enjoy it. But remember, as God is my judge, it might not make your brain work better.

The Sermon

When I was in Cleveland visiting family over the summer, I noticed in the bulletin that there were Daniel Plan groups gathering at not one but two churches that I attended. I asked my mom and my sister about them and they were kinda surprised that I had not heard of them. Apparently, the Daniel Plan is a healthy eating and lifestyle program that is very popular in many churches. There’s a whole industry around it. Curriculum, videos, books, podcasts you name it. Who knew? Did any of you?

It comes from the first chapter of Daniel. We’re introduced to Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel in the first chapter. And it seems to extoll the virtues of vegetarianism.

I spoke with my colleague Rabbi Ryan Dulkin about this sermon this past week. He said it was interesting to see how Christians appropriate Jewish stories. While there is value in eating vegetables, the point of the story is not so much about healthy living. It’s about not being defiled by the gentile food of the king. So much of the writing of the post-exile has to do with not being defined by the customs and mores that abound in occupied territory.

Leviticus came from this period of time. All those rules, all that worry about losing one’s identity.

It reminds me of the fact that Thanksgiving was a cultural appropriation.

During the Revolutionary War, President Washington declared a day of thanksgiving for the bloody defeat of the British.

During the Civil War both the Union and Confederate leaders called for days of Thanksgiving for their various battle victories.

For our Native American friends, Thanksgiving is often a day of mourning for all of the land, culture and lives lost at the hands of the original immigrants.

So all of this is on my mind as I try to put a theological spin on the feast set for Thursday.

So let’s look at the original Daniel plan.

Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are apprentices in the King’s court. They stay there for 3 years to learn the ways of the palace. They are put up in luxury accommodations and have their meals catered for them. The problem is that they are devout Jews living in Gentile land. They have dietary restrictions. It’s part of their super power, their spiritual practice.

What you put in your body effect what comes out of your body. So to defile your body with unclean foods means that you are not going to function properly.

Imagine demanding someone with celiac disease to eat gluten all the time.

Imagine a recovering addict being forced to drink alcohol.

When I was in San Francisco, I served a church whose building had been destroyed in an arson attack. It was a hate crime because of their work with the immigrant community. Before the fire, the church had housed three congregations, several 12-step groups and a non-profit that helped secure housing for people fleeing the wars in Central America. After the fire, we began talk about rebuilding. But we knew that San Francisco did not need another little Baptist Church. The City needed a place where people of differing faiths could come together and work to break down differences. We called it the Phoenix project. We had partners that were Catholic, and Jewish, and Muslim, and Mennonite, and even post-Christian feminist. It was a grand idea that unfortunately never secured the necessary funding to be completed. As we were designing the building, the most discussion was not about the worship space but about the kitchen. Honoring all traditions meant that food needed to be taken very seriously. No pork for our Muslim friends, no shellfish for our Jewish friends, and so forth. We learned that we could all eat veggies. So that was the rule in the Phoenix project’s kitchen. Only veggies.

Daniel and his friends were vegetarians by choice. It was the common denominator food that did not need to be blessed in order to follow kosher laws.

The King’s guards were concerned that Daniel and is buddies were not going to be healthy if they ate only veggies, so Daniel suggested that they do a 10-day experiment. Already suspect by being foreigners, the quartet challenged the palace master to a healthy-living contest. He, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would eat veggies and drink water while everyone else ate the food from the royal caterers. The palace guards expected the Jews to get skinny and weak. But the opposite happened. The Hebrews grew fat and strong, while the others grew weaker. The end of the 1st chapter of Daniel says, “In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.”  Was this because of their eating habits or was it because God blessed them for their obedience to the kosher laws?

We all know that eating right makes you healthier. It makes your clothes fit better, makes it easier to get around, might even make your mood better. So why do we struggle so much with weight and food choices? Probably because food that’s not good for you is marketed to us. Just as we have finished off our Halloween candy, we switch to Christmas candy, when that’s gone, we move on to Valentines Day candy, which is supplanted by Easter candy. Faste­­­r food is easier, even if it’s less nutritious. It tastes good, too. Maybe it’s the added the sugar which acts like a drug. Whether it’s the sugar that comes in the form of candy or Oreos, or starch or carbohydrates, your body wants more, more, more. And all of a sudden your clothes don’t fit right and you start feeling lethargic. So we seek out comfort food to make us feel better. It might in the short term, but not in the long term. And the cycle continues. I tell my kids that you grow up until you’re about 25, then you start growing out.

My niece Kara teaches sociology at Ohio State. One of her PHD research projects had to do with examining the eating patterns of poor people who work the fields in California. They were not allowed to eat the tomatoes or broccoli or artichokes that they picked day in and day out. Their towns had no fresh foods. Everything was canned or processed. They called these food deserts, which makes one wonder where our vegetables come from and the working conditions of their harvesters. Are we complicit in their lack of nutrition? Don’t try to think about that one too much. It’ll drive you crazy.

In an effort to be more healthy, many of us experiment with diets: Adkins, Paleo, Keto, raw foods, Weight Watchers, vegan, organic food from a CSA, grass-fed meat, free range eggs, you name it. Which is right?

I did a little digging about the Daniel Plan which is so popular in evangelical churches. It is not a restrictive kosher diet or a vegetarian diet. It advocates for a diet of 50% veggies, 25% proteins and 25% starches. There’s nothing too radical with the admonition to each our veggies. And let’s face it, most of us could eat more veggies and less pasta.

But more than that, it’s about healthy living. Christianity ought to be about healthy living, don’t you think?

That’s what makes any plan sustainable.

The plan even has a clever alliteration: food, fitness, focus, faith, and friends.

So it’s not only about food, but fitness, focus, faith and friends. So eating right is one part. Exercising is another. Tai Shigaki tells me that she stretches for 10-20 minutes each morning before getting out of bed. And then when she does, she walks at least 10,000 steps. This is before most of us are out of bed. Not bad for a nonagenarian, but maybe that’s why she’s a nonagenarian.

I looked at some pictures of me when I came here over 17 years ago. Not only was I younger and had a lot more hair—brown hair at that—I was also a lot thinner. It’s been a few years since my last marathon and my knees aren’t allowing me to exercise as much without discomfort. I used to blame my clothes not fitting on my dryer shrinking my clothes, but somehow the dryer shrunk my waist band more than the length of my pants.

This gets even more personal. I have not been able to remove my wedding ring for the last several years. It used to slip on and off just fine. But now, there’s a bulge above the ring and the digit is sore. I keep thinking I’m gonna lose enough weight that I can get the ring off again—not that I want to take it off, ever. I just want my finger to stop hurting.

Food, exercise and accountability are all important. Establishing healthy habits are only habits if they are sustainable. A fad becomes a habit which becomes a lifestyle.

I think of all of this as we approach our sumptuously spread Thanksgiving tables. How will we be tempted? How will we be thankful for the bodies that God gave us? How can we live in ways that we can do our best work? Food is a means to an end. The big meal is for celebrating friends and family and bounty. It’s also to sustain us to do the work we were put here on earth to do. On Friday, I plan to go on a nice long hike at Afton Alps, taking advantage of the free admission to work off some of the calories.

I hope as we look forward to our hearty celebration on Thursday, that we consider how we eat and move in healthy ways. But more than that, think about what the meal will help us to do. All of that food, that fellowship, that remembering the gratitude that we have and the responsibility that we share.

Daniel was living God’s plan. It made him clear and focused. Consider this Thanksgiving what God’s plan is for you. I’m not just talking about healthy eating and exercise. I’m talking about how God would have you use your best energy. What God would want you to see, how God would want you to respond, how will you use your own wild and precious life.

So don’t so much make a Daniel Plan for yourself. Better yet, do a Roger plan or a Diane Plan or a Jean plan or a Laura plan or a Tai plan that is in line with God’s plan. Tell someone else about it. And have them help you stick to it. Again it’s not just about eating right, it’s about how you get the best energy to do your best work in the world. When Daniel did this, he caught on to God’s vision. May it be so for us.