The texts for today’s message are Romans 7:15-25a and Matthew 11:28-30
A couple months ago I read, The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat.” Sounds wonderful for leisure time reading. Right? It is a fascinating book that presents much history of obesity research in a very interesting and readable manner. Parts of it were also downright depressing.
I’m going to share one small part, and try not to get too technical…about the satiety factor. The author, Stephan J. Guyenet, describes this as one of the ways in which our brains regulate weight. For us non-scientists, an analogy is the heating and cooling system in a house. When the thermostat indicates a low temperature, the heater kicks in. When it becomes too hot, on comes the air conditioner. This system works very well to regulate body temperature but when it comes to fat it is as if our “home thermostat has very good heat to prevent the temperature from dropping, but weak air conditioning to prevent the temperature from rising.” (133)
His analogy works well for us here in Oxnard, where most of us don’t have, and where we usually don’t need air conditioning.
How this all works in relation to body fat and weight is that as the body fat percentage goes up, our bodies adjust themselves and begin thinking that this extra fat is necessary. This then makes it incredibly hard to lose and keep weight off, with our brains “undermining our conscious desire to be lean and healthy.”
When I read those words, “undermining our conscious desire…” I immediately thought of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

It always seemed to me that Paul was describing an inner battle. Where he wanted to do the right thing, but something else frustrated his efforts. Amazingly, through science, we now know that some of our struggle is because of our brain.
Sometimes there is no amount of willpower that will help. Guyenet touched on the show The Biggest Loser. Do you remember it? I watched it for a few seasons. For me the inspiration was towards hard physical exercise. Anyway, a previous contestant said, “NBC never does a reunion. Why? Because we’re all fat again.”
This is very sad… and from a scientific perspective, not surprising.

15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Thankfully there are things we can do to live a healthy life. For all of us, this struggle is a reminder to have compassion for one another. Having compassion for one another is how we love one another.
In the greater context of the letter, Paul is writing about The Law…biblical law and even some natural law. The law is at the basis of his struggle. He’s also writing to churches that are having trouble working together…they seemed to be having a struggle over who was the best…over who was better at following the law.
For Paul, its obvious that the law has merit, while in his experience it is also burdensome. In one sense he’s describing the struggle in doing what he thinks he should do, but then discovering that rather than following the law he had actually sinned.
This all sounds rather circular until we remember that Paul, in his efforts to enforce the law, persecuted Christians. This is his sin…committed in the act of following, of attempting to enforce, the law. His sin was, in this case was a failure to love, maybe even a failure to show compassion.
I think that he discovered that the ends do not justify the means…in that love of neighbor is more important than for people to live according to our interpretation of the law. This is not easy to figure out…as we all have our ways of judging neighbor.
What can we do? I like the gospel text that is assigned for today. Jesus invites those listening (and us) to take his yoke, for his burden is light and he will give rest. The yoke (that farm implement that guides animals) meant, the law.
Jesus summarized the law: love God, love neighbor.
I think that for Paul, and for us, love of neighbor includes compassion. Because we all need it. We all fall short in so many little ways…and it turns out that some of our struggles are because our brains seem to have minds of their own.
One last thing…in regards to the struggle that so many have with overeating in today’s culture. It turns out that there is a way to confront the issue. It’s not easy but its not completely hard either, and that is to eat food that is not processed…I think of it as eating the food closer to the way God created it.
Living a life of love for God and neighbor is not always easy. In the next few sections of Romans, we’ll explore the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives of faith. Meanwhile may you experience the love and compassion that are yours through Jesus and may we all share this love and compassion with one another.