As I watch the snow falling gently to the ground for the umpteenth time this winter, today’s USA Today tells me I should feel miserable. In fact, of all 35 districts of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, we of the Ohio District should feel the most miserable. Why? Because our district contains three of the most miserable states, according to a Gallup-Healthways survey. Ohio, at number 5, has the 13th lowest life-expectancy (77.8 years), Kentucky has the 6th lowest life expectancy (76 years), and West Virginia, ranked the most miserable state for the 5th year in a row, comes in with a life expectancy of 75.4 years (tied for 2nd lowest). But wait, there’s more! 30.9% of Ohio residents are obese (8th highest), 30.6% of Kentucky residents are obese (9th highest), and 34.4% of West Virginia residents are too fat for their own good (tied for 2nd place). Still not feeling it? Ohio’s median income is $46,829 (17th lowest), Kentucky’s is $41,724 (5th lowest), and West Virginia’s median income is $40,196 (3rd lowest).

Ohio residents were among the most likely to say that they felt angry the day the survey was taken. They had a relatively low evaluation of their lives. Fewer than 60% of Kentuckians said they ate well the day the survey was taken. They tied West Virginia for being the most reliant on drug prescriptions (19.3 prescriptions per capita), and they were among the most likely to complain of lack of energy and sleep. Hands down, West Virginians were the least physically healthy in the nation. They have the highest blood pressure and cholesterol rates in the country. They also had the highest number of respondents unable to participate in age-appropriate activities.

As I once observed, I’ve heard any number of sermons touching on adultery, but not one touching on gluttony. All of the above-mentioned factors for feeling miserable touch on God’s gifts of creation (First Article). For some reason, we’ve been slow in placing these sins in the stewardship category. Is it because we believe this is only a temporary problem that the resurrection will fix? When we consider the final Judgment, will the Lord give us a pass on our lack of physical stewardship but will hold only the spendthrift guilty? Or is it because the Lord has promised a sumptuous banquet of fine wines and choice meats to those who are invited to the eternal wedding feast that we think it’s OK to make 3 trips through the buffet bar now?

If we believe, with the Psalmist, that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” then letting the body deteriorate through lack of exercise and poor eating habits is not just a minor thing. It is something which makes you and me “miserable” sinners by God’s reconning as well. We hear our Lord’s gracious word of pardon for these sins, too. But when Zacchaeus’ life was touched by Christ, he showed forth fruits of repentance: “half of my goods I now give to the poor and if I have cheated anyone, I will restore it four-fold.” As Lent reminds us of making spiritual about-faces, what would the fruit of repentance look like for your neglect of the body?

- President Cripe