Friday, May 15, 2009

You Are What You Eat

You Are What You Eat
Opening Worship
Northwestern Minnesota Synod Assembly
May 16, 2009
Revelation 10

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

When I was studying Hebrew at Luther Seminary in the summer of 1977, I befriended a fellow named Peter who had grown up Lutheran but was now a Greek Orthodox priest.

One evening at supper, Peter blurted out: “You know Wohlrabe, I don’t get it! You grew up in the Missouri Synod, but you actually know what’s in the Bible. You don’t just thump it!”

We can, of course, do many things with a Bible.
· We can thump it.
· We can use it as a projectile weapon—as in “throw the Book at ‘em!”
· We can mine the Bible for ammunition in debates.
· We can venerate the Bible as a relic or lucky rabbit’s foot.
· We can even read the Bible--regularly, faithfully, pondering its claims…

But who among us really, now—seriously, now—would want to EAT this Book, bite off, chew, swallow and digest the Bible?

And yet that’s precisely what John the Seer, is commanded to do here in Revelation chapter 10.

Revelation is one of the Bible’s most puzzling books. Like a kaleidoscope, it reveals cascading images of God’s victory, God’s final future in Jesus Christ….and this tenth chapter offers one of the most intriguing images of all.

Picture this scene: An enormous angel, so huge he’s wrapped in a cloud, wearing a rainbow on his head, descends from heaven to straddle the earth—one foot on the land, the other foot in the sea. And from this globe-spanning “pulpit” the angel proclaims the Word of God in peels of thunder.

John the Seer is so awestruck by this experience that he feverishly tries to scribble some sermon notes about it, get it down in writing…

But God stops John dead in his tracks, commanding him NOT to write down what he is hearing and experiencing. God has a better idea! “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land….take it, and eat.” (vv. 8-9)

Eat this scroll. Chew up and swallow this book. Take this Word deep into yourself.

Don’t just read it—don’t just take notes on it! Get it down under your skin, get it into your digestive track, get it into your soul, mind and body.

We are here today and tomorrow not just to read or learn or understand the contents of God’s Word….but to eat this Word, to drink it in, to take it into ourselves and “metabolize” it in lives of trust, sharing, generosity and action.

That’s because our ELCA Book of Faith Initiative is about so much more than “biblical literacy.” It’s about gaining, or perhaps regaining, our gospel fluency in the Word of God as the first language—we might say the “heart language”--of Christian faith and life and mission.

And what better way to picture that, than to EAT this Book, just as we consume carbohydrates and fats and proteins—metabolizing those foods into energy and action?

A member of our synod staff was given a plaque that reads: “If ‘you are what you eat,’ then I must be fast, easy and cheap!”

How true! What do we eat nowadays? It’s not a pretty sight, is it? We toss down fast food, hurriedly rustle up easy food, chow down on way too much cheap food.

Revelation 10 invites us to consume the good stuff, the stick-to-your-ribs, life-changing nourishment of God’s precious Word--our finest food.

John the Seer is told that when he eats the scroll, when he eats the book, he will experience two things.

“So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth…” (v. 10) God’s nourishing Word is first of all, sweet as honey in our mouths.

The first thing John the Seer experiences is that the Word of God is sweet—the sweetest thing we’ll ever taste.

The Book of Faith is delicious—“scrumptious Scripture,” we might say. All the junk food we’ve been gorging ourselves on pales in comparison.

Eugene Peterson, in his wonderful volume Eat This Book, talks about this spiritual junk food that in our waywardness we hanker for—all the “other texts” by which we feverishly try to live our lives. Peterson sums up our lives without Christ as lives lived around another “trinity”—our Holy Needs, our Holy Wants, and our Holy Feelings.[1]

God’s Word, though, is like honey in our mouth—it’s oh so sweet, because it brings Jesus to us. The Bible is, quite simply, the Jesus Book…the getting-ready-for-Jesus Old Testament…and the living-out-Jesus New Testament!

When we consume God’s Word, when we eat Jesus, when we drink in the proclaimed gospel, when this Book of Faith washes over us, “marinating” us in God’s love…it is so very sweet, like honey in the mouth.

But there’s a second thing that happens when we eat this Word, this Book of Faith. It can, it will, it must upset us.

John the Seer did as he was told. He ate the scroll the angel handed to him, “it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.” (v. 10)

Watch out. This is not bland, white, comfort food! This isn’t the sort of safe, stomach-calming food you nibble at when you’re getting over the flu.

No, this Book, this Word, that tastes so sweet in the mouth causes our bellies to churn. Eat enough of the Bible and you’ll always need to keep the Pepto Bismol handy! As we take it in, we grow unsettled—unsettled with the world as it has come to be, troubled by the wreckage of sin in our lives.

All of which is to say: the Book of Faith gives us what we truly need, not necessarily what we want. Lutherans have always said that the Word of God cuts in upon us as both Law and Gospel, threat and promise, death and life.

If you are lucky, if you are blessed, God’s Word will make you sick. Sick of the devil. Sick of death. Sick of sin. The Book of Faith will upend you and cause you to lose your appetite for all the other stuff, all the “fast, easy and cheap” food you thought would sustain you—your holy wants, needs and feelings.

And that will be good. Sometimes, friends, we’ve got to clean out our refrigerators—you know: throw out all the leftovers, all the stuff that’s turning green on that back shelf, toss all the stale Christmas candy, purge ourselves of all the junk food that’s killing us. We clean our pantries to make room for the good stuff, for the “road food” of God’s Word that unsettles us, saves us, and sends us.

And it is road food, mind you! More and more I’m noticing in the Scriptures—and I hope you are noticing, too!—that there is always a sending going on here. God is always steering us into a missional turn, sending us back into the world in the strength of God’s food, God’s Word.

It’s here, too, in our text from Revelation 10. After John the Seer has heard the angel proclaiming the Word, after he’s been told not to take any sermon notes on it, after he’s been commanded to eat this word, after he’s found it sweet on his lips but unsettling in his gut—what then?

In the end, John the Seer is sent back to the world, the world where cheap food, fast food, and easy food is all-too-often mistaken for soul food.

John is turned back to the world, as you and I are turned back to our world. “Then they said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.’” (v. 11)

And here’s the payoff, for you and me as well, dear friends. This food, this Word, this Book of Faith always, always, always gets us moving somewhere. It always drives us back into the world, it always sends us toward our neighbors, it always calls forth the missionary inside of us, yearning to breathe free.

All that God in Christ has done and is doing and will yet do in us is not just to save us, but to send us. God’s ulterior motive isn’t that you’re safe, but that you are sent.

One last time, in the words of Eugene Peterson: “Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”[2]

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Eerdmans, 2006), p. 32
[2] Peterson, p. 18.

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