Food for the Journey
Texts: Psalm 119:103; Ezekiel 3:1-3; Matthew 15:1-20
June 10, 2012 – Bethel CRC – Genesis Club Sunday (that’s our congregation’s version of “Sunday School”)
In preparing today’s sermon, I realized that of the four sermons I’ve preached at Bethel this year, two have been focused on food. After today, I will be three for five. I guess it’s true what they say -that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But I take comfort in knowing that Jesus thought a lot about food too – he often talked about it and we know that he enjoyed eating to the point where people accused him of being a glutton!
So, why all this talk about food?
In this bag, I have something. Does anyone want to guess what it is? If you need a hint, it was something mentioned in our Bible readings. That’s right – it’s honey!
I’m going to invite all the kids from Genesis Club to come forward and hold out your fingers so that I can put some honey on the tip. But, it is very important that you don’t eat it!
Honey is a fascinating food – the ancient Egyptians used it as a form of money and the ancient Greeks would offer it as a sacrifice to their gods. Honey has been used as a preservative, as a sweetener, and even as a medicine to fight allergies and help heal burns. Honey is really amazing – and if you want to know more about honey, you should ask Mr. VanVliet – he is a beekeeper, so he knows lots about honey.
I have a few questions for you – Why is food important? What happens when you don’t eat?
Now you can eat the honey – how does it taste? Is it yummy?
Why do you think the writers of the Bible say that the words of God are like honey?
OK, now you can go sit down again – but please keep in mind the idea of the words of God as being like honey.
My daughter Sophie loves books – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. When Sophie gets a new book, she wants it read to her over and over again. There are some days where I or Natalie has read the same book at least 7 or 8 times in a row. Parents, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, right? To this day, my mom can recite, from memory, “The Bike Lesson”, one of the earliest Berenstein Bears books.
Sophie knows most of her books so well to the point where if you intentionally change or leave out a word, she will be quick to correct you. She has basically memorized her entire library. Now, I’m sharing this with you not to brag about my daughter, but to use her as an example for how she has internalized these stories to the point where I don’t even need to read them to her – without knowing how to read herself, she could sit and turn the pages and recite the story herself. However, regardless of this, she loves to have these stories read and told to her, over and over again. Even though she knows them well, she never tires of hearing them. The telling of the stories is what matters to her.
No matter how old you are, stories matter to each and every one of us. We love to hear stories told and we love to tell stories – funny stories, sad stories, stories we already know the ending to, and stories where the ending is still being written.
Our identities – who we are – are wrapped up in stories. In many ways, I am the stories I tell about myself. Moreover, the stories of my family and friends are also part of my story; their lives and mine intersect to create new stories. When you get together at family gatherings, often the same stories are told and re-told several times – I know I’ve heard some of the same stories over and over again from my parents and siblings and I know I’m guilty of telling the same stories over and over again, but the telling and re-telling of these stories is important but it reminds us who we are and what matters to us. The ability to tell stories is one of the things that make us human.
What I’m getting at is this – stories, like food, are an essential part of our lives. Food provides the stuff we need to live and stories give shape, meaning, and direction to the lives we live. Just as we cannot live without food, so too are we unable to truly live without stories. In different ways, both food and stories give us the sustenance we need to live.
In Matthew 15, we find Jesus once again confronted by the Pharisees. The Pharisees were known for their strict observance of the all the Levitical rules – rules about what kind of clothing you can and cannot wear, rules about what things were considered “clean” and “unclean”, rules about what you can and cannot do on a Sabbath, and so on. Rules about anything and everything – you can read them for yourself in the book of Leviticus. The Pharisees were so strict that they made up even more rules and regulations to help them follow the original ones – they had rules about rules! According to them, the point of all these rules was to help them to win the favor of God – to be seen as righteous in God’s eyes.
In our story for today, they are accusing Jesus of breaking the rules about how to wash yourself before a meal and rules about what kinds of food you can and cannot eat. In fact, many of the rules the Pharisees followed had to do with food. Jesus is very blunt in responding to these accusations – he calls the Pharisees hypocrites! He tells them that even though they are following all the rules and traditions in trying to win God’s approval that they in reality they are completely missing the point of what these rules were about in the first place. Rather than bringing them closer to God, the Pharisees treated these rules as a way to make themselves better than others.
In fact, Jesus goes as far as to tell the crowds that the rules about what a person can and cannot eat do not matter anymore – that the physical food a person does and doesn’t eat has no effect in making that person righteous and pure in God’s eyes. Jesus is saying that the old purity codes no longer matter because he himself is doing what those rules were meant to do – bring us closer to God. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. Jesus is saying that the old ways no longer hold any power because God is doing something new in and through Jesus.
Whereas the Pharisees were obsessed with outward appearance, Jesus is saying focus on what is inside. In other words, Jesus is saying what matters most of all is not how well a person follows religious rules and traditions but rather the condition of their heart. From the outside the Pharisees may have looked very pious and righteous, but inside they were dark and dirty.
This is what Jesus is getting at – if we are serious about loving God, we need to make sure that our hearts are strong and healthy. Jesus is not talking about our physical hearts – the hearts that pump blood. He is talking about our spiritual hearts.
So the question is – how do we nourish our spiritual hearts? How do make sure that they are strong and healthy?
Like our physical hearts, our spiritual hearts need nourishment. They need food.
When we eat healthy food, our digestion system removes all the nutrients and distributes it across our body to keep us strong and healthy and we get rid of the waste in washroom. We all know that a healthy diet is an important part of keeping a healthy heart.
But what happens when you eat bad food, something rotten or something mildly poisonous? Immediately your body gets rid of it. In other words, you throw-up. Your body doesn’t want it and will go to extreme measures to get rid of it.
In Matthew 15, Jesus is telling the crowd and his disciples to eat the right kind of spiritual food. The Pharisees were eating the wrong kind of food. Because they were not properly nourishing their hearts, Jesus is basically telling them that they are leaving pools of vomit everywhere. The same is true for us today – if we fail to properly nourish our hearts, the evidence will be plain to see – “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfishness, dissensions, factions, and envy” as Paul outlines in Galatians 5.
So, what is our spiritual food?
It is the same food that Jesus ate in John 4:34 when he says “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work”. God’s will is to restore Shalom and to establish his heavenly kingdom on earth. God’s will is to reconcile his creation with himself. This is why he came to earth. This was his mission and it is the same mission he gives to his followers – “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you (John20:21).
This means that our spiritual food is God’s story of redemption in and through Jesus Christ.
It is the story of his love and grace.
It is the story of sin and forgiveness; of death and resurrection.
It is the story of what has Christ done.
It is the story of what he is continuing to do through work of his Holy Spirit
It is the story of healing and of restored hope.
It is the story of new life and transformation offered to everyone us because of Christ’s faithfulness and righteousness.
From beginning to end, it is the story we find in the Bible.
Like the Psalmist who compared the words of God to honey and Ezekiel who ate a scroll and found it sweet as honey, God’s story of redemption is the food we are given for our spiritual nourishment.
As Christ’s followers, as those who walk in his footsteps, we are called to live lives of faithfulness – faithfulness to him and his mission. As Christ’s followers, we are called to live lives of radical trust – complete dependence on the God who creates and redeems the universe. In calling us to be his body, Jesus is reminding us how important it is that we eat the right food, the food that is the story of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness; the food that will help us to grow in our relationship with God; the food that will sustain us for fulfilling God’s purposes.
We eat this food by telling the story of God’s redemption.
We eat this food by living the story of God’s redemption.
Indeed, one of the ways that we tell the story is by the way we live the story – by the words we use, by the way we treat others, by the way we spend our money, by the way we use our time. The story of your life will always tell a clear story about what matters most to you.
Being a follower of Christ requires that my stories – the stories of who I am – must become so completely interweaved with God’s story that it is impossible to see the seams. It is not so much about finding God in my story as much as it is about me finding myself in God’s story.
Everyone who claims to follow Jesus is on a lifelong journey of faith. You can never graduate from being a disciple of Jesus because a disciple is someone who is always learning, always growing, always serving, always living out God’s story of redemption. This is an unpredictable journey – we don’t know where it will take us and we don’t know what awaits us. But God has promised us that all the provisions for this journey will be supplied – the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Although it may not seem like it, the entire Bible leads and points to this story. From the beginning, God promises that even in spite of our unfaithfulness, his plan of redemption cannot and will not fail. The Bible is the true story of what God has done to bring this plan to fruition in and through Jesus Christ. This means that the entire Bible, even when it doesn’t seem like it at first glance, points to Jesus. He is the purpose and the meaning of the entire story.
This means that the Bible is not primarily a rule book designed to help us find out “what we should do” or a textbook meant to teach us what God “wants us to know”. Rather, the scriptures, as Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:15, “help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”. This means that everything that God wants to teach us and everything he wants us to do are framed by the story of who Jesus is, what he did, what he is doing, and what he will do.
To assume that the Bible is about learning what God’s wants us to do and learn in order to keep him happy or on “our side” is to make the same mistake as the Pharisees. When we do so, we will end up eating the wrong kind of food and telling the wrong kind of story. Rather, the story of the Bible is about who God is and the depths of his love, mercy and grace in and through Christ Jesus. It is God’s story and, by his grace, it our story. If we truly make this story our spiritual food, we will always end up telling this story by the lives we live.
The story of the God who created the entire universe, of the God who called a people to be a witness to his goodness and mercy, the story of the God who because of his great love for his creation, came to earth, became fully human, died in order to atone for our sin, was resurrected from the dead to defeat death and evil once and for all, ascended into heaven, and promises to return to establish his heavenly kingdom on earth for eternity. All this he did out of his great love for us – and he asks nothing in return but our gratitude, our love, our worship, and lives lived to tell the story of what he did.
This is literally the best story in the whole world.
It is a story so good and so true that it should cause to want to shout this from the rooftops, to be in a perpetual state of awe and amazement, to grab strangers in the street and say “Do you know how much God loves you? You are forgiven and free!”
Satan also knows how good and true this story is. He also knows how it ends. (SPOILER ALERT – it ends pretty badly for him). He does everything in his limited power to prevent and distract us from telling and living God’s story of redemption. He wants God’s people to become bored with it. He wants us to become so preoccupied with ourselves and our own problems that we forget the power of the story.
But it is a story that we should never tire of hearing and never tire of telling and never tire of living. In the end, it is the only story that truly matters because it is the story of life and love.
So, ask yourself – what is the condition of your heart? What spiritual food are you eating? What story does your life tell?
Is God’s story something you think is too good to be true? Or is it something so good that it has to be shared?
Is God’s story of redemption as sweet to you as honey?