Lord, there is death all around me. From the death of loved ones of mine and my friends this week, to another friend staring death in the face after a long and grueling battle with cancer, I feel like death hovers like the mist outside my Seattle home in the spring. But, as Holy Week is nearly upon us, we are also facing the realities of your death once again. Let us not be too quick to skip over what happened on Friday in our eagerness to get to Sunday. May the pain of our friends’ and loved ones’ suffering and loss point us to your suffering on our behalf. And may we encounter anew as we explore your word together the love for us that was poured out on the cross—and the love that was dripping from your mouth as you said the words, “Take; this is my body…”
And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”(Mark 14:22-25 ESV)
The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today. (Deuteronomy 8:1-11 ESV)
Feast and famine.
The Bible draws many correlations between physical food and spiritual food, and here in Deuteronomy, Moses teaches the Israelites and us that, as we consider how important food is to us, God wants us to remember that what is even more important than the food we eat is the nourishment we receive from knowing and keeping the word of God.
Knowing and Keeping God’s word.
In the passage from Mark we just read, Jesus is instituting what we now know as “the Lord’s supper,” where we will feast on and savor God’s Word.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John begins his Gospel referring to Jesus as the Word — “logos” in Greek — a known concept to the readers at that time, but strange to our ears. Jesus was the “word?”
Logos, according to a Greek philosopher of the time, was the divine reason or plan which coordinates a changing universe. We might use the phrase, “The final word.” The governor. The authority. “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” John writes that Jesus, the Logos, was the beginning and the end, the fullness of God, made known to us in the flesh.
Jesus was and is the Word of God, and through his invitation in Mark 14 (and elsewhere), we participate in the feast of the Lord’s supper. The Word of God broken for us, given to connect, nourish, and covenant. To connect us to God, to nourish us by God, and to covenant us with God.
But first we look to scripture, the “other” Word of God. Also given as the divine reason or plan which coordinates a changing universe. The final word. The governor. The authority. Guarded and studied and passed down from age to age to age. Given to connect, nourish, and covenant. To connect us to God, to nourish us by God, and to covenant us with God.
We are invited – no, we are exhorted – to feast on this word so that we may be nourished and strengthened, and so that we may know God’s commandments deep in our hearts and so that we may walk in his ways and so that we may carry a deep respect and reverence for God’s ways.
The theme I see as I read this passage in Deuteronomy 8 is simple, and it points to the passage from Mark 14. It is a call to know and keep God’s word.
There is a big difference between quoting scripture and knowing God’s word. And sometimes its a dangerous difference. Bad theology comes from quoting scripture but not knowing God’s word.
I once had a friend who was going through a really rough time. She was a very new Christian and had a lot of problems in life, and ended up coming to live with me for a while, along with her two children. One night I came home from work and found her sitting on my front stoop in East Harlem. She had a cigarette in one hand and her Bible the other hand, and she was crying. She told me that she believed God was angry with her, because she had asked God for a word, and then opened her Bible to a random place and read the first passage she saw, and it was a verse from Judges 10 that says, “Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more.” She was quoting scripture — but she didn’t know scripture. And that can be a very dangerous thing. She didn’t know that for every place in scripture where God issues a warning about what happens to those who turn away from him and who disobey him, he says many other things about the promise of forgiveness and restoration for all who repent. She didn’t know that the same God who said what she had read, also said, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
So how can we know God’s word?
I’ve got two words for you: feasting and savoring.
A feast is a rich and abundant meal. Sometimes we should approach God’s Word as if it were a banquet table and we have all the time in the world. Like a plate that is loaded with fresh bread and savory vegetables and a thick, juicy steak — or, for the vegetarians among us, a thick, juicy marinated portobello mushroom — we can spend time reading from different portions of God’s word. I typically begin my day by reading a chapter from Psalms, a chapter from Proverbs, and a chapter from the Gospels or one of Paul’s letters. I consider that a “feast” — portions from several different food groups, or sections of the Bible. Feasting on God’s word takes time and helps to give us a broad view, ensuring that when we read a verse like Judges 10:13, we read it in it’s proper context, balanced by passages that point to God’s redemption and mercy toward all who turn to him with humble hearts. Yes, we need the sober warnings from scripture that are as true today as they were two thousand words ago. Yet along with the sober warnings, we need to know the truth about God’s kindness, that it leads us to repentance and that it endures forever.
When we feast on God’s word regularly, we are shaped by God’s word. But feasting on God’s word is only effective if we are also savoring God’s word.
The writer of Psalm 119 knew what it meant to savor the word of God. He wrote, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
I don’t have a big sweet tooth. But I love dark chocolate. And my favorite way to eat dark chocolate is to take a little bite and let that little morsel of rich dark chocolate just melt on my tongue. My whole mouth comes alive as my taste buds go on high alert, ready to react to the bittersweetness of the chocolate, sending happy signals to my brain.
Savoring something means relishing it, and giving oneself to the enjoyment of something. I love to savor small bits of dark chocolate. And sometimes, I like to savor small bits of scripture. I take make my way through a book of the Bible bit by bit, inch by inch, so that, like a chocolate bar that lasts a week, as I eat my way through it in small nibbles, I might spend a month or even more nibbling through on one chapter of scripture.
How do we get into the practice of not only reading God’s word, but savoring it like the psalmist? How do we get to the point of saying, “How sweet are your words to my taste! They are like honey to my mouth!”?
About three hundred years after Christ’s death and resurrection, there lived a man named Origen. He is one of the men who is considered a “Church Father,” and his writings on theology and spiritual practice remain wonderfully instructive for us today. Origen believed, as I believe, that God’s Word, or Logos, was incarnate in Scripture and could therefore touch and teach readers and hearers as they engaged with it. In other words, he believed that the words on these pages have a divine quality, and that as we read and meditate over them, they will speak to us. He believed, with the writer of Hebrews, that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
His practice and approach to engaging with God’s word carried on over the centuries, and today, we know this practice as “Lectio Divina,” which simply means, “divine reading.” Lectio Divina involves reading, praying, meditating, and contemplating God’s word. St. John of the Cross, whose “dark night of the soul” Janice mentioned last week, practiced Lectio Divina, and he said this: “Seek in READING and you will find in MEDITATION. Knock in PRAYER and it will be opened to you in CONTEMPLATION.”
The four aspects of Lectio Divina – reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation – are a great way to to both feast on God’s word and savor God’s word, helping us to better know God’s word.
But this passage from Deuteronomy is not just about knowing God’s word. It’s also about keeping God’s word.
And the thing I would add to Lectio Divina that I think makes it really complete is “Application.”
Reading, praying, meditating, contemplating, and applying God’s word.
Jesus Christ was God’s word incarnate when he walked as a man on earth, but in a way, we are God’s word in the flesh today. As God’s word fills us, it shapes us. After all — you are what you eat. As we make it a practice to feast on and savor God’s word, it will shape our thoughts, words and actions.
The apostle James understood that it is not enough to simple know God’s word. He wrote this:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Knowing God’s word only matters if we also keep God’s word. God’s word must shape our thoughts, words, and actions.
But there’s something else I want to point out from this passage—something that I hope will underscore this appeal to know and keep God’s word, and that is the outcome — the result.
Look again at Deuteronomy 8.
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers.”
God wants to bless our socks off, and living in the fullness of God’s blessing flows from knowing and keeping his ways. God, speaking through Moses, says keep the whole commandment “that you may live!”
So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
For each of us, there is promise and there is blessing. It will look different for each person, but one thing that is true for all of us today: to walk in the fullness of God’s blessing starts with knowing and keeping the word of God—by feasting on God’s word and savoring God’s word—by reading, praying, meditating, contemplating, and applying God’s word, “That we may live.”
Lord, fill our hearts with a hunger for your word that echoes the psalmist, who said, “How sweet are your words to my taste. They are like honey on my mouth!” As we spend time with your word in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, let us be shaped by and conformed to your word, that we may live fully and that others may experience Christ, the Word of God, through us. Amen.
NOTE: The above text is adapted from a sermon I preached at Mount View Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA, on Sunday, March 3, 2013.