a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, UCC
September 4, 2022
Psalm 81 NRSV
1Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
2Raise a song, sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
3Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festal day.
4For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
5He made it a decree in Joseph, when he went out over the land of Egypt.
I hear a voice I had not known:
6“I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket.
7In distress you called, and I rescued you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
8Hear, O my people, while I admonish you; O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
10I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
11“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.
12So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.
13O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!
14Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.
15Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever.
16I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
“Open wide,” your mother said when you were a baby waiting to be fed pureed carrots. “Open wide,” the doctor would say before sticking that wooden tongue depressor in your mouth to check your tonsils. “Open wide,” the dentist would say, before sticking some instrument of torture into your mouth to scrape, or drill, or stick a needle in your mouth. Ugh! When the best choice you have is pureed carrots, there is ANY good choice is there?
“Open your mouth wide,” says God, “and I will fill it…. I will feed you with the finest of the wheat, and the honey from the rock – I would satisfy you!” Now there’s a better offer. Yet how often do we treat God like a not-so-heavenly dentist? How often do we act as if God were a scary MD wanting to stick something down our throats we don’t want? God offers us the most delicious, satisfying, heavenly food and we act like it was fish heads and rice, or liver of a horse and kidney of a cat.
When we are really hungry how often do we reach for the least nutritious of foods? Starving we say, and we reach for Cheetos and a diet soda. Famished we say, and we grab the big bag of double stuff Oreos and munch them down. Can’t take time to cook we say, and we buy that slice of five hour old cheese pizza at the 7-11 and wash it down with a beer. Pint of Ben and Jerry’s “Phish Food” for dessert. Yum. But not especially nutritious. Not really “the finest of bread and honey from the rock.”
The Prophet Isaiah, [ 55:2 ] reports God asking us, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your earnings, for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” God reminds us continually that we can feed on the nourishment of God’s word, yet we barely know it. I have to confess I fear I spend far more time in Winn-Dixie than I do praying for God to feed my soul. And then I wonder why my spirit hungers.
In our heart of hearts we know those things we snack on aren’t satisfying what we really hunger for. The word “rock” in verse 16 – “with honey from the rock I would satisfy you,” is a Hebrew work meaning a “place of security and safety.” Can you remember sharing a meal with others in a place where you felt secure and safe? You might think of a Thanksgiving Day meal with your family and perhaps others at the table. That’s what we long for. That’s what we hunger for. So while this is Labor Day weekend not Thanksgiving, this morning the question we face with this passage is about “why do you labor for that which does not satisfy.” Why do we labor for so many things that cannot, that do not, satisfy our souls? God wants to provide us with food for our bodies and also a place of security and safety for our spirits and our lives.
The Psalm begins with a call to celebrate, to sing, to worship God. “Sing aloud to God our strength, shout for joy,” raise a song! For Israel it was a way to thank God for rescuing them from Egypt, from slavery, from chains and abuse at the hands of others. But Israel, like us has turned to strange gods. Yahweh, the God who rescued those Hebrew slaves and made a nation of them, didn’t quit when they got to the new land. God kept on with blessings. We have the same God. There is no difference between the God of the Hebrew people and the Father of Jesus.
So let us open our mouths wide in praise and worship and song to God, not just on Sunday, but each day. On this Labor Day let us remember that the truth that praising God is just as much our labor as whatever we do to pay for food. The fact is, when we worship God, when we sing praises and pray to God, it feeds our souls as much as a T-bone steak feeds our bodies. Our souls were made to praise God and when we don’t, we starve our spirits. Our souls and spirits hunger as much as our bodies.
Remember too, that, “Food plays a conspicuous role in the Bible [ Rev. Dan Clenendin, journeywithjesus.net, Sept 1, 2013. ] Jews celebrate liberation from Egypt with the Passover meal. Many of their commandments deal with dietary guidelines. Jesus’s first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding party. The gospels speak of the Last Supper. There are stories about feeding the multitudes, farming,” and fasting. [There are words about] which foods are ritually clean or unclean…. and about the poor begging crumbs from the rich. Many parables that Jesus told are stories in which food is a metaphor for power that builds or destroys human community.”
Sometimes people argue that children shouldn’t take communion until they fully understand what it means. I argue that we wouldn’t withhold vegetables from a child until they understand the importance of nutrition. If bodily nutrition is important how much more important is spiritual nutrition? The theologian John Calvin, after a writing a lot of words about the theological meaning of Communion wrote ‘I would rather experience it than understand it.’ God says, “Open wide, and I will feed you with the finest wheat and give you honey from the rock.”
Martin Copenhaver, a UCC pastor and theologian, said, [ “Eating Jesus,” day1.org, August 26, 2012 ], “The early church simply said that the risen Christ was with them at their celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. In the Middle Ages complicated attempts were made to explain how and when Christ was present in the sacrament. Theories of ‘transubstantiation’ were created. That’s the belief that somehow the very substance of the bread and wine is transformed into the substance of the flesh and blood of Christ, even though the outward appearance of the bread and wine remain unchanged. Protestant reformers, while affirming Christ’s presence at the church’s celebrations of the sacrament, were disturbed by such interpretations. To them, it reduced the sacrament to alchemy, a form of sacred magic.
Copenhaver says, “the manner and means of Christ’s presence cannot be captured by this or any other explanation. Christ’s presence is real in this sacrament, but the manner and means of that presence may remain mysteries to us forever. I don’t mean a ‘mystery’ in the same way that a magician’s pulling a rabbit out of a hat is mysterious.” The mystery of “how” Christ is present “is forever beyond the reach of explanation. It is more like the mystery of love. Where does love come from? How is it sustained? How does it sustain us? We never fully know, but the power is no less real because of our inability to explain it. It is nothing less than the mystery and the power of Jesus made real to us.” Truth sometimes is experienced without words.
Finally, I believe that, when God invites us to share this table, God is reminding us that our relationship with God is always revealed in how we relate to others. Do we welcome everyone to this table? Yes, because God welcomes everyone. God invites us and everyone to open wide and let God fill our lives. God created a world of abundance and of plenty. God intended for all people to have enough to live on and be blessed. This same God has plenty of room for everyone to come to this table.
Let us remember all the ways God has filled our lives, and our mouths. Let us remember to praise God for all that we have been given. And let us know that God is our rock – the place where we will find true safety and security, not from others, but with others. There is always room at God’s table for another mouth to fill. “Open your mouth wide,” says God, “and I will fill it.” AMEN.