Sunday, March 1, 2020

Sermon: “Sensing the Sacred: Taste the Divine”, Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7/Matthew 4:1-11 (March 1, 2020)

(This is the second sermon in our Lenten series, "Sensing the Sacred". 
The first sermon can be found here.)


Food is DANGEROUS. Or at least, we tend to think of food as dangerous. How many of you have ever described yourself as “bad” for taking a second helping at dinner? How many of you have ever described dessert as “a temptation”? If you’re giving something up for Lent, how many of you have chosen to forgo some sort of food item? Our relationship with food isn’t all lighthearted self-deprivation, either: over 30 million Americans struggle with disordered eating;[1] for these people, any event involving food is a minefield of emotional, physical, and psychological danger. What’s more, about 32 million Americans have allergies to food, with 200,000 people being hospitalized for them in the U.S. every year.[2] For these people, the prospect of eating food at any given time can literally be a matter of life and death. Suffice it to say, even though food is the necessary fuel to sustain human life, many of us have a complicated relationship with it, for all sorts of reasons.

This isn’t how things were supposed to be. God created the first human beings to be in a life-giving relationship with all food borne of the earth. Humans were meant to symbiotically care for the plants that would provide them with all the nourishment they needed. There was just one small caveat: they weren’t supposed to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That’s all; just the one plant. No big deal. And yet, all it took to upend this pleasant arrangement was one snake questioning God’s simple request. Thus began humanity’s preoccupation with “good” food and “bad” food. Suddenly, the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil wasn’t just “the food that we happen not to eat”. It became intriguing, an irresistible temptation, precisely because it was now perceived as “forbidden”.

Interestingly, the very first “forbidden fruit” wasn’t declared so by humans at all, but by Godself. But it had nothing to do with the fruit’s intrinsic morality or even our physical well-being. God’s reason for drawing boundaries between humanity and certain foods were entirely unlike the ones we most often give today (medical issues aside). It wasn’t about keeping our bodies looking a certain way or exhibiting self-control. God doesn’t use food to demonstrate power or to regulate human behavior. When God told Adam and Eve that the result of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was death, it wasn’t a threat and it wasn’t a test. It wasn’t intended to introduce the idea of “good” versus “bad” food. It was an effort to preserve the relationship between the human and the divine.

See, God’s warning wasn’t arbitrary. The tree’s name gives it away: eating from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” would give humanity the knowledge of what’s good and what’s evil (I know, spoiler alert). This doesn’t sound like a bad thing necessarily, but the serpent seems to get why God would want to prevent it: if humanity were to eat from the tree, then they would become like God. With humanity able to discern good and evil, the Edenic world that God had so lovingly created would be thrown out of balance. No more would humanity be content to rely on God. No more would human beings be willing to defer to the knowledge of their creator. The divine/human relationship would no longer be one of implicit trust. Along with moral understanding, arrogance and hubris would be introduced into the world. With a single taste, the relationship between humanity and God would never be the same. THAT was what God wanted to prevent.

As far as God’s concerned, no food is innately good or evil. The danger—or benefit!—lies in how we approach it, and how that attitude influences our relationship with God. For example, if we eat chocolate constantly, concerned only with the immediate feelings of pleasure that the taste gives us, we’re setting ourselves up for a fractured relationship with the divine in ways that we might not expect. I don’t know anyone who’s ever felt anything other than grumpy and lethargic after a sugar-crash—certainly not in any frame of mind to worship or express gratitude towards God. But most of us also recognize how the taste of a good piece of chocolate, when eaten slowly and deliberately, can provide a transcendent, practically religious, experience (and I’m only partly exaggerating here). The food item—and the taste—is identical in both scenarios. The difference lies in the context and our approach.

When it comes to food and spirituality, context truly is everything. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, the temptation didn’t lie in the food that the adversary was offering. There’s obviously nothing wrong with eating bread. Even fasting doesn’t suddenly turn eating bread into a sin: God created the human body to require nourishment, and no spiritual discipline supersedes that. No, as was the case in Genesis, the temptation lay in the potential damage to the divine/human relationship that this taste could inflict. Certainly, Jesus could have easily created bread from stones as Satan suggested, justified by his hunger. But in this context, such an act would have constituted sacred treason, since Satan’s intention was clearly to entice Jesus to self-reliance apart from God. To taste bread in this context would have driven a wedge between the Father and the Son. So, Jesus refused.

And yet, 22 chapters later in the gospel, Jesus takes bread, shares it with his friends, and invites them to eat it together. To taste the bread, he told them, was to encounter his own body, broken on their behalf. Together, they ate and drank, experiencing a profound connection with the divine through the very same food that had earlier been used to tempt Jesus. Today, when we take these same actions, breaking the bread, pouring the cup, and tasting it together, we call it “Communion”, because (by definition) communing is the act of sharing and connecting. Whereas the taste of bread in one context is a barrier to relationship with God, in another, it serves as the ultimate way for us to experience the divine.

We often see taste as a source of temptation, but it can also be a source of connection if we approach it in the right way. Food isn’t dangerous after all. Food is just a resource that offers us a choice. We can choose to use it in a way that damages our relationship with God, that dishonors the gifts of nourishment and physicality and enjoyment that God offers through food…or we can choose to use it in a way that gives life, that fosters connection, and inspires holiness. This isn’t always easy, but that’s why God also offers us community—to help us in our struggle. Reach out and ask for help if you need it. Together, we can experience taste the way God intends us to: as a sacred act that nourishes both our bodies AND our spirits.

In a few moments, I’ll invite you forward to come and share in this feast that we call Communion. I’ll invite you to experience this connection between us and God, between those of us in this room and our siblings around the world, through your sense of taste. This time, don’t just take your wafer or piece of bread and swallow it unthinkingly. Place it on your tongue. Let it sit there for a moment. Savor the sweetness of the juice mingling with the simplicity of the starch. Think about the memories that these tastes bring to mind: memories of church, perhaps, or of hunger being sated, or of fellowship being shared. Think about what Christ is offering to you through the bread in THIS context, in THIS moment. Think about what it would be like to not know this taste: to be forbidden from taking part in this sacrament, or to be unsure when you’ll next be able to afford something as simple as bread. Think about the blessing of this taste, and think about the responsibility that it places upon you. Think about what you feel when you encounter this ordinary taste in this unique way. And give thanks to God for this experience of the divine. Amen.

*This week, I invite you to consider what tastes make you feel connected to God. Let me know in the comments!*


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