Sermon: Take and eat, Jesus Christ, the Living Word

"The Sermon" by R.O. HodgellA sermon about words featuring a work by my favorite artist, which is also about words. 
Note: a number of Churches celebrate "Bible Sunday" every year as part of the Church Calendar. This year that Sunday falls on October 23. Thinking it was "Bible Sunday" this sermon was preached in error on October 16.

I want you to imagine something with me that is both horrifying and glorious.

Imagine not taking Communion anymore. Consider a time when we do not celebrate the Eucharist, that time of our week when the Church is at its most thankful. We partake of and remember the body and the blood of our Savior, his life poured out for us, giving life to the world.

But contemplate a time when we no longer gather around The Meal. It is both horrifying and glorious. The heart aches having to think of not being able to share in Christ's body and blood in this way. This is where we meet with him, this is where the Triune God is revealed to us, where spirit and body partake together. To think that this feast might be taken from us is horrifying indeed.

And yet, if the meal would cease, something must have changed. There must have been a shift of some kind, and a significant one at that. No, if we are no longer allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper, something else must have risen up in its place. Something even more wonderful.

Something similarly wonderful and awful happens in today's passage from Jeremiah. To start with, the Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, declares that he "will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah." That should get everyone's immediate attention. If you happen to be people of the covenant, people of the promise, and some prophet comes along and declares pretty soon there is going to be a new covenant, well, either this is very good news or we are probably going to have to get some rocks together for an old fashioned prophet stoning for blaspheming God's law.

But you see, the new covenant Jeremiah lays out does sound like awfully good news. As an introduction he tells us what this new covenant will not be. Here the Lord speaks: "It's not going to be like it was before when I took your fathers out of Egypt. They broke that covenant I made with them." God had done many miracles among them in those days. Their deliverance out of Egypt and their safe passage through the wilderness was a grand gesture from the Lord of his love and provision for his people. And then God gave Moses the Law, a sweeping, all-encompassing guide to being God's covenant people. This is how you worship the Lord, both through the inward condition of your hearts and through your outward rituals. And this is how you live together, with every practical regulation you can think of.

When is the last time you've read the Law though? And yes, I'm asking you 21st Century Christians. If I'm being honest I believe I have read Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy only one time through completely. I have read Exodus a couple of times and the first half of it several times. And what is your tally? My guess is relatively low, unless you are a far more judicious and legislative person than I. Why is this? Well, reading through The Law is a tedious chore. It is highly detailed and repetitious, and the very thought of having to contain all those details forever within you to make sure you know every jot and tittle for whatever situation arises in life is quite the personal burden.

No wonder they broke the covenant with the Lord. It was too much to keep. It was too burdensome. The path up to pure holiness was too steep. Can you imagine carrying a giant volume of the law around with you everywhere you go, continually consulting it every moment in order to make sure you are keeping it faithfully? If only something else could be done. If only there were another way. Here the new covenant God gives Jeremiah arrives to save the day: "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

This passage is a declaration! God will write his law on our hearts. In this we can rejoice. What sweet freedom is this? We shall know the Lord. The perfect practice of the Law will not be a cause for our separation from God. Instead his Law will be within us and our sins forgotten. We will be his people forever.

Actually, these promises have been quite normalized within Christianity. These are the promises we are most used to. To have God in our hearts and have our sins forgiven is a foregone conclusion for us Good News Christians. But we should be careful, for it does not only say God will be in us, it says his Law will be as well.

Let's read our Psalm response again, from Psalm 119:97-104, the great memorial to God's Law:
Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
 I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
 Through your precepts I get understanding;

therefore I hate every false way.

Here we can make a connection: the Law of God is synonymous with the Word of God and the Word of God is synonymous with God's nature, with God's very essence.

You see, as humans we are so often tempted to place the wrong emphasis on God's Law or God's Word. We treat it as the long list of rules to keep in the hopes of not messing up, all while continually messing up. We turn following God's Law into an idol, all while continually kicking ourselves for never following it well.

Our Psalm though offers us another way. To the psalmist, meditating on God's Word is a delight. It is a joyous feast. To follow God's Law is to follow in the way of wisdom and thus it is a good way, a desirable way. On top of this, it is the way to knowing God himself. 

And so here we make our next connection:
Two more works from Hodgell, also about words. (click for larger view)
For more information on Hodgell please visit this link: 
R.O. Hodgell: Master Linocutter
By saying "how sweet are your word to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth", we are making the intake of God's words a physical act. We are connecting what is eternal and spiritual to what is physical and temporary. We are ingesting God's Word. His Law is not within us but by eating it and digesting it, it becomes one with us.

This is most interesting indeed and our passage from 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 takes us even further. Again, we are told to live a certain way by Paul: "continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writing, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." Ah! Paul tells Timothy to follow closely the Word of God, the sacred writings, for this is how you will live rightly and believe rightly. But there is more: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

The Scriptures are breathed out by God.  Here is another connection: the words "breath" and "spirit" and "wind" are linked in the Scriptures. So another way of saying the 2 Timothy passage is "All Scripture is of God's Spirit." As God breathes out, his words come out and bring us life.

And here we will make a final series of connections, one after the other:
—The Spirit of God hovered over the waters and God spoke the world into being.
—God's presence was thick up on Mt. Sinai and God delivered the Word and the Law to Moses and the children of Israel.
—God spoke through (inspired) the words of the prophets.
—In John's Gospel we are told that the Word of God was with God in the beginning and through the Word the worlds were made. Jesus is the Word of God of whom the prophets spoke and this Word became flesh, dwelling among us. We have breath, spirit, and word all linked to physical creation.
—After his resurrection Jesus revealed himself to the disciples of Emmaus in the breaking of bread, and then later he breathed on his disciples saying "receive the Holy Spirit." The Word of life breathed the breath of life on them. Couldn't we possibly say that at that moment "the law was written on their hearts and they truly knew the Lord"? The Law and the Word was not outside of them as something to observe, but something internal that had become them.
—We see this again later on the day of Pentecost, the disciples filled with the Holy Spirit, literally having the words of God pour out of their mouths, a surplus of words and breath and spirit, a holy wind moving through them with tongues of fire. Peter spoke and people believed. The Word was spoke and the world came to be.

And so every time we gather around the table we partake of Jesus' body and blood. We proclaim his death and rising until he comes again in glory. In the Eucharist we are intaking the Word of God himself. The Spirit became flesh and in the body and blood the flesh becomes spirit again. We are given both physical and spiritual nourishment. The Word of God now inside us, we now know God.

There is a temptation to want to focus solely on God's Word or God's sacraments, to say, we should spend more time reading the Bible and preaching and teaching or to say, no, our focus should be on celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. We are tempted to believe one does more than the other. You might as well be arguing whether or not we should be spending more time breathing in or breathing out. Both are the soul and marrow of who we are in Christ. Both sustain us and nourish us. We read and internalize God's word and we eat and internalize the living Word of God Jesus Christ. As those created in God's image we are both spirit and body and it is in spirit and body that God meets us and changes us and uses us to bring about his Kingdom. At the consummation of all things there will come a time when taking Communion and intaking sermons will no longer be necessary. Christ will have come in his fullness and earth and heaven will forever be one in the New Jerusalem. 

But for now we need the Word and we need the Table. Therefore, let us connect it all, let us allow it all to exist together: spirit, body, breath, creation, word, bread, wine, and blood. For in doing so this is how we will be faithful to Paul admonition to Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 

May it be so of us as well.

Other Sermons:
Speaking the Truth in Love
Plunge into the glorious mystery: a sermon for Trinity Sunday
Taking a pilgrimage to the wounds of Christ with doubting Thomas
Reflections on the Death of Moses
Come to his marvelous light: a sermon for the Epiphany
We have a problem with authority: A sermon for Christ the King Sunday
Works Consulted (not cited)
Fee, Gordon. God's Empowering Presence. Pgs. 793-795.
Bruggeman, Walter. A Commentary on Jeremiah Pgs 289-295.
Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. I.2. Pg. 504.
Alcorn, Randy. "C.S. Lewis on Heaven and the New Earth" http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/c-s-lewis-on-heaven-and-the-new-earth-god-s-eternal-remedy-to-the-problem-of-evil-and-suffering
All Scripture quotes are ESV.

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