August 4, 2019
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:3
Every August I spend a couple of days planning my preaching for the next twelve months. It’s almost time to do that again. I save sermon ideas in a file. Here I have the scrap of paper for this morning’s sermon that has been in my file for awhile.
It says right here this was to have been preached on June 26, 2016. But when that date came, I changed my mind and decided to preach on something else. Same thing in 2017. Same thing in 2018. I thought this was a decent sermon idea, but when it came down to actually preaching it, I just couldn’t get too excited.
We’re talking today about eating the Bible, by the way. That doesn’t sound like a very appealing thing to do or to preach about, so this little scrap of paper kept getting recycled and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever actually give this morning’s sermon.
Then I spent some time with our granddaughter around her first birthday last March. One day I was on the floor playing with her and I noticed that she loved her cloth books. Except she wasn’t interested in reading them. She was interested in eating them. So I took this picture.
And with this picture in my arsenal, I knew I was finally ready to preach a sermon about eating the Bible!
It’s a very strange passage of scripture that we read this morning. Ezekiel is a very strange book. Remember, Ezekiel is that teenager who was forcibly removed from his home in Jerusalem as part of the Babylonian exile. God spoke through him during this trying time for the Jewish people. He was what we call a prophet.
But in order to speak God’s words it seems he first had to eat God’s words. God said: “Eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Ezekiel said: “Then I ate it; it was in my mouth as sweet as honey” (3:3).
Maybe the only book in the Bible stranger than Ezekiel is the last book of the Bible. Revelation. And there is a strikingly similar passage in Revelation. In this case, John is God’s prophet and he too is required to eat God’s words before he can speak God’s words,
Then the voice which I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll which is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter (Revelation 10:8-10).
You notice that both Ezekiel and Revelation say the taste of the scroll was “sweet as honey.”
So my mind went to work. I remembered a song. I was pretty sure I learned this song as a little kid in Sunday school. It had a refrain that said something about “sweeter than honey.” I couldn’t quite recapture it. But I was sure if I could, it would be perfect for us to sing today. So I kept looking. Finally I found it. And we’re not going to be singing it. It’s that old Claude King song called “Wolverton Mountain.” The refrain I was trying to remember goes: “Her tender lips are sweeter than honey.” So I probably didn’t learn it in Sunday school after all.
You’re probably wondering what these bizarre passages about eating the Bible could possibly have to say to us today. I was wondering the same thing. But here is what I have come up with: There is a difference between possession and consumption.
Here’s what I mean. I possess this apple. I am holding it in my hand. It’s a nice looking apple. We all can enjoy it’s bright color and appetizing appearance. An apple is a good thing to possess, I think you will agree. But it’s a far better thing to consume. Take a bite out of it. Taste it. Chew it. Swallow it. Allow the nourishment God has packed into it to nourish you.
Or take this Bible. I can hold it. I can thump it. I can admire it. I can spend a little extra for a genuine leather cover so it will look and feel even better. But possessing a Bible is not at all the same as consuming a Bible. And I don’t mean taking a bite out of it. I mean reading it. Studying it. So what is inside this Bible is now inside me. It’s part of me. It has nourished me. It has changed the person I am.
We can also say this: There is a difference between information and transformation. I might know everything in this book. I have mastered its content. I could pass a test. I could maybe even become the new “Bible Answer Man.” But if it’s just information in my head, I am still missing the point of why the Bible was written. God inspired the Bible not just to inform us, but to transform us – to make us new and better people.
I think that is what is going on in both Ezekiel and Revelation. You might ask whether they literally did put those scrolls in their mouths, chew them up, and swallow. I hope not. Especially if they were large scrolls. That would not be very good on anyone’s digestive system. But I hope you can see the deeper meaning. There is a difference between possession and consumption. And there is also a difference between information and transformation.
So let’s take the information we have gleaned thus far and see what we can do with it to achieve transformation – so that we can be new and better people.
1) We read our Bibles regularly. Just like we eat regularly. We don’t get all enthusiastic about new recipes or new restaurants and gorge ourselves for several days in a row, and then get interested in other things and forget to eat for several weeks. God designed our bodies to function best when we re-fuel at several consistent intervals each day. If we would ever forget to eat and drink for as long a period of time as I know some of us forget to do our daily devotions, we would be dead. And so if we are not as alive as we might be spiritually, we shouldn’t wonder why.
Now that our church website is back up and running, we again have a way for anyone who visits our website to leave a message for the pastor. I’ve been getting some strange ones. I got one while I was working on this with the subject line “Very Important News”. The message started, all in caps: DONALD TRUMP AND THE RISE OF THE THIRD TEMPLE – BIBLICAL PROPHECY UNFOLDING. It was followed by 52 paragraphs of text. I counted them. I didn’t read them. It took one paragraph for me to conclude this was some of the wackiest stuff I had seen in a long time.
There are good Christian people out there, apparently quite a few of them, who are so obsessed with the Bible that it takes over. They lose all balance. They get carried away. They get caught up on one hobby horse or another and they won’t get off. Not the healthiest way to live your life, on many levels, including the spiritual.
Jesus told the scribes and the Pharisees that they were basically going off the deep end on things that didn’t really matter. He said:
You have neglected the weightier matters of the law – justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others (Matthew 23:23).
I love it when people find Jesus and get excited about their faith. But I worry when it becomes an obsession. There’s a comedian who calls himself Michael Jr. He talks about people who are “over-saved.” He says you can tell someone is “over-saved’ if they don’t use a computer because it has a cursor. Or if they only eat pizzas that have been delivered. Or if they pray for their vacuum cleaner because it is a Dirt Devil.
So what’s my point? Make the Bible part of your life on a regular, consistent basis. That’s the healthiest way to eat food, and that’s also the healthiest way to digest God’s Word and grow in your faith.
2) Take the time it takes. We used to take time with our meals. Mealtime was an “event.” We would start from scratch. There would be hours of preparation. Then a slow, leisurely meal, at a table, not in front of a television screen. With plenty of time to talk.
It’s different now, for many of us. Has anybody counted the number of fast food restaurants that have popped up just on the short drive along 12th Avenue Road from here to Wendy’s? We’re in a hurry. We’re into convenience. We hardly have time to stop and eat.
You’ve heard how single guys living alone eat their meals? They take it out of the freezer, put in the microwave, and eat it over the sink.
Meals are not meant to be eaten that way. And the Bible is not meant to be read that way. The Bible is meant to be savored.
There are so many Bible study resources available today that it is tempting to take short cuts. We read something we don’t understand and we want to find out what it means. So we do a computer search and we have immediate access to somebody else’s wisdom. And often what we find is real good and real helpful, but the problem is we deprive ourselves of the time it takes to hear God speaking to us through that passage. It’s great that God spoke to somebody else, but maybe God has something else to say to you.
It’s amazing how the same passage of scripture can speak to me in different ways when I read it at different times. I really think it’s a Holy Spirit thing. The same Holy Spirit who inspired those who wrote the Bible inspires us as we read the Bible to receive the meaning that is meant for us at that particular moment. But the Holy Spirit cannot be rushed. So take the time it takes. All good things take time.
3) Balance is best. When I was a child, I didn’t see anything wrong with a steady diet of candy. But each Halloween I would learn that my parents knew best. A little candy is a treat. Too much candy makes you sick.
And so of course we all know that it is important to eat a balanced diet. We don’t just eat what we like and what we crave. We eat what our body needs to function the way it is designed to function.
It’s the same with the Bible. There are parts of the Bible that we really like. I Corinthians 13 for example. We looked at that last week. Everyone loves the love chapter. And there are parts of the Bible that are kind of like eating our vegetables. Ezekiel for example. You may have noticed this is the second time in three Sundays that we’ve been in Ezekiel. And I hope you’ve noticed that there are some valuable things even in this strange and difficult book.
The Bible is more a library than it is a single book. It has 66 books. And these books are very different. Some have to do with God’s law for us to live by. Some record the history of God’s people. Some have beautiful, inspirational poetry. Some are books of prophecy. Some tell the story of Jesus. Some are letters written to various early churches. Some are easy to read and easy to understand. Some, like Ezekiel, are very difficult.
We tend to want to cherry pick certain verses that we like and that go along with what we already believe. Kind of like I tend to keep going back to McDonalds. But God gave us different flavors and different choices for a reason. We need balance and variety to be healthy. With food and with scripture.
All scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so
that the people of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:16).
4) We need each other. As we read about Jesus, it seems he was always eating and he was never eating alone. Food brings people together. And so food is going to bring us together as we share a meal following worship today.
Meals are meant to be social events. And so is reading and studying the Bible. That’s why we come together each Sunday morning. You could have worshiped at home. There are lots of preachers better than me on your television or radio or computer. But something special happens when God’s people come together. And so we are told in Hebrews:
Do not neglect to come together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (10:25).
The Bible was originally written to be read aloud in groups. Very few people knew how to read. And even if they did, the scrolls on which scripture was written were few and far between. The whole idea was to gather in an assembly to hear someone read what they wouldn’t have been able to read for themselves.
So today, even though I think most of you know how to read and could very well read the scripture for yourself, we still take time each Sunday as part of worship to have one of you come up to the front and read the Bible out loud. Then we say, “The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.” And we have a class that gives you the opportunity to talk about the scripture. To ask questions. To learn from others. To share your lives. As it says in that Hebrews scripture, to “encourage one another.” Because we need each other to grow in our faith. We need each other for the Bible to be more than information. The Bible was written for transformation, that we can become new and better people.
It seems appropriate today as we have been talking figuratively about eating the Bible, that this is a communion Sunday. We are soon going to be hearing the invitation, “Take and eat.” Not figuratively, but literally. The bread of Jesus’ broken body. The wine of Jesus’ shed blood. We will taste, and chew, and swallow. And it will not be bitter. It will be sweet. “As sweet as honey.”
God has come to us in Jesus. But that’s only the beginning. God now wants to come into us. To transform us. To make us new. To make us better. To make us more like Jesus.
Thank you, God. You didn’t have to send Jesus. You didn’t have to inspire the Bible. You could have kept your distance and left us alone. But somehow your love for us wouldn’t let you do that. And so now the least we can do to express our thanks is to receive what you have given to us. Not tentatively or reluctantly or half-heartedly. Not to hold your love at arm’s length. But to joyously allow your love to come in. So that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. In his name we pray, Amen.