Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 34
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
1I will bless God at all times; God’s praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
3O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt God’s name together.
4I sought the Lord, and God answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5Look to God, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.
7The angel of God encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in God.
If you were to walk into the family room in our house, you probably would look around and think: “Someone in this family has a serious Cookbook Addiction.” The are shelves and shelves and shelves of cookbooks are a dead giveaway. The truth is, all three of us adore cookbooks, a fact that never goes unnoticed at gift-giving times. I’m probably the worst offender. I read Cookbooks like novels, front to back, like I’m following a good plot. I get caught up in the intrigue and challenge of new concoctions, teary eyed at the right moments over the poignant stories associated with the author’s favorite recipes, and I read between the lines for hints of the meaning of life. I’ve been known to stay up late reading cookbooks as if they were a riveting, fast paced drama I just can’t put down.
Not only do we love cookbooks at our house, we are also devoted to the Food Network. Once when Keziah was about 2-and-a-half years old, we were at Barnes and Noble where they had a big display of cookbooks by food network stars. She stopped and pointed at one after another saying: “Look Mommy, it’s Emeril! And there’s Rachel Ray. And Martha Stewart! And Sara Moulton! And the Barefoot ‘Tessa!” This child who could barely talk knew all of her Food Network stars by heart. Even today she watches “Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “The Next Food Network Star” with the intensity of a life long Food Network devotee.
Given my family’s preoccupation with cooking, I am naturally drawn to this passage from Isaiah and read it through my lens of interest in the alchemy of cooking. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Water, wine, milk, bread… it reads like a shopping list I might be putting together for a recipe. With my over-active imagination I immediately start filling in ingredients from a hypothetical Mediterranean diet: olives, honey, herbs, spices, juicy figs, ripe melons, fresh, wild caught fish. At the Biblical call to come and buy and eat I’m the first in line with my Farmer’s Market bag over my shoulder. My cookbooks are under my arm, ready to find the perfect recipe for these fresh ingredients.
But the unique thing about this Biblical shopping list is that the items don’t cost anything. “You who have no money, come and buy…” What kind of market is that? Even though I heard on the news this week that local Food Pantries are benefiting from the Market Basket boycott because the food chain is donating tons of food that is not being bought, free food and drink is the exception, not the rule. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Unless the farmer at the market is God.
God’s economy is not like ours. God’s generosity is beyond our imagining. And God’s process of putting together a recipe and making sure it has good results is the same as any good chef’s. Taste as you go. If I’ve learned one lesson from all my cookbooks and from watching the Food Network, it is the importance of tasting along the way, and making the necessary adjustments to insure that the flavor is what you want it to be when you serve the dish. I’m starting to think of God as the ultimate taste tester the Psalmist describes when saying: “Taste and see.” This sermon may begin with a list for the Farmer’s Market, but it ends with taste testing.
Sometimes I go to bed on Saturday nights and my sermon does not have an ending. Sometimes it is because I’ve been too busy with other things to make space for the sermon to develop, sometimes its because I’m lazy, and sometimes it is because “the word from God” just has not risen to the surface yet and I have to wait. Sometimes the revelation I seek to complete the sermon doesn’t show up until the Tuesday after I’ve preached a sermon. And sometimes, when I go to bed with an unfinished sermon I have a dream which may or may not be from God, but goes into the sermon because it just insists on being included.
So last night, when I went to bed my sermon didn’t have an ending. And last night I had this dream. I was visiting my home church in Virginia. I was supposed to go with my family, but we had had some silly family quarrel beforehand, something about whose turn it was to take a shower, so none of us were sitting together.
As it turns out, it was Children’s Sunday at First Baptist Danville, which means the kids were leading the service. And a new Youth Minister was in charge of the show. She was young and full of talent and promise and everyone hailed her as the next best thing. And as it turned out, the service was a disaster. Everything that could go wrong did. It was complete chaos. And at one point, a herd of sheep came charging into the sanctuary because it was a part of the play. (I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time but it took the disaster to a new level.) And then there was a dog who came along to clean up after the sheep. (I told you, I have a wild imagination.)
And in the middle of all this, a couple who had been members forever were going around stirring up dissent against the new minister. My home church had a very long history of having problems with its pastor, so this was not unexpected, but still not a good sign. And of course, the Youth Minister was in tears and had decided she was going to quit ministry all together. And people were leaving the sanctuary in drips and drabs, and the sanctuary was getting emptier and emptier.
The couple who were stirring up dissent started to triangle me into their battle with the pastor, and I confronted them on their behavior and refused to be pulled in. They walked away disappointed. I pulled the weepy, shell shocked youth minister aside and said: “You are not going to quit, you are going to go up there and thank the congregation for being open to a new learning experience, that we are here to learn together and to help each other grow. Remember, God is not looking for perfection but inviting us to grow and develop. Practice makes better.”
And I started texting my sister, who was in the balcony, and moving toward my mother, trying to patch up our family quarrel and make amends. And to one of the stalwart church ladies, who was trying to sneak out the back door I said: “You are the heart of this place, your loyalty and steadfastness and devotion and unconditional love are the very thing that will keep this place going. Stay. They need you.”
So in the dream I spoke the truth, called things as I saw them, remained neutral in the triangles, offered support and encouragement to the new, young leader, worked on my own family of origin issues, invited people to take responsibility for themselves, and built up the silent, but crucial part of the church for their ministries of love and devotion to God. My functioning in the dream was not too shabby. I was a chef who was constantly taste testing, checking in along the way for the flavor of the place, making adjustments as necessary.
So I woke up at 5:00 this morning and said: “Seriously, you want me to include this crazy dream in my sermon?”
It might look like I was the heroine of the dream, but believe me, I wasn’t. God was. It was only by the grace of God’s abundant generosity to me that I was able to use God’s gifts and function in a way that might have been helpful to the church of my dreams. And if it looks like I am the heroine of Old Cambridge Baptist Church, I’m not. It is only by the grace of God’s abundant generosity that I have been able to function in ways that may have been helpful to you during this intentional interim period. God is the heroine, the hero, of our dream church. Because God is constantly teaching us what it means to be an effective taste tester. God shows us how to dip our spoons into the brew that is our community of faith and to reflect on what we taste. God shows us how to identify what is missing, what is needed: to notice if the stew is flavorless and to add a dash of salt; to discern if the concoction is too bitter, and add a little sweetener; to identify what is working about the recipe and keep adding the things that make it better. When the church is working as God intends it to work, we are all engaged in the business of taste testing.
OCBC is in a good place right now. I know that my leadership has helped you to function at your best. I also know that any success we have celebrated is not just because of me and who I have been as a leader. The health we are experiencing right now is a result of our mutual intentionality, our shared work, and a strong dose of God’s generous presence. We have all been learning and practicing how to be better taste testers of this recipe that is Church.
I’ll leave in a few months, you will have transitional leadership, and then you will settle in with your new Pastoral leader. And you will continue to nurture health and build on the good work we have done because you have learned to constantly taste as you go along, to notice what leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, to recognize when it tastes just right. And we know when you have gotten the recipe right because you have tasted God’s sacred meal of love. You recognize the flavor of love, courage, justice, hope, and transformation because you have eaten that meal before, here at God’s sacred table. Come, taste and see. May the taste of God remain with us always! Amen.