The Prophet Jeremiah said: Your words were found and I ate them, and they became to me a joy and the delight of my heart… Jeremiah 15:16
Throughout scripture, cover to cover, we learn that God’s word is to be on our lips and in our hearts. We are people who are to speak the Good News and guard our tongues against speaking words of deceit or slander – after all, ‘the tongue is a double-edged sword’ and – as we heard last week – it’s what goes out of the mouth, not what comes in, that defiles us.
No, that the Word of God should be on our lips is certainly no surprise. As one of the most famous prayers from the prayerbook puts it, our task is to “hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the truth of God as revealed in the pages of scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit at work in the Church.
But – it might shock you to find out – that on at least three occasions in scripture, the prophets, the messengers of God, took this literally. Yes, three times in scripture, someone eats the Bible.
The prophet Ezekiel chows down on the word of God; John the Divine is told in a vision to eat a scroll, and it turns his stomach; and then in today’s Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah munches on and swallows up the Word of God written out on a sheet of goatskin.
Now before we get any ideas, this was not one of those “go and do likewise” sort of moments. No, this is a symbolic action meant to help us visualize and enter into the lessons God has for his people, much as the light spreading outward from a single candle in a dark church on Christmas Eve speaks the truth of our hope in the darkness of this world more deeply than any sermon, or praying alone in a darkened and silent church on the night before Good Friday allows us to really recognize the sacrifice of the cross.
The point is this: all the instruction about having the truth on our lips, about speaking the truth, about loosing our lips to praise, about opening our mouth to sing a new song of the Lord’s faithfulness, about our lips never failing to recite what the Lord has done, are not just happy thoughts or motivational words on a pretty plaque hung on your wall. No – God’s Word is not just something to think about; no, it’s meant to sustain us. God’s Word – the Truth we proclaim – is something to live by, something to guard us, guide us, keep us, and feed us through the ups and downs of life.
You Are What You Eat
I’ve always said that one of the central points of Christianity is, simply, “you are what you eat”. It was through eating that which wasn’t ours that humanity first tasted the fruit of disobedience. It’s through looking back through our journey through the lone and dreary wilderness that we taste and see that the Lord is good, and happy are those who put their trust in Him. Christ invites us to join him as sons and daughters of God adopted in the waters of baptism and cleansed in his one perfect offering on the cross, but to do that – to share in his risen life, to remain part of his body, to become like him – we must eat his flesh and drink his blood in the sacrament he gave us. And, we are a people who feed on the truth of the Gospel.
And this is where those symbolic actions of the prophets are important. The Word of God was never intended to be knowledge safely stored in a book, learned once in Sunday School or Confirmation Class, or studied in the hallowed halls of seminaries, and then put back on the shelf. The Word of God was never meant to be displayed – covers closed – on a coffee table or next to your bed. No, these aren’t just words to live by, they’re words to live on; as the prophets show us, they’re meant to be consumed – one translation even says “devoured” – to give us the energy, the direction, the substance we need to move forward; like the manna in the wilderness, like the gifts from the Lord’s Table, the Word of God is our daily bread.
Like an athlete fueling up for a race, we’ve been given a banquet of truth and hope and good news to fuel up as we face the road ahead each day. As we read today in Romans, we’re to rejoice in hope, and be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer. Add that to turning the other cheek, praying for our enemies, and caring for those in need, and that’s quite a tall order, especially if we find ourselves scavenging and scrounging just to find enough hope to get out of bed in the morning, as we have some days lately in our house.
But God never intended for us to scavenge and scrounge within ourselves to drum up some hope or peace. He’s laid out a banquet; he’s given us our daily bread; he’s invited us to pull up a chair and feast on his Word… but, just like the prophets, God doesn’t force feed us; it’s on us to open up, take it in, enjoy the sweetness, chew on the tough parts, and let that God-given diet of even a few verses of His Word transform us from the inside out, like our daily vitamins and glucosamine pills that transform us, that loosen up our stiff joints as we prepare to run the race ahead.
I ate it… and it turned my stomach sour.
You are what you eat, and we are to inwardly digest and live on the truth of God’s Word. But there’s one other warning we see in the example of the prophets who took this image all the way and munched on their Bibles.
John chewed on the scriptures, but found very quickly that it turned his stomach sour.
Now, let’s be clear, that’s not a defect in the word of God. No, no matter how good and nourishing the meal, the are just some things that cannot go together.
It’s happened to all of us – you brush your teeth, so you can present yourself to the world all fresh and minty clean, and then you pour up a refreshing glass of orange juice. Now it could be the finest, freshly squeezed orange juice in the world, but if you drink it after brushing your teeth… ugh, I cringe just thinking about it.
The same goes for scripture – it’s often hard to swallow when we’ve been trying to freshen ourselves up in the eyes of the world. But, like lots of good medicine, there’s no benefit if it sits in a bottle on the shelf; sometimes we have to get over the taste and let it work from the inside out.
Someone asked me this week, “how have you managed to keep going in the pandemic? It seems like you have so much energy, and I just feel like sitting on the couch in my pyjamas.”
“Well,” I said, “don’t be fooled. “I’ve spent plenty of time on the couch… and have the pandemic gut and chin to show for it”.
But – and I say this with all seriousness, and not just because I’m the priest – when I drag my butt off the couch and come to the church to say morning prayer – yes, a couple times even with pyjamas under my cassock – I find my daily bread. Every day, without fail, there’ll be a lesson, or a phrase, or maybe just a word I hadn’t noticed before, that gives me energy, that gives me hope to rejoice in, that gives me strength to persevere, that gives me the trust I need to be patient, and to allow God to guard me, guide me, keep me, and feed me.
…and then I come home, and I don’t want to do anything. Some days I’ll get stuck scrolling Facebook; some days I’ll make the mistake of turning on the news and wind up depressed; some days I’ll stare out the window and wonder why the clock has stopped moving and time is going so slow. But, sooner or later, the story, the phrase, that word will bubble up from within and encourage me, and suddenly I’m given the hope that I lack, the energy to run the race, and the patience I need to keep myself out of trouble.
Feed your enemy, and offer them something to drink.
God’s Word is our daily bread. And I want to draw your attention to one more thing we heard this morning. From Romans (12:20-21): “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”
Do you think this is just about a slice of bread or a plate of cookies?
If someone drives us nuts – if someone goes out of their way to embarrass us, or put us down, or make us feel worthless, or is just stubbornly in our way, we’re to have the word of God on our lips, we’re to rejoice in hope and speak the truth in love, even when it’s hard to swallow. That’s because, even for our worst enemies, our task by the grace of God, is to lead them to the living water that is Jesus Christ, who pardons us, provides for us, and guides us on, all the days of this (crazy) journey set out before us.
My friends – let’s be people who feed on the word of God… just not literally; after all, self-serve food is prohibited.
 The Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent written by Abp. Thomas Cranmer in 1549 and contained in every Book of Common Prayer since.
 Ok… not an actual modern-day Bible, but a scroll containing biblical text…
 In Biblical Studies we would call this a “prophetic sign-act”, a non-verbal dramatic action to visualize the message they brought to the people.