Creekside Church
Sermon of January 3, 2020

"Sermon Title"
Psalm 1:7-10

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! I wish I had thought of the theme of this service myself, but the idea came from Anne Griffith, who let me know that she was going to do the children story this Sunday and she was going to talk about bees, not matter what the sermon was about. I figured I might as well get with the program, and frankly, there’s enough bee material in the Bible to keep me busy for a while. I hope you know that we have a bee ministry here at Creekside: so far it’s a bee ministry and we’ll see if it becomes a honey ministry -- the bees are working on it--but for the time being, we have added 5 hives and at least 50,000 associate members at Creekside Church. The light blue hives are back toward the Yellow Creek on the northwestern edge of the property: folks in your cars may be able to see the hives from the north end of the parking lot. Scott Harney or Ron Nicodemus would be happy to take you back and introduce you to the bees, but it might be simpler for you to see some of the photos taken by Larry Ford, which Gary has posted on Creekside’s FaceBook page. They include Ron Nicodemus with a bee frame and some young beekeepers from the Kids’ Garden Club, along with Camp Mack staffer Kristen Werling. I know we have lots of good workers at Creekside, but these bees are pretty impressive: they put in way more hours than your pastor does, they don’t go on vacation to Michigan, and they never complain. All the workers are female, incidentally. There are loads of interesting facts about bees and honey-making which I could share with you, but Ron Nicodemus has already written about many of them for publication in the Bee Line feature in the Connection newsletter; I’m happy to have you read about bees there, and I’m going to concentrate on bees and especially honey in the Bible. Fair enough?

If you have even a glancing acquaintance with the Old Testament, you’ve probably heard the phrase which was used to describe the land which God promised to the Hebrew people, a land flowing with . . . milk and honey. Sounds sticky, right? Of course, the phrase “milk and honey” is shorthand for fruitfulness, prosperity and abundance: the Promised Land was so great that the best foods people could imagine were just gushing out of it: a little like the American Depression era vision of the Big Rock Candy Mountain, where the food was free and the living was easy. How good is the Promised Land? It is SO good that it’s flowing with milk and honey. And of course any place THAT good is almost like heaven, the land which is promised to all believers. This is why in the ancient church, new Christians emerging from the waters of baptism were given a sip of milk and a taste of honey: it was a foretaste of God’s promise. A bit of honey is a taste of heaven.

But there’s another biblical tradition about honey which is related, but a little more complex. It is about the sweetness of God’s Word: the goodness of God’s law. We heard this in the text which Jeff read and which Diane Lund found set to music from Psalm 19: the law of the Lord is sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Psalm 119 is 176 verses celebrating God’s law and commandments, and verse 103 says “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” God’s Word as honey is a lovely image of goodness and delight. That was -- and is -- the Jewish attitude about the law. Not a set of rules, or even a lot of fine print with information about how to follow the rules and what would happen to people who didn’t follow the rules. Torah: the word we typically translate as “law” can also be called “teaching,” or gracious instruction. And like honey, God’s Word is not really satisfying if we just look at pictures of it, or even if we read recipes about how we could use it in our favorite foods: the purpose of us having honey is so that we can eat it; so we can take it in, let it nourish us, and incorporate it into who we are.

Eugene Peterson, the biblical scholar who developed The Message paraphrase of the Bible, wrote a wonderful volume on reading the Bible; it’s titled Eat This Book. It’s a memorable title, and it’s based on an account from Revelation Chapter 10. I’m going to share Peterson’s telling of the Revelation story:

[John] saw a gigantic angel, one foot planted in the ocean and the other on the continent, with a book in his hand. From this comprehensive land-sea pulpit the angel was preaching from the book, a sermon explosive with thunder . . . John started to write down what he was hearing -- he’d never heard a sermon like this one -- but then he was told not to. A voice told John to take the book from this huge angel, this God-Messenger preaching from his world-straddling pulpit. And so he did, he walked up to the angel and said, “Give me the book.’ The angel gave it to him, but then said, “Here it is; eat it. Eat this book. Don’t just take notes on the sermon. Eat the book.’ And John did it. He put away his notebook and pencil. He picked up his knife and fork. He ate the book.

What a great image of what it means to receive God’s Word: not just with our minds or our intellect, not with skepticism or criticism, but with the same joy and delight with which we would taste and eat something sweet and delicious. It’s even delicious the second time around: this account from Revelation is a reference to a similar story of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel being told to eat a scroll which contains the words of God.

A few words of explanation: I appreciate biblical commentary and critique, including that from scholars such as Eugene Peterson. I believe that we should bring our minds and our experience to our reading of the Bible: even the most enthusiastic consumers of the Bible have come across things which are hard to swallow -- that’s a different sermon. But as Christians, I think we have a responsibility to approach the Bible with an appetite for what’s there, and an attitude which assumes that it is healthy and life-giving. In this story from Revelation, John is warned that the book will taste sweet in his mouth but be bitter in his stomach -- and that’s how it goes down. And the voice which spoke to John was told that he was going to have to prophesy again: that is, he would have to share God’s words with people who didn’t want to hear it: folks who weren’t sold on this particular dessert.

The words of God are not sweet because they say whatever we want them to say, or give us only what we want to eat. The Bible is not cotton-candy, spun from sugar which melts away as soon as we put it in our mouths. Honey is the result of a lot of hard work -- not so much from the bee keepers, like Scott and Ron, as much as we appreciate them -- but from the bees themselves. Worker bees live and average of 5-6 weeks, visit 50-100 flowers on every nectar-gathering trip, and produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime. Honey, especially in the world of the Bible, was not only a sweetener, it was a medicine, and it had antiseptic properties for dressing wounds, and was used as a salve for burns and cuts. Salve, or healing ointment is of course related to the word salvation: in the Greek of the New Testament, the same word means to be “saved” or to be “healed.” The words of God are not only sweet in our mouths, they are the salve which brings health and wholeness.

I’d invite you to think of a favorite passage or verse of scripture which you can carry with you this week: it’s great if you have it memorized, but write it down if that helps you. Words of strength and healing; words of promise or challenge: words like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” “Rejoice in the Lord always” “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” or “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” If you don’t have a favorite that comes to mind, I have a suggestion that you can take on your way out today, or you can take some time to search for your own -- there are resources online which can help you find verses by topics like friendship, hope, or strength. If you have or find a verse which speaks to you, please share it with me after the service, or by phone or text or email: I’d love to hear what sweetness gives you strength and encouragement. If you want help finding a verse, let me know, and I’ll be happy to give you a suggestion or search with you. As Psalm 119:24 says: Your decrees are my delight, they are my counselors. May you have a sweet week, filled with health and wholeness. Amen.

 

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