23rd Sunday after Pentecost – October 28, 2018 – Psalm 34:8 – Trinity Church, Winchester, TN
Psalm 34 verse eight says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him.”
These are comforting words, but they are also hard words to hear after recent events. After yesterday’s shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburg, PA the only thing I can taste is our country’s steady diet of hate speech and blood.
The King James Version puts it like this, “O taste and see how gracious the Lord is: blest is the man that trusteth in him.” Ralph Vaughn Williams wrote a choral anthem using this version. It’s often sung at churches during communion.
I’ve had that anthem stuck in my head all week. That’s the good thing about preparing sermons, sometimes the good stuff gets stuck in your head, and you can’t let it go. I’m not talking about an errant Billy Joel tune or a Cranberries single from 1993; I mean the really good stuff, the stuff that makes you ask, “Where is God in all of this?” The stuff like, “O taste and see…”
It makes me wonder: how do we taste God’s goodness? What does grace taste like?
The eucharist is the one part of our common life when tasting seems the most relevant metaphor for our relationship with God. We put the bread and the wine in our mouths, literally tasting the body and blood of our Lord. But can you really taste God’s grace via wafer and port wine? And can you taste the grace even better if instead of a wafer you use homemade communion bread, the kind with honey mixed in the batter?
For that matter, is God’s graciousness found in bread alone? Or is it also in grandma’s homemade cookies? The ones we look forward to when we spend the weekend with her, the ones many of us will never taste again? Maybe.
Or perhaps divine goodness is the taste of street tacos made by a Mexican vender who you’re not quite sure is in this country illegally, but he has that look. Nonetheless he sells you food because he needs to feed his family. I do wonder.
Maybe God’s goodness is like eating an orange. When you peel it, it releases that fresh scent that lingers under your fingernails for hours, even days, reminding you that God is always near. It could be.
The second half of this verse gives us a clue about what it means to taste God’s goodness. It says, “happy are they that trust in him.” “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they that trust in him.”
This verse implies that you really have to trust in something before you taste it. That’s true, isn’t it? Taste and trust are certainly related. You do have to trust something in order to taste it, even if it’s implicit trust.
When I was growing up and one of my older sisters took a bite of something that didn’t taste so good, often she would recoil in disgust and then look at me, smile, and say, “Hey Warren, try this.” Heck no! I wasn’t going to try something she thought was disgusting. I wasn’t going to taste it because I no longer trusted that it would be good. If you don’t trust that something is going to taste good, you don’t eat it.
When you buy a bag of salad at the grocery store you blindly trust that it doesn’t contain dangerous bacteria like E. coli. Maybe trusting God is like the trust you place in a bag of lettuce. You don’t see the faceless company that packed it; you don’t know exactly where it came from, but you take it home and eat it anyway. You assume that it’s purpose it to provide nourishment for your body. You don’t often consider what might be wrong with it. You just trust it, so you taste it.
There is beauty in that trust. There is beauty in the trust that allows you to taste the lettuce, the trust that allows you to nourish your body, the trust that keeps you from becoming a paranoid mess. That trust is beautiful, and it’s not unlike the trust that allows us to taste God’s goodness.
Sometimes we go around worrying so much about the possibility of the bad, that we never experience the good. If you live in fear, you’ll never be able to recognize all the ways that God’s grace is already working in your life and in the world around you. When you live in fear–and not trust–everything tastes bitter.
I’m afraid. I’m afraid for the welfare of our nation. As the military marches to meet thousands of peaceful immigrants, I’m afraid of what will happen.
I’m afraid when terrorists send pipe bombs through the mail to kill the people they disagree with. I’m afraid of what that will lead to.
I’m afraid in an era when politicians say they would rather put their opponents in jail than have reasonable debates with them.
Yes, I’m am filled with fear, and the only taste that fear leaves in my mouth is bitterness.
Over lunch on Friday a friend (who is much older than me) said, “This is the worst I’ve ever seen this country. I thought all that Nixon stuff was bad. It was nothing like this.” That left a sour taste in my mouth, so I took another bite of my food, but it was bland and unsatisfying. Nothing could get the bitter taste of fear out of my mouth.
When I get a bad taste in my mouth I want to rinse it out immediately. When I swallowed cough syrup as a kid I always wanted to chase it with Sprite or fruit juice to overpower that gross cherry flavor, but I find it hard these days to get the disgusting taste out of my mouth. Day after day I look for something to eliminate the bitterness, but I don’t succeed. There are of course cheeseburgers and large pizzas, but those only help temporarily. They only quell the taste of fear for a few hours. I need sometime more permanent than that.
When news comes that eleven Jewish worshipers were gunned down in their temple, all I can taste is fear, and I need something really strong to wash that taste away.
I need that beautiful trust that allows me to experience God, and I think that late yesterday afternoon, I just may have found it. I was listening to Bishop Gene Robinson’s sermon at the internment of Matthew Shepard’s physical remains in the Washington National Cathedral. Bishop Robinson gave me a powerful reminder. He gave us all a powerful reminder: we are not alone. And Matt, said Bishop Robinson, was never alone. Even on the night he lay dying, tied to a fence post, his God was with him. It’s too easy to forget in days like these that God is with us.
Bishop Robinson told the story of the first police officer to arrive at the scene of Matt’s death. The police offer reports that as she approached Matt’s body she didn’t notice it at first, but there was a deer laying beside him, and it looked as though the deer had been there all night long. When the deer noticed her, it looked her straight in eyes before running away. Recounting the event the officer said, “That was the good Lord, no doubt in my mind.”
Matt was never alone. Even amidst the horrible tragedy of his own death, God was with him. God is with us always. That’s something we can trust. We can trust that even on a freezing-cold Wyoming prairie, tied to a fence post, God was there. Even on the floor of a synagogue, amidst blood and dead bodies, God was there.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. God will always be right beside you, even if it’s to welcome you home. You can trust that.
If you live like you believe that God is always with you, and if you let yourself trust God, then you will get a taste of God’s goodness; you will experience God’s grace. And that grace will wash the taste of fear right out of your mouth.
Really. You’ll see.