Sermon: Reeking of Christ

Sunday, August 15, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
watch this service online (readings start around 14:37; sermon starts around 19:08)

I vividly remember the first time I ever tried to make guacamole.  I think I was maybe a sophomore in college – about 19 or 20 years old.  I’m pretty sure I had only just recently eaten guacamole for the first time.  It wasn’t something we ever really ate at home when I was growing up.  But for me it was definitely love at first bite.  So I wanted to try to figure out how to make my own guacamole at home.  It seemed pretty straightforward: mash up some avocados, add some lime juice, throw in some diced tomatoes and onions, a pinch of salt, and – of course – some garlic.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, if you’ve ever shopped for avocados, you can probably guess my first mistake.  I had no idea how to choose a ripe avocado – and even if I had known, the avocados I found at the grocery store were all hard as rocks.  But I didn’t let that stop me!  I got back to my apartment with my produce purchases and decided to dive right in.  The avocados I bought were so hard I physically could not mash them.  I just ended up cutting them up into tiny pieces before tossing them with the other ingredients.  It was really more of an unripe avocado salad than it was guacamole, and it was a disaster.  But I thought to myself: No worries, I know how to fix this – garlic!  Garlic covers a multitude of sins.  So I added some extra garlic.  I added a LOT of extra garlic.

I added so much garlic that it completely overpowered all the other flavors in the guacamole.  Honestly, that didn’t bother me too much – I like garlic a lot, so I didn’t mind some extra garlic flavor.  But when I woke up the next morning, I could still taste that garlic.  I brushed my teeth, and I could still taste garlic coming off of my breath.  And it soon became pretty clear that I didn’t just taste garlic – I smelled like garlic too.  Every Friday morning in the music department at Wesleyan, we had recitals – all the students in the department would gather down in Emerson Recital Hall to watch each other perform.  That morning, where I sat, there was at least a three seat buffer on all sides of me, because absolutely no one wanted to sit next to me.  Even after showering, I absolutely reeked of garlic.  

I’m much better at making guacamole now than I was then.  But this story still really brings home for me how much the saying is true that “you are what you eat.”  I think we tend to imagine our bodies as just a pass through system – food is just fuel that gets burned up in our bellies before passing on out the other side.  But, like the smell of garlic, food stays with us for much longer than we think.  The nutrients and minerals and matter that make up the food we eat are what become the building blocks of our bodies.  And different food affects us in different ways; for instance, I can feel the difference in my body whenever I have been eating out a lot or eating a lot of junk food, instead of getting a good balance of foods.  What you eat literally shapes who and how you are.  

We see this idea at work in our first reading for this morning.  In this reading from Proverbs, the personification of Wisdom is calling out to the people – especially to the “simple” ones – to come to her so that they may also gain wisdom.  But note what she says to them.  She doesn’t say: come, pay attention to me and learn from me while I teach you about what it means to be wise.  No – she says: come, sit at my table; eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Take it into yourself.  Eat and drink of Wisdom until you can taste it on your breath and you absolutely reek of it.  

Wisdom invites us to eat because she knows that we are what we eat.  What we consume becomes part of who we are.  This is true for us in a literal, physical sense, with the things that we physically put into our mouths and eat.  And it’s also true of less tangible things, like wisdom, that we consume in other ways.  We are shaped by things like: the movies and TV shows we watch, the news and books we read, the social media we spend time on, our relationships, our hobbies, the stuff we buy.  For better or worse, consuming things is a central part of our culture, and all of it shapes who we are, our perspectives and the things that we care about.  And every day we make choices about what things we consume, what things we take into ourselves and allow to become part of us.

Lately, I’ll admit that I have been consuming a lot of random YouTube clips and bingeing episodes of 30 Rock since it just came back onto Netflix.  But I’ve also been reading a lot of the bible.  By now, you have probably read or heard me talk multiple times about the fact that some of my clergy colleagues and I have been reading the bible together in 90 days.  I talk about it a lot.  And that’s because I think about it a lot.  Feasting on God’s word every day for weeks on end has shaped the way I look at the world.  I’ve found a lot of rich meaning seeing my life and the life of the church through the lens of these stories.  These stories are becoming part of me in a whole new way because of the time I have spent consuming them, taking them in, letting them change me.

It’s why, in our gospel reading, Jesus doubles down on what he says to the people about bread from heaven.  His followers are pretty weirded out by him saying that he is the bread of heaven that they are being encouraged to eat.  But despite their discomfort, Jesus insists all the more, saying, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”  

Jesus is the Son of Man, the Good Shepherd, the great Teacher, the Messiah sent to save us; yet, like Wisdom, he doesn’t want us to just sit at his feet and learn from him, or even just to follow him.  Jesus wants us to eat him, to consume him; he wants us to take him all the way into ourselves and let him become part of us – to allow him to abide in us so that we may abide in him.  Because Jesus knows full well that the saying is true: you are what you eat.  By eating Christ, we become more like Christ.  He transforms our hearts from the inside out, teaching us to live more and more like him – so that even now we can begin to live into the eternal life that he has promised.

This week, I invite you to wonder: how are you being fed with Christ – and what kind of transformation is he working in your heart?

I wonder what the church would look like if we treated Christ like 19-year-old me treated garlic: to season our lives with him liberally.  To consume so much Christ that other people can instantly smell it on us.  To wake up each and every single day with Jesus-breath.  I pray that it may be so.

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