Eat This Book

 

Eating Book 1Revelation 10:1-11

So, the
first question that comes to mind when I read this text from Revelation is this: What
does a book taste like? Well, if you ever get lost in a Land Rover in the
middle of the desert in Dubai, you might get to find out.

See, Land
Rover knows that getting stuck in the desert is a pretty serious situation,
which is why every vehicle comes with a desert survival manual in the glove
box—a book that talks about everything from making shelter to finding food and
water out there in the wasteland.

But as a
bonus, Land Rover has made the book itself edible! That puts the phrase “eating
your words” into a whole new perspective! Each page of the guide is made of
edible ink and paper made from a potato-based starch, which has the same
nutritional value as a cheeseburger but tastes like, well, like paper I
suppose. The metal binding of the book can be used as skewers for capturing or
cooking game and the book’s package is reflective and useful for signaling. The
information in the book is really the most helpful thing, so eating the book is
a last resort, but the message on the cover of the book is clear:

In case of
emergency, eat this book.

That’s
really the message of this morning’s scriptures. Whether it’s an emergency or
not, eat this book. The Scriptures are a survival guide for life, to be sure,
but they are also much more than that. In the midst of critical moments in the
history of Israel and the church, God commands people to eat the book as a
means of nourishment. .

In John’s
Revelation, he sees a vision of a gigantic angel with one foot planted in the
sea and one on land preaching from a scroll or book in a voice as loud as
“seven thunders.” I like the way Eugene Peterson in his recent book titled
(provocatively) Eat This Book, describes the scene from this text: “John was
impressed (by what he saw), grabbed his notebook and pencil, and started to
write down what he had just heard. A voice from heaven told him not to write
down what he had just heard, but [instead] to take the book and eat it. The
words in the book had just been re-voiced, taken off the page and set in motion
in the air where they could enter ears. When John started to take the message
he had heard, the rolling thunder of those sentences reverberating through land
and sea, and write it down, he was stopped short—why that would be like taking
the wind out of the words and flattening them soundless on paper. The preaching
angel had just gotten them off the printed page and now John was going to put
them back again. No, says the heavenly voice. I want those words out there,
creating sound waves, entering ears, entering lives. I want those words
preached, sung, taught, prayed, lived. The voice tells John to take the book
from the angel. He takes it and the angel tells him, “Eat this book”: Get this
book into your gut; get the words of the book moving through your bloodstream;
chew on these words and swallow them so they can be turned into muscle and
gristle and bone. And he did it; he ate the book.”

Six
hundred years earlier, the prophet Ezekiel received a similar vision in his
call to ministry. A figure that represents the glory and likeness of God gave
him a scroll and told him to eat it, “then go and speak to the house of Israel”
(3:1-3) The prophet Jeremiah expressed a similar image of scripture: “When your
words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah
15:16). In Psalm 19, God’s word is described as being as “sweet as honey.” In
the New Testament, Paul refers to his teaching as “solid food” for the
Corinthian church (1 Cor. 3:2). Even Jesus told his disciples, “My food is to
do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:34) and
“Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the
mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). Chewing on the word is no simple scholarly metaphor
where a person is locked in a room memorizing a text…it’s really a grand feast.

Perhaps
the reason more people, especially people in churches, don’t read the Bible is
that they have been taught to see it as another book that requires academic
disciplines in order to read and understand. People look at the Bible, it’s
small print, austere black binding and many pages and see it as a literary work
to be tackled and analyzed like a ponderous piece of literature. In a culture
where schools now have to bribe children to read with prizes and incentives,
it’s no wonder this book of books has stayed on the shelf. It’s time for a
different approach—actually a biblical approach. Time to put down the pencil
and paper and pick up a knife and fork!

How does
one “eat” a book? Land Rover makes their manual edible, but we don’t generally
like that much fiber in our diet. Perhaps “eating” the Scriptures has more to
do with the way we read. Most of our reading these days is for information.
Email cuts our correspondence down to shorthand. We read the crawl on the
bottom of the television screen to get sports scores and news. We scan the
internet for bites of information that we need each day. We are constantly
bombarded with words that arrive in front us in 10 point Times New Roman
font…all very much the same. We read it and delete it or discard it and move on
to the next message. That’s reading for information. But there’s another kind
of reading that has become a bit of a lost art.

Consider
this: when was the last time you got a handwritten letter from someone? Take it
a step further…have you ever received a “love letter” written in a special
person’s unique handwriting…maybe even with a little bit of perfume on it? What
do you do with those words when they arrive in front of you in an envelope?
Well, I can tell you from personal experience. As a young soldier I saved just
about every letter I received at mail call (especially those I got from my
girlfriend, now my wife!). These letters were like food to a starving man. I
didn’t just read them…I savored them. Read them over and over…examined the handwriting,
read between the lines, imagined her writing these words. The more I read, the
more the pen and paper melted into the background and more the words became
part of me, nourished me, strengthened me in hard times. Reading those letters
in quiet moments was a real feast.

When
Gutenberg invented the printing press he did the world a favor by making mass
production of words possible, but his invention also inadvertently made words
less appetizing. Notice that with the advent of personal computers we now call
writing “word processing.” If processed food doesn’t have the same nutritional
value as food in its natural state, then maybe processed words don’t have the
same impact as those handcrafted and cooked by a loving correspondent.

Our Bibles
are mass-produced and printed, bound and boxed and shipped. But when we open
the pages of the Bible we have to remember that these words were not originally
delivered processed and packaged. They were instead grown by God’s Spirit in
the life of a writer, painstakingly nurtured by a steady hand on a field of
papyrus or parchment (both being very precious and expensive in the ancient
world), and then harvested by readers who opened the scrolls in faraway places,
reading over and over again the words of life sent to them by someone who had a
message from God just for them. The reason we have a Bible at all is that these
words were saved and savored, copied and copied again by faithful people who
didn’t just read these books…they consumed them, crafted communities around
them, lived and died for them. In a very real sense, they ate the book.

Ezekiel,
Jeremiah, the Psalmist, and John the Revelator all ate the words they were
given and they tasted like sweet “honey.” God’s word is sweet, but as John
tells us it can also be “sour” in the stomach…grace and judgment being two
sides of the Scriptures. As the writer of Hebrews in the New Testament puts it,
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” In
other words, it cuts both ways. As prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and John would
have known both the feast and famine of preaching God’s blessing and judgment
to a “rebellious house.” These prophets weren’t called to merely dispense
information…they were to invite their hearers to feast on God’s Word and words.
They had eaten the book and invited others to join in.

The truth
is that you can’t really read the Bible in a processed, microwaved, fast,
cheap, and easy manner. It’s not just there “for your information” to do with
as you will. If you’re going to a great restaurant for a meal, you don’t expect
to order, consume, and pay for it in ten minutes or less. You know that good
food takes time. It took time to grow it, time to prepare it, time to present
it, time to savor it, and time to reflect on it afterward. Reading the
scriptures spiritually, not just for information, takes a similar amount of
time. Reading spiritually, eating the book, means that you don’t try to do it
all at once. You take your time and taste every word. Just like we need food
every day to survive, the Scriptures are the book we “eat” for spiritual
nourishment every day. They are an edible survival guide.

How does
one savor the scriptures? Well, here are some ways to do that on a daily basis:

You might
choose to begin with a good devotional guide and a study Bible. A guide will
help you reflect on the Word and a study Bible will provide you with context
and help you enter into the world in which the Scriptures were written. We give
a study Bible to every new member family because we believe it’s helpful. We
have provided a daily Bible reading devotional online as well. If you want to
start somewhere, this is a good place to do it. You can read Scriptures each
day that lead up to the sermon on Sunday.

One of the
ways of reading Scripture that people have used for centuries is the practice
of Lectio Divina, or “divine reading.” Rather than simply read the text for the
day for information, you read it over and over in order to allow the Holy
Spirit to elevate certain phrases or words to you. You might pay attention to
those particular words as a message from the Lord for you on that day. When you
use Lectio Divina, familiar texts begin to speak to you in different ways every
time you read them. At Christmas time, for example, I will read the Christmas
story texts over and over again and every year, somehow, the Spirit reveals a
message from the text I haven’t seen before. Lectio helps us to savor the text
as God’s love letter to us.

Another
way to focus on a particular passage for the day is to write it down in your
own handwriting. For thousands of years scribes and monks learned the
scriptures by copying them in their own hand, learning and forming the words.
We can be blessed by a similar practice. That copying might lead me to writing
out a personal prayer, a love letter to God…a response to those words of his
that I have been savoring. Think of this as a visual form of Lectio Divina—when
I write and form the words, there is a sensory connection to them—a
participating with God. The goal here is not learning the information, though
you will certainly learn that the more you eat the words. The goal is to let
the Scriptures become part of your very bloodstream and the center of your
life.

We come
together in worship every Sunday to be nourished by God’s Word, but the
temptation is to simply look at a sermon or Bible study as a weekly snack that
will tide us over until next time. I have become convinced that my preaching
will be greatly improved if I take more time to savor the word God wants me to
bring to you each week. I’m also convinced that your hearing of that word will
be improved if you take the time to be nourished by the scriptures during the
week as well.

The
purpose of the early Methodist movement, according to John Wesley, was to
“spread Scriptural holiness across the land.” Wesley called himself a “man of
one book” even though he was a prolific reader and writer. His life and
ministry were firmly grounded in Scripture. When he began to train lay
preachers for the movement, he required them to spend a minimum of five hours a
day reading—a full course meal of scripture every day.

We may not
have five hours, but five minutes may be a start! Think of
the Bible as the base of your spiritual food pyramid—a foundational guide that
we need for our spiritual survival. Eat this book, and live!

 

 

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