In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
At an airport in New York once, I went for something to eat. At the food court, a nice lady with a tray asked me if I’d like to try a nibble of the product they were selling at the nearby fast food counter. I was ready to take some when I noticed that it was a sushi bar. Sushi- Japanese-style fast food- is becoming more and more popular in the US, both in expensive restaurants and as fast food. Now, I will try most kinds of food, and in America it’s nice to find a kind of food that doesn’t involve lots and lots of meat. But I draw the line at raw fish- a bit dodgy. I’m not one to turn down a freebie, but I said ‘no thanks’. I’d rather my fish was cooked, at least a bit!
But at a farmers market, in a specialist food shop, even in the supermarket, quite often food is given away in the forms of little nibbles to let us try out something we might not have tried otherwise. A new kind of cheese spread on a cracker, bits of expensive chocolate. When I was a wee boy, we used to visit Luss, on Loch Lomond, and there was a shop there that always had free shortbread for the tourists- I liked that shop!
We might call this manner of marketing ‘taste and see’- have a nibble, before you buy more. It’s like taking a car for a test drive, or money back guarantee if you don’t like the product- taste and see! ‘Taste and see’ is also, however, one of my favourite Biblical phrases, from Psalm 34:
Taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the one who take refuge in him.
As I have thought about that phrase this week, I have begun to wonder whether it might be a motto for our congregation as move forward into the future.
‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’. The phrase is probably best known to many of us from being used often in the Communion service, often just before we taste and the bread and wine in the Sacrament. And today’s readings would have been excellent for a Communion service, as we hear Jesus using another food metaphor:
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Many of the folks of his day didn’t ever quite grasp what Jesus was on about when he spoke of himself as the ‘bread of life’. Perhaps that’s because he was speaking of something which we can’t ever entirely put into words.
‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’. It might seem strange to think of experiencing God as being like tasting food. But maybe that’s because, as Presbyterians, we too often experience God through only one of our senses. In our tradition, we tend to hear God. We listen for God’s word, read to us in scripture, sung to us in music, preached to us as I am doing now. We are a bit suspicious of those who say they experience God, say visually- so we don’t have statues or icons in our churches. But the experiment is worth trying.
Some years ago, I was at a conference at which, at one act of worship, the leader used our sense of smell in our worship. He had been given an expensive bottle of after shave for Christmas, and he generously used it in the worship. We sat in a circle- it was a men’s conference, and he passed the bottle around, inviting each of us to rub some on our wrists, and enjoy the smell. And as we did so, we were asked to think of memories- the smells, sounds, sights, and tastes through which we are reminded of God’s goodness to us. It was a reminder that knowing God could come through other senses, that we do not experience God just through our ears.
In our Psalm, the writer has known God’s goodness for himself. He praises God because
I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears…. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.
And so, exultantly, he praises God:
‘I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD… O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together… Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed’.
And then he calls, in the rest of the Psalm, for others to follow his example. In the later part of the Psalm, which we did not read, he sounds like a teacher of the young:
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. (Psalm 34.11)
He wants to share with others his experience of God’s wonderful mercy and love.
And that is why he then makes the invitation: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’. Come and try, he seems to be saying. Of course we are never literally going to be able to taste God. But it is as if God is saying: knowing God is such a wonderful experience, it is as if you can taste it. Knowing God is like enjoying your favourite food; or the smell of your favourite perfume, or how your favourite dress makes you feel when you wear it. They mystery of the presence of God is something beyond just words or pictures- you can taste, feel, smell it!
I think there are some lessons here for us from this ancient, ecstatic, poet. Do we speak of God in such exalted terms? Are we as enthusiastic about God? Do we speak of God to others as if we are in ecstasy? Maybe our experience of God doesn’t reach those heights very often. But why shouldn’t God be more to us that our favourite food, or best perfume, our most luxurious clothes?
And do we, as a Church or as individuals, really extend an invitation to people to ‘taste and see’? So often, in our speaking about the life of faith, we seem to talk about the Church. Not that the Church, you understand, is not important. The physical things- our buildings- are important. Beautiful music and beautiful building- can help us see the beauty of God. But too often, it stops there. We mistake our experience of Church for our experience of God. Although the Church- buildings and people- can strengthen and support our faith (indeed, it is absolutely essential)- sometimes we talk so much about church that we forget to talk about God.
We Christians need to rediscover how to invite people to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’. So think back to events or experiences in your own life which gave you a taste of God. Think about, not just to your experience of the Church, but your experience of God. Those times which, perhaps, are almost too intimate and private for you to speak easily about, when all the talk about God and Christ and the Spirit which you hear within these walls- became a reality for you. Rather than other people telling you about God, you knew God for yourself. Perhaps it was a moment of joy- as you pondered the miracle of new life? Maybe it was a moment of thanksgiving, as the shadow of a terrible illness or worry passed. Maybe it was because, as you walked through the valley of the shadow, you knew your shepherd walked with you.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Maybe it was because the day came when it all fitted together: the Christian story made sense, and you were swept up into God’s great movement of grace. At that point, you didn’t just hear about God second hand- you knew, you didn’t just hear about it, but you tasted the grace of God for yourself- and you knew, beyond words, that the Lord was good!
How can we as Christians help others to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’?
Maybe, in an age which finds the ways of the Church boring, irrelevant, and frankly incomprehensible, we need to find ways of offering nibbles, before people buy in bulk, a snack before the full meal- a taste of sushi before an entire fish! Can we give folks a taster of what it is to know God for themselves? I think that in a culture where churchgoing has become foreign, even suspect, we need to offer an intermediate stage- a place for people to go before they sit in the pew, a place for them to explore what it is God means for them, a place for them to taste the bread of life, and then decide if they want the whole loaf! Perhaps it will be some kind of discussion or study group. Maybe it will be a conversation over a cup of coffee and a cake (and we should make sure the coffee and cake tastes good!). Perhaps even just visiting our buildings can be a ‘taste and see’ moment for some people.
I think we can find ways to help people ‘taste and see’, because many, many people have already tasted God’s goodness, grace and love even if God is not yet the name they put to the experience. ‘Taste and see’ could be a good motto for our congregation. Can we become a Church which helps people to taste and see how good God is, that helps people understand why those who take refuge in the Lord are so happy? For if we experience the dizzying grace of God, it’s like the finest wine, the sweetest desert, the most tasty and nourishing food we’ve ever eaten. How can we not want to share the sweet taste of God’s goodness with our neighbours, inviting them to ‘taste and see’ and to learn alongside us about the one who called himself the bread of life?
For in Jesus Christ, God has come to us as bread from heaven. Taste and see Christ, the Bread of Life, for he is truly bread living bread from heaven. Taste and see Christ, the bread of life, who promises us,
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
For Christ offers, not just a snack, and more than a nibble; but food, nourishment for body and soul, food for life and eternity.
Ascription of Praise
Taste and see that the Lord is good:
happy are those who take refuge in him. Amen.
Biblical references from the New Revised Standard Version (Psalms)
© 2018 Peter W Nimmo