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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Taste for Jesus

2015-08-23 A Taste for Jesus

Psalm 34, John 6:56-64


A Taste for Jesus


At Church Family Camp last Saturday we had a lunchtime cookout. Hamburgers and hot dogs, potato chips, and baked beans. Served on a plate with compartments so each food minded its own business, like good neighbors with good walls. Washed down with lemonade and tea so sweet we were all lining up for insulin shots. Type 2.5 diabetes: it's the kind you get at church. And it's worth it.


There's something deeply spiritual about a picnic lunch on the shore of a lake. Jesus ate a lot a meals on shorelines. He also knew how to cook. Seafood, in particular. In the Gospel According to John, in his second post-resurrection sighting, Jesus appears as a cook, grilling fish over charcoal, and calling the disciples out of their boats for the first-ever Men's Breakfast. To the women, he appeared as a gardener. To the men, a cook. Go figure. First rule of evangelism: get 'em where they live.


The average person has about 10,000 taste buds and they're replaced every two weeks or so. Unless you're old or you smoke a lot. Then you only have about half as many taste buds as average people. This is one reason food tasted better when you were a child. Another reason is that someone else was fixing it for you. Another reason is that most children's diets consist of chicken nuggets with macaroni and cheese for a vegetable. Of course Grandma's Thanksgiving turkey was the best food you'd ever tasted. It may have been the first real food you'd ever had.


I was explaining to the girls the other day why our neighbor's fresh-picked garden tomatoes are so much better than the supermarket's. It's because they're actually ripe. The ones at the supermarket are picked green in Florida, shipped to a warehouse in New Jersey, and then gassed with ethylene to make them turn red against their will. The girls said, "Oh," and that they didn't want any tomatoes with supper, anyway.


That's the problem with industrial food production. We're not really producing food. We're just cranking out stuff to eat. And then we wonder why we always crave more. It's not that we're hungry. It's that the stuff we put in our pie holes isn't pie. It's just stuff that looks like pie. They say soon we'll have lab-grown, synthetic beef. It'll probably taste like chicken. And think of all the unemployed cows.


The Bible says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." We read that today. You said it, repeatedly. Jesus said, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me."


This makes me want to say, "Ew. Jesus, your evangelism plan is really gross." That's exactly how the disciples felt. They said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" I'm guessing they said other things, too, but this is what you could put in the Bible.


"Taste and see that the Lord is good." OK. How does God mean that, exactly? How do we taste that the Lord is good?




About 400 years before Jesus, a Greek philosopher, a man who thought about stuff for a living, named, Democritus, decided that there are four basic tastes: Sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The world not only took his word for it, we held onto this idea until the late 1800's. A French chef, Auguste Escoffier, invented veal stock. Beef stock may be no big deal now, but back then, it was a flavor nobody had ever tasted before.


About the same time, in Japan, a chemist, Kikunae Ikeda, was enjoying a bowl of dashi, a classic soup made from seaweed. He, too, sensed that he was tasting something beyond the accepted four flavors.


Both men were right. Escoffier discovered, and Ideda proved, that there's another kind of taste bud, the one that senses glutamic acid, or L-glutamate. Or, MSG. Ikeda called it, "Umami," which is Japanese for, "yummy." So, now we can taste five flavors: Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.


But wait. Just when you thought this couldn't get more interesting, just this year, scientists discovered that our taste buds can sense yet another flavor: Fat. Yes, it's true. We can actually taste fat. This explains so much. The great philosophers, Ben and Jerry, called it, "Mouthfeel." It's the flavor of fat.


Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami, fat. And who knows what else they'll discover about our tongues next?


Here's one of those times when science helps us understand religion and the people who practice it.


First, it tells us that we can hold onto ideas from people who don't totally know what they're talking about, for centuries. Why are there only four flavors? Because Democritus said so. Jesus was talking about taste to people who thought of religion as rules. He was talking about senses when they were talking sensibility. Of course it was a hard teaching.


Second, it tells us that we're really good at letting our beliefs, our opinions, our tastes, be limited by what other people say is true. Of course there are only four flavors. Everybody knows that. Belief in what other people insist is true is another name for religion. Jesus was talking about unlimited flavors when the people only knew the limits.


Third, it tells us that we don't know nearly as much as we think we do. About anything. Literally, we don't even know what's on the tips of our tongues. We might sense that one thing is better than another, but explaining why is beyond us. Jesus was talking about indescribable goodness to people who knew how goodness had to be described.




This makes me think about the tasteful limits that I place on God.


A lot of the time, probably most of it, I want Jesus to be sweet. I want God to be nice. There's a real market for that. One of the things I don't like about contemporary Christian music is that it's all about Jesus being so sweet. A minister friend of mine calls them, "Jesus is my boyfriend," songs. Replace "Jesus" with the name of your significant other and it's just another sappy love song. I don't like that music, and yet I have this vision of Jesus just being so nice, and sweet. Like cotton candy for the soul. The thing about sweet foods, though, is they tend to melt as soon as things heat up.


Fat's a lot like sweet. Except fat doesn't help old ladies cross the street or respond immediately to your texts. Fat Jesus is smooth and comfortable, but eventually will get your heart.


Some of the time, I want Jesus to be sour. Especially to the people who disagree with me. I want him to knock some heads so I don't have to. A lot of preachers make good money by being sour all the time. They point out all the wrong in the world. They know they're right because Jesus is sour, too. He's coming back. And boy are you gonna get it.


Sour is a lot like bitter. Except that bitter is sharper. Bitter tastes like broken glass and gets spit out in the direction of the offender.


I have friends for whom Jesus is salty. He's a hipster dude with a salty mouth and an earthy attitude. Mostly these are campus pastors or chaplains or people who work in homeless shelters. They remember Jesus hanging out with fishermen, and hikers. They think of him with the poor, the needy, the addicted, the hated. Old Salt Jesus doesn't have time for the niceness of organized churches and committee meetings. And yeah, being the salt of the earth is great, but a little salt can go a long way. Bad sodium levels can really mess with your mind.


I guess if I had to pick, I'd say Jesus is umami. That thing that's delicious, but you can never exactly say why. Most of us have never heard of umami. But we know it when we taste it, when we taste it and see that the Lord is good.


But then again, taste is only one of our senses. And Jesus is so much more than my senses or my sense, or yours.




Roman Catholics say that the bread and the cup of Communion become the physical body and blood of Christ. Lutherans say it changes once it crosses our lips. Presbyterians - and I like this about our cynical Scottish ancestors - say that Communion is a mysterious gift. We don't know how it works. We just trust that it will.


When you taste the bread and the cup today, ask yourself. Ask yourself how it tastes. Notice the flavor, the texture. What does it make you think of? Where do the thoughts take you?


Hold it on your tongue and think about it. Is this the taste of Christ? Is this the umami of redemption? At best, at best, it's an approximation. It's a simple, symbolic, mysterious attempt to remind us of the reality of Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of God's kingdom to come.


How does the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit taste to you? Probably different than it does for me. And different than it does for the person near you. But that's ok. The point is not to agree on the flavor. The point is to taste and see that the Lord is good.