The Lord Is Good! - A Sermon for Pentecost 12B (Psalm 34)
Taste and see that the Lord is good!
Taste and sight are two of the senses that help make life what it is. For instance, when we sit down to a meal, we take in the smell, the sight, and then the taste. It might be sweet or savory. Some like the sweetness of cake and others like the savoriness of chips. Some like kale and others don’t. So, when it comes to taste, we’re all different.
If you want to know more about such things, I suggest watching episodes of Good Eats with Alton Brown. He makes a big deal about how our taste buds work. He likes to illustrate his message, since the viewer can’t smell or taste the food he is demonstrating. He might show a chart of the tongue, pointing out the different sensory areas found on the tongue. There is sweet, salty, savory, sour, and even bitter. Yes, there is a sensor in our tongues that looks for bitterness.
A bitter taste can be unpleasant, but we also might enjoy certain bitter flavors, like coffee or unsweetened chocolate. Some coffee-drinkers like it black, with no sugar or cream; just plain coffee. I don’t get it, but that’s the way some of you take your coffee. When I drink coffee, I try to tame the bitterness with some milk and sugar. On occasion, when I’m out, I might even add some saltiness to the mix, by ordering up a salted caramel latte.
Taste is built into our systems. It involves our taste buds, but also the nose. Yes, we taste with our tongues and our noses. These senses of taste and smell make eating enjoyable. Why eat something that tastes bad or blah? Because eating can be enjoyable, we’re more likely to eat our meals. That’s important, because food provides the fuel that makes life possible. I will admit that many of us eat more than we should, but the principle still stands. Taste makes the world go round! Of course, we all have different tastes when it comes to food, but as Andrew Zimmern always says: “If it looks good, eat it!” So, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Taste is a concept we can understand, which makes it a good metaphor. Taste can be a metaphor for experience. In that regard, Richard Clifford comments: “Experience is the best teacher of the truth that God is a refuge” (Feasting on the Word, p. 325). So, taste and see that the Lord is good, by experiencing God’s refuge. As we taste God’s goodness, let us “bless the Lord at all times,” and may God’s “praise be continually in [our mouths].”
This summer I have been focusing my preaching on the Psalms, which give voice to so many different elements of our faith. Last Sunday we encountered a penitential psalm, which allows us to confess the sins that stain our souls in the hope that God will wash us clean. We have explored Psalm 23, which describes God as our shepherd. We’ve shared in the praise of God and heard the Psalmist’s call to dwell in unity. This is the power of the Psalms. They give voice to everything that is on our hearts from lament to praise.
When I chose to preach on this Psalm, I knew it might be Brett’s last day with us before heading off for California, but at the time I didn’t know for sure. As I approached the Psalm, with our departure for California ever on my mind, I found comfort in the Psalmist’s message. Our family is experiencing a bit of anxiety about the move. It is a momentous event for our family, but, as we contemplate this next phase of our lives as a family, which in many ways begins today as Brett and I begin our journey west, I hear the word “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” That message is probably more aspirational than fully embraced, but it is a word of comfort and grace as our family moves into this new reality.
While our family situation isn’t the context for this psalm, which according to the subheadings is a prayer of thanksgiving that marks David’s deliverance from an enemy who sought to kill him, it still speaks to those personal moments. Although there are bigger issues in the world than this move, as psychologist Abraham Maslow so famously demonstrated, we have to take care of “lower order needs,” like our physical beings and our need for safety, before we can move on to “higher-order needs,” which he describes as “self-actualization.” There are big issues out there. We just had a primary election that emphasized some of those big issues, but as we all know, until the basic things of life, like food, water, shelter, and safety, are dealt with, the bigger things will have to wait.
As we gather each Sunday for worship, we come seeking the Lord for guidance, for direction, for healing, for hope. So, the promise that the “angel of the Lord encamps” around us is good news. We sometimes talk about guardian angels. While I’m not sure what that means theologically, it seems to help us experience God’s presence in a more tangible way. We might not see it or feel it, but in a sense we can taste it. It’s a bit like what happens at the ocean. If you’ve been to the ocean on a misty day, you might have tasted the saltiness of the sea air. You can’t see it, but you taste it. God’s presence is something that. According to the Psalmist, what we’re tasting is good.
Now, we know that simply being followers of Jesus doesn’t preclude us from experiencing difficult times. We don’t live in a bubble. Some of us have experienced deep pain and grief. We may have been tempted to walk away from our faith, and yet despite everything we keep on the path of faith. We keep moving forward toward God’s future.
As we share in the message of the Psalm, we hear instructions about how to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving. The psalmist guides us along the way, enabling us to offer a testimony about what God has done in our lives. Yes, a prayer of thanksgiving is really a testimony to the world of God’s gracious presence. What is God doing in your life? How has God delivered you from your fears?
There is a word given by Moses to the Israelites as they prepared to cross the river into the Promised Land without him. That word is “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6). The book of Hebrews draws on that promise, telling the reader to be content with what one has, because God promises: “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb. 13:6). That promise is accompanied by this declaration: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). By that I believe the author of this book of scripture means, Jesus is faithful in season and out of season. Because of this, we can take comfort as we move through life, facing issues big and small. Then, in turn the praise of God will continually be in our mouths.
The question is, how do we embrace this promise? In most worship services, we take an offering. Usually, a brief stewardship message is given. The elder will encourage us to be generous in our response to God’s love. That generosity might involve our money. It might involve our time. It might involve the use of our spiritual gifts. Whatever the response might be, we hear the invitation to give thanks with grateful hearts for the good gifts that are God’s. When the deacons finish taking up the offering, we sing a version of the “Doxology,” which was written in the seventeenth century by Thomas Ken, the saintly Bishop of Bath and Wells. The more traditional version goes like this:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
praise him, all creatures here below;
praise him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
With these words, or through updated versions, we join the chorus of creatures on earth and in heaven who give thanks to God by declaring before all of creation, “taste and see that the Lord is good!”
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
August 12, 2018