367. Church and Chocolate
This is the first sermon I got to preach at Findlay Street Christian Church.
To better understand some of what I say in the latter half of the sermon, I think it’s helpful to know that FSCC has been an open and affirming congregation since 1987 (it was actually the first OAA church in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and one of the first in seattle).
Come to think of it, I think this is actually the first time I’ve really talked about this on my blog. And while this is a sermon, and not a theological treatise on the subject, I’d love to hear feedback on the topic of OAA churches.
I welcome disagreement and push back but if comments become uncivil, I reserve the right to moderate comments as I see fit. (It pains me that I have to include this caveat, but trollers gonna troll.)
(I begin by taking out a bar of Theo’s Chocolate. I unwrap the bar. Break off a piece. Put it into my mouth. Close my eyes. Chew, and visibly enjoy.)
That was really delicious. I’m no expert on the world of fine chocolate, but let me tell you, that was really nice. A bit bitter at first, but then as I let it melt in my mouth and coat my palate, I got hints of cherry and orange, and a bit of really subtle, pleasant sourness near the end of it. Fine, chocolate really is one of the great gifts of God to us.
(I open my eyes and look out into the congregation.)
Why are you all looking at me like that?
Would you like me to say more about how that tasted? Would that give you a better idea of how amazing that was for me?
I can say more, I can try and use different metaphors and adjectives to describe the flavor, to give you a better idea of what I just experienced…
But that wouldn’t do, would it?
I could talk about the taste of this chocolate until I’m blue in the face but the funny thing is, the more I talk about it, the less you all care about what I say, because what are you all really thinking?
You’re thinking, “Shut up and give me some!”
Oh, and by the way, I have a few more bars of this chocolate that I’ll put out after service so we can all have some during coffee hour.
My point is, we experience the tactile world through our senses. And we try to share these experiences with one another through the words that we use. Have you ever stopped to think about how odd that is? I put a piece of this chocolate in my mouth and I experience it through my taste buds. But that’s the problem isn’t it?
I’m tasting it through my taste buds. I can’t get you to taste what I’m tasting. The best I can do is use descriptive words to talk about what I experienced as the taste filled my mouth, but no matter how poetic I am with words, you will never taste what I tasted until you put a piece into your own mouth.
Now if it’s this hard to talk about something like chocolate – something that we can hold and see and taste – how much more difficult is it to talk about God, something we can’t hold or see or taste?
Here at Findlay Street Christian Church, we read from God’s word, the Bible. We sing songs to, for, and about God. We share the peace of God with one another. We take communion. We learn about God through Pastor Joan’s sermons and from the other gifted teachers we have here.
All of these things that we say and do and sing to one another, that’s all good and necessary, but if we’re not careful, it can all become just talk about God. Remember how I said that talking about chocolate is different than actually tasting chocolate? Well, one of the things that I really appreciate about going to church here is that we don’t just talk about God, we actually do taste and experience God.
And why I can say this about us? I can say this, because love is here. Love is what changes our talk and our songs from mere words about God to an experience, a taste of God.
Here in 1 John, we read that God is love. Verse 12 says, “No one has ever seen God; [but] if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.” And it’s important to note that word, “us.” That means all of us, together as a church – God lives in us and God’s love is perfected in us. Not in you or me, but in us.
The writer of 1 John tells us that God is love, and so when we love one another, we are experiencing God. Our songs aren’t just pretty words and melodies. When we sing these songs together with love, it’s like chewing chocolate and letting the taste fill our mouths. And here’s the really crazy thing. It’s like we’re all taking a bite out of the same delicious cosmic chocolate bar all at the same time. And when we sing, we’re sharing in and celebrating the same taste together.
Love – love of God and love of one another – is what brings about this unified, communal experience.
And speaking of love, want to know something else I love about this church? I love that our love knows no boundaries. There is a place for everyone here.
And I know there are people out there who question this openness, but I think this odd little story in Acts about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch suggests that our way of love is God’s way of love.
Here, we read about someone who traveled all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. That’s a journey of more than 1,600 miles, one way. It probably took about two months to cover that distance by chariot. And this was a royal court official – a treasurer, in fact. He probably had to jump through all kinds of hoops to take all that time off for this journey to Jerusalem.
Although it’s not explicit in the text, I think a really strong case can be made for the idea that even after traveling all this way, that this eunuch was turned away at the temple. Jewish law and customs of the day would have barred him from temple worship because of his status as a eunuch.
And that’s sad enough already, but it gets worse. In addition to wanting to worship in the temple, I think he journeyed all this way because he wanted to ask one of the rabbis about a passage of scripture in Isaiah, but no one would teach him.
And what was the question he wanted to ask?
Before I can get to that, I need to say a bit more about eunuchs in the first century. There were some who were born eunuchs, but there were many others who were forcibly made eunuchs (for a variety of reasons, all of them distasteful). The eunuch in this Acts passage was probably made that way, and I think that’s why he was studying this particular bit of Isaiah.
As someone who was made a eunuch against his will, thus having to live a life that had a social stigma attached to it, you can imagine him reading himself into this Isaiah text.
“Like a sheep I was led to the slaughter… In my humiliation, justice was denied me.”
I think this is why he made the long trek to Jerusalem. He wanted to know if he could find, in these words of Isaiah, some comfort for the injustice done to him. But no one in Jerusalem would talk to him. And so he turned around and started on the long, lonely road back to Ethiopia, still reading this bit of Isaiah to himself, over and over again – pondering it’s meaning.
So here he is, on this slow chariot ride back home, when out of nowhere, Philip runs up next to him and asks, “do you understand what you’re reading?” And can you hear the disappointment in his voice as he replies, “How can I, unless someone will talk to me about it?”
And then Philip begins with this Isaiah text and goes on to tell him about Jesus, about a savior who preached a story of profound, all-inclusive love.
A lot of biblical commentators talk about how later in Acts 10 and 11, Christianity expands from a Jewish sect to one that welcomes Gentiles but they seem to overlook this bit in chapter 8, which is strange because the story of a eunuch being baptized into the faith is a radical move. If a eunuch, who belonged to one of the most shamed and ostracized segments of society, can become a Christian, Gentile converts are basically an afterthought.
And I don’t know, maybe that’s why it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Maybe that kind of Gospel love is so open and so expansive, it makes people uncomfortable.
But not here.
There is a whole world out there that’s tired of hearing words about God. They don’t want to hear about how good the chocolate is, they want a taste of it. And the tragedy is, some of the people who are the most hungry for a taste of God’s love are the ones that the church turns away.
But not here.
In the next few months, we’re going to have to have some difficult talks about the budget and our property and along with that, we’ll have to talk about our mission and identity. There are no easy answers or obvious ways forward, but I hope that in these discussions, we remember that we have really delicious chocolate here. And we allow everyone to take a bite.
The world is starving for a taste of God’s love.
And here, we feast every week.
And so, let the feast continue.