Eating with Our Ears: Thoughts on Isaiah 55.1-3 (pt. 3)
In the animated film, Ratatouille, a story about a gifted rat in Paris who dreams of becoming a chef, Remy, the main character, laments the fact that his fellow rats are content with eating garbage. “If you are what you eat,” declares Remy at the beginning of the movie, “then I only want to eat the good stuff.” His pragmatist father, however, disagrees: “Food is fuel. You get picky about what you put in the tank, your engine is gonna die.” For Remy, watching his family and friends wolf down trash while gourmet food was available nearly drives him insane. “What are you eating?” he asks his brother in disgust. “I don’t really know,” says his brother. “I think it was some sort of wrapper once.”
In a similar way, God does not want his people eating garbage. There is lament in the prophet’s question, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Like rats comfortable with eating trash, we are prone to consume spiritual rubbish and junk-food. Left to ourselves, we will spend our livelihood on a subhuman diet of drive-through spirituality, grasping for instant gratification in our quest for self-improvement. Or, if we are more desperate, we will go to the garbage bin to rummage laboriously through a pile of half-eaten crust and empty containers, searching for anything that might resemble practical advice or helpful principles for living. Meanwhile, we are oblivious to the fact that our Master has set the table and called us to dinner.
That is why preaching is so important. As Kevin Vanhoozer has noted, “The sermon is the best frontal assault on imaginations held captive by secular stories that promise other ways to the good life.” Curved in on ourselves in selfish introspection and idol worship, we need an external word, a voice that comes from outside of ourselves, to interfere with our make-believe worlds and tell us the truth. We need to hear that surprising message of a holy God justifying the wicked through Christ. The “living preaching of his Word,” as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it in Question 98, is God’s ordained means to accomplish this. It is an intrusive act by the Holy Spirit, driving us out of ourselves and directing our faith to the promises of God, which in Christ are ‘yes’ and ‘amen.’ The Westminster Larger Catechism gets at this precise point when it describes in Question 155 how the Holy Spirit makes the Word effectual to salvation:
The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.
But without Christ’s divine emissary sent to us, how will we hear? Without an ordained servant to serve us a meal, how will we eat? If “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ,” as Paul says in Romans 10, then self-feeding will not work. Hardwired for law by nature, the gospel is counterintuitive to us. Someone must tell us this good news. Someone must serve us this meal that informs us of what we do not know by nature, namely, that in Christ we have passed from death to life, and from wrath to grace. Without coming to the feast God provides for us, we will inevitably gravitate toward the drive-through lane of therapy and the garbage bin of moralism. Preaching is God’s merciful act whereby he pulls us away from our toxic self-feast and serves us his meal of life.
Are you being served a feast each week through the preaching of the gospel? If so, give God thanks for his provision and pray for your pastor who prepares the meals for your soul.
Mike Brown, Pastor
Christ United Reformed Church