Pray, Love, Eat
Eat, Pray, Love is a 2006 biographical novel and a 2010 film by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s billed as romance or even a Rom-com. It’s really a tragic comedy. So why do I use this to preach our text? This text comes up every year in one of the 3 Gospel readings. Just as you lose all concept of a chair by staring at one and repeating the word ‘chair’ for 15 minutes, so I have to approach this familiar text a new way. And that’s the way not of Eat, Pray, Love but Pray, Love, Eat.
In Eat, Pray Love the woman first drowns herself in food before diving into Buddhism to find herself after divorcing for reasons like that in The Pina Colada Song. This is the tragic part. Our text starts with Jesus praying and only Luke reports this. Luke alone reports Jesus praying at Baptism, that He often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (5:16); that He prayed before choosing the apostles and before the Transfiguration. The many times Jesus prayed informs our little or even total lack of prayer. If God the Son often prayed, particularly before big events, decisions, trials, etc., what does that say about His brothers and sisters who don't? Take marriage for example; Luther said a man shouldn’t assume he is capable of marrying and raising children. “In marriage you should not presume that you will be the kind of husband who is suited to rule the house....Therefore, you must pray as follows: ‘Lord God, this kind of life is Thy ordinance. I beseech Thee to give me a girl whom I can live peacefully, respectably, and in love and mutual harmony. And grant me children whom I may be able to bring up in a godly and noble manner’” (LW, 7, 146).Yet we marry, move, change jobs, careers, with nary a prayer about these life-altering events.
Of course Jesus praying raises problems. It's the equivalent of God the Son in flesh and blood sneezing, being hungry, tired, thirsty, crying, dying. As True God, who knows all, He knows who His disciples are going to be from eternity, why pray about it? The God who can raise the dead with a Word, and heal the sick by touch had no need to pray for their faith, their strength, their confession. He could’ve just spoken, touched, thought them into it. But He prayed. The omnipotent, omniscient God humbles Himself to ask what He could do by fiat and knows already. And powerless, unknowing, and sinful people like us don't pray. Sure the author of Eat, Pray, Love had the wrong spirituality, but in crisis, even of her own making, she at least went there. Do we?
“Love” was the last stop on Gilbert's journey of healing and discovery. I told you her story began in tragedy. Divorcing her husband of 8 years just because. Well, “love” is suppose to mark the fairy tale end. It's more tragedy as we will see. For now 'love' is the second stage in our coming to terms with this text. I begin by citing that that great Crosby, Stills, and Nash anthem “Love the One You're With”. That isn’t about married love but 70s free love. Over 50 years, it has morphed into love the one you’re always with, i.e., you. This is evident in Gilbert's autobiography. Yes, she again finds love and remarries. That lasted like her first marriage 8 years. But we’re still not to the tragic-comedy ending.
But sermons aren't suppose to teach us about others but ourselves before God. And God first and foremost is the object of our love. The 1st commandment is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” Love the God who reveals Himself in the Person of Christ. Not the God of the blinding light and consuming fire. Not the God hidden behind tragedies of weather or who apparently stands by when sinful men wreak havoc with guns, laws, or politics. Love the Suffering God, not God in His majesty, but God in your misery. God the Son who places Himself under the Law perfectly but is treated as the poor miserable sinner you are. Love not the God of victories but the God of the Cross, of the blood, sweat and tears. It doesn’t take an act of God to believe in a powerful, winning, beautiful God, say a God who came as fearless John the Baptist, mighty Elijah, or any of the prophets of old. It takes a miracle to believe in an apparently powerless, suffering God.
And as far as loving people, contrary to Crosby, Still, and Nash don’t love random people you happen to be with in a free love way, and don’t love the one you’re always with: you. Proof passage for this startling truth is right here: You want to save your self, life, soul - all the same Greek word – you lose. Losing your soul, life, self in Jesus’ name: you’re saved. How does Rev. 12:11 say people overcome Satan himself through the blood of Lamb of God and confession? “They did not love their life even when faced with death.”
In the comic-tragedy Eat, Pray, Love, eat was priority number one. Gilbert spent 4 months in Italy eating and enjoying life. Food, good food, either comfort, gourmet, or expensive, has always been a mark you're having a good time or that you have been blessed by the gods, a god, or The God. That’s the only reasons I can see for posting on social media pictures of the food you’re about to eat. The book and our text can rescue us from doing what the Apostles regularly did. Hear Jesus speak spiritual truth using physical things and think He only meant the physical. For example, Jesus warned them about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the Apostles thought it was because they had forgotten to take physical bread on their journey. It was only when Jesus reminded them of how easy it was for Him to provide physical bread that “they understood that He was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Mt. 16:12).
In the Bible, the Holy Spirit does mark special times by noting the people were reclining at the table. At one such an event Jesus spoke about being repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. “When one of those at the table with Him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 14:14-15). Then we have Jesus rather cryptic remark in the upper room Maundy Thursday: “When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table. And He said to them, 'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God'” (Lk. 22:15-16). So, there’s something about physical eating that has spiritual meaning. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes out of the mouth of God. God, however, speaks not only in the verbal word but in the Written Word, the Inscripturated Word, and the in-Breaded Word.
The Bible talks about Ezekiel and John eating the Word of God. Isaiah says, “The Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines” (Is. 25:6). And hear Lord Wisdom's call in Proverbs: Wisdom....has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her servants, and she calls......,'Let all who are simple come to my house!' To those who have no sense she says, 'Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed'” (9:1-5). So what’s your bread and butter? What's you’re meat and potatoes? What are you inwardly digesting? Is it as the 17th century Collect says: God's Word that you first read, mark, learn and then digest?
We eat not just physical food every day but spiritual. Jesus said, “I have food to eat” that the disciples did not know about. The disciples doing what we do mistook spiritual food for physical and asked if someone else had brought Him food. Jesus replied, “'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work'” (Jn. 4:34). That is, His food is to do what He says in our text: to suffer, to be rejected by the OT church, to be killed, and to rise. What is God’s Will for us? What is our real food? Again, every Word out of the Mouth of God, but specifically? When asked in Jn 6 what was God’s will for sinners Jesus said, “to believe in the One He has sent."
Jesus said there that to be saved it is necessary to eat His flesh and drink His blood. All Christians do this at least spiritually through faith. However, Jesus also wills that we do this by mouth. We are to Eat and Drink His Person and Work, who He is and what He does. Jesus says He is the Bread of Life, the Water of Life. This is more than metaphor. This is reality. Why on earth do you think He gives us His Body as Bread and His Blood as Wine if not to eat and drink Him? He wills to be in our heart, soul, and mind. This must happen through faith, but this comes through the instrument of your body: your ears hear, you mouth takes, your hand touches, your nose smells His Blood as sweet wine, and touches His Body as soft Bread. Through these the Christ of God comes for forgiveness and life now and for salvation forever.
Gilbert is considered a major influencer of our day. Her story of tanking her 8 year marriage and going on a journey of self-indulgence, self-discovery, and self-love is considered paradigmatic by women of the spirit of this age and men of these times. Neither the book nor movie tell about her divorcing the new love that supposedly changed her life, again after 8 years. Neither are you told she then had ‘a commitment ceremony’ with a woman. Then after that terminally ill women died, she took up with the man who was a co-caregiver of this woman (wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Gilbert).
Eat, Pray, Love’s full title goes on: “One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia”. The tragedy and the comedy is that both her and many of her readers and watchers believe she found everything in food, Buddhism, and loving the one she was with. The lesson for us is: whom you pray to, what you pray about, and whom and what you love matters. As does what you eat. Like a flamingo eat the brine shrimp of this world and you’re going to be in the pink of this age, spirit, and time. Eat the Creator of the flamingo and you’ll love and pray like Him now and forever. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (20220710); Luke 9:18-24