We were somewhere recently when I had Elijah with me and I was trying to keep him happy and had given him his pacifier which is normally reserved for naps and bedtime. He kept taking it out of his mouth and playing with it, so I decided to try giving him some Cheerios instead. As I laid the Cheerios out in front of him, he immediately put the pacifier back in his mouth and proceeded to pick the Cheerios up in his chubby little fingers and try to put them into his mouth. I laughed at him and told him that he was going to have a hard time eating any as long as the pacifier was blocking the way.
I thought about the many things in my life that deliver an instant gratification that I choose over a harder but ultimately more satisfying pursuit. And I reflected on how the foolishness of what Elijah was doing was so visible: laughable, even. Yet if we are honest, that is exactly how we behave. Too much of the gospel is simply incompatible with the pursuits of the world, yet how many times do we choose allegiance to some pleasure or comfort or cultural norm over commands that are not hidden or far off or incomprehensible but simply unpopular or hard? What we choose can feel good and even satisfy for a season, but ultimately our body will perish if that is all we give it. Yes, the world is there for us to gain in every way, but the cost can be the only thing we have that truly lives.
As a preacher, I take seriously the role of proclamation in the life of the church. And as I stand in front of a gathered body, hopefully declaring what is true about God, I wonder at the ways we are individually and collectively sucking on pacifiers that block us from really ingesting God’s word. We all hear often enough the increasingly popular critique that “I just wasn’t being fed” as the reason for individuals swapping one church family for another. Could it be that some folks can’t taste the food because of the big rubber stopper that they refuse to spit out?
Lest that sound too critical, I believe that there is ample evidence as well for churches and preachers offering brightly colored, sweet-flavored soothers in place of the real flesh and blood food of the gospel. The critique absolutely goes both ways.
“I am the bread of life,” declares Jesus, and all are invited to come and eat. The table is set and the host delights in his company. But if we come to this table, it does not suffice to simply pick up the food and try to shove it in on top of something else. Whatever we have been sucking on to satisfy our heart’s longings must first be spit out if we want to receive this food. My own list is long of what these things are in my life. But that image of my son and the futility of what he was doing pushes me to pray.