For those of you who spend a good share of your day in the kitchen, there may be two different methods of cooking a meal. Some of you may carefully follow a recipe or others may be more like a chef with the flair or instinct to improvise, working freely, easily with the ingredients at hand.
I enjoy making a pot of stew, no need for a recipe or precise measurements. Brown some meat, then add onions, garlic, celery, carrots, potatoes, add as many vegetables as is on hand, pour in some broth, a few spices, a bit of salt, cover the pot let it simmer and the kitchen is fragrant for the rest of the afternoon.
Of course, if I decide to stir up a special delicious pound cake from scratch I would very carefully follow the recipe, step by step. There is merit to both methods of cooking, it depends on the situation and the desired results. Stay with me here, there is a point to this metaphor and we’ll soon get there.
The Pharisees often get bad press in the Gospel stories yet they were not bad people, at best they were good people but could be rigorous recipe followers, doing things strictly by the book even when the book seemed to be at odds with the human situation. As the Gospel writers often present them the Pharisees tended to follow the law to the letter. Their piety did not allow any compassion for the people.
Jesus was sort of like the creative chef. Remember one Sabbath when he was in the
synagogue and saw a man with a crippled leg? The man said to Jesus, “Please help me.” And Jesus did. The Pharisees said,” The Law of Moses says You cannot do that on the Sabbath. They were “recipe followers”. Jesus said,”Look at the result.” This man who’s been crippled for years just now threw away his crutches and walked out without a limp. Is that not a desirable dish fit for the Sabbath? Especially for the Sabbath?
As followers of Jesus, our calling, our vocation, is to offer good nourishment to those around us. “You are the salt of the earth”, said Jesus. “You are the light of the world.” Let your light shine.” He would have us awaken in our lives something more than a textbook following of all the rules. He would have us be generous, intuitively sharing the Good News from the Master Chef.
We do, of course, have a set of instructions in the church’s teaching, the rules and directives of Christian tradition. These are our resources, our ready reference. Some might go so far as to say we have a “recipe book”, The Bible. Though we know God’s Word is a living thing, not ink marks printed on paper between leather covers. We are doing more than merely following a recipe when we approach the Bible as a living Word in which God speaks today.
We are coming into the presence of a Master who when we listen, offers to take us in hand and instruct us in the ways sharing the teaching and feeding of the love of God. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”, Jesus says. That is a difficult saying. I think we can easily get the wrong idea in our head when we hear the word righteousness. It’s a word that causes a lot of trouble. We may think it’s always concerned with doing right. Being right, making sure that I’m right, no matter how wrong my righteousness really is. Comparing my rightness to other’s lesser degree of rightness. All this causes a lot of trouble. One can end up so concerned about being right that you come to love being right more than you love God. And then you are a recipe follower and not a chef.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr wasn’t right when after agonizing struggle he joined those who were conspiring to assassinate Hitler. He knew the Law. “Thou shall not commit murder.” So he wasn’t right. Or was he?
There’s the story of a church, one Lenten season, that planned a “hunger meal” in their parish. It was set up to dramatize the gulf between the affluent minority and the impoverished majority of our world. Those that attended were assigned to areas of the dining hall. Six were ushered to a lovely table groaning with the weight of abundant platters. Twelve were put at a modest setting with plain adequate food. The remainder were crowded into a small corner with a meager dish or two of beans. Everyone was told to stay in place. Those were the rules. But after a while Mr. Smith (not his real name) got up from the privileged table and began carrying bowls of food to the table of the “poor”. He broke the rules or did he?? Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
We heard from Paul this morning in the second reading. Paul had invested lots of energy for years trying to be right, trying so hard it nearly drove him crazy trying so hard he convinced himself that it was the right thing to do to throw people in prison for being wrong. Even killing them. He was so obsessed that he loved being right more than he loved God. And then God opened his eyes.
And Paul testifies to us today, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Jesus Christ, who had been found by the powerful religious and political wisdom of the day to be quite wrong and was condemned to die. “Let them be your rightness”. Paul says, “My sermons are not full of rightness.” He says, “They are full of God’s power to make right so that your faith may not rest on human rightness but on the rightness of God.”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for Righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” Those are the words of Jesus from the Beatitudes of last Sunday. Isn’t it appropriate that he uses words about food and drink to describe living in God’s Kingdom? If you’re hungry for God, hungry for the good things of God, hungry for God’s right way then ask God to help you find the right way in this perplexing life we life. God will come to your assistance. God will guide you as you learn to be a creative chef in the moral life not just a recipe follower. Blessed be those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They shall be satisfied. God not rightness will satisfy them. Take eat. This is my body given for you. That’s what you need to be right with God. God has prepared a meal for all of us today. Enjoy it and ask God to help you learn to be a gracious cook for others.
Atr. R. Bruce Birdsey