Sermon: Will there be any side dishes served with this Bitterness?
Alex really enjoys American television, and my first week in Italy helped me understand. They have significantly fewer channels, and, worst of all, there is no equivalent to Food Network. He loves Food Network. I can stomach Iron Chef and Chopped, but I get annoyed with Rachel Ray’s voice, Emeril Legasse makes me jump, and if I happen to see Giada Delaurentis, I am afraid her head is going to fall off her tiny little body. But every time a new food network show premieres, Alex wants to watch it. When this season of “The Next Food Network Star” premiered, I protested our recording of it. Alex said, “you’re just bitter.”
And I have to admit, I am. A couple of seasons ago, I saw on Facebook that one of my Chicago friends was congratulating the new star, and I realized… I know her. I went on vacation with her. She was the good friend of some good friends… she had been on Food Network an entire season, and I had completely missed the boat. The one time I could have watched someone I knew compete on national TV… Yeah, I’m bitter.
But Alex wanted to see the premiere so he could see what he was missing in my bitter refusal to follow the show, and after the premiere, he announced that I need to go on the show. As the proposed host of “church dinner winners?” I asked. Or maybe as “the grain-free goddess” or “the sugar-free sorceress”?
“No,” he said. “You could do that trick you do with random stuff in the cupboard.”
When my brother or other family members go to my parents’ house, Mom has all of the meals planned out in advance, shopped for, prepared, and frozen. When I come, she might have one idea for a meal… Maybe. She makes breakfast for her and dad, but I do the rest with what she has on the cupboard. Give me four ingredients from my mother’s cupboard, and I can make a decent meal. A decent vegan meal. A decent grain-free vegan meal. It won’t be spectacular, but it will be acceptable. It’s my gift.
Every time, my mom says, “I don’t know what there is to eat, but I’m sure you will come up with something again.” My mom’s “I don’t know what there’s is to eat” is code for “I only have five of everything.” Olives? 6 jars of green and 5 cans of black. Beans? 20 cans total of four different kinds. Frozen vegetables? A deep freeze full. Tofu? Which firmness? The content of my mom’s “empty cupboards” would completely overfill my kitchen and refrigerator. Twice. If there was a natural disaster at the Lake of the Ozarks, my parents could last a good five months on their empty cupboards alone. And yet, she’s never sure there is anything to eat. Where my mom sees scarcity, I see abundance. While she always says she’s sorry there aren’t more prepared meals, I’m always grateful there are so many ingredients.
Jesus meets ten lepers on the road. If you were here last week, you know that Jesus was in a border land, that lepers were people who had any serious skin disease, that they were outcasts from the community, and that a priest had to declare them clean again for them to reenter the community. Ten of them left his presence, ten of them were healed in the road to the priest, 9 of them went ahead and made it to the priests to be declared clean, and one of them turned around and went back to Jesus. The leper threw himself at the Lord’s feet and poured out gratitude.
Jesus asks where the other nine are. Easy answer: not there. They went on with their lives. Probably, they were declared clean and went home, went forward. This one guy came back. Nine went on like there was no tomorrow, no time to stop and say thanks. One went back to say, “thank you for giving me a life worth living.” Nine were made clean, but only one was made well.
The best lesson I ever learned about gratitude happened at Safe to Sleep. I made stuffed potato skins for dinner from scratch. Potato skins… A cheap way to feed a bunch of people. Lots of work, but not a lot of groceries. A little cheese, a little sour cream, a little bacon, a little green onion, and a bag of potatoes fed 20 women to stuffed. Not the healthiest meal ever, but lots of protein, some carbs, some fiber. They went nuts. None of them had ever had them before… Do you know why? Because they’re an appetizer. Appetizers are a luxury, restaurants that serve appetizers are a luxury. They felt so special to get to get full on an appetizer and fresh oranges. One of the ladies asked to speak to me in private. “You know,” she said, “you have the easiest nights here. Nobody ever fights when your church is here, everybody goes to bed on time, everyone’s cheerful in the morning because you feed us like we matter. We feel special and we act right. Thank you for good nights.”
But the lesson in gratitude came when I remembered to save the bags the groceries came in. Walmart bags. In the morning, following the good nights sleep that only a full and satisfied stomach can bring, they were met with clean Walmart bags. I had finally remembered not to throw the ones I’d brought with me away, so four women got new plastic bags for the day. And they were do grateful. I went home, looked under my sink where I stuff my plastic bags, and I cried.
I forget to be grateful… That I have a home, a job, a good education. I forget to be grateful that I have great living parents, that I can use a bank instead of a check cashing place, that I don’t have to worry about the utilities being shut off, that I have Internet. I forget to be grateful that I can turn off my mind for an hour and watch tv, American tv, Food Network if I want.
It is easier, somehow, to think in terms of scarcity than in terms of abundance, to think in terms of what we don’t have than in terms of what We do have.
I just got healed… I need to get on with my life, who knows how much time I have? Or… I just got healed. I’m going to take the time to go back and say thanks. I have plenty.
God provides abundance. Humans think it is not enough. We think in terms of scarcity. Look no farther than the scriptures we’ve studied in the last few weeks. Feeding of the thousands. The disciples freaked out at the second feeding of thousands just like at the first because they thought in terms of scarcity while jesus operated in terms of abundance. Then the disciples when the disciples freaked out about the fact that they had forgotten to bring bread on a boat ride right after Jesus had fed all those people on a hillside… Twice? He went nuts. Wine at the wedding at Cana, the people of the exile feeling sorry for all they’d lost… God operates in abundance. When we operate in terms of scarcity, we are operate outside of the gospel message of abundance. When we dwell on what we don’t have, we’re being the nine lepers who went on with no time to lose. If we’re living into the gospel message of abundance, we go back, throw ourselves at his feet and say thanks.
Yet another part of the gospel message that changes lives. Think of the difference it would make in your life to switch from our natural human tendency to see scarcity to seeing the world in God’s terms of abundance. “Dinner would have been better if it had been steak” changes to “thank God we could afford hamburger.” “I wish my job paid better” becomes… In this economy… “thank god I have a job.” there are reasons to strive forward, but there are more reasons to go back and say thanks first.
This is not just a lesson about financial considerations like jobs and food and possessions. Learning the hard lesson of seeing the world in gods terms of abundance and gratefulness will effect to our families, our friends, how we treat people, and how we pray. It’s not about money really. It’s not even really about priorities. It’s about how we see the world.
Here I have banned the watching of most of Alex’s entire favorite network because I missed the one time I could have seen someone I know conquer it. That’s scarcity thinking. Instead, I should get over it and thank god i have a tv to relax in front of occasionally… And food network… And so many fabulous people in my life that I’m sure to watch someone else’s rise to fame. Now that’s seeing the worlds through abundance.
This week, when we catch ourselves longing or wishing or wanting or missing, let’s counteract that worldview with gods vision of abundance, and go back to jesus, throw ourselves at his feet, and give thanks. And if you look in your cabinets and don’t see a meal, call me and I’ll come over and shoot my audition video for food network. Amen.