Bishop Jeffery D. Lee
Bishop of Chicago
As members of my family (or a few choice friends) will tell you, my favorite television program, in fact the only television I watch at all when I can, is that paragon of televised excellence, that pinnacle of dramatic inspiration, that mesmerizing piece of broadcast theater ... Chopped. I love it. Please don't tell me that you have never seen it or know what it is. But if you do not, then let me just say that it is a foodie's dream. Cooking is my favorite hobby and this show has got my number. Contestants line up before a panel of celebrity chefs, they are presented with a basket of often bizarre mystery ingredients and given 20 or 30 minutes on the clock to make of them something worthy of the celebrity palates. Three courses: appetizer, main and desert. One by one the hapless contestants are eliminated until the finale, the climax round of desert. Only one contestant is left standing to collect his or her 15 minutes of fame ... and $10,000.
Well, believe it or not, all this came to mind this week as I was considering the readings set before us today. I mean, come on. God says to Amos, "Amos, what do you see?" And the "duh" answer comes back, "I see a basket of summer fruit. Whaddya think I'd see?" And what follows next from God ... well that's what minds me of Chopped. On Chopped, you never know what you're gonna find inside that innocuous looking little basket. "Open your baskets, contestants," barks Ted ... , the host. "For your appetizer course you've got Gummy Bears, star fruit, and rusty nails." Things are just rarely what you hope you're gonna get on Chopped, and over and over again in the bible they often seem that way with God too. A basket of summer fruit? Look inside and we get this litany of dire and challenging consequences for Israel unless they shape up and start practicing the kind of justice, bearing the kind of good fruit God expects.
It's not that God is playing tricks on us like some cosmic Ted .... We're not in a heavenly contest to see who can figure out what to do with the basket of nonsense life sets before us. No, not like that. What the scriptures give us is the truth that our view of things is always partial, always just not quite adequate to grasp what God is really up to ... either with us or in this world. My ways are not your ways, and your thoughts not my thoughts, says God in Isaiah. The stuff in the basket of my life, and maybe yours too, the stuff that's in the basket we call this world isn't necessarily or uniformly bad, it's just not always easy to figure out or put together. Not on my own anyway. Not quickly and not always very obviously.
I think I've become pretty good at spotting early on in the Chopped contest who is likely to win, or at least make it to the final round. It's almost never the chef contestant whose eyes get just a little wild at the first sight of the cuttlefish and peanut butter in the basket. It's almost never the one who as soon as the clock starts ticking begins running around the pantry, frantically gathering up arm loads of spices, dry ice and Greek yogurt. The chefs who prevail are more likely to be the ones who seem non-plussed by what's in their basket, they have a benign or even a slightly amused look at it all. They seem, we'll, contemplative about their ingredients and then with a certain calm and confident demeanor go about concocting something that if the judges say doesn't exactly taste like it came out of a four star restaurant kitchen, at least looks like it might have. "Elements of this dish," they will say, "Are quite well executed."
I think this points to the theme of all our readings today. Christ is the perfect image of God says the Letter to the Colossians. The perfect image, the icon as the Greek has it. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, icons are sometimes called widows into heaven. They are meant to be seen, seen deeply, contemplated, not just looked at. I saw a Facebook posting this week, one more piece of commentary on the acquittal of George Zimmerman -- it was a cartoon with a caption that ran, "We don't need neighbors to be watched ... We need neighbors to be seen." We don't need a God who is only to be watched. We don't have a God who is simply watching us from a distance. Jesus isn't a picture on a shelf. The Risen Christ is a living mystery who is drawing us and all the world into a relationship of love, a relationship the bible finally describes as a great feast, the heavenly banquet, where everyone has a place and all are filled beyond any expectation.
And this brings me to that original episode of Chopped, there in the combination dining room and kitchen in the house of Jesus' friends in Bethany, Mary and Martha. I used to be able to do sermons on this text by taking all too obvious, witty little potshots at Martha Stewart, but that just doesn't even seem fair anymore. Even Macy's seems to be a little tired of her. But we don't need to berate poor Martha of Bethany for being some kind of domestic perfectionist (gosh, somebody had to get dinner on the table). No, I don't think it's the simple fact of her busyness that Jesus is commenting on, I think it's that it is keeping her from really seeing the real possibilities of the feast that's right in front of her. She's the contestant rushing around trying to find the red pepper flakes and missing the simple goodness of the fresh flounder that ought to be the star of the plate. Mary on the other hand, Mary isn't just looking at Jesus, she isn't just sitting there. She is taking him in. And it is enough. More than enough.
What about us? What about you and me? What are we doing with the basket on the counter in front of us? What's in it? And what do we make of it? What might we make out of it? This parish knows a few things about feasting. At this table, week in and week out. At those tables next door in the parish hall. I will never forget my first visit to All Saints. I hadn't been ordained bishop yet, Lisa and I showed up without any fanfair one Sunday and it just happened to be the Sunday of the annual meeting. Now, I hope it won't shock you to know that not every parish's annual meetings in this diocese are quite like yours. Let's just say that the theme that year was "The Golden Globes," complete with tuxedoes, slinky evening gowns and paparazzi. Yeah, you know what I mean. I have also shared at table in that hall with those who are genuinely, physically, emotionally and spiritually hungry. I have received the grace of contemplation put into action there, truly seeing and being seen by the guy across the table as we formed the image of Christ who is the perfect icon of the living God.
And here it is again. Right here, right now. At this table this morning. Let's follow Mary's example. She's the odds on favorite in today's episode. Let us behold the lives we lay down on this counter, whatever they contain. Let us behold them, not just look, but see, see them charged with possibility and promise, even if it seems improbable, even if it seems impossible. Let's bring our lives to Jesus and see just what he can make out of them -- for us, and for this hungry, hungry world.