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White Bear Lake United Methodist Church is “tasting” and exploring life’s flavors through scripture this summer. Flavors of honey, vinegar, manna, mustard, salt, and fig bounce out of the ancient black and white boundaries to flavor how we taste and see our unique, intimate roles as “ingredients” of and for the Sacred. These are common scriptures that jog around in most memories if you’ve heard some of the teachings, coaxing us to redefine fig branches and small seeds [Matthew 5:13, Exodus 16:16, Matthew 13:31-32, Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17]. If you can imagine missing the flavor of one of these ingredients as you dash a recipe together, you may begin to visualize the staleness of life without you. Even if you’re not a cook, consider a meal savored without the flavors you crave.
What if we imagined humanity as raw “ingredients” created with the capacity to enhance and stir the sacred into the everyday? So instead of a world of blandness, scarcity, or hunger, we have a rich palate waiting to be given, served, and scattered across this globe.
Kate Bowler, author of Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, speaks of something that may remind you of the flavor you might extend to this very day somewhere near or distant. Kate came to the following conclusion as a professor at Duke Divinity but later lived them circling amidst advanced medical care, stage four cancer, and an inability to live the normalcy of her life with her spouse and then toddler, Zach. Bowler’s sentiment in these moments was it was not what had happened good or bad but about “who was there when you were afraid.” She writes, “It seemed too odd and too simplistic to say what I knew to be true—that when I was sure I was going to die, I didn’t feel angry. I felt loved. . . . At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like floating; floating with the love and prayers of all of those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus. When they sat beside me, my hand in their hands, my own suffering began to feel like it had revealed to me the suffering of others, a world of those who, like me, are stumbling in the debris of dreams . . . and plans they didn’t realize they had made” [Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. New York: Random House, 2018. pp. 119-121.]
One thing I have come to know for certain is there are plenty of scarce, bland places in this world. Prayers celebrate gratitude, but the bulk of our prayers are not those smooth days that evolve like an expected glorious sunrise. Instead, it is like the day there was no sun and what we expected of life was colored anew. There is plenty of tragic loss that would cause the ancient Christian culture or us to retreat and to bear ashes upon our weathered faces. Yet, the thing is, somehow the days of “no sun” seem to be fused with beauty, gratitude, and bounty. Time after time when speaking to folks who struggle, the uncertain personal adversity somehow held wholeness.
Is a hot dish, a hand gripping with yours, or work toward providing clean water of the Sacred? Can these things mirror the faces of Jesus similarly to Kate Bowler’s experience? The intent of these acts most certainly possesses holiness.
The assumption or maybe miracle is when an experience passes through the Sacred; the earthly plain stuff is transformed. It is as if earthly things become savored. If simple experiences of bread, water, and wine can be transformed, then perhaps our struggle can be comforted as well. We are not minimizing loss; it strikes deep in our heart’s seedbed. But when asked, people concur that the pause when life hurt surely held a peace. Some referred to it as the “God thing.” Call it the face of tender kindness on earth, but people witness a mystical gentleness that softens the tragic. Their faces reflected an emotion that seemed deeply secure and highly revered. So, it is. In the midst of the harsh, unsavory season, they have grown eyes to see hands that nurse, nature’s nurture, a means to hear more than the audible words and gifts as common as a sacred meatloaf and a smile. Compassion has touched them, and their eyes frame it as God’s tender kindness communing with words sprawled across a page posted in a mailbox or an encouragement sparked by the Spirit.
This may all seem too naive—lands brimming with milk and honey, mustard seeds bursting into a representative towering tree retreat, and a miracle of enough bread in a climate where we know people’s bellies and souls hunger.
Brian McLaren writes this, “If you are skeptical about miracles, you avoid these problems. But you have another problem, no less significant: if you’re not careful, you can be left with a reduced world, a disenchanted, mechanistic world where the impossible is always and forever impossible. You may judge the miracle stories in the gospels as silly legends, childish make believe, false advertising or deceitful propaganda. But in banishing what you regard as superstition, you may banish meaning and hope. If you lock out miracles, you can easily lock yourself in—into . . . a small box where God’s existence doesn’t seem to make much difference.”
“There is a third alternative, a response to the question of miracles that is open to both skeptics and believers is miracles alike.” Theologian, Brian McLaren asks if perhaps there is not a yes or a no. “Instead . . . we could ask another question: What happens to us when we imagine miracles happening?” McLaren writes more specifically, “Perhaps a miracle story is meant to shake up our normal assumptions, inspire our imagination about the present and future, and make it possible for us to see something we couldn’t see before. Perhaps the miracle isn’t what happened to them back then, but one that could happen right now as we reflect upon the story. Perhaps, by challenging us to consider impossible possibilities, these stories stretch our imagination, and in so doing, can empower us to play a catalytic role in co-creating new possibilities for the world tomorrow. Doesn’t that sound rather... miraculous?” [Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking. A Year Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation. New York: Jericho Books, 2014. pp. 96-97.]
Embedded in this vast open space of possibility, commonly understood and highly valued salt can not only add enhanced flavor to lives, but can also preserve and offer an insight of our symbolic value to our Creator. We recognize historically salt was used for trade and was needed in every aspect of life from ceremony to preservation. Along these same lines, mustard seed has the potential to be utilized medicinally and grew to a height of up to 10 feet in the Jordan region. This view from this height surprises us and encourages us to a height of what can be—not yet, but perhaps someday.
As for us, we have the capacity to enhance what has been given by the Sacred into our everydays. Like the mysteries of communion, The Giver of Life fuses and flavors this day. You have been given to be a giver like the Savior who calls you, beloved child, salt and seed for this place and friend. Amen.