Rev. George Miller
March 4, 2012
Ya’ll remember when I first came here and said that I was a “foodie”? An amateur foodie, I’ll have to admit.
I don’t really cook as much as I’d like or understand seasoning and techniques like I should, but I sure do enjoy killing time watching the Food Network.
One of my favorite personalities is Paula Deen. She’s so southern and larger then life, someone I’d love to hang around with.
She is what I’d call a survivor.
While in her 20’s Paula suffered from severe panic attacks that kept her inside; she used cooking as a way to overcome her fears.
In her 40’s she was a divorced mother with $200 to her name and two teenage boys to care for. She started a catering service that lead to opening her first restaurant.
She published a cookbook, appeared on TV, got remarried and by 2002 had her own show.
How did she do it? Hard work, perseverance, and sticking to what she knew: cooking good ol’ southern comfort food.
And yes, that meant food high in fat, sugar and butter, but Paula didn’t invent that style of cooking, nor did she force people to eat it; she simply shared what she knew best.
And her empire grew to more shows, books, magazines, and cookware lines.
And America loved her for it.
But as we know, once you reach a level of success the haters come out; people accusing her of single-handedly turning America fat; that she pushed an unhealthy way of life.
Then the news came out that she is Diabetic, she’s known for years and that she signed a contract to be a spokesperson for a company that makes a diabetes management program.
People acted surprised and the critics came out.
First of all, can anyone really be shocked that someone who is 65 and cooks for a living would eventually be diagnosed with diabetes?
Second, can anyone really say when she should or should not have disclosed her condition?
First, she needed time to process the reality.
Next, she probably had to think of what this meant for her and her family’s livelihood.
Next, what it would mean for the hundreds of people employed by her?
I would imagine that just like anyone else, Paula needed time to first make peace with her situation, get her ducks in a row, secure a source of income.
Then she was ready to tell the world; and boy was the media was ready to pounce on her the moment she told her truth.
She went from southern saint to a devil dog demon.
We’ve seen this all before, haven’t we? Where we build someone up only to be happy when they fall? Celebrities, politicians; they all go through it.
So why this need to see people in black and white? Why this need to make people either a saint or a sinner?
I think the church is partly to blame. The unfair ways in which we have historically demanded people to act, with the threat of tossing them into hell.
I also think some of the biblical passages are to blame, such as today’s reading.
Here in Romans we have Paul writing a letter to a group of churches encouraging them to live a life of faith, to trust God and to know Jesus Christ.
To get his point across, Paul directs their attention to their spiritual ancestor, Abraham.
Paul writes that Abraham believed in God and did not weaken in his faith. That Abraham showed no distrust, was fully convinced that God would do what God had promised to do and that Abraham did not waiver in his faith.
Abraham showed no moments of weakness or any sign of distrust in the Lord?
Maybe Paul knew a different version of the story then I do, but when I read about Abraham in the book of Genesis it sounds like there were a lot of moments of distrust.
Abraham was said to be childless when God called him to get up and go to a land where he and his wife would have a son who would bless all the nations.
So that’s what he and his wife Sarah did. But it wasn’t easy.
First there was the time Abraham was afraid the king of Egypt would kill him because Sarah was so beautiful.
As the story goes, Abraham convinced Sarah to pose as his sister, which allowed the king to take her as his wife until Abraham fessed up and told the truth.
As if lying and forcing his wife into an adulterous relationship wasn’t serious enough, Abraham did it a second time in the city of Gerar.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like total trust in the Lord and unwavering righteousness.
Then, there’s the time when Sarah tries to force God’s hand by suggesting to Abraham that he sleep with her slave girl.
Does Abraham say “No, my beloved, it is wrong to cheat on you”? Does he say “No, my beloved, I trust that things will happen in the Lord’s time.”?
No, Abraham says “Sure thing!” and has a child with Sarah’s servant.
Would I call Abraham a perfect man with a prefect faith who trusted God so perfectly that he did everything perfectly right?
Would I say that Abraham was an imperfect man who made some interesting choices but still stepped out on faith and trusted God enough that he helped transform the world?
That’s something I like about the Bible: it is full of imperfect people who do imperfect things that make them neither true saint nor a true sinner.
Another example is Rachel who did what she though she needed to do for the sake of her family’s survival.
When we first meet Rachel, Jacob has fallen in love with her but is tricked into marrying her sister Leah. This creates a soap-opera story in which each sister competes to see who can have the most kids.
Eventually, Jacob decides to take his family back home, but before they go, Rachel goes into her father’s home to steal his household gods. She puts them into a bag and sits on them.
When her father chases them down to retrieve the stolen goods, he enters her tent and demands that she stands up.
Do you know what she says? “Oh father, don’t be mad with me, but I can’t rise because, well, it’s that time of the month.”
Now I don’t know about you, but Rachel’s excuse for not standing up takes the cake! And to find it within the pages of the Bible is a bit of a surprise.
But that’s just what Rachel does, not only stealing from her father, but lying to him as well.
Does this make her a demon; someone to be scorned? No, in fact she is remembered as the mother of Joseph and for her part in the story of God’s people.
The Bible is full of such characters like Abraham and Rachel who do questionable things. Perhaps the greatest example of all in Paul himself.
Paul may have played a large part in spreading the Good News and writing a majority of what we call the New Testament, but he was a man of very questionable qualities.
It’s a well know fact that before he became a believer, Paul was a persecutor of the early church, breathing threats and committing murder against them.
Paul stood there when Stephen was stoned to death and he approved of his killing.
He went to the high priests and got letters allowing him to arrest Christians. He went into house after house, dragged both women and men into the streets and put them into prison.
Paul was once an enemy of the church, and yet God used him, transforming Paul into an instrument that would bring Christ’s name to gentiles and Jews, kings and peasants.
And though Paul preached the word, he never became perfect.
He was overly passionate, terribly dramatic, boasted frequently while taking to bouts of tears, all while acknowledging that he did what he ought not to do.
Yet Paul loved the Lord and the Lord loved him, and a lot of what we know, a lot of what we believe comes from his imperfectly perfect service to the Lord.
Abraham, Rachel, Paul. All flawed individuals who did imperfect things.
So what does this all mean? Am I saying that we should all just give in to our base desires and lie to kings, steal from our fathers and kill those we disagree with?
What I am saying is that no one is perfect. No one is without flaws.
No one’s hands are clean from doing things they ought not.
That from time to time we all do something we are ashamed of; something that allowed us to survive.
That sometimes we all doubt the promise of God; that we try to force God’s hand; that we do things the way we want.
Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail; sometimes we get caught, and sometimes we slide by.
But it doesn’t make us any less of a person; nor does it make us a monster.
No, if anything else, our foibles make us human, a part of God’s creation, worthy of being redeemed.
And the good news is that because we are human, God has bestowed upon us an amazing gift: the gift of grace.
Something that did not come about because we earned it, not something that came about by following the right sets of laws.
Grace is something that came about from a promise God made long ago to Abraham, a promise that manifested itself through his descendants; realized in a manager, and demonstrated on the cross.
A promise that we know as Jesus Christ.
It is in Jesus that we imperfect creatures discover the perfect love of God, a love that wants to wash us clean, a love that wants to feed us at the table,
a love that says “Look at what I gave to you” and a love that says “No matter who you are you are welcome here.”
It is in Jesus that our faith is realized, in which we discover that God will do what God has said.
It is in Jesus that we discover that our sins have been forgiven, and because of this we can step forward and admit our mistakes, knowing that the gift of eternal life is already ours to receive.
And because we know our sins to be forgiven, we can stop judging others so harshly and being so quick in our assessment of others.
In the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can let go the need to see others as all good or as all bad;
Instead we can see them as Jesus sees them: as children of God, inheritors of the promise who make choices day to day that may be right, that may be wrong.
Like Abraham, like Rachel, like Paul, and like Paula Deen, we all have mistrusted at some point, we have all lied at some point, we have all hurt another, and we have all used a little bit too much butter a little too much sugar at some point of our lives.
But the good news is that none of this stops us from being any less worthy of God’s love nor of Christ’s comfort.
If anything else, our failings have made us recipients of God’s grace which brings about the fruitfulness of faith and a joyful desire to grow in the Lord.
Our faith in God may waiver; but God’s faith in us does not.
For that, we should all be able to say “Amen!” and a great big “Hallelujah!”