Community United Church of Christ (St. Paul Park, Minnesota)
Cooking is one of the things I enjoy doing to relax, even though Javen does most of our cooking these days. I’ve learned a few things about my cooking over the years. I have to be willing to give it the time it takes, and to clean up the mess afterwards. My food turns out best when I’m cooking a familiar recipe or it’s a meal that forgives mistakes and imprecision. This is why (when the season is right) I make a lot of stews.
It’s hard to mess up a good stew. First you chop some lumpy red or white potatoes into bite-size pieces so they get soft more quickly. I do vegetables like string beans next, long mottled green things, lumpy like the potatoes. Onions are key—sliced into quarters. When I’m cooking vegetarian I’ll get the tofu in quickly, so it has time to soak up the flavor. Bathe it all in vegetable broth and season with fresh garlic, parsley, pepper and dinner’s soon on the table.
I forgot—make it hot. You can’t just throw all these pieces together and expect them to get cozy on their own. You’d get cold potatoes bobbing above sunken beans, and neither of them mixing with the smelly onions. The heat’s got to move them all around together, so they’ll offer their flavors up to the common goodness.
The Spirit’s got to move people all around together too, so they’ll offer their flavors up to the common goodness. Like those disciples in the house in Jerusalem, after Jesus went to heaven. There they sat, cold potato disciples. And downstairs, outside, were string-bean Cretans, smelly onion Parthians, and Jew tofu. People from every nation were there, the Bible says. All in their own spheres, next to each other but not really mixing. When BAM!—like Emeril Lagasse—the Spirit lights a fire. Then there’s preaching and teaching, mixing and fixing, walking and talking. Many languages, many cultures, many races, many experiences, brought alive and brought together by the heat of the Spirit. God’s tasty Pentecost goodness, served for all.
Heat is essential for a good soup, and likewise adversity sometimes brings out the best in the church. This congregation took a fair amount of heat from some in the community, when you chose to become “Open and Affirming” in 2009. But the conversations, prayer and study became seeds for new growth. Heat can clarify, cleanse and open up the path to new life.
Another thing that makes for a tasty stew is a variety of flavors in it. Can you imagine a stew that was just a couple of ingredients? I tried it once when we had too many leeks from our CSA farm share. Leeks look like the child of a marriage between green onions and celery. Following a recipe for Leek Soup, I sliced them up and rinsed them, boiled them with just a few potatoes and black pepper, then food-processed it all down to a identical, light-green mush. Leek Soup is apparently a French delicacy, but they can have it. Yech—we ended up throwing away much of the bland concoction. Variety is the spice of life, they say, and it’s certainly that way with soup.
It’s that way with the church also, which is the promise of Pentecost and the point that Paul makes with the Corinthians. Corinth was a diverse metropolitan city, and the first church there is the same way. Its people have gifts and talents, flavors in abundance. They quarrel over which gifts are better: speaking in tongues, wisdom, prophecy, secret knowledge, healing, working miracles, and the list goes on. One way that Paul could stop the fighting between them would be to say that everyone should be the same. But he doesn’t say that at all. He starts out “Concerning spiritual gifts…I do not want you to be uninformed.” In Bible study this week, one of our readers mispronounced that last word. She said, “I do not want you to be uniformed”! This actually gets to Paul’s point in the passage here: bring your diverse talents and spiritual gifts together, just as you are. Offer them up, whatever the flavors, because the Spirit soup will be better with difference rather than sameness. “I do not want you to be uniformed.”
What he does want—and what the church in every place seeks—is to recognize our unity in the Holy Spirit, despite our different gifts. Some are called to preach and teach, by the one Spirit. Some have gifts for visual beauty and can make altars look lovely, by the one Spirit. Some can sing or play notes better than others, by the one Spirit. Some can welcome guests and serve food, by the one Spirit. Some can give hugs, share a smile, or make new friends, by the one Spirit. Some can manage finances, supervise personnel and repair the building, by the one Spirit. Some can knit prayer squares, heal with their hands, or paint the walls, by the one Spirit. Some can pull weeds, mow the lawn, or recruit volunteers, by the one Spirit. Some can begin each day with prayer, keep up with emails, or write caring notes, by the one Spirit. None of us can do all these things, or even most of them. But each of us can do something, can give witness to the flame of the Holy Spirit that is above our heads. Then, gathered together with one another, our flavors overlap and complement, making a savory and fulfilling meal. We are not uniformed, but we are united—by the one Spirit. We are held together in the pot that is the Church.
Heated by the flames of the Spirit. Made up of diverse parts. United, though not uniform. There’s just one more thing to mention about Spirit soup. With every meal of soup I’ve ever had or made, there are leftovers. There’s more than enough to come back for seconds and thirds, to save and share with others. The same is true of Spirit stew: with the grace of God poured out on everyone, abundance is far greater than we could imagine. God will multiply loaves and fishes, feeding a multitude when each offers what we can from the Holy Spirit’s gifts to us. May the Spirit of God’s love in Jesus Christ so move among us—heating things up, inspiring different gifts, but keeping us in the same pot—that we will be able to do much more together than any of us could accomplish by ourselves.
Let us pray: Holy Spirit of wind and fire, remind us of the gifts that we have in you. Fill us and fuel us with your diverse abundance, that we may give witness to and participate in your saving love. Amen.