Cooking with Jesus

bread dough
Photo credit: <a href="">Denna Jones</a>

Luke 13:20-21

Jesus continued, saying, “How to describe the Goal? It’s like yeast mixed in 3 to 1 with flour. Before you know it, the whole ball of dough is rising.”

You need yeast to make bread, of course. But keep in mind that yeast is a germ. It’s a microorganism that multiplies feeding on the nutrients in the flour. If you let it go too long, the whole thing spoils.

Jesus, and those who heard him tell this koan, didn’t know anything about microbiology. But they knew that once it gets started in the flour, it grows, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, short of baking it. Everything it touches is affected.

Still, it might be useful to think of the goal of life (the kingdom of God, the fulfillment of the purpose for which you were made) as something like germs. How contagious are you? Are you growing? Of course, you could be growing too much or too fast, too.

Then again, yeast is something that takes hold from the inside. What is growing inside you that’s stretching and expanding you?

The amazing thing about dough is you can play with it, pull it in different directions, fold it over, stretch it into different shapes. When it gets punched down, it has an amazing capacity to rise up again, over and over. Eventually, though, you have to commit to some shape or another and bake it, for it to actually become something nourishing and do the world any good.

So take your time, stretch, grow. Then commit. Be something wonderful for the world.

It Only Works when You Commit

angel with sparkler wings
Photo credit: <a href="">Cameron Russell</a>

Galatians 3:6-9

Here’s the deal. Just like Abraham “committed to God, and that commitment was what made him right,” so in the same way everyone who commits to God are Abraham’s children. As far as scripture is concerned, heathen come to God the same way. It even says, “All the heathen will be blessed in you, Abraham.” So anyone who commits gets the same blessing Abraham got by committing.

There’s no such thing, if you take Paul seriously, as evangelism by procreation. You are not, spiritually speaking, what your parents were. You make your own commitments.

In it’s original context, it means you didn’t have to be Jewish to follow the Jewish God Jesus believed in. That was pretty radical in it’s time.

Now it also means that you don’t have to belong to any religious family just because you were born there. It means that you can be anything you want to be. You have to make your own commitments.

Of course, if you have to make your own commitments, you have to put some effort in. You can’t just cruise along through life saying, “I’m a Presbyterian,” (or whatever you say you are) without really committing to it. An uncommitted Presbyterian (or Methodist, or Baptist, or Catholic) isn’t really a Presbyterian (or Methodist, or Baptist, or Catholic) at all. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of atheists who are as uncommitted about their atheism as many religious people are about their religion, too. And it probably works for Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus.

The point is that with religion, like with anything else (mathematics, art, business), there is no benefit without commitment.

Are You a Supporter?

three hands together
Photo credit: <a href="">Nic McPhee</a>

3 John 1-8

A letter from “The Old One” to Guy. Love you, man!

Dear friend, I hope it’s all good with you, that you’re in good health and in good spirit. I was so glad when some of our friends arrived here and told us about how committed you are to what’s true, and how you walk the talk. Nothing makes me happier than to hear that my “kids” are doing right.

Dear friend, you are committed to doing whatever needs done for members of our community, even when to you they are still strangers to you personally. They’ve told us, the whole gathering of us, how loving you’ve been. You send them off in style, as God would have it. They began their trip for the cause of Jesus, without any heathen support. It’s up to us to support them, so they can work for truth.

Grant writers will tell you that one of the essential things funders look for in grant applications is whether there is significant support for the program within the community that is making the application. It’s an indication of the level of commitment among those who will be involved. And the commitment of those involved is generally a prerequisite for success.

More than half of this short “Third Letter of John” (the heading says only “from the Elder”) is about commitment. It’s about living what you believe, and it’s about supporting the community that is engaged in work you believe in. Often translated “fellowship,” it’s more than just a handshake after church. It’s engagement in a cooperative venture that’s doing right and running true.

It doesn’t really make any difference if your venture is a church, a grass-roots community initiative, a service organization, or a business. The same two questions apply:

  1. Is it doing right?
  2. Are you fully committed?

If you can really, honestly, truly, in your heart of hearts answer both of those in the affirmative, everything else is icing on the cake.

[Bonus: You might legitimately ask these same two questions of any person or organization that’s asking for your support (your donation, your time, your membership). It works both ways.]

Why Rules?

class rules bulletin board
Photo credit: <a href="">Linda Hartley</a>

Romans 4:13-25

The promise to Abraham, that he would inherit the world, didn’t come to him or to his descendents because by keeping rules. It came by making a commitment. If inheriting the world were a matter of keeping rules, commitment wouldn’t count for anything. Following rules only brings trouble. But if there are no rules, then you don’t have to worry about breaking them.

So it all depends your commitment. That way the promise is backed by a guarantee available to all Abraham’s children, not just the ones who follow the rules, but also those who make the same commitment Abraham made. And, since the sacred writing says, “I’ve made you the Father of the Nations,” Abraham is the father of us all. We all stand before Abraham’s God who brings revives the dead and makes something out of nothing.

Abraham took it to heart, even when there was no use hoping to be the Father of Nations, because God told him, “You’ll have scads of children.” He didn’t waver from his commitment even though his hundred year old body was as good as dead, and Sarah had never been able to get pregnant. He trusted what God said without flinching. In fact, the more he gave God credit, the deeper his commitment got. He was totally convinced God would do what God said. So, it was his commitment that made him right. And, when scripture says “his commitment made him right,” it wasn’t talking about just him. It was talking about us. If we commit to the proposition that God raised Jesus from the dead, you’ll be right, too. He was killed because we broke the rules, and raised so that we’d be made right.

At first, this all seems very libertarian. No rules, no worries about conforming. But it’s not.

Like any master of any art who can bend and break the rules, what allows them to go beyond the rules is their greater commitment to their art.

There are rules of grammar writers must generally follow to write well. But the masters, Shakespeare, Faulkner, e e cummings, Vonnegut, break the rules because they are committed to the art. They know the rules better than anyone. But they know more than the letter of the rules, they know the spirit of the art about which the rules speak.

Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello, and knows the rules that make the music what it is. But when he plays, it’s his commitment to the music that speaks, not the rules he knows.

So, too, the art of the life well lived. There are lots of rules that have been set out in holy writ. But the life well lived is not about following the rules, it’s about one’s commitment to the art. And, while rules may be helpful, they are not the purpose of the exercise, or the result we are ultimately seeking.

Learn the rules. Know the rules. Follow the rules. But don’t be committed to the rules. Be committed to the art.