St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel — Luke 12:32-40, Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
When Brenda and I lived in northern Indiana, we discovered a restaurant in Fort Wayne called Flat Top Grill. When we came to Illinois, we were happy to discover that there’s a Flat Top Grill in Bloomington, and if the timing is right and we’re in the area, that’s where we eat. Here’s the deal at Flat Top Grill: It’s kind of a do-it-yourself Asian place. They give you a bowl and you go through a line where there are all sorts of ingredients—rice, vegetables, spices, and meats. So you put what you want in the bowl, pass it to the cooks at the grill and go back to your table. A few minutes later, they bring you your meal. If you like it, you have only yourself to thank. If you hate it, you have only yourself to blame. The freedom of choice is wonderful, and great fun. But without some self-control, it’s easy to add too many flavors and the resulting hodge-podge is not always a winner. As I go through the line assembling my ingredients, all these flavors, flavors that I really enjoy, are calling out my name. But I’ve learned to filter most of them out, and be very careful about what I select. If I choose too many, their individuality gets lost in the mix, or there might be a couple that just don’t play well together.
At the risk of seeming to channel Forrest Gump, “Life is like eating at the Flat Top Grill”—particularly those aspects of life that are spiritual, that relate to questions of ultimate meaning and significance. We are given great freedom in assembling our “spiritual stir fry”, but with that freedom comes great risk and great responsibility. If we don’t choose wisely and judiciously, the resulting concoction means nothing because it means everything.
When Jesus walked the earth, we hear a great deal about “the disciples”—it’s always “when Jesus and his disciples were there” or “Jesus said to the disciples…”. But, in any given scene, there are usually a great many more people than just “the 12.” There are those on the margins, those who wish to be present and to observe, but do not wish to make a commitment. It’s like they’ve put too many flavors into their Flat Top Grill bowl, and they want to see if Jesus might be one more that want to add. But there are so many competing voices calling out to them that they have a hard time really hearing what Jesus says and really seeing what Jesus does.
When we hang out on the margins of what Jesus is up to, we fall prey to the illusion that this world and this life are where we need to invest ourselves fully, that here we do indeed have an “abiding city.” The author of the epistle to the Hebrews warns us against this as he concludes his catalog of heroes who stepped out courageously in faith in response to God’s call: “If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” When we are completely invested only in where we are now and what we have now, we are incredibly vulnerable to the fear of loss, and all the destructive behaviors that go along with being controlled by fear.
But the good news is, we have a choice. Rather than putting ourselves in the position of the marginalized “crowd” in the gospel stories, we can choose to see ourselves as among “the disciples.” When we make the decision to follow Jesus, when we accept his invitation to become a disciple, Jesus becomes the first window through which we view our experience. Jesus becomes the prism through which we look at the stuff that happens to us and the things we do. And through that process, over time, over a lifetime in most cases, we lose our attachments to all the things that have the potential to distract us from Jesus—in fact, ultimately, all that is not Jesus. It’s like when we find a style of automobile that we really like or are considering buying—or one that we currently drive and enjoy having—we suddenly start seeing that make and model on the road wherever we go, when, before we discovered it on our own, they would have gone right by us without our noticing. When we really hear what Jesus says and really see what Jesus does, everything else begins to fade, and we begin to see Jesus only. His becomes the only voice we hear, the only flavor that calls out our name as we go through the line and add ingredients to the bowl that represents our lives.
Then we come to a turning point. At Flat Top Grill, when you’ve done your job well, and they bring your bowl back to you all cooked and stirred together, and you taste it, it’s an incredibly rewarding moment! It was hard to resist the temptation to just throw everything in there, but now you’re glad you did resist, because you can taste why you did so. Assembling the ingredients of our spiritual stir-fry is full of temptations. But when we resist the temptation to be indiscriminate, and filter out the voices that compete with the voice of Jesus, when we leave the margins of the crowd and enter the inner core of the disciples, then we discover the Jesus who is at the same time both master and one who is a servant. We meet the Jesus who puts on an apron, rolls up his sleeves, and waits on us—unworthy sinners that we are—Jesus waits on us with his own life as we are “at table” with him in the Eucharist. At this altar, every Sunday and holy day, Jesus, the Lord of the Universe—God from God, Light from Light, true God from True God—becomes our servant and feeds us with his very life, with his own Body and Blood.
This is really too awesome for words. As a result of our encounter with the Risen Christ at this altar, we are changed; we are never the same. Jesus here releases us from fear. Jesus here releases us from slavery to all the “things” that we like to think we own, but which, in fact, own us. Jesus, by giving us himself, enables us to sit loosely to all the things we like to think of as our possessions, all the things to which we so easily become attached as we assemble the ingredients of our lives. When we belong to Jesus, we may own nothing, but neither can anything own us. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.