The Rev. Hannah Hooker preaches Lent 3B
I love to cook. I’ve been cooking since I was 20 years old, and in the past ten years I have honed a few of my own recipes. The first recipe that I worked on was my tomato sauce, inspired by the Godfather trilogy in 2011. These days I can it for folks every summer, and if you want an assessment, you can ask Susan Geis. Don’t tell me if she hated it. Now, I won’t reveal the entire recipe, but I will say that for one batch, I use a whole Vidalia onion, white wine, brown sugar, a top secret spice mix, and four fat tomatoes off the vine. Good tomatoes are the key. So my sauce really depends on the folks who grow good tomatoes, folks who drive the trucks to transport good tomatoes, and folks who work in supermarkets that sell good tomatoes. Or, depending on where I buy them, my sauce might depend on smaller farmers who do all of that work by themselves. These people really work harder on my tomato sauce than I do. But in all likelihood, I make more money in my profession than they do. Our society has decided that my skills are worth more than those of farmers and drivers and sales folk, and yet, I depend on them. And here’s the heart of the matter: they are the last thing on my mind while I’m enjoying the fruits of their labor. That, my friends, is the definition of privilege.
Among other things, Christ came to save us from this particular sin, our habit of dividing ourselves into the haves and the have-nots, and then ignoring the have-nots, not remembering that we are all connected and that we depend on each other. That’s what Christ is up to in the temple in our Gospel passage from John this morning. We find him in the marketplace outside the temple overturning tables. In this same story in other Gospels, he calls it a den of thieves. I’ve seen several depictions of this scene in art and film that strongly resemble Bourbon Street on a February evening: loud and colorful and full of vulgar temptations. In reality, the marketplace outside the temple in Jerusalem in the first century was full of vendors selling animals and trinkets that people could take into the temple to offer as sacrifice, according to the Law of Moses. A lowly farmer who sold his goats to feed him family could be found bargaining with wealthier, stingy salesmen in order to by back one of the goats to sacrifice in the temple, in order to worship his God. This was the system God’s people had created.
We also have a reading from Corinthians this morning. The church in Corinth that Paul wrote to was having a bit of a struggle with privilege, as well. They had a bad case of the haves and have-nots. The Christ followers who were meeting in homes to worship and break bread together were unwilling to let Gentiles and poor people participate in that worship, because in their world, the groups didn’t mix. The idea that Christ would want them to eat with poor, uncircumcised strangers simply doesn’t make sense to them.
So Paul explains the gospel this way: dividing ourselves up into the haves and have-nots, the Jews and the Gentiles, slave and free, men and women, old and young, rich and poor, it makes sense to us. We can see differences among us, and we can see that there are only so many resources and so many successes to go around. When our system is painful or causes problems, we say things like, “well, that’s the just the way the world works” and “hey, life’s not fair.” But, Paul says, this kind of thinking, this wisdom, is not God’s wisdom. What makes sense to us does not make sense to God.
To reconcile us to the mind of God, Christ was born a have not. A poor person. A hillbilly. A redneck. A thug from Galilee. And he saved the world, so that we would know this doesn’t have to be “the way the world works,” and life can be more fair. Maybe it doesn’t make any sense to us, just like a truck driver who is a millionaire wouldn’t make any sense to us. Maybe the whole concept of resurrection is hard for us to get around, but that’s the point. That seeming impossibility is what we’re called to have faith in. Christ is in the have-nots. Christ is in the tomato grower, the tomato transporter, the tomato seller. And while our society and our economic system don’t value those folks, we, as Christians, are called to. Called to bridge the gap, and end the divisions. Called to share our worship, our love, our bread and wine with people different from us, and less fortunate than we are. Called to remember that we are not that different after all, as we are all equally important to God.
One of my personal Lenten disciplines, in addition to brushing my teeth an extra time every day and reading more non-fiction, is saying a prayer as I cook for all the people who played a hand in me getting to do this thing that I love. It’s a small act, but I have hope that it will help ease my sin of placing myself firm in the “have” category and ignoring the have-nots. Part of the Lenten focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving is that these practices strengthen our faith. But part of their importance is also that they actively aid us in repentance and undoing our sin. So far in Lent we have heard about the difficulty of the way of the Cross and the value of true repentance. Today our scriptures challenge us to use these lessons in concrete ways. To repent of specific sins and do the Lord’s work on the road to Jerusalem. This week, this third week of Lent, I would like for us, as a worshiping community, to consider where in our individual lives and in our common life we can overturn the tables and value the un-valued? As we draw closer to Christ’s passion, let us keep in mind all those whom Christ was willing to die for, and live our own lives in that image. Amen.
Photo: Vine Ripe Pink Tomatoes from Encyclopedia of Arkansas