Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sermon for Trinity Sunday: Mirepoix

The following is the sermon I preached at the Petersburg Lutheran Church on Sunday, May 22, 2016. The gospel text is John 16:12-15 and the New Testament text is Romans 5:1-5.

Last month, April, Elise and I spent a week in New Orleans, Louisiana. Having been settled by the French in the early 1700’s, then given over to the Spanish, back to the French, and then to America, there is a lot of history. Its culinary heritage also contains the diverse mixture and history of its residents. In fact Creole cuisine is recognized as the only non-Native indigenous cuisine of North America.

In addition to the sight-seeing, one of the highlights we experienced was sitting through a cooking demonstration of Creole and Cajun cuisine at the New Orleans School of Cooking, where the instructor for that lunch period was Chef Kevin Belton. He demonstrated putting together gumbo, jambalaya, bread pudding, and pralines while talking about the culinary history of New Orleans and how it permeates his own personal and family history. For New Orleanians, food and cooking is not just something to do to take in nourishment, but it is a family affair. It brings multiple generations together to share community and tradition. It is a glue that holds people together.

The foundation and distinctiveness to much of this cuisine is three vegetables: onions, celery, and green peppers. When the French arrived from Europe, they brought with them their cooking style. In France many dishes are based on mirepoix which is onions, celery, and carrots combined and sautéed, fried, or baked. But these first settlers discovered they could not get carrots in the swamps of Louisiana, and so they substituted it with what they could find plenty of: green peppers. Whereas carrots are fairly mild and sweet, green peppers are bold, assertive, and grassy. And thus Creole cuisine was born. The French settlers, the devout Catholics that they were, termed this mirepoix combination the Trinity, which is still the term cooks use today.

Chef Kevin describes that in his family, his mother would often begin sautéing the Trinity before she knew what she was going to cook for dinner. That’s how integral these vegetables are to Creole cuisine. It is what makes New Orleans food so distinct. When you taste the finished dishes, you can pick out each individual components, but it is the combination that gives them their uniqueness.

I think food is an appropriate metaphor for the Christian Trinity in describing God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have their own unique characteristics, but it is when they come together as one, working in harmony and in combination, that the full and complete nature of the Godhead becomes evident and manifest. The foundational characteristic of God is self-sacrificing love, and that cannot be known by a singular individual. It requires a community. This love is the distinct flavor that is unique to the Christian Godhead, the Trinity, and it is what flavors all God’s interactions with creation and humankind.

In many restaurants, hierarchies exist: from the executive chef, to the sous chefs, to the line cooks, to servers, to the busboy, and to the dishwashers. But often, before the evening begins they come together to share a family meal, in which these distinctions are set aside, at least for a time.

The gospel text for today in John chapter 16 is part of Jesus’ extended discourse following the Last Supper in the Upper Room. We understand this to be Jesus’ inauguration of the Eucharist or Communion. It is where Jesus used food and drink to bring together and establish a community based on self-sacrificing love. It was an event where Jesus broke down hierarchies and human-distinctions and created a family-based faith community.

Anyone who cooks knows that recipes are important. It may be something you follow diligently from a book (or screen), or it may be something that you’ve done so many times that you just know. But there are ingredients and steps. There are amounts to be measured, and although substitutions can happen, they can’t just be random ones. But recipes don’t describe the experience of eating. Even the best food photographs, artfully presented, can only arouse the senses and desire. They cannot satisfy.

Food is an experience that has to be consumed. And while having a great dinner by yourself may be fine from time to time, the best experiences with food and eating usually happen in the setting of community – with family and friends. (As an aside and also an acknowledgement, some bad experiences do also happen around the dinner table with family.) In fact an average meal with good conversation and interactions are often more memorable than technically perfect dishes but with tension among the people around the table. Good food is valuable, but so is good company.

I think the same can be said of what happens in churches, our Christian community. Good theology, good services, good programs – they are valuable. But by themselves they mean very little. Even the Godhead, with its perfect love, mean nothing without a community in which that love can be manifest and through which its power is experienced by all the world.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16) And this Son, Jesus Christ, created a community as part of his glorification of the Father. “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23) “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13) “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-14)

The glory of the Father is his love. This glory was shown to humankind through the self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Jesus gave his disciples the Holy Spirit to remind all future generations of this love, and to provide the power to enable us to live the love of Jesus in our daily lives.

The “truth” that Jesus spoke of in John 16:13 is not facts, data, or theological knowledge. It is the power and experience of love that seasons and binds the community of faith and transforms it into a family that genuinely cares and sacrifices for one another.

This is the divine mirepoix. This is the essence and foundation of God that we are acknowledging today on Trinity Sunday. Love – the genuine concern and care for one another – is the flavor that God wants to have permeate through his family: in this congregation, among all the churches in Petersburg, and through the whole world. It is the distinct flavor that anyone tasting it should recognize without question.

But we also much acknowledge that we are often rather imperfect at incorporating this divine mirepoix into our personal and communal lives. I know this for myself, and none of us need to be reminded or harangued about it. So I’m going to leave out any more criticism and ask a few questions for each of us to ponder.

  • Who or what in the past week has given you a taste of God’s love?
  • How would you most like to experience God’s love now?
  • How do you think God inviting you to participate in his love for the world?

In closing here is our reading from Romans:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (5:1-5)