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Numbers 11.1-9

Matthew 4.1-4

I Corinthians 10.1-4

Now We’re Cooking!

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost


Our final lesson this morning comes from the twenty fourth chapter of the revised standard version of The Joy of Cooking, 1997 edition, “About Roasting Beef,” which can be found on page 648:

  Roast beef should be well seared on the outside while remaining juicy and tender inside.  For smaller cuts, this is best achieved by high-heat roasting.  Larger cuts, such as standing rib roast, are best cooked by a combination of high and low heat – first in a hot oven for 10 minutes to sear the outside and then slowly roasted to perfection at 250º F.  When it comes to roasts from the less tender cuts, you can choose between high and low heat, depending on how you like your roast beef.  The aggressive heat of high-temperature roasting can cause some toughening and drying of the already less-than-tender meat.  Slow-heat roasting, though, does not produce the deeply seared crust that so many of us love.  If you prize tenderness above all else, roast at low heat.   If you love the flavor of a richly browned crust, stay with high heat all the way through.

  Final internal temperature for rare beef is 120º to 130º F; medium rare is 130º to 135º F medium is 140º to 150º F; medium well is 155º to 165º F; and well done is 170º to 185º F.  Take into account the fact that the internal temperature of meat will continue to rise after it is taken out of the oven, so remove the roast at temperatures 5 to 10 degrees lower than desired.    [Let us pray.]

I read a cute parable in a journal for clergy a few years ago, and I thought I’d share part of it with you.  When you hear it, you’ll see why it struck a special chord for me:

          “In the beginning was a marvelous, tasty, rich, sustaining stew.  The recipe for this stew eventually found its way into The Big Cook Book.  Unfortunately though, the recipe was not all in one place, but scattered in bits and pieces throughout this confusing volume.

          “Nevertheless, through a variety of means people continued to know the ingredients of this remarkable stew and learned how to put them together in a way that fed people and satisfied their hungers and made them strong and loving.  But, as so often happens, after a time something happened to this stew.  Oh, people continued to make it, but it just didn’t do for people what it had previously done.  Whether it was a case of wrong ingredients or lazy preparation was difficult to determine.  But what had been a hearty, nourishing stew became a thin, often tasteless, gruel.

          “After a time people became tired of this, so some began saying, ‘I think perhaps we need to go back to The Big Cook Book where the recipe was originally recorded and see if we can once again find out what we need to be putting into this stew, and how it needs to be prepared.’ And when they did this, sure enough, people who consumed the stew were fed and nourished and made strong and loving once more.”

The parable goes on for a few more paragraphs, but I think the point is clear.  And the reason it struck me is not just because it addressed two of my own personal passions, cooking and my faith, but also because it reminded me just how much of the Bible resorts to the same food metaphor when it  wants to make a statement about belief in God and Jesus Christ.

          The most obvious place this happens of course is at communion.  When Jesus distributed the bread, he said, “Take, and eat.”  And when he passed around the wine he said “Take this, all of you, and drink.”

          And remember that communion was very likely a Passover meal, which is even more food-oriented than the Lord’s Supper.  Every morsel of the Passover has a deeper theological significance.  The unleavened bread represents the sense of urgency surrounding the exodus; the parsley dipped in vinegar represents the bitter herbs the Israelites were forced by their captors to eat; the lamb suggests the sacrifice which saved the first-born of Israel; and the charoses, apples mixed with nuts and spice, represents the substandard mortar the Hebrews had to use in their bricklaying.  In this morning’s New Testament lesson, Jesus, who in his hunger was being tempted by the adversary, said “You shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  Of course, sometimes even the biblical writers got carried away with the food metaphor; I think Paul got a little ahead of himself when he wrote to the Corinthians, “[Our ancestors] ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink.  For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”  I’m not sure even Paul knew what he was talking about there.  But be that as it may, the fact remains that the writer who alluded to the Bible as “The Big Cook Book” was not very far from the mark.

          Like many of you, I’ve got a whole shelf of cookbooks in my house, with the half-dozen or so I use most often in the kitchen right next to the stove.  The one I read from this morning, the newest edition of “Joy of Cooking,” was given to me by Blythe one Christmas.  I’ve always liked to cook, probably because both my grandfather and my dad like to cook as well.  In fact, there was a time I thought that cooking was something that came naturally, that you just throw a few ingredients in a pot and make whatever comes to mind.  One such meal which has entered the annals of Froggatt family culinary legend, was Asian frankfurters:  I sautéed some hot dogs, threw in several handsful of peanuts, doused the whole thing in soy sauce and cooked it for about a half hour.  Have you ever cooked down soy sauce for a half hour?   The result was a glazed, candy-like concoction that stuck to your teeth; if you can imagine a Snickers bar, and swap out the chocolate for a hot dog, you get the idea.

          So as it turns out it really isn’t such a bad idea to consult the cook books every now and then. The writer of the parable I read earlier suggests that the recipes aren’t always easy to find, scattered as they are among sixty-six notably different sections of The Big Cook Book.  But there are recipes, and most people even know about them, and even if finding every single ingredient under the sun is too much work, at least most of us know where to begin looking for the most basic recipes:  the ten commandments, the twenty-third psalm, the beatitudes.

          But as much as we may like some certain passages, it probably wouldn’t do to limit ourselves to the tried and true.  After all, who wants to eat the same meal three times a day, every day?  (Unless, of course, it’s pasta, in which case I could make an exception.)  So as much as our tastes expand and mature as we grow older, so also our exposure to The Big Cook Book needs to expand and become broader as we ourselves mature.  As the writer to the Hebrews suggested, there comes a time you have to stop drinking mother’s milk and start eating meat.  A steady diet of fluffernutters just won’t cut it any more.

          As I thought about this week’s sermon, I was struck by the connections between our Bibles and our cookbooks, besides the fact that if all they ever do is sit on the shelf, the results become all-too-obvious.  As I mentioned earlier, Blythe gave me the newest version of Joy of Cooking a few years ago, which meant I could put my older version to rest.  Like my old beloved well-thumbed Bible that I can’t use any more, the old Joy betrays years of wear: gravy spatters, cookie dough spots, torn pages, broken bindings at favorite recipes.  The new Joy shows signs of use, but it is still much crisper than the old, and is only now beginning to fall open naturally to oft-consulted passages.

          But there are also revealing textual differences as well, and like the parishioner who hears the New Revised Standard Version of the 23d psalm and longs for the King James, there are some passages in my new cookbook which send me scrambling back to the old; one of them is the passage I read you this morning about roast beef.  I understand that with an increased emphasis on food safety, it makes sense to tell us what the final temperature of our roast beef needs to be.  But did you notice the revision does not tell us how long to cook the roast?  The old Joy reads, “roast 18 to 20 minutes to the pound for medium-rare.  A rolled roast will require 5 to 10 minutes longer to the pound.”  To me this is much more helpful – if I’m having you over for dinner at 7:00 and I have a four pound roast to prepare, I want to know what time to put it in the oven.  And so like the Bible, there are times I want to read the latest version, but there are times that the earlier edition tells me exactly what I need to know.

          And besides, even the best chefs still consult their cook books for new ideas, or to be reminded of old ones.  Many  years ago two very good friends opened up their own restaurant, and in the first six months of operation, they were kind enough to let me help out in the kitchen, slicing and dicing and doing a lot of their prep work.  Both Dave and Julie were graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, had experience at several of the highest rated restaurants in Litchfield County, and established a justified following among their clientele.  So I don’t mind saying I was more than a little surprised the first time I witnessed them pulling out one or another cook book several times a morning to check ingredients, or to see how they could jazz up an item they already had on their menu, or to find a different kind of hors d’oeuvre for a catering job.  I had just assumed that by the time they got their own restaurant, chefs wouldn’t need cookbooks any more.  But then again, that’s probably about as accurate as saying that once you’ve been in church for a few years, you don’t need the Bible any more.

          Still, even the best-prepared meal is of little value unless somebody is going to eat it.  How many parents have gone to extra lengths to make a special dinner, only to have junior say, “It has carrots in it.”  “I thought you liked carrots.”  “I used to, but not any more.”  “Well when did you stop liking carrots?”  “Today.”  “All right, then take the carrots out.”  “But it’ll still taste like carrots, and I don’t like carrots.”  You know how it goes.  Even the best-prepared meal is of little value unless somebody is going to eat it.  During their forty years in the wilderness, the people of Israel were sometimes hard-pressed to find enough food for everyone.  But just when things looked most desperate, God came through with manna, a sweet, nourishing bread-like substance that appeared on the ground at dawn.  The people collected the manna in baskets, and there was plenty to eat for all, and with their strength renewed, they continued their journey toward the Promised Land.  But for as many times as God miraculously provided something for them to eat, they soon grew tired of it and began to long for the days when they had more variety.  As Michele read for us, they moaned, “O that we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing but all this manna to look at.”  To a point, you can understand how they might get tired of the same miracle, over and over again¼ maybe.  But longing for the days in Egypt?  The days of slavery and persecution and forced labor?  Was God’s provision so quotidian that they wanted to go back to live under Pharaoh’s thumb?  Even the best-prepared meal is of little value unless somebody is going to eat it.  Just so, even the most eloquently proclaimed word of God isn’t going to do much good if you and I don’t make it the source and center of our lives.

          And so it is a good idea to go back to The Big Cook Book on a regular basis, to find the nourishment and sustenance which the human spirit so ardently needs.  Many people are understandably anxious about the life that swirls around us, and between a stubborn pandemic and an ongoing border crisis and simmering racial tension and a warming climate, this could well be one of those moments in history when we turn to the pages of that Book to see if we can once again locate that recipe which has in other times of uncertainty and turmoil sustained people.  It sure seems like a much better idea than trying to create a whole new kind of stew, filching ingredients from other people’s recipes, or keeping our own personal recipes a secret from people we don’t care to share them with.  So, mindful of God’s desire to feed us with every good morsel, let’s fire up those appetites, and let’s get cooking!

          Let us pray.




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