I remember a trip when Reese was a baby. We were going out of state to visit family. Before the trip, Reese was eating her solid food like crazy. Mashed up carrots, peas, squash, sweet potatoes…it was all good, very good as far as Reese was concerned. It all was going down her hatch with smiles and giggles.
But sometime during the trip Reese decided to change course. She wouldn’t eat her solids. Instead she’d yell like crazy when we put them in front of her and try to spoon them into her. Reese had one good dinner the whole week. She kept up the dinner rage when we returned home.
Not long after we got back, we had the church elders over to the house for a meeting. One of the snacks we put out consisted of these little orange and red peppers you could use, in lieu of chips, to dip in ranch dressing and eat.
We had a lot of peppers left over from the meeting, and Reese decided they looked worthy of a try. After a few tastes Reese concluded that she was unwilling to accept her pureed solid foods from a spoon any longer.
But she would be gladly suck them off a pepper. I don’t remember if the idea to use the pepper instead of the spoon originated with Reese or with us. Probably with Reese, but that’s what happened.
It worked, but ultimately it complicated things unnecessarily.
A friend said shortly after the experiment began, “If dinner isn’t dinner without a pepper, that’s not a big deal until you’re caught without a pepper.” The friend was right. Reese got into the mindset: No Pepper = No Solid Food. We started breaking Reese of the pepper fetish a week or two later, but it was tough going for a while.
The pepper was cute and fun and a great trick that made people laugh when they saw it, but a spoon would have also done the job. The pepper wasn’t ultimately important. What was essential was that Reese getting the good, solid food into her. For a while that reality was obvious to everyone except her.
I think we can “pepper up” our lives of Christian faith pretty easily. We can take all sorts of things that are interesting, helpful, even fun, and pretend they are essential.
For one example, Christians do this all the time with music. Someone says, “It’s just not a worship service unless the music is (fill in your favorite instrument or musical era here).” That can easily become a pepper.
It’d be interesting to get Christians in a room and see how many “peppers” we could list – peppers about clothing, peppers about carpeting, peppers about how decisions are made, peppers about the right language to express what Jesus has done for us, peppers about what language Christians should never ever use, peppers about the proper roles for particular people.
There can be so many peppers. And, we can get so caught up with the peppers we won’t take the solid food we need without them. We can all go a little Reese like that, I suppose. I'm sure I can.
I remember a story from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4. The scene is Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth, his hometown.
Luke said that on the Sabbath Jesus went to synagogue, to public worship. It was his habit. In that service, Jesus took a scroll of Scripture, in this case the prophet Isaiah, and he read from it.
He read from it bright words of God’s deliverance of the world – especially the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. After Jesus had read the passage, he indicated that the words of Isaiah, the promises of God, were being fulfilled that very day through his own ministry.
What we see here as important for Jesus – public worship, an open ear and life to God’s word, and a claiming of the service God has called us to give the world in God’s name – are also the essential dimensions of life for people who consider ourselves his disciples. These are critical parts of Christian life “un-peppered,” if you will.
If we are interested in seeing our lives deepen in God’s love this is what we do. This is what followers of Christ have done consistently down through the centuries.
In Christ, we covenant to be with one another in public worship on the day set aside. This becomes at least as important as being present at work or at school.
(Imagine being in your community’s service of worship every Sunday for a year unless you were out of town or dead. Imagine everyone in that faith community doing the same. How might that change things for you and your community?)
In Christ, we reflect on Scripture with others. We don’t do this simply to learn facts. We do it to better notice and know God’s presence in our life and our world.
(Imagine that each time you read and discuss Scripture you are in a conversation not only with yourself, or perhaps other people, but also with God. Conversation is how we get to know people better. It can work like that with the Lord as well. And this knowledge leads us into prayer, which is yet another part of the conversation.)
In Christ, we give away the specific gifts God has given us to share to make this world more like heaven.
(Imagining asking friends what issues in the world keep them up at night because they yearn to see God make them better. Imagining asking each other what we have been blessed with that others need us to share with them so they can know that God is real. Imagine asking each other where we see Christ at work around us and how we can join in.)
There are all sorts of different specifics as to how each of us live out these dimensions of Christian life. God loves variety. But these dimensions are essential. They aren’t peppers. They are the good, solid food necessary for life.
Let’s help one another focus on them. Let’s keep each other from peppering things up and missing too much of what matters most.