By Rev. Jane Weston
Rev. Weston is priest of St. Simon’s Episcopal Church. This was her sermon at the annual Community Thanksgiving service in Rockdale County, Georgia. Rev. Weston grew up Southern Baptist in Kentucky.
A couple of years ago I was looking through a stack of magazines and came across a poll where readers were asked, “Are you a biscuit or a cornbread person?” This debate was revived in the middle of our presidential election.
As someone who enjoys cooking, I was drawn into the debate and concluded that I side with the biscuit people. Before you criticize, understand that there are valid reasons why I choose biscuits.
I come from a long line of biscuit people. My grandmother was a biscuit person who treated her grandchildren to pans of biscuits hot from her oven. She even used locally milled flour. I inherited her biscuit cutter, an old snuff can with a dent in the cutting edge. To this day, my biscuits have a dimple in their sides. My mother’s biscuits were even better, and her stainless bowl and pastry blender are revered tools in her kitchen. She’s taught four generations how to handle dough for feather-light biscuits.
So, I come to the biscuit allegiance honestly. I’ve picked my side. Biscuits are my southern bread of choice.
Now, understand that I know that the biscuit versus cornbread debate is a good-natured one. Further, I’m hopeful that my recitation of family biscuit lore suggests we come to our positions in life based on our own heritage and life experiences. Yet, this “debate” points to an unfortunate trend. Do we have to be a biscuit or cornbread person and nothing in between?
We’ve come to a point in our common lives where we are constantly being asked to pick sides, and take one position against another. Unfortunately, this has often led to taking a position against another person and not just against that person’s ideas.
A new Gallup poll suggests that 75 percent of Americans believe that we are divided as a country. News stories tell us that more people than ever do not want to be with family this Thanksgiving because they do not want to fight about politics. One person suggested that instead of having an adult table and a kids’ table, families should have a red table and a blue table to keep the peace.
Instead of engaging in healthy conversations about our national life, we have been polarized to such a degree that we refrain from talking about our common life because we are afraid of igniting an argument –even with those we love the most. What a sad and tragic commentary that families do not want to be together this holiday.
Our reading from the Gospel of John 6:25-35 offers good news because it offers a way forward. Have you noticed that Jesus always offers us a way forward? But note this: Jesus clears up any wrongful assumptions by the crowd that Moses fed their ancestors in the wilderness. Jesus reminds them, that the Father gives the true bread from heaven.
Transpose that to our situation today. Jesus reminds us that it is not our earthly leaders that provide the ultimate sustenance for us, but it is God. And in the real kicker, Jesus tells the crowds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Somehow that puts our current affairs in the right order.
When we find ourselves inclined to hunker down in our respective camps, we should take a deep breath, elevate our vision and remind ourselves that we are followers of Jesus, and that he is our ultimate bread of life.
Oh, and we should be really careful that we don’t try to turn Jesus into cornbread or biscuits. Let’s not try to form the Almighty into our image.
Jesus gives us a way forward. Jesus tells us to love God and love our neighbor. His is the voice we should listen to this Thanksgiving when the temptation is to throttle Uncle Fred when he crosses the line and says something inflammatory. Instead of reacting negatively, give Uncle Fred a hug because you love him. It will shock him, and who knows, it might shut him up, too!
Jesus doesn’t give us a way forward just to get us through the holidays. He gives us what we need to move into the next year and beyond. As Christians we should acknowledge that we follow his higher calling and refuse to sink to the lows have been set before us. As followers of Jesus, we are the ones who can change the tide of negativity that is bringing us down.
In our baptism service, Episcopalians promise that with God’s help, we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
It seems that when we start really listening to those we consider opponents, we hear that for the most part, we want the same things. We in smaller towns especially know this to be true. We want opportunities for our families, safe communities, and justice for all. We may have different ideas on how to achieve these things, but that’s okay and even necessary. When we listen, we find that we are closer to our “opponents” than we think.
In fact, if you and I talk, you’ll learn that I like cornbread, and my cast iron skillet is seasoned to perfection. I might even share my Mom’s recipe for dressing. You see, she learned years ago that dressing made from biscuits is too heavy, and one made with cornbread is too crumbly. However, when you get the right mix of cornbread and biscuits, you get structure and texture. When the two breads come together in harmony, it is a thing of beauty. Perhaps I should send Mom’s dressing recipe to our national leaders!
This holiday season, God bless you and your family, our community, and our churches, and God bless this country of ours.