I recently returned from an amazing trip to Nashville, Tennessee and the Festival of Homiletics. The week was spent wallowing in sermons and inspiring worship. But the week also had another critical component. Much of my time (like perhaps many of you who attended) was spent wallowing in great southern food: grits, sweet potato biscuits, fried okra, green beans cooked to oblivion with fatback, fried chicken, smoked ribs, catfish-you name it we had it. But of all the things I managed to consume in Nashville, my personal favorite was the chicken fried steak.
I grew up eating this delicious meal on Sundays after church. (It was too fancy to serve during the week.) And in the hands of a knowledgeable southern chef, it is an amazing dish. In the hands of a novice, however, it can be a really big mess. I know... I tried to make it one time.
The recipe didn't look that hard: tenderize a piece of cube steak, drag it through a load of flour, salt and pepper, and throw it into a sizzling hot frying pan. Voi la, you have chicken fried steak.
Unfortunately, voi la didn't come as easily as I had expected. First, I hammered the meat to the point where it began to fall apart. Then I dragged it through a little too much flour and salt and pepper so that rather than a light protective coating, the flavor of the meat was completely overwhelmed. Worst of all, I burned the daylights out of it so it looked like a shriveled piece of coal.
In the hands of a novice, chicken fried steak becomes a big mess. In the hands of a knowledgeable chef, however, these ingredients completely transform ... much like life. We can make a real mess of things when we try and cook up life on our own. It is only when we turn it over to a knowledgeable chef, that things can transform.
Think about the steps in preparing chicken fried steak:
1) Tenderize the steak with a meat hammer. Now, we all know what it feels like to get beaten up. And when we try and handle those times by ourselves, like that steak I over-hammered, things tend to fall apart. Hard knocks can tend to shut us down, toughen our hearts, and consume us with our own problems. In the hands of a greater chef, however, the hard knocks simply tenderize us a bit, open us up, and bring us empathy and compassion for others.
2) Drag the meat through some flour, salt and pepper. We all know what it feels like to get dragged around. Life is never a long straight road. There are always great twists and turns which make us feel like we are being dragged this way and that. And like that steak I dragged through too much flour, we can start to feel overwhelmed -- we can lose ourselves in the fray. In the hands of a greater chef, however, getting dragged around just brings us a light, safe, protective coating... a coating of faith. Like the words of Isaiah 40:31: "But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
3) Finally, we have to throw it into a sizzling hot frying pan. Lord knows, we all know how it feels to be in the frying pan. We've all been in a place where the heat, the pressure, and the expectations were just overwhelming. And when we face them by ourselves, we tend to shrivel up, like my little sad piece of meat. But when we partner with the spirit, the heat can transform us. It's like the old saying: "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." When we face the heat with an experienced chef, adversity becomes transformation.
And here's the real kicker ... the chef is waiting. All we have to do is ask for help: Ask for help when life beats us up; Ask for help when we get dragged around; Ask for help when we find ourselves in the sizzling hot fires of life.
Remember in the hands of a greater chef, life (like chicken fried steak) can be utterly transformed.
Taken from the sermon "Chicken Fried Steak and the Trinity" recorded Sunday, May 30, 2010 at Madison Avenue Baptist Church. http://www.mabcnyc.org/mabc-audio.htm
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