Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48
A couple of weeks ago, I hosted a luncheon at my house. Members of our Outreach Committee were invited along with some leaders of local non-profits. Together we discussed ways that our church could be involved in meeting the needs in our community. This is the kind of conversation I love to have.
While having the conversation came naturally, having guests in our home was an area where I was rusty. I overdid the event, of course (though I find that’s rarely a problem when it comes to food). Instead of going “light” – as in the typical ladies lunch – I thought it would be worth blogging about so I pulled out the Bass Family and Friends cookbook and chose Pepsi Pot Roast and Grape Salad.
The Pepsi Pot Roast is made in the crock pot, which is always great because it makes the house smell like the meal you are waiting for. I had to get up early to start it and give it the full 6 hours to cook. But after I turned off the alarm, the rest was easy. The recipe simply requires putting the ingredients in, then turning the knob on the cooker.
Grape Salad is one of those dishes for which the name, I assume, is a metaphor. It is far more dessert than salad and is, therefore, a very decadent part of the meal. I also served an Indian-style rice from another cookbook, and made an appetizer of bruschetta topped with caramelized onions, apples and blue cheese (if you link to it, you have to scroll down a bit to get to this recipe) from a Grace Before Meals newsletter. Thank you, Nicole, for bringing the delicious dessert. If I do say so myself, the meal was awesome.
Cooking wasn’t the only labor, however. As my husband and I haven’t played host in a long time, we also haven’t done much deep cleaning. As a result, we have a house full of small handprints on the wall, crayon art, plus the dents and scuffs that come not only from children, but from clumsy parents as well. Don’t even ask me about our front yard.
On Sunday afternoon, my dear husband (I mean it) and I set to cleaning the spaces of our house that we open to guests. Most of it was fairly simple. Picking up toys and dusting was all that was really necessary. The kitchen, however, was the main target. Like most, we don’t have adequate storage space, and so a number of assorted items became part of the décor. The 25 pound bag of bread flour sat next to the food processor with the box of measuring spoons and cups sitting on top of it. The microwave had become a repository of our children’s art work and newsletters brought home from school. We had put lots of things on top of the refrigerator, many had been long forgotten. In addition, we had to deal with the layer of muck that simply appears over time on any surface around which cooking takes place.
While it was nice to envision a clean kitchen, doing this work caused me to reflect on the tendency many of us have toward perfectionism. Perfectionism is often seen as a problem, and rightly so. Far too frequently, the good becomes victim to the great. We place our expectations so high that we defeat our own purpose as we try to reach them.
The Bible doesn’t help us much. It speaks of perfection in words that we have struggled with for 2,000 years. Very simply, we are called to be perfect. Thanks a lot. How can we be perfect when we know that . . . well . . . we can’t? Scripture tells us that too. We will sin and we will fall short, no matter how clean our kitchen.
John Wesley can help us out, however. He interpreted our scriptural call to perfection as meaning perfected in love.
The perfection I teach is perfect love; loving God with all the heart . . . That we are to expect it, not at death, but every moment . . . - Wesley's Works, Vol. VI, p. 500
This last part is the hardest. Perfection is not only for the next life. We are to seek it in this one. As a United Methodist minister, I have to vocally assent to this goal with the aim of actually achieving it on this side of the grave. Most of you will know that I’m not quite there yet.
Even so, this is a worthy goal and one we shouldn’t shy away from. Nor should we excuse ourselves simply on the grounds of its impossibility. The central tenet of the Christian faith and the primary descriptor of our God is “love.” It is our first call, though also the one we Christians have the hardest time living into reality. Give me rules! These I can follow and check of my list. Give me strict guidelines with specific measures that tell me if I am right or wrong (or if my neighbors are). But ask me to live daily the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ that requires me to work constantly for the good of others as much as for my own, and that extends even to people who hate me? Now, that’s a tall order.
But this is what we should expect if we are either courageous or impetuous enough to take on the title of Christian. If we take it seriously, it is hard work. Spending a life in a continual reach for perfection even – and maybe especially – if we know we will never fully reach it, is the kind of outrageous thing our faith asks of us. Yes, it will take our greatest effort. But why should we give our God any less?
Working toward personal “perfection in love” is much like scrubbing our kitchen literally from top to bottom. We clean up the forgotten coffee spill on the cabinet. We wipe away the goo that gathers invisibly over the stove. The smudges we don’t see at a glance are probably the most important ones to tackle. Why should we clean what may not be seen? Because the most important Guest of all is coming not to visit, but to stay.
By the time my guests arrived, the house sparkled. My kitchen was probably cleaner than it had been since we moved in. And while I’m certain my friends would have been far too kind to mention it, I imagine they appreciated the crumbs swept away and the smudgy fingerprints wiped from the walls.
As I was clearing away the dishes after a marvelous lunch, I found one more smudge on a low cabinet door. I wiped it off. They will never be all gone, but I’ll keep scrubbing.
4 lb. seedless grapes 8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. sour cream 1 c. chopped pecans
1/3 c. white sugar 2 T. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
Wash grapes and dry. Mix cream cheese, sour cream, vanilla and sugars. Add grapes. Pour into serving dish and top with chopped pecans. Refrigerate until serving time. (I use fat free cream cheese and sour cream in this recipe.) – Diane Taylor
Pepsi Pot Roast*
3-lb. pot roast
2 16 oz. bottles diet cola
2 10¾ oz cans fat free, low sodium cream of mushroom soup
1 envelope dry onion soup mixes
* (uses 5- or 6-qt slow cooker)
Place meat in slow cooker. In large vowl, mix together mushroom soup, dry onion soup mix & cola. Pour over roast in cooker. Cover. Cook on high 6 hours.
Note: My friend, Patti, cut everything in half, but still cooked it for almost 6 hours, turning the heat down once it began to boil. – Marilyn Johnson