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Lent III 2012


A minimalist's Lent

Ex. 20: 1-17
I Cor. 1: 18-25
Jn. 2: 13-22


Mark Bittman is a renowned food journalist whose columns appeared in the New York Times for a number of years. I have here a one of Bittman's recipes for "The simplest Roast Chicken". At the bottom of the recipe Mr. Bittman writes, "…roast chicken is almost infinitely variable. But at its simplest, with only salt, pepper, and olive oil, it's really really good. Add an herb sprig or a clove of garlic, or both, for excitement." [Note 1]


A key word here is "simplest". He shared recipes that contained a few ingredients coupled with simple steps for preparation. Appropriately, Mr. Bittman's NYT columns were titled "The Minimalist". A minimalist is one who focuses on the basic and the essential in order to create a meaningful experience. In this case, he shares a recipe for simple roast chicken that is "very, very good". Perhaps you remember the Disney production 'The Jungle Book". There, a singing-dancing bear sings, " give me the bare necessities of life…" A minimalist.


Minimalism is used in a technical way in art and architecture. One may decorate a room, for example, from a minimalist perspective. Sparsely furnished, with limited though perhaps contrasting colors, modest window hangings, taken together accentuate the floor space and natural lighting of a room in an engaging manner.


The Story of Jesus "cleansing" the temple has always captivated me. It is an important and virtually unique episode in the ministry of Jesus. It's important because it is recorded in all four Gospels. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke describe this event as taking place very late in the ministry of Jesus. These three Gospel writers share the view that this incident is a "trigger event" which puts in motion the opposition to Jesus and seals the decision to have him arrested.  According to John, this charged event happens much earlier. It sets a tone of tension and conflict in a way that will inform the debates that Jesus has with his opponents throughout the remainder of the Gospel. What is unique about this event is the way in which it shows Jesus engaging in demonstrative action. We see a side of Jesus here not so well seen in his parables, discourses, or even his miracles. We see a passionate, prophetic, even irascible Jesus. His confrontation in the temple highlights the level and intensity of the conflict between him and his opponents. It is at the temple, a national sacred site, during a pilgrim festival, with other devout Jews from all over the known world, that Jesus shows his activist side. The temple was to be a place where all Jews could participate in sacrificial worship as a part of the Covenant relationship with God. Yet as pilgrims are confronted with changing their various currencies into temple currency, and seeking to purchase an animal for sacrifice, they find a religious institution that is over burdened and perhaps marked by corruption. Jesus responds. There is a cautionary note here for Christians, as well. The church often creates barriers and impediments for people that hinder their relationship with God.


The story of Jesus confrontation in the temple is a story about political minimalism. Here Jesus acts in a way consistent with his preaching. He acts as a reformer who wants to cut through the over burden and get to the essential aspects of The Covenant. Jesus emphasizes the basic importance of a relationship between God and God's People together with the core values of faith, righteousness, mercy, and compassion. The story of Jesus confrontation in the temple, according to John, holds up two very basic key components from a minimalist perspective.

  • The importance of a faithful relationship with a God who is available to God's people.

  • The central significance of Jesus as a location for the presence of God, making God available to all people through the death and resurrection of the Christ.

St. Paul has a similar minimalist perspective in today's second reading. "We proclaim Christ crucified…" Paul writes. This is a crucial minimalist proclamation not clouded by philosophical sidebars or respectability issues.


The minimalist approach can be compelling when looking at any number of aspects of our faith tradition. The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning, for instance, is one of two accounts of the Decalogue or "Ten Commandments." The Commandments are grounded in the Law-the law that devout Jews understand as life giving. The Ten Commandments have often not fared very well when they have been taken over by Christians. We memorize them, put them on stone plaques in our churches; but we have also taken them out of context, failed to heed them as a call away from idolatry and toward justice. We have at times reduced them to a bland harmless checklist of personal "does and don'ts". It's the careful difference between being a minimalist and losing something completely by taking it out of context.


Looking at the commandments through minimalist eyes, we may see them as stark but bold facets of our relationships with both God and Neighbor. They are a call, not just to keep the rules but to, as Jesus pointed out, love God with all our heart, and act towards our neighbors with a love for justice.


In preparing for this morning, I came across an article on the Ten Commandments by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. As I read this to you, see if you can identify each of the Ten in turn [Note 2].


It's interesting that here Rabbi Shapiro draws on the Jewish tradition as well as the Vietnamese Zen tradition. It's a minimalist perspective. I would suggest it is also one that commends itself to faithful followers of Jesus.


Lent is a season that demands reflection upon a lean, stripped down, essential Christian faith.  The readings for this morning confront us with a Christ who shows to us, and demands from us, the essentials in our relationship with God, with Christ, with neighbor, and with the society around us.


The Rev. Canon Rod Gillis Lent III 2012



Simplest Roast Chicken

by Mark Bittman


Yield 4 servings

Time 50 to 60 minutes



1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper



1. Put a cast-iron skillet on a low rack in the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Rub the chicken all over with the oil and sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper.


2. When the oven and skillet are hot, carefully put the chicken in the skillet, breast side up. Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees. Continue to roast until the bird is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meaty part of the thigh reads 155 to 165 degrees.


3. Tip the pan to let the juices flow from the chicken’s cavity into the pan. Transfer the chicken to a platter and let it rest for at least 5 minutes. Carve and serve.


Rabbi Rami Shapiro Takes on The Ten Commandments

1. God is the source of liberation. Aware of the suffering caused by enslavement to things and ideas, I vow to free myself form all additions and compulsive behaviors, both material and spiritual.

2. God cannot be named. Aware of the suffering caused by gods created in our own image for our own profit, I vow to recognize all ideas about God as productions of human beings, bound by history and circumstance, and forever incapable of defining the Reality Beyond Naming.


3. God cannot be owned. Aware of the suffering caused by the misuse of God and religion in the quest of power, I vow to liberate myself from all ideologies that demonize others, and to honor only those teachings that uphold the freedom and dignity of woman, man, and nature.


4. Remember the Sabbath. Aware of the suffering caused by slavish attachment to work, consumption, and technology, I vow to set aside the Sabbath as a day of personal freedom, creativity, and play.


5. Honor your parents. Aware of the suffering caused by old age, I vow to care for my parents to the best of my ability and to promote the dignity and well-being of all elderly people.


6. Do not murder. Aware of the suffering caused by the wanton destruction of life, I vow to cultivate respond and gentleness toward all beings.


7. Avoid sexual misconduct. Aware of the suffering caused by sexual irresponsibility, I vow to honor human sexuality and never degrade it through violence, ignorance, selfishness, or deceit.


8. Do not steal. Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, injustice, theft, and oppression, I vow to respect the property of others, to work for the just sharing of resources, and to cultivate generosity in myself and my community.


9. Do not lie. Aware of the suffering caused by harmful speech, I vow to speak truthfully and with compassion, to avoid gossip and slander, and to refrain from uttering words that cause needless division or discord.


10. Do not covet. Aware of the suffering caused by endless desire, I vow to live simply and avoid debt, to enjoy what I have before seeking to have more, and to labor for what I desire, honestly and justly.