A Belle Mélange
Acts 10:34-43 Matthew 16:13-19
In the 2001 movie, Tortilla Soup, Hector Elizondo plays the part of a retired chef—retired because he has somehow lost his sense of taste (and, with it, his self-confidence). But his old partner calls him with an emergency—they are catering a fancy dinner and one of the junior chefs has messed up the dessert. They need his help to rescue the dinner! He arrives on the scene, sees what they have to work with, and shows them how to take their ingredients and create a wonderful dessert. Overwhelmed with relief, his old partner asks him, “What shall we call it?” He thinks for just a moment, then says, “A Belle Mélange.” (French for “A Beautiful Mess”!) Perfect! A beautiful mess.
That scene came to mind when I was asked to address a chapter of M.O.P.S. (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers). That year’s theme for MOPS International was “A Beautiful Mess,” because it describes what it’s like to be engaged in the enterprise of raising pre-schoolers. Those of you who are parents know what I am talking about:
- The house is almost always a mess, no matter how hard you work to keep things picked up and at least sanitary. One parent says, “Living with a 2-year-old is like using a blender without a lid!”
- The kids are almost always a mess, no matter how clean their clothes were at the beginning of the day!
- You yourself are a bit of a mess. Hair is not perfect, clothes are not perfect, eyes are puffy from lack of sleep—and I’m just talking about the dads! It’s usually even worse for the moms!
- And yet—and yet, living with pre-schoolers can be the most beautiful time in one’s life.
- The kids are precious, learning about their world and saying the cutest things. And when they sing, their little warbling voices just melt your heart!
- Pictures taken when the kids are little have the power to make you laugh and cry at the same time—especially once you have survived those early years!
- It really is “a beautiful mess”—sure, it’s messy, but if you focus too much on keeping it clean and neat, you miss out on the beauty!
As I talked about these things with the moms at MOPS, I realized that the church really is “a beautiful mess” as well. Think about it:
- Some people in church are crabby, inflexible, argumentative, irritating—including the pastors!
- Despite our best efforts, our human shortcomings diminish the effectiveness of many of the things we try to do in the name of Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work, but we are a bit like the Rag-Tag Army described in Martin Bell’s wonderful book, The Way of the Wolf. Here’s what he says about the church:
“I think God must be very old and very tired…God’s been on the march a long time, you know. And look at God’s rag-tag little army! All he has for soldiers are you and me. Dumb little army. Listen! The drum beat isn’t even regular. Everyone is out of step. And there! You see? God keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of God’s tinier soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or run in a field, or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush. God will never get anywhere that way. And yet, the march goes on.
Do you see how the marchers have broken up into little groups? Look at that group up near the front. Now, there’s a snappy outfit…at least they’re in step with each other. Only they’re not wearing their shoes. They’re carrying them in their hands. Silly little band. They won’t get far before God will have to stop again.
Or how about that other group over there? They’re all holding hands as they march. The only trouble with this is the people on each end of the line. Pretty soon they realize that one of their hands isn’t holding onto anything—one hand is reaching, empty, alone. And so they hold hands with each other, and everybody marches around in circles. The more people holding hands, the bigger the circle. And, of course, a bigger circle is deceptive because as we march along it looks like we’re going someplace, but we’re not. And so God must stop again. You see what I mean? God will never get anywhere that way!
If God were more sensible he’d take his little army and shape them up. Why, who ever heard of a soldier stopping to romp in a field? It’s ridiculous. But even more absurd is a general who will stop the march of eternity to go and bring the soldier back. But that’s God for you. His is not endless, empty marching. He is going somewhere. His steps are deliberate and purposeful. He may be old, and he may be tired. But he knows where he is going. And he means to take every last one of his tiny soldiers with him. Only there aren’t going to be any forced marches. And, after all, there are frogs and flowers, and thorns and underbrush along the way. And even though our foreheads have been signed with the sign of the cross, we are only human. And most of us are afraid and lonely and would like to hold hands or cry or run away. And we don’t know where we are going, and we can’t seem to trust God—especially when it’s dark out and we can’t see him! And he won’t go on without us. And that’s why it’s taking so long.
Listen! The drum beat isn’t even regular. Everyone is out of step. And there! You see? God keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of God’s tinier soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or run in a field, or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush. God will never get anywhere that way. And yet, the march goes on.” (Martin Bell, The Way of the Wolf)
Friends, this is the church that Jesus describes in Matthew 16. Peter—fickle Peter—has just proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonas…you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not overpower it.”
It doesn’t take much looking to see that the church is indeed a mess, but Christ has empowered it to be a beautiful mess!
- Despite the mess, God is using the church to heal the broken-hearted and bind up the wounded;
- Despite the mess, God is using the church to expose people to the Gospel, and to open the doors to God’s grace;
- Despite the mess, despite the noise, God’s grace is sufficient for us, and we exult in the music of the power of Christ dwelling in us!
And how does this happen? Well, I certainly don’t understand it. But we are told, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” God’s Spirit is at work.
I want to finish today by having you think about your compost heap (if you are lucky enough to have one). It’s full of grass clippings and vegetable scraps and orange peels and lots of coffee grounds (if it’s like ours!) You can also put small weeds in the compost. It looks like a mess. But, in the spring, you can pull out wonderful, black compost that makes your garden and flower beds very happy! Even the weeds have contributed to this beautiful mess, reminding us of the promise that “God causes all things to work together for good.” Even the weeds. Even the messiness.
Glory to God for the Belle Mélange!