Monday, April 10, 2017
“Life is a long lesson in humility.” ― J.M. Barrie (author of “Peter Pan”)
This is a story about when a piece of pie is not just a piece of pie. It took place a long time ago when I was a pastor of a small church in Arkansas. It’s about a lesson that might be entitled “Humble Pie” but you decide.
For me, pie is best when eaten cold. Maybe it was growing up in the desert heat of West Texas, but I have always preferred cold desserts to hot ones. My very favorite is what my mother called “lemon icebox pie.” Not lemon meringue, but the one made with Eagle Brand condensed milk. Of course, anything tastes great if it has Eagle Brand in it. It could make Spam taste good. Anyway, my friends who know of my fondness for lemon icebox pie sometimes bring me one. My wife won’t make them for me because she is under the delusion that Eagle Brand is not a dietetic, low-calorie, nonfat food, and I have never been able to convince her otherwise. Happily, I still get one from time to time from friends or parishioners.
Now when I get one, I do share it with the rest of the family, including my wife. One night after we had finished dinner, and then had a lemon icebox pie for dessert, something very rare happened – there was one piece left over. This was a first, something truly unheard of in our household, but I was just too full to eat that last piece. I lovingly covered it with plastic wrap, put it in the refrigerator, and went to bed dreaming about eating it the next day when I came home from the church. It was summer. It was hot, and a cold piece of lemon icebox pie was a mighty seductive force. All the next day it kept intruding into my thoughts, but finally the day was over. I was going to go home, take a shower, put on cooler clothes, and settle down with my piece of the pie. I did just that, but a problem arose when I got to the refrigerator. The pie was gone. I searched that refrigerator as if I were a DEA agent looking for hidden drugs – but to no avail. The piece of pie was gone.
Now since my wife was the only one home, I immediately knew what thief, what inconsiderate, selfish and greedy person had purloined my pie. By the time I got from the kitchen to the den, I was loaded for bear. Steam was coming out of my ears, and there was fire in my eyes. Before my wife could utter a single word, I opened up with both barrels. Through clenched teeth, I enumerated all of her character flaws that would have led her to commit such a horrendous sin. She patiently waited (a character trait that has kept us married for 51 years) until I ran out of steam and vocabulary. She told me that she knew I had wanted that piece of pie, which only further convinced me of the righteousness of my position. Then she told me that the boy who had mowed our yard that afternoon had collapsed from the heat while he was mowing. She brought him in the house and gave him a cool drink and my piece of the pie. Very quietly and under complete control, she said, “Reverend,” (I was dead meat. She only called me “reverend” when she had God on her side) “was I wrong to give drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry?”
I did seem to remember a quotation in Matthew that was something akin to her question. Oh, there was no beating around this bush. I had allowed my desire for something which was really not good for me to lead me away from my work for the Lord and to attack a righteous woman’s character. In short, to act like the animal that Balaam rode. My wife taught kindergarten, and since I was acting like a 5-year-old, her lesson was not lost on me. We all need to be slow to speak, slow to anger, and more importantly, to keep focused on what truly matters – and what really mattered wasn’t my getting to eat a piece of pie.
You can learn a lot from pie. It can lead you away from God, or it can be the instrument of caring and grace. Pie, especially lemon icebox pie, is to be used wisely. The good things of life are all like that. They can lure us from God and into actions for which we are later ashamed, or they can be agents of mercy and grace. Sins are those things that pull us away from God, and they include many more than those listed in the Ten Commandments. Any good thing can become a bad thing if it becomes a wedge between you and God. We must be careful how we use the things we love, the things that all come from God whether we want to acknowledge it or not. Don’t let something good pull you away from God, even if it’s a single piece of pie.