My son has started to help me make apple pie. It is logical that boys, especially teen and pre-teen boys, with their interest in large quantities and endless supplies of food, will quite often enjoy cooking. My daughter also enjoys apple pie, and she called home around Christmas time to ask for the instructions on how to make apple pie. These two events started me thinking about how an ecclesia is like an apple pie. As unlikely as you may think this is, I would like to share a few details about this idea that may help you to enjoy your ecclesial “pie” more fully, and appreciate it in all its diversity.
Let’s start with the apples. Granny Smith apples are often used in pies, or cooking apples of some kind, but from my experience a mixture of apples in pie works out really well. Some apples don’t taste quite as good but their texture is better than others. Granny Smith apples are juicy, tart, and they don’t break down much in cooking. Golden Delicious apples have a nice mellow flavor, Gala apples are crispy and zingy, and Macintosh apples are soft, juicy, and sweet. A good mixture of “apples” in our ecclesias works out well too. We don’t want everyone to be crispy and tart, we certainly need some mellow people, and the sweet ones are always an asset — but to have only one sort of people would not be as effective or as interesting. When mixed together, all these textures and flavors make an excellent combination.
The first step when making a pie is to peel, core and slice the apples. This should remind us of two things. First, we have to allow God to remove all the unwanted bits from us so that He can use us effectively in our ecclesias. He removes the marks, and the rotten hearts, and He slices us up the way He wants us. Second, although we are pretty good at slicing and dicing each other, perhaps we should remember to leave that job to God and not be so worried about the rotten bits that we would like to remove from each other. None of us are perfect, but all of us can be useful to God: “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any less a part of the body…” (1 Cor. 12:14-27).
Next in the pie-making procedure is the mixing of the sugar and spice and everything nice. I mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, and salt. Each of these does a job within the pie to make the pie better as a finished product. All of these things need to be there, and if we forget one of them the pie doesn’t taste right, or doesn’t look right, or doesn’t act right. These things are mixed together in a bowl and then liberally sprinkled over the sliced apples. Then the whole mixture is stirred together really well, so that the apples are completely coated with the sweet spicy mixture. This coating starts to make the apples release their juices, and soon there is a very tasty sticky coating all over the apple slices.
This mixture and the coating of the apples could be seen as many things, but the one I like best is that God has sprinkled and coated us with grace. He has covered us with the blood of Christ, and we no longer look like ordinary apples anymore. When we see and understand this covering, or coating, we are stirred by God to move in the direction He wants us to go and to choose to do His will. Sometimes we fly out of the bowl and want to go our own way, but this doesn’t make us any less covered by His grace, and He gently picks us up and puts us back where we belong. We need to remember that ALL of us are coated — there is not one person who doesn’t need this covering.
Follow the instructions
Setting the bowl of apples aside the next step is pastry. Some have said making good pastry is a difficult thing to do. In my experience there are only about three things that make a big difference in how well it turns out. First, buy the right shortening — I like Crisco vegetable shortening. Second, put the Crisco into the fridge for awhile, perhaps a few hours or overnight, just so that it gets nice and cold. Third, follow the instructions on the packaging. These Crisco people know their product best, so it would stand to reason that the recipe on the package should demonstrate the best use of the product. So what about the pastry of our ecclesial pie? Well, let’s use the right ingredients, use the most effective process, and follow the best instructions on how to run our lives, families, and ecclesias. God has given us the instructions and the recipe. He knows us the best because He created us, and He created ecclesias. If we follow His recipe we will be demonstrating the best use of His product.
Once the pastry is mixed, the next step is to roll out the bottom crust and place it gently into the pie plate. Pour in the apple mixture, piling the pieces into the plate. I like to make what my kids call “stacked apple pies”. That means I use a lot of apples and really mound it up so that it is a really tall pie. Don’t lose any pieces, or let any fall out of the plate. God has room for all of us, and we need to help each other to each find a place within our ecclesias too: “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for our own personal interest, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:1-4).
The one thing I do next really is not something for which I have any rational reason in the pie-making process. The only reason I do this next little thing is because my mother always did it! I put little pats of butter on three or four places on top of the apples. This little trick is apparently supposed to prevent the pie from overflowing in the oven, but I have to say the bottom of my oven will testify to the fact that this doesn’t work very well. I could blame it on the stacking of the apples, but you know what? My mother’s pies overflowed too, and she didn’t make “stacked” apple pies. So perhaps I just like to put pats of butter in my pies because my mom always did.
This is often the way with our ecclesias too. We do things because we always have, or our parents always have. These things don’t mean much, they are just habits and even when we know they don’t work we keep doing them, because they are the way we have always done things. Just like my pats of butter — because my mother always did that — we have our own ecclesial pats of butter, because that is just tradition. We can choose to do a couple of things with these ‘pats of butter’ once we realize they are just traditional and not Biblical. We can discontinue them, because the taste of the pie is not altered if I forget to put my pats of butter in. Or we can replace them with something that does work effectively, and that is Biblical too.
After rolling out the other half of the pastry, I place the top crust gently over the apples and seal it around the edges, by tucking and folding the two layers of pastry together. God seals us in within His family. We are registered in His family by faith. Only He can do this, only He knows who belongs in this pie, and He calls us to be there: “In [Christ] you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13,14).
The way of escape
Next I poke holes in the top of the crust with a fork. This allows the steam to escape when the fruit starts to cook as it heats up. These holes are the “way of escape so that we might be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13), and they are put there by God! In our ecclesias we allow the steam to escape through the top of the pie, because that is the direction our prayers of steam are supposed be going. So when we are tested, or put to the proof, we need to remember our way of escape. God is always there and our prayers are always heard.
Decorating the pie
Now it is time to decorate the top of the pie. I gently dab a bit of milk all over the top to help it to turn brown when it is baking. Then I sprinkle the top lightly with a little bit of white sugar and cinnamon. God makes our ecclesias look beautiful too. Even though we sin, and feel ugly, or can’t forgive ourselves, He has called us, covered us, sealed us and sprinkled us. We are His creation, and the end product will look good, without blemish, a perfect offering.
In the oven
Finally, time to go into the oven. Generally, my pies take about an hour to cook. The length of time may vary with the size of the stack of apples included between the crusts. As the heat rises between the crusts, exciting things are happening in the oven. The crust gets nice and brown and firm. The fruit starts getting hot, cooking, and the juices start bubbling, and the cornstarch and sugar start making the whole mixture stick together. It also begins to smell lovely because of the cinnamon.
God is applying the heat. He puts us in the oven. We must learn to let the sugar and cornstarch mix with the juices, and as they get hot they will glue us together as an ecclesia. If we use God’s heating process in our ecclesias, the steam will rise through its way of escape and will smell really great! Then, God puts on His oven mitts and takes us out of the oven. He lets us cool down and then He serves us up for Himself. We look great on the plate, we smell great with the cinnamon, sugar and apples all nicely mingled together, and the salt brings out the flavor of the apples.
Working together — with God
Perhaps my analogy will seem rather silly or simple. But it has helped me never to look at my ecclesial ‘apple pie’ the same way since. I know we have to allow ourselves to be sliced into the size and shape that God wants to use, and to be coated in the blood of Christ so that we will look and taste really good. We have been chosen, then covered, and sealed between the crusts of faith. We also have to learn that, when things get hot, then the cornstarch or glue of love, the sugar or sweetness of truth, the spicy smells of our prayers, and the salt of the word of God all make the “pie” stick together and give it flavor. Then is not the time to allow the pressure to blow us out of the pie, but to look for the air holes, the way God has provided as an escape so that we can bear the heat, not run from it.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
The Greek word translated “work” is the equivalent of the English “synergy”. Pies can’t be beautiful until they are put together and cooked. Left alone, none of the apples will make a pie by itself, and none of the ingredients can taste as good by itself; some, in fact, don’t taste very good at all. But when you put everything together, stir it all up and seal it in and bake it, then the finished product can become something wonderful.
Working in synergy also means cooperating. Not just with each other, but especially with God. “Since… we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God… let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:19-25).
Sometimes it’s a big challenge to appreciate all the flavors, and to allow all the pieces to fit together in faith, especially when the heat is on. Ecclesial life is not always easy. But pie? Well, that’s “easy as pie”!
Eileen Henthorn, Victoria, BC