Monthly Archives: March 2014

Putting Down Your Jar – Sermon on John 4:5-42

March 26, 2017 (updated from March 23, 2014)

Note: The preacher wears a large scarf or shawl for the beginning of the message. A large pitcher or stone jar also makes a good prop.

I’m from Sychar – you also probably know it as the city of Shechem, in Samaria. I don’t really live in Sychar, but just outside of town. Jacob’s well is about a mile from Sychar, and I probably live closer to the well than the town square. You can actually see the well from my doorway.

One day, about lunchtime, I saw a group of men walking toward the well. I could tell they were Jews, even at a distance. They looked like they had come a long way, probably taking the shortcut back to Galilee from Jerusalem. Most Jews cross the Jordan and travel around Samaria, so Sychar isn’t really “on the way” between Jerusalem and Galilee, unless you are trying to avoid the crowds on the roads.

I could tell that they didn’t have anything with them to draw water. They probably had no idea how deep the well was. Anyway, I picked up a water jar and headed toward the well. If I hurried, I could get there first, leave the jar for them, and be out of the way before they got there.

But I wasn’t fast enough. By the time I got to the well, only one man was there. I guess the others had headed into town to buy food. I lowered my eyes, and started to draw some water.

Out of the blue, the man spoke directly to me! This was unheard of! He was a Jew, and Jews do not speak to Samaritans if they can help it. Not only am I a Samaritan, but – as you can see – I’m a Samaritan woman. No self-respecting Jew would speak to a Samaritan woman. But he did.

“Give me a drink,” he said.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” I asked him. It was risky, answering him that way, but he had spoken first, so I took a chance.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Well, that explained it. This Jew was apparently a crazy man. No wonder he had no trouble speaking to a double outcast. He was probably an outcast himself. But I decided to humor him.

“Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get this living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Right, I thought. He’s definitely crazy, but probably harmless. So I played along.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

That’s when the joking and the banter stopped. He looked me right in the eye, and said, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

Maybe he realized he had overstepped some boundaries. To continue this conversation, a male relative really should be present. But he had raised a question that I was embarrassed to answer, so I told him the simplest truth: “I have no husband.”

I thought that would end the conversation, but then he said, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

How could he possibly know that? Now, you are probably thinking I am some floozy who goes through men the way water goes through a strainer. You might think I’m an adulteress, or a prostitute. But you’d be wrong. If I had committed adultery or prostitution, I would have been stoned to death for it.

You don’t know my story. You don’t know if my five husbands died, or divorced me because I burned the toast, or left because they couldn’t keep up with my study of scripture. For all you know, the man I am with now could be my brother-in-law, who took me into his household after my last husband died, according to levirate law. He would only be fulfilling his brotherly duty, and wouldn’t consider me his own wife, but his brother’s.

You don’t know my story, but this man did! Maybe he wasn’t crazy after all. Maybe he was a man of God.

So I tested this idea. I said, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

He answered, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

He’d lost me somewhere after “salvation is from the Jews.” I didn’t understand what he said about worshiping in spirit and truth. Oh well, it didn’t matter. Maybe he was just crazy, after all. But I knew that someday, I would have answers. So I said, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will teach us all things.”

Then he said something I will never forget:

“I who speak to you am he.”

[…. pause and let this sink in… change from attitude of wonder to high alert!]

I saw the others coming back from the village, but I couldn’t wait for them to get to the well. I left my water jar for them, and I ran into town as fast as I could. I went to the town square and shouted to all my neighbors, “Come see a man who told me everything I have ever done! You don’t think this could be the Messiah, do you? Come and see!

And they came. They all came. They left their lunches, their work, whatever they were doing, and the whole town came out to the well to see this man, this Jesus.

Many of them believed in him because of what I had told them. As we gathered around the well, he taught us about the Kingdom of God. And he told us we could be part of that Kingdom, even though we were Samaritans!

We asked him to stay with us, and he did. Jesus and his followers stayed two more days. Many more people came to believe in him because of his teaching. After he left, headed back to Galilee, some of them stopped by my house and said, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Friends, this is the Good News, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

[the “woman” addresses the congregation now as preacher, not storyteller, but still in character]

I see that you have a water jar, too. What’s in your jar?
Is it filled with Living Water that splashes out and bathes you in baptism?
As you drink of this Living Water, is your thirst for God satisfied?
Does the water in your jar fill you and nourish you, and spill over into the world around you?

Or is your jar filled with other things, so there is no room for Living Water in it?
Do the cobwebs and dust of old grudges and hurts keep you from tasting the Living Water that Jesus offers?
Has your jar filled up with the dirt of self-importance and pebbles of worry, so there is no room for God to fill your jar with the Holy Spirit?
Are there rocks of “I’m not good enough” crowding out the space that could be filled with Living Water?

Or, … Is your jar empty?

We live in a world of “not enough.”
There is not enough time,
not enough money,
not enough patience,
not enough love,
not enough hope,
not enough … life.

Our whole lives are “not enough.” We can talk about what needs to change; we can plan new programs and try new initiatives. But if each new program just replaces the one before it and nothing really changes, hope dies. We dry up.

Yet, Jesus tells us that he came so we could have life – not just barely-scraping-by life, but real, abundant, full-to-the-brim life.

As you set your jar at the feet of Jesus, can you give him everything that is in it – your desire to be “in control” and your pain and your doubt, your emptiness and your worry, your feeling that you don’t deserve God’s love, all that you are and all that you have?

Just as surely as Jesus knew everything I had ever done, he knows you. No secret is too terrible, no sin is too dark for him to wash it away with Living, life-giving water. It’s time for you to stop carrying a heavy jar filled with things that will not satisfy the longing of your soul. It’s time to put your jar down at Jesus’ feet, and let him look you in the eye as he tells you how he loves you.

And then, it’s time for you to go tell someone else who Jesus is.

You see, it was on the way back to town that I realized I had already decided to trust this man, this Jesus. He never asked me to repent of my sin, as I later learned he would ask many others who met him. He never asked anything of me except to give him a drink. But once he told me who he was, my life changed in that instant.

As I ran into Sychar to tell the others, still not completely believing I had met the One, the Messiah, I was already being transformed into something new, someone different. As I told my neighbors, “Come see a man who told me everything I have ever done,” I was still wondering to myself: this man couldn’t be the Messiah, could he?

And yet, the very act of calling the others to come meet him was forming my faith in this man, the Son of God. I was being filled with Living Water. How could I not share that with everyone I knew?

I know there are stories of Jesus meeting other people. You have heard the story of the respected teacher, Nicodemus, who found Jesus in the middle of the night. But Jesus came to me at high noon, in the middle of the day.

Nicodemus was an important religious leader. Jesus told him “You must be born of water and spirit if you are to enter the Kingdom of God.” Here I am, a poor Samaritan woman, yet Jesus talked to me of worshiping God in spirit and truth, and he offered me Living Water.

Do you see the connection? In water and spirit, Jesus meets us wherever we are. He offers us eternal life that begins immediately, not just after we die. He offers us the life-giving water of his own spirit, flooding us with his love and protection.

When you are baptized in this church, the congregation is asked if it will guide you, through teaching and example, to share your faith openly, and to lead a Christian life.

Then, as part of the very Body of Christ that promised to guide you, you also promise to teach and guide others to share their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life. You teach others to share their faith by sharing your own, just as I learned to believe that Jesus was the Christ by announcing it to my neighbors.

In Hebrew, the word for “well” is the same as the word for “to see.” Imagine yourself by the well, looking down at the water. The water is like a mirror. If you look closely, you can see not only yourself, but this whole community around you, filled with people of all ages and backgrounds. Jesus offers living water to each of us, not only for ourselves, but for us to share.
[remove scarf, become the preacher]

You know people who need Jesus. You know someone who needs a changed life. Next week, you will receive a card to give away. It’s an invitation to attend worship here at First Church during Holy Week. We can put it in the newspapers. But that won’t be nearly as effective as giving it to you.

This week, I invite you to pray about this invitation, and ask God to compel you to give it to someone when you get it next week. Be ready to just hand it to someone. Ask, “Would you like to come to my church with me on Easter Sunday? I’ll pick you up. There’s a breakfast before worship, and I’d love to have you come with me.”

It’s really terrifying for people who don’t go to a church to walk in these doors. It’s like the first day of Kindergarten all over again. They’re scared to death of all the weird, holy people in here! Your invitation to be with them makes it so much less scary. This invitation and a little conversation is your ticket to changing someone’s life.

After Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman, he preached to his disciples. He said to them, “Look around you! People are so ready for the gospel! All you have to do is bring them in.”

Look around you. Who are you going to invite to church for Palm Sunday or Easter? Will you go and pick them up? Share a meal with them? Introduce them to a group of friends?

This week, talk to someone you’ve never talked to before. Or, talk to someone you chat with all the time, but this time, talk about your faith. You could start a conversation that will change someone’s life. Think of it as practicing up for next week, when you will invite someone to come to church with you.

Jesus offers living water to each of us, not only for ourselves, but for us to share. I can see us offering this living water to all we encounter. I can see God transforming the people in our community, turning their pain and despair into streams of healing, restoring, living water – and doing all this through us.

So, pick up your jar. We have water to share.

Sermon first given at First United Methodist Church, New Ulm, MN on March 23, 2014
© 2014 Jo Anne Taylor
Updated and invitation to Holy Week (italicized text) added for March 26, 2017
Permission granted to use this sermon in part or in its entirety,
with attribution to Rev. Jo Anne Taylor, http://www.pastorsings.com.

Out of the Dark … Again? – Sermon on John 3:1-17

It had been a hectic week – people coming into town from all over, the crowds noisy and smelly in the streets. Everyone was eager to get the best piece of meat, the freshest karpas, the bitterest moror for the Passover meal. Then there had been that scene in the temple, with tables being thrown over and birds squawking and money rolling all over the place – no one knew what was happening. And all the yelling.  Oy vey.

There had been something about that scene that troubled Rabbi Nic in a way he couldn’t quite describe. Yes it was a mess, but there had been a sense of rightness about it all – no, that wasn’t the word. Righteousness was more like it. In the process of turning things upside down and making a huge mess, somehow, things seemed more right-side-up, even in the middle of all the flying feathers and scattered goods. Amid all the chaos, there was a fresh wind sweeping through the temple, blowing out the cobwebs. Rabbi Nic kept trying to make sense of the afternoon’s nonsense as he hurried home. He wanted to have a moment to collect his thoughts before the Passover meal began.

No matter how hard he tried, Rabbi Nic couldn’t keep his mind on the ceremony, with its questions and stories of God’s deliverance from Egypt. Twice, he lost his place, and his dear wife had to remind him to cover the unleavened bread before pouring the wine.

There was great comfort in reciting the familiar words, in hearing his youngest son ask the important question, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?”

Then, it hit him. As they pronounced the blessing, he figured it out. “Baruch Adonai Elohim,” they chanted together. But this time, they added the words of Psalm 72, and everything became clear at once. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel who alone does wondrous things. (Ps 72:18)

Rabbi Nic’s wife was surprised when he got up from the table and headed to the door. “Where are you going?” she asked. “It’s already dark outside! Where are you going in the middle of the night?” Rabbi Nic glanced over his shoulder and mumbled something about needing to answer a question, as he headed out into the night. His wife shook her head. “That’s what you get for marrying Israel’s greatest teacher,” she thought to herself. “Not even the Passover meal itself could keep him from studying Torah.”

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”  Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

Throughout the Gospel of John, we find an emphasis on the contrast between light and dark. In the opening prologue, which we read during the season of Christmas, John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light” (1:5) and a few verses later, “The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light.” (1:10).  These images of light and darkness serve as metaphors for kingdom reality.

In this case, it seems that light represents belief, while darkness represents unbelief. It’s pretty clear that Nicodemus comes to Jesus in a state of confusion and spiritual blindness, unable to grasp what Jesus is trying to teach him. Whether he’s being stubborn or simply misguided in his lack of understanding, Nicodemus is completely in the dark when it comes to comprehending how God actually works.

It’s also clear that Nicodemus has been keeping an eye on Jesus. He has seen him teaching in the synagogues, and he recognizes that Jesus teaches with an authority he himself would never dare to claim. Nicodemus has also seen the many miracles that Jesus has performed, some of them right in the temple itself. And that scene back in chapter two with the temple moneychangers must have been a pretty dramatic display of holy indignation.

Some theologians think that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night in order to hold his conversation in secret. They see Nicodemus as unwilling to admit publicly that he is in contact with Jesus. Others claim that he may have only been trying to speak with Jesus when he had a better chance to actually spend some time talking with him, after the crowds have left for the day. Whatever motivation caused Nicodemus to wait until darkness had fallen, his appearance at night is unusual enough that later, when Nicodemus re-enters the story, he is referred to as “the one who came to Jesus at night.”

When Nicodemus arrives, he doesn’t waste time with pleasantries. He cuts right to the thing that’s been bothering him. He calls Jesus “Rabbi,” and this title tells us that Nicodemus thinks of himself and Jesus as equals when it comes to teaching and learning. Nicodemus does not treat Jesus as a subordinate, even though he is introduced as a great leader among the Jews. There is no irony in his use of this title of respect.

“You must come from God, because no one could do all the miraculous signs you do unless God is with him.” This doesn’t sound like a question, really, but it is. Nicodemus is asking Jesus to confirm what Nicodemus suspects, but can’t quite believe. He doesn’t come right out and ask, “Are you the Messiah, or should we wait for someone else?” the way John the Baptist did, but the message is the same.

Nicodemus comes with his own set of convictions about what is real and true. He has tried to fit his experience of Jesus into his own idea of how the world works, and how God works in it. He has put two and two together, and the only answer he can find is that Jesus must come from God. But he apparently doesn’t like that answer very much. It doesn’t fit with his assumptions, his tradition, his belief system.

Maybe Nicodemus had tried to keep his faith separate from the rest of his life. He followed the rules, he knew the Torah inside and out, but by compartmentalizing his faith, he had never let it change the way he lived his life.

Maybe we are more like Nicodemus than we want to admit. How often do we get stuck in our own assumptions about God? How often does our own limited understanding prevent us from seeing God’s reality? Have you ever felt frustrated, like you just couldn’t figure out what God was trying to tell you? That’s where our friend Nicodemus found himself.

Jesus answers a question Nicodemus doesn’t ask, but it’s the real question that needs answering: “How can I believe you are from God, when nothing you do matches what I think the Messiah is supposed to do and be?”

Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I tell you no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above.” Now, we need to pause here for a moment and do a little Greek work. The word we see translated in the NRSV as “from above” can mean more than that, and other translations may read “born anew” or “born again” – they are all correct.  The Greek word, “anothen” carries all three meanings. The confusion arises because Jesus may have meant one thing, while Nicodemus heard another. More likely, Jesus meant all three things, but Nicodemus limited himself to hearing only “born again,” and he took it quite literally.

I’ve always wondered if Nicodemus is being deliberately dense at this point. Maybe he was a bit insulted. Maybe he understands that Jesus could have said, “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above – and that means you don’t stand a chance, pal.” All of the learning and studying of Torah that Nicodemus had done up to this point was – pointless. What he really needed to do was be born from above, born again, born anew.

So Jesus spells it out for him. “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the spirit is spirit. You’re doing okay on the flesh part – you just need to get going on the spirit part.”

When the Confirmation Class meets this afternoon, we will explore John Wesley’s Quadrilateral approach to seeking God’s will. In case you’re a bit rusty on your Wesleyan Theology, let me give you the short refresher course.

Wesley explained that there are four ways we can hear and identify God’s will for us. First and most important, we seek to know God’s will through his Word. Nicodemus had this one down. He had memorized the entire first five books of the Bible as a very young boy. By the time he was a teenager, Nicodemus had also memorized all the Psalms and the writings of the prophets. If knowing God’s Word had been enough to please God, Nicodemus would have been in great shape.

Wesley’s second focus was Tradition. By this, he did not mean habits that had lost their meaning through repetition, but the accumulated wisdom of previous generations, the understandings and practices that had stood the test of time. Here again, Nicodemus was steeped in tradition. He knew his rituals, and he knew what they meant. But Word and Tradition are not enough, according to Wesley, if we are to truly know God’s desire for us.

The third corner of Wesley’s Quadrilateral is Reason. Human beings are thinking creatures, and we must apply our reason to the process of discerning God’s will for us. Nicodemus was a scholar and a great thinker of his day. So far, he’s three for three.

But then we come to Wesley’s fourth quadrant: Experience. For John Wesley, the assurance of his own salvation had only come after years as an Anglican priest, and many sermons of his own preached to others. As he heard another preacher speak one day, his heart was strangely warmed, and he suddenly knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he belonged to God, and his salvation was secure.

This is where our friend Nicodemus gets stuck. “How can these things be?” he asks Jesus, and then he disappears from the story until the end of chapter seven.

Last week, I mentioned that the season of Lent developed as a time to prepare for baptism on Easter. We heard the first two questions of the Baptismal Covenant, as we considered the temptation Jesus experienced in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. 

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Renounce, reject, repent, and accept … this brings us to the third question of the Baptismal Covenant:
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

Nicodemus had to decide if he was willing to confess Jesus as his Savior and Lord, putting his whole trust in Christ’s grace. Nicodemus had to be born from above, born anew in the spirit.

Jesus says, you have to be born of water and spirit. Next week, we will encounter a woman at a well, and Jesus will offer her living water. This week, the focus is on spiritual birth. The wind blows where it will … that’s the way it is with people who have been born of the spirit: you can’t see the spirit, but you can see its effect in their lives. Whatever is born of the flesh will eventually die and decay. Whatever is born of the spirit is spirit, and can never decay.

An interesting thing happens at this point. Jesus starts talking in plural terms. Jesus turns to us, and says, “If I tell you all of earthly things, like wind and water, and you don’t get it, how will you be able to grasp heavenly things, like spirit and rebirth? Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the son of Man must be lifted up, that all who believe on him may have eternal life.

For God loved the world in this way: that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

How are we like Rabbi Nic? What keeps us in the dark, preventing us from renouncing, rejecting, repenting of our own way, in order to accept Jesus as Lord and be born anew of the Spirit? What assumptions do we hold onto, that prevent us from experiencing the heart-warming peace that comes with confessing Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, and trusting in his grace alone? How do we try to keep our faith hidden, or separated from the other parts of our lives?

Remember the rich young ruler who went away sorrowful because he had many possessions? We never know the end of his story, because the gospels never mention him again. But we do hear from Nicodemus again – twice. The first time, he defends Jesus to the other Pharisees and priests, asking the other leaders to give Jesus a fair trial. The last time we see him, he is at the foot of the cross, with Joseph of Arimathea, taking down Jesus’ broken body and preparing it for burial with an unusually large amount of spices.

Did he finally come into the light?
Did he eventually experience a spiritual birth?

I think so. I think Nicodemus shows us that sometimes we don’t get an Aldersgate experience. Sometimes, the process of claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior takes a while. Some of us can’t identify a single moment when we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that our salvation is secure, but we can claim Christ’s grace just as certainly as John Wesley did, and we confess Jesus as our Lord.

So, what is your response? Is Jesus calling you out of the darkness of your own limitations, into the light of his saving grace? Are you ready to make him Lord of your entire life, not just the part that you think of as “belonging to church”? Are you ready to step out of the darkness, and into the light of God’s love for you? For God loved you in this way: he gave his only Son, that if you believe in him, you will not perish but you will have eternal life.

It’s time to change the title of this sermon. Instead of “In the dark … again?” my prayer is that each of us would follow Jesus “Out of the dark, anew.” May it be so.  Amen.

Fish Tacos!

I used to have these in Eugene, Oregon on the Fourth of July, but we’ve tweaked the recipe (plain slaw, fried fish, grated cheese on a flour tortilla) quite a bit, and tonight, I think we found the perfect combination of ingredients.

Start with the slaw. Make this at least four hours before dinner, so the flavors have a chance to meld. Stir it a couple of times. Bruce got the original recipe from “Obscure Topics Television” – aka public TV – and you can find it on ChristineCooks.com. The only thing we’ve done differently is use half red and half green cabbage, and taken a short cut on the roasted red peppers. Here goes:

Spicy Cole Slaw

1/2 small head red cabbage, finely shredded
1/2 small head green cabbage, finely shredded
2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
3-4 Tbsp. bottled chopped, roasted red peppers
3/4 c. coarsely chopped cilantro
1 c. red wine vinegar
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 fresh jalepeno, finely chopped (leave the seeds in for more heat)
sea salt

Combine the cabbage, corn, peppers, and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Whisk together vinegar, oil, cumin, chili, and salt to taste. Toss with vegetables to coat. Chill completely, tossing again just before serving.

Honestly, this stuff is divine and I will never make a mayonnaise-dressed slaw again.

Now for the tacos:

Grate some cheddar into a bowl and set aside.

Make a sauce of half Ranch dressing and half sour cream, and set aside.

Warm some corn tortillas. You can use flour tortillas if you want to, since they hold together better when soft, but the flavor of the corn is better, I think. Warm the tortillas over a gas flame, or wrapped in waxed paper in the microwave, or wrapped in a damp towel in a 200-degree oven – or some combination of the three methods.

Cut about a pound of tilapia (or cod) into 1-inch wide strips.

In a pie plate, make a batter of:
1 c. flour
1 c. amber ale
1 tsp. seasoned salt
1 tsp. lemon pepper

Combine 1/2 c. flour with 1/2. plain bread crumbs in another pie plate.

Heat an inch of oil in a heavy skillet. Coat each fish strip in the batter, then dredge in the flour mixture, and fry in small batches for about a minute and a half. Turn with tongs and fry another minute or so, until golden brown. Remove to a baking sheet covered in several layers of paper towels, and keep warm in a 200-degree oven. Then repeat with remaining fish. My skillet holds about four strips at a time, leaving plenty of room to turn easily.

To assemble the tacos, pass elements around the table in this order:
tortillas
slaw (use a slotted spoon – this stuff is juicy)
fish
Ranch sauce
cheese

Makes about 8 tacos.
Have damp towels ready – good food, like life, gets messy sometimes.
Enjoy your favorite micro-brew with your tacos!

Cocido or Caldo (depending on your Iberian origins)

Now I have to tell you that, when I was posting these notes on Facebook back in 2009, I had no idea if anyone was actually reading them.  I was just trying to see if I could come up with enough recipes to fill a whole month.  Turns out, that wasn’t a problem.  Especially when my friends started chiming in.  So this next recipe isn’t mine. You have been warned.

Getting into the spirit of sharing food ideas, here’s something from Andrew Peterson of Kansas City. Andy is the one who got the Kansas City Chorale connected to Nimbus Records back in the 1990s, and I am pleased to share his recipe with you here (but I take no responsibility for his editorial comments).

“Here’s something to spring on your friends. An old family heirloom handed down from my great great aunt Dona Singularo Edwarda Mephisto Caracas Meyer Petersen. (A quiet and gentle servant of the Lord.):

Cocido or Caldo (depending on your Iberian origins)

“This recipe can have as many variants as you decide, though in Spain the important and consistent ingredient is Garbanzos.

2-3 lbs of pork (boned) Loin, Butt – it does not matter. (A bit of fat on.)
1 Cup Breadcrumbs
2 Large Onions (any color) – it does not matter – sliced thin.
1 Cup Jalepeno Salsa or fresh Jalepenos or Anaheim Chiles or Serrano peppers – it does not matter.
1/4 Cup Olive Oil – it does not matter – so don’t listen to that freak Rachel Rae. Sin verguenza!
1tbs Garlic powder
1tbs Spanish (smoked) Paprika) – it does indeed matter.
11/2tbs Kosher Salt
1tsp Cumin
1tbs Oregano
1tbs Basil
1tbs Cracked Black Pepper
1Bay Leaf
1/2tsp Ground Cloves
2-3 (12oz) Cans of Garbanzo beans
2-3 (12oz) Cans of Diced Tomatoes
(1 Cup of Red Wine)
1 ½ Cup of Green Olives (pimento stuffed)

“Okay, here we go. In a bowl, add the Breadcrumbs and half the Salt and Pepper. On the stove Heat a large (3-4 quart) Dutch Oven or pot. Turn heat to low. Add ¼ cup of olive oil. Dredge the meat in the breadcrumb mixture and turn into pot…browning on all sides.

“When the meat has browned, add the Garbanzos, Tomatoes, half the Onions, Jalepeno Salsa, Bay Leaf, Cumin, Oregano, Basil, and remaining Salt and Pepper. Turn the meat one time in this mixture and cover.

“Heat oven to 350 and cook the stew for 1 hour.

“When 1 Hour is up, remove the meat and cut into cubes. Add the meat back to the stew, and add the Wine, Olives, Paprika and cloves. At this time, depending on the consistency, add more wine or water to thin it, or more of the breadcrumbs to thicken it. Or, leave it alone. Cover, turn oven down to 300 and cook 2 hrs.

“Remove from oven. Allow to set for 30 minutes before serving. Bring to table with a rustic bread and a hearty red wine. You are now a genius!

“Listen, this recipe can be varied any number of ways. Use Lamb Shanks or Ox Tail, Duck or Turkey. The cooking time will be less for fowl. Vary the spices. You might want to substitute Thyme, or Coriander, or even Sage. What should remain stable is the Garbanzo. It is the signature to all good Spanish stews. Have fun, enjoy the recipe, and for god’s sake…if it turns out bad, it really is your fault … Don’t call me. Hope you like it, Andrew”

Pumpkin Dip

This works as an appetizer, a dessert, or a snack with a cup of afternoon coffee.

1 15 oz can pumpkin
8 oz cream cheese
1 lb powdered sugar
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
(or 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp nutmeg & 1/4 tsp cloves)

Cream the cheese and sugar together. Add the pumpkin and spices. Blend well. Refrigerate. Serve with ginger snaps (we get the Hostess brand from the bread store… buy 2-3 bags).

Bonus recipe:

Make a pumpkin pie out of the leftovers. Add 3 eggs and 1 c. Half & Half to 2 c. pumpkin dip. Add some more pumpkin pie spice. Pour into a prepared pie crust and bake at 350 for an hour, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. (You could even make a crust from crushed leftover ginger snaps and melted butter – but if you had any ginger snaps left, you’d be dipping them instead of making pie, right?)

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

This is, hands down, my all-time favorite dessert. I suppose most people consider anything with pumpkin in it to be a Fall dish, but why wait? If you have a can of pumpkin in your pantry, left over from last Thanksgiving, this is a great excuse to rinse off the dust and open it up.

6 c. French bread cubes, toasted (I use the unseasoned stuffing cubes you can buy at the day-old bread store)
2 c. Half & Half or evaporated milk
1 1/2 c sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
1/2 c raisins
1/2 c chopped toasted pecans
3 T. butter, melted
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (OR 1/2 tsp each of ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, with 1 tsp cinnamon & 1/4 tsp cloves)
1 tsp grated orange rind (zest)

Lightly butter an 11 x 7 baking dish, and put the bread cubes in it. Pour the Half & Half over the cubes, and stir to moisten. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl, and gently fold into the bread cubes. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, or until set (the top will no longer be shiny). Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Zippy Aspic

Kinda old-fashioned – who serves aspic anymore? – but when someone brought this to a church supper, I went back for seconds. This isn’t the original recipe, but I like it better.

2 c. Caliente V-8 juice (or Snappy Tom)
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 small pkg. lemon Jello
3/4 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. sliced green olives (stuffed with pimiento)

Bring 1 c. of the V-8 juice to a boil. Stir in the Jello until it dissolves completely, then add 1 c. chilled V-8 juice and the vinegar (if you use plain tomato juice, add another T. of vinegar and some ground pepper). Pour over the celery and olives in a pretty bowl, stir a bit. The olives will float to the top and this is fine. Chill until firm. If you make this in an oblong Pyrex dish, it’s easy to cut into squares to serve. You can spread softened cream cheese (beaten with a little milk to keep it soft) over the top – or dollop some sour cream or plain yogurt on each serving if you want to, but I never do.