As some of you know,
I have family roots
deep in the red dirt of upstate South Carolina.
Mom and Dad both grew up there.
It was home to my grandparents
and so it was where we always went on furlough,
and it remains home to a host of kinfolk.
Up in Landrum, as my dad’s dad used to say,
“You caint throw a stick up there and not hit kin.”
And again, as some of you will know,
South Carolinians pride themselves,
as do those south of the border, in Georgia,
on their peaches,
but also on their tomatoes.
I so very vividly remember hot summer days
walking the furrowed rows of the rather extensive gardens
both sets of grandparents had
either behind or beside their homes,
and then picking
big plump soft red tomatoes
And I remember tomato sandwiches.
South Carolinians pride themselves
on their tomatoes—
and thus also on their tomato sandwiches.
So it was I had to swallow much mirth
at preachers’ camp earlier this month,
when I heard Don Flowers,
now a twenty-five year citizen of South Carolina—
fifteen of those years spent in that
most South Carolinian of South Carolina’s cities,
Charleston, South Carolina—
I had to swallow laughter when I heard Don ask our youngest,
up from fun in the lake water down by the dock
and hungry for lunch—
ask her if she wanted the world’s best tomato sandwich.
Well, she nodded in affirmative response,
and then asked Don,
in full if oblivious celebration and vindication
of her own South Carolina heritage—
she asked Don if he wanted her
to tell him how to make it—
the best tomato sandwich in the world.
It’s one of the few times I have ever in my life
seen Don speechless.
But Audra knows tomato sandwiches!
According to many South Carolina
tomato sandwich aficionados,
Duke’s mayonnaise is integral—vital.
Now it’s good—very good,
but in our book not absolutely necessary.
It’s very simple.
Toast—not too grainy or heavy a bread—
or too thick a slice (you don’t want the bread
to overwhelm the tomato),
slathered with mayo,
layered with thick, just-cut slices of tomato
full enough of juice and seeds that a slice
begins to leak as soon as you set it down—
never on a serving plate,
but immediately on your piece of toast
(and you don’t, by the way, want either the end piece of a loaf of bread
or the end piece of a tomato),
and you are so good to go!
Now a BLT—a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich is good.
An avocado, BLT is good.
Ham and tomato is good,
but a tomato sandwich is complete and perfect in and of itself.
And I’m here to tell you,
you just really can’t buy a tomato at the grocery store
that honors the full potential of a tomato sandwich.
You will be disappointed, I guarantee it,
if you go that route—
even if they’re marketed as vine-ripened
and have a little vine and a few leaves
still attached as so-called evidence.
Farmer’s market, yes.
Larriland Farms, pick it yourself, yes.
The garden out back, absolutely.
And you bite into it,
and it’s the perfect combination of tastes and textures:
the tomato’s soft and juicy, slightly acidic,
and the toast’s still a little bit crunchy
(you don’t want to wait to eat too long after making it,
or your toast will get soggy!),
the mayonnaise tangy,
the touch of salt, the bite of pepper,
and tomato juices and seeds and mayo
squeeze out the side of your mouth—
drip down your chin—
in a simple purity of pleasure.
And that is, I believe, as it should be.
That is, I believe, God’s will for us.
That’s how God created things to be—
with needs not just met,
but so thoroughly and deliciously enjoyed while being met.
Taste and see that God is good which means delicious.
And so it’s not that we shouldn’t enjoy our sandwiches
down to the very last bite,
and it’s not that we’re supposed to feel guilty about it either.
But precisely in our joy, I wonder,
if we’re not to wonder—
wonder why it is—
wonder how it can be—
that while we revel in meeting our needs in pleasure—with joy,
that for so many, it’s not about needs met with pleasure in joy,
but about needs not met at all.
So we who live in the abundance, as one example, of tomato sandwiches,
live also in the tension—the self-chosen tension, mind you,
of those with plenty in a world of need.
And our joy is not tempered or compromised,
but out of the fullness of our joy,
we are motivated to want more for more,
and we are sustained in working toward that hope—that goal.
Or our joy ceases to be blessing
and becomes indulgence.
May it not be so.