Readings for this Sunday:
Acts 16:16-34 |Psalm 97 |Revelation 22:12-13, 16-17|John 17:20-26
Eddie Huang is a Trojan horse. At least that’s the way he describes himself, and I think I agree. My first exposure to him was on a recent segment of The Late Show, the late night show Stephen Colbert took over after David Letterman retired. Colbert introduced Huang with a clip from his television show “Huang’s World,” a food and travel show, which, I have to tell you, turned me off. Huang and a companion are in a restaurant of some kind. They are sampling wine in a way that looks like they may have had too much already—they’re loud and obnoxious.
I’m already kind of set against him when the clip is over and he comes out for the interview. And for the first few minutes he continues to act like this caricature of a real person. But then he throws in a few lines about identity. And he starts to talk about the way his show is designed to get people to think about their own stories, and all of a sudden I begin to think his act has a purpose. He’s helping people to understand the ways that their own stories intersect with others. And this makes sense because Huang’s family is from Taiwan so as a Taiwanese American he’s aware of the way stories collide and how some stories tend to dominate others until something changes that.
Huang has described his act as “deliberate self-caricature.” One write-up about his show says this: “Much of the pleasure of Huang’s…show comes from watching him slyly emerge from his buffoonish character to make incisive comments revealing an agile, literary mind—and then lapse back into the role of the pot-addled numbskull.”
And he is no numbskull. He has written a couple of books. His first was Fresh Off the Boat which was about his family’s migration from China to Taiwan to America. It is now a TV series on ABC. He has opened several successful restaurants. He shapes fashion. He has his law degree. And he’s only 34 years old. So he is a Trojan Horse. He gets inside by entertaining in the way we’ve become accustomed to from reality television, but he has more in mind—a nobler purpose which he describes in an interview:[i]
I really feel that people don’t always know what’s good for them…When you have a strong conviction, you have a duty not to tell people what they want. At least represent yourself and say: “Yo, this is what I’m into, and this is what I’m seeing in the world. Let me take your hand and guide you through it, so you can see through my eyes.”
Huang caught my attention because near the end of the interview, he tells a story typical of his food and travel show.
So as I’m watching this interview with the scriptures for this week in the back of my mind, I think of the parallels to Paul and Silas—upsetting some powerful people by speaking truth and freeing this girl, getting thrown in prison and finding their way back out through seemingly miraculous circumstances. And I realize that the most astonishing part of this story is not the miraculous—the earthquake and all that, but the clarity and courage these men have because they know who they are and to whom they belong, because they believe so strongly in this story, this Good News that has saved them that they are willing to give everything for it. And they do. Not just in their suffering, but in their energy and creativity.
The first miracle in the story—the healing of the fortune-telling girl only seems to happen because they get tired of her following them around. They aren’t trying to make trouble. It says it plain as day. It was because Paul was annoyed that he finally turns around and frees the girl of this spirit that’s led to her exploitation at the hands of these greedy owners. They aren’t trying to make trouble, but sometimes it is the result of them being true to themselves and what they stand for.
After the earthquake, once the prison doors are opened and the shackles shaken off, and the jailer is about to kill himself, Paul and Silas save his life too because they see him not as an enemy, not as a jailer, but simply as a human deserving of being redeemed just as they are, because they remember their own story, because they remember the One they follow and what he stood for in his dying and rising. Paul and Silas allow the jailer to see through their eyes when they act for his well-being rather than their own. And it changes everything.
The reading from John is short section from a really long prayer of Jesus’. If it helps, remember that during our long prayers! It’s also good to remember, of course, that the Gospel of John was written 60 years after Jesus’ death. It was written, in other words, to the church, not to the first disciples. It was written so that John’s congregation will stay together—which is Jesus’ prayer. It is a prayer, then, for the church. It is a prayer for all churches. For our church and our well-being.
And Jesus’ prayer is for what Eddie Huang already understands—that we will be one because we really are one, even if we forget. Paul and Silas know this. It’s why they do what they do. The church exists that people might be one, that people might remember we belong together. That’s what we are about, that’s what it means for us who say we are disciples.
And Eddie Huang’s story got me wondering if Paul and Silas weren’t these epic heroes we sometimes make people in the scriptures out to be, but just normal, savvy guys who knew how to take a situation and give it all of their resources, all of their creativity, all of their conviction and energy to make it lead to understanding and peace. What if we saw this story not as a magical tale, but as a story of strong will, of grace, of love that turned a tough situation on its head?
This is good for us to remember as we find ourselves in a tough place financially going into our next budget. We are facing the likely prospect of having to let go of some positions, of some people we love if something doesn’t change. It feels like we too, are locked in pretty deep. And, I certainly encourage you to consider whether you are able to offer additional support or increase your pledge.
But more importantly, I think, is the reminder that our well-being is tied to our holding onto this central truth—that the church exists not to employ people, or build buildings, or attract new members who will give financially, but to free us as we remember we belong together, to bless the earth as we remember that our story is a common story, to make peace as we remember that we are no different from those we serve, that we are a holy and sacred people, beloved of God, called not to wild success, but to service in the model of the one who loves us and gave his life and showed us that this is our way to if we want to truly live.
We have everything that we need. We are gifted by God, able to do all sorts of things, to summon our creativity and imagination in all sorts of ways to heal those around us. That’s what I love about Eddie Huang’s story and what it teaches us about Paul and Silas. Faith and imagination, faith and creativity, faith and boldness, faith and courage. These are synonyms. These are fruits of the Spirit in you for the sake of the world God loves.
[i] NY Times, 2015. “Eddie Huang Against the World”
St. Andrew Sermons