Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner

by | May 14, 2023


Jarrett McLaughlin
“Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner”
May 14, 2023
Matthew 18:15-22


Well, I find myself once again having to explain a rather odd sermon title. “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.”
Does anybody remember that ad campaign?
Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” strikes up a plucky tune in the background while the camera cuts between scenes of families all across America settling down to dinner.

Then the voice comes in.

The original voice belonged to actor, Robert Mitchum as he talks about a great Corn Beef sandwich at 7th and 55th street or a medium-rare porterhouse steak in Chicago.

Others of us may remember the even smokier voice of Sam Elliott as he prattles on about Beef Bourguignon and about 3 dozen other dishes before the tag line comes in:
“BEEF…it’s what for dinner.”

Well all the physicians worried about heart health and all the members of the Earth Care team concerned about the ecological impact of the beef industry can breathe a sigh of relief: I am not encouraging us to eat more red meat.

Today, I’d like to talk about the verbal form of the word, because at some point the expression “to have a beef” with somebody entered our lexicon of slang.

It’s unclear where the term actually originates:
It might trace back to the American West where cattle ranchers and sheep farmers clashed over pasture-land – thus to “have a beef” with a competitor.

Or perhaps it came from a common complaint among US Soldiers who disdained the quality of their beef rations.

It’s hard to say where it came from, but with an entire Netflix show entitled Beef, the expression is clearly here to stay. One need not look long or hard to find examples of people who seem to actually enjoy fighting. It’s almost like we feed off of conflict. So yes, Beef is what’s for dinner.

Here’s the thing though – when we characterize our adversaries as slabs of meat, it naturally follows that our goal is to consume them; to chew them up and swallow until there’s nothing left but bones, fat and gristle.

Jesus, however, had another idea. What if, instead of consuming one another, what if we communicated. What if we sought to understand one another. What if I tried to get my adversary to hear me…really hear me. A reading from Matthew, chapter 18


“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.
But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
The word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.


Just a few weeks back, SpaceX launched its first Starship, touted as the most powerful rocket ever built. You may remember that the test flight did not go as hoped or planned, and yet Elon Musk and the company insist that they learned much from the “rapid unscheduled disassembly.”

Ain’t that a marvel of re-branding? “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly.” It gives the sense that one could easily re-assemble it, but that’s not true because the shuttle exploded into bits in mid-air. Once it’s blown up, there’s no putting it back together again.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus thinks of the Church this way – barely off the ground before it explodes with conflict and in-fighting. This was clearly a preoccupation for the author of Matthew.

Think about this for a moment – in this text we find Jesus talking about the church – but the church does not exist yet. It’s an anachronism. And yet Matthew found the topic of church conflict to be so important that he put some rules for engagement on the lips of Jesus himself.
This may very well suggest that how to handle conflict is among the deepest concerns to Matthew’s original community. They needed a word from Jesus on the subject.

That we have a roadmap for dealing with conflict suggests that “rapid unscheduled disassembly” need not be our story. After all, it’s not conflicts that kills churches. Refusing to deal with conflicts is what tears a church apart. Jesus gives the church some rules of engagement to ensure we do it well.

I won’t re-tread the process – it’s self-explanatory and involves a widening of the circle for those involved. First, try to resolve it yourselves, then engage a couple of others, then involve the whole community if necessary – but what I want to highlight is the end goal. Jesus says “if the member listens to you, then you have regained that one.” The reason we confront one another is “to regain” one another.

When conflict escalates to a full-on Beef – it consumes us.
Rapid, unscheduled disassembly.

But if we have reconciliation as our goal, then we regain one another…and I would argue that when conflict is healthy, it can actually deepen our connections with one another.

I want to tell you about Elliott.
Elliott and I don’t always see eye to eye on the issues of the day.
As a student of preaching, there was a saying attributed to Karl Barth that was hammered into me: “preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”
In other words – make sure your sermon speaks to what is going on in the world.

There are times when my sermon preparation leads me to do just that – bring the Scripture into conversation with something going on in the world today.
As I mentioned, Elliott and I don’t always see things the same way. He would often disagree with me.
It got to where I would finish a sermon and say “You know, I won’t be surprised if I hear from Elliott after this one.” But what I want to share with you is the spirit with which Elliott does his disagreeing.

First, he tells me where that issue intersects with his own experience, his own story… and furthermore he tells me how those experiences have shaped his values. That way I always walk away with a little bit more of his story and a deeper appreciation for his character.

He often asks if this was just an illustration for a sermon or if it is rising to the level of broad, congregational action… “Is the Church planning to DO anything about this issue?” Because if so, he would like to be a part of the conversation if possible.

And then Elliott always, ALWAYS concludes with a statement of ongoing affection for me. A memorable one being “You know I love you better than Peter loved the Lord.”

As a pastor and preacher, I have had plenty of disagreements or conflicts – many of them perfectly healthy, others not so much. Elliott is my gold standard for how I hope to see differences embraced in the Church. I never live in dread of Elliott “confronting” me because he does it with grace, love and an eye towards regaining one another – no rapid, unscheduled disassembly there.

But that’s the wisdom in this admittedly procedural text – for the love of all that is good, please get your beef out in the open before it blows up and consumes you, your enemy and perhaps the whole church in the process.

Of course, Peter chimes in to clarify. After receiving this “Church Conflict for Dummies” playbook from Jesus, Peter’s got to know how many times he must run the play with the same person.
He ventures a suggestion: “as many as SEVEN times!” He says it as if it’s an extraordinarily high number…almost like he can’t wait to hit number seven and write off Bartholomew forever.

But Jesus comes back at him – “not seven times,” and then our translation renders it 77 times…but it could just as easily be rendered as 70 times 7…and I don’t think he’s saying 490 times and then you can be done with that person. I think Jesus is trying to tell us that maybe we shouldn’t be keeping count or else we’re not really forgiving.

I want to be clear here – there are different kinds of conflicts and there are different kinds of injuries. Careless, hurtful words are one thing.
Predatory behavior – not okay.
Chronic patterns of abuse – not okay.
That’s a whole different ball of wax and we are not called to be doormats for those who would stomp all over us.

These instructions are offered within the context of holy, covenantal relationship, where the injury is hopefully an exception to the rule.

The comedian and writer Hasan Minhaj tells this story from his High School days:
One day Mr. Davies, our AP Calculus teacher, gets up in front of the class and goes, “Alright, you’re all killing it academically, but I want you to know that I’m making it mandatory for everyone in this class to go to prom.”
Now I’m in the back of the class laughing hysterically, because there’s no way he’s getting this group of social misfits to prom.
We have the Jehovah’s Witness girl. She’s not going to prom.
They used to sell Cup O’ Noodles in our cafeteria. Kids would eat the noodles and then leave their cups of broth on the benches. One kid in my class would check to see if the coast was clear, go up to the benches, and drink people’s lukewarm broth. There’s no way broth breath is getting a date to prom. Come on, Mr. Davies, do the math.
But Davies walks over to the board, pulls it down, and there’s a bracket with everyone’s name on it leading up to the big dance—it was basically March Madness for nerds.
As the weeks went by all of a sudden kids started getting dates. Jehovah’s Witness girl got a date. Broth Breath popped a Tic Tac and found a date, too.
Three days before the dance Mr. Davies walks up to the board, pulls it down, and the last two names are “Hasan Minhaj” and “Bethany Reed.” The entire class howled.
Bethany had just moved to Davis, California that year and she had been my study partner after school. We did intervals at her family’s kitchen table on the regular and for this first generation Indian whose parents argued in Hindi and whose house constantly smelled like frying Samosas, she was the American dream.
After class, as I’m walking to my locker, she turns to me and says, “Hey, Hasan, ever since my family moved from Nebraska you’ve been my best friend. Do you wanna go to prom with me?” And with a dorky smirk I whispered, “Yes.”
Now there’s a huge logistical problem with me going to prom. My dad’s rules were very simple: no fun, no friends, no girlfriends—you can have fun in med school. But I figured, I’ve seen T.G.I.F. You go upstairs, talk to Danny Tanner, pour your heart out, cue emotional music, hug and figure it out.
So I puffed my chest out and said, “Dad, I want to go to prom with Bethany.” He calmy replied in Hindi what could roughly be translated as, “Hasan, I will break your face.” Duly noted, Father!
I ran upstairs and told Beth, “Look, I’ll sneak out my window, climb down the roof, and bike to your place! We’ll dance it up, you take me back, I’ll sneak back in through the window, and if Dad kills me, YOLO, I lived a good life.”
Prom night rolls around. I hop out the shower, put on my JC Penny suit, and put on my Michael Jordan cologne. Six puffs, one for each championship. I climb out the window, mount my yellow Huffy, and I bike to Bethany’s house with my legs extra wide so my slacks wouldn’t get caught in the chains.
I’m balancing the corsage in one hand and steering with the other. When I get to her house, the sun is setting, so I take a moment to drink it in, thinking “This is the American Dream! This is what we fought for!”
I rang the doorbell. Mrs. Reed opens up, and she has this look of concern on her face. I look over her shoulder and see Jeff Berk, the captain of the water-polo team, putting a corsage on Bethany’s wrist. Mrs. Reed touches my arm, “Oh, honey, Bethany didn’t tell you? We think you’re great, but . . . we’ve got a lot of family back in Nebraska and we’ll be taking a lot of pictures tonight . . . we just don’t think you’d be a good fit.”
I biked home, snuck back into my room, and played video games in my suit. That’s the nicest I’ve ever been dressed playing Mario Kart.

Back at school on Monday, Bethany stopped me at my locker and said “Hey…whatever you do, please, please don’t say anything. My parents are good people. The rest of the class, they wouldn’t understand.”
7th period comes and right out the gate Mr. D says “So how was prom, lovebirds?” Everybody looked at me and I said “Yeah, I decided not to go…I just wasn’t feeling it.” They all looked at me with disgust, like “Wow! You stood up the new girl from Nebraska? You’re a jerk.”
I got socially crucified for this girl who was my best friend.
Bethany and I never spoke after that. We just went our separate ways.
The hardest part, though, was that for some time I thought her family was right. That I wasn’t good enough. Who was I to ruin their picture—perfect American prom.
Many years passed and my father suffered a heart attack. I drove up from LA to see him and he was much more vulnerable than I’d ever seen him before. I told him the story and he said “Hasan, I’m disappointed in you.”
“Because I lied and snuck out?”
“No, because you didn’t forgive Bethany. When I first immigrated to the US, I was scared – scared of everything that America had to offer. I was afraid that you would get caught up in the wrong crowd…that you would get into drugs, which is why I tried to protect you from everything.
Bethany’s family, they were scared too. For whatever reason they were scared of people who looked like us. And you were scared of me, and Bethany was scared of her parents.
But Hasan, you have to be brave, and the courage to do what’s right has to be greater than your fear of getting hurt.”

So, Jesus, why should we confront the ones who hurt us with love? To regain one another…to prevent a rapid, unscheduled disassembly.

And how many times should we forgive? Even though it’s the scariest thing imaginable, even though you might get hurt…as many times as it takes.