First Congregational Church
April 27, 2014
First Sunday after Easter, Holy Humor Sunday
Genesis 18:9-15 & Genesis 21:1-6
“This Is the Time”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For those of you questioning this Holy Humor stuff, let me assure you, I’ve not made it up. The tradition of truly “celebrating” God’s joke on death dates back to before the 15th century. Some of the priests would sit around the day after Easter, smoking cigars, drinking cognac and telling jokes, celebrating the fact that Jesus conquered death. And some would call it "Bright Monday," "White Monday," "Emmaus Day” - amidst the other names for this high holy day. In part, I’m sure, because cigars and cognac in church are frowned upon by parents and society in general, Holy Humor Monday has morphed into Holy Humor Sunday. If we were like 16th century peasants, we would dance in the fields as part of our observance of this day, and if someone feels led to arrange such an event, have at it.
We may think ourselves too “evolved” or too sophisticated for such a celebration, but even Jesus didn’t stick around for the gloom in the tomb. Some how, some time, some way, we’ve come to think that matters of faith and religion are all seriousness and that there is a chasm between joy and sorrow that should not be breached. It’s interesting that when we are confronted with some of the greatest miracles, we dismiss the delight in them, as did Sarah, when she learned that she would have a child in her old age. As Michael makes his way forward, I’ll remind you that the “they” in this passage is a group of three “men” - perhaps angels - standing near where Abe and Sarah were camping.
9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. 10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”
Thank you, Michael. If I were a bettin’ person, I’d bet that Sarah’s laugh wasn’t the full-on belly laugh that comes over us on occasion, but that nervous, fearful laugh. I’d even bet that the women outside Jesus’ tomb were close to that nervous, tittering sort of laugh, mostly because they were so uncomfortable with the revealing reality right in front of them. And maybe that’s why we are sometimes uncomfortable around that which would otherwise seem funny.
If it weren’t true, we’d laugh at the idea of Noah’s theme song being “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” - or Adam and Eve’s theme song: “Strangers In Paradise.” The more seriously we take ourselves, the more our religion becomes about us. Who did Sarah think she was, deciding what was or was not possible with God?
Unless we are intentional, life can become about us being right; about us being wise; about us being powerful and important. But if we admit that we can be a bit goofy sometimes, we are freer to let God be right; to let God be wise and powerful; to let God be the most important in our lives. Laughter helps us to keep things in perspective and today we remember that we have plenty to laugh at.
A Minnesota farmer named Ole had a car accident. He was hit by a truck owned by the Eversweet Company. In court, the Eversweet Company's hot-shot attorney questioned him thus: 'Didn't you say to the state trooper at the scene of the accident 'I'm fine?"
Ole responded: 'vell, I'lla tell you vat happened dere. I'd yust loaded my fav'rit cow, Bessie, into da… 'I didn't ask for any details', the lawyer interrupted. 'Just answer the question. Did you not say, at the scene of the accident, 'I'm fine!’?' Ole said, 'vell, I'd yust got Bessie into da trailer and I vas drivin' down da road.... ‘ The lawyer interrupted again and said, 'Your Honor, I am trying to establish the fact that, at the scene of the accident, this man told the police on the scene that he was fine. Now several weeks after the accident, he is trying to sue my client. I believe he is a fraud. Please tell him to simply answer the question. '
By this time, the Judge was fairly interested in Ole's answer and said to the attorney: 'I'd like to hear what he has to say about his favorite cow, Bessie’. Ole said: 'Tank you' and proceeded. 'vell as I vas saying, I had yust loaded Bessie, my fav'rit cow, into de trailer and was drivin' her down de road vin dis huge Eversweet truck and trailer came tundering tru a stop sign and hit my trailer right in da side by golly. I was trown into one ditch and Bessie was trown into da udder ditch. By yimminy yahosaphat I vas hurt, purty durn bad, and didn't vant to move. An efen vurse dan dat,, I could hear old Bessie a moanin' and a groanin'. I knew she vas in terrible pain yust by her groans.
Shortly after da accident, a policeman on a motorbike turned up. He could hear Bessie a moanin' and a groanin' too, so he vent over to her. After he looked at her, and saw her condition, he took out his gun and shot her right between the eyes. Den da policeman came across de road, gun still in hand, looked at me, and said, 'How are you feelin’?' 'Now wot da vud you say?’
This day is not just about the laughs, but about being a people of faith and the congruency of living into the delight of life. One of my favorite worship and sermon help guys is Thom Shuman, who does interim ministry around Columbus, OH. His beautiful prayer for Holy Humor Sunday makes the paradox so plain.
“dour-faced in the presence of stunning sunsets;
stricken with chronic severity while surrounded by gurgling babies;
frozen-souled when touched by the warmth of grace;
if we are made in your image, it's no wonder people think of you as a grouchy old geezer, God of Joy.
so, breathe on us . . .
fill our souls with:
laughter which chases away the long faces;
chuckles which wipe frowns off our brows;
great guffaws which shatter hardened hearts;
fill us, Breath of sidesplitting shrieks,
so we can celebrate the last laugh on death.”
Sometimes we’re too busy to notice humor or delight, sometimes we’re too tired or worried. Sometimes we don’t appreciate the medicinal value of laughter and humor. Sometimes life happens and it is what it is. Humor is a wonderful equalizer, but not so much when it is laced with sarcasm and cynicism.
But here’s where all this is going: if we really believe that Christ rose from the dead, that life is truly different since that day, then we need to make sure that our hearts know it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember the line, “if you’re happy, you should tell your face.” If we believe God’s gift of grace and love, and we demonstrate that “faith” in sourness of spirit, then who would want to follow us follow Christ?
Just outside the Church of Christ in South Seminole, FL, there was a marquee: Jesus invested his life in you. Have you shown any interest? Seen on the rear bumper of a car: Are you following Jesus this closely?
Part of the gift of Lent allows us to understand that it is okay to be sorry, to be reflective, sad, all that we tend to consider “dark” or at least perhaps not “good.” It can’t be any mere coincidence, tho, that the season of Eastertide is longer than the season of Lent. And yet, we live as we sang earlier, “as though most shades - of color - are dead.”
It’s hard, when we are grieving, or under great stress, or seriously ill. It’s hard to appreciate humor when we’re frightened almost to death. There-in lies the gift of irony and jest. To live a healthy, balanced life, we need the hard times and the easy times, the sorrow and the joy, the light and the dark. And that is just part of what God gave us in Christ’s death and resurrection - in the time when hope was cloaked in death and despair.
The temporary Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but couldn't quite remember it. Finally, she went to the pastor's study and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers, she paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally, she looked serenely heavenward and her lips moved silently. Then she looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed. "I'm in awe at your faith, pastor," she said. "It's really nothing," she answered. "The number is on a piece of tape on the ceiling.”
Knock knock, who's there? Lettuce. Lettuce who? Lettuce pray. God of all joy, You know better than we, what important people we believe we are. If we believe we have to be serious all the time, we miss out on the joy of your creation. If we choose to feast on the pain of the world, we skip the picnic offered in paradise. If we cling to the despair as our best friend, we ignore Jesus, who can bring us home to your heart.
Forgive us, Heart of Joy, and make us open to the startling and upside-down ways in which you work. Fill us with Easter's laughter; fill us with your healing joy; fill us with the love poured into us through your son and our brother, Jesus Christ.
Forgive us, Lord, when we take ourselves too seriously, when we don't claim the happiness that is rightfully ours as your children, when we forget that you will have the last laugh in this world. And all your forgiven people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
April 20, 2014
“What Difference Does Easter Make?”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
One of the lesser known famous preachers these days is a guy whose nameplate hangs on the president’s door at Princeton Theological Seminary, as of January this year. I like to hear The Rev. Dr. Craig Barnes when I attend preaching seminars because he is, well, easy on the eyes, has a deep, resonant speaking voice, but most especially, because he’s pretty real and practical. So when he shared a sermon on Easter, I just had to take a peek at what he said, because at least for me, Easter sermons are the hardest ones to write. And he surprised me.
He started out by talking about how everybody has a plan. Some of us plan to work hard to make our dreams come true. Others plan to commit ourselves to something that will make a difference in the world, to find the right relationships, or to improve the relationships we have. Some of us plan to make more money, to have more adventures, or to eat right and exercise in order to keep our health as long as possible.
The more I thought about Craig Barnes’ sermon, the more it seemed to make sense Some of us are clear about our plans. Others of us take it as it goes, which is just another plan. Even if our only plan is to get a plan, we all want to exert some level of control on our lives. If Plan A does not work, we move to Plan B. But we all build our lives according to these plans. The problem is that sometimes our plans don’t work out so well.
Early that first Easter morning, before dawn, Mary Magdalene and another Mary went to the tomb where they had left Jesus dead and buried. In better times, they had planned on making this man their King - their Savior. They had seen him heal the sick, feed the hungry, forgive sinners, cast out evil, and raise the dead. But the previous Friday, they watched in horror as Jesus was nailed to a cross. They saw his dead body placed in a tomb, and that is when they most likely “decided” their plan had failed.
There was no telling how many times these women had been to Jesus’ tomb over Friday and Saturday. For some people, it somehow helps the grief just to be near the grave. Maybe that morning, as they returned again, the women told stories about their days with Jesus in Galilee, where they developed such wonderful plans. Or maybe they were lost in their despair. It is even possible that as they walked to the tomb, they began to make new plans, now that Jesus was dead. Would they go back to their old life in Galilee, or stay in Jerusalem and look for a new messiah? Modern grief “counselors” will tell you to wait at least a year before making any major decisions, if at all possible. But we all can appreciate all the “what if-ing” that may have happened on the way to the tomb.
When they got there, as Judy read: “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid,” Angels are always saying that. They show up with lightning and earthquakes and say, “Do not be afraid.”
“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” And what is the women’s response? Do they say, “Oh, that is so like Jesus. I knew this would happen. It was just part of the plan.” No, we are told that the women were terrified. (At least they were conscious. The guards had passed out.)
Why would they all be so afraid? It was because they had been to the cross. They knew Jesus was dead. Not sort of dead, or pretend dead, but really dead. And if he was no longer dead, then they did not understand how life works. That is very hard on people who need plans.
One of the things that all of our plans have in common is that we know we will someday die. No one is agnostic when it comes to death, no matter how much we dislike it. And it’s not just about our physical bodies, but there are deaths of relationships, dreams, careers, and all the other “good” stuff of life, simply because life happens.
It’s interesting how our lives are organized around this double edged sword of death. The way you believe the story ends - affects the way you live the rest of it. That’s why we work so hard to achieve our dreams – before it is too late. We know life is short, so we try to live while we have life, achieve what we can, and leave our mark. “Making hay while the sun shines” is a concept that trains us to squeeze everything we can out of the present day, and can make us anxious about tomorrow. So we collect as much of the currency we value – love, knowledge, health, or experiences – before it is too late, and life is over.
This anxious belief in the inevitability of death may help our planning, but if we pay attention to the announcement of the angel this Easter morning, we would be not just anxious, but terrified. Like an earthquake, Easter shakes the foundations of our lives, because if death and loss are not the great enemies, then we do not know what we are fighting. We do not even understand our own lives anymore.
Easter is not some sentimental reassurance. Its true symbol is not crocuses, bunnies, or springtime. It is not even about the perseverance of the human spirit. Is any of that really going to shake you like an earthquake? The real symbol of Easter might rather be two women with their dresses hiked up to their knees running for terror out of a graveyard.
“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” The women and guards were right to be terrified. Everything we assumed about life has been turned upside down. If there is life after death, your plans for life on this earth have just been shaken apart. You are going to need a new mission. No wonder the guards passed out. They’d just discovered that they had spent their lives serving the wrong king. No wonder the religious leaders quickly devised a new plan to say his body was stolen. The Resurrection undermined the foundation upon which they had built their careers. One cannot believe in Easter without dramatically reorganizing one’s life.
Biblical commentators love to wrestle over the historicity of this event. “Did it really happen?” Maybe that is a question for some here today. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? If only it had happened today, we would have CNN or Fox News there to catch it on tape. DNA tests would be run to make sure it was “the” guy. Then, we think we would know for sure. But all of that would miss the point.
To believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead is not so difficult. As of three years ago, the Gallup Poll claims that 87 percent of the Christians in America believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but that is not the real question is it? Even the guards and religious leaders believed Jesus really rose from the dead, but they could not accept its implications. So the more interesting survey would be to ask what difference does it make that Jesus is risen?
What difference does Easter make when you walk into your office or classroom later this week, knowing that Christ roes? What difference does it make to your family that life is “different?” What difference does it make when you are struggling to find hope because your “plans” are failing, or your memory is failing, when you are lonely and discouraged or unsure if your life matters? The real question of Easter is not, “Do you believe that he is risen,” but, “Do you believe that this risen Savior is involved?”
The angel said, “‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’” I think that was always Jesus’ plan: to interrupt our plans with more hope than we could imagine. If you are have trouble seeing that the risen Savior is involved in your life - listen to the angel - directing you to go back home. Go back to your Galilee. Go back to work, school, and the ordinary places where life is lived. Go back to the routines. Go back to our world that is running out of good plans.
That is where you will find Jesus Christ at work. In the words of the angel, “he has gone on ahead of you; there you will see him.” You will see him filling the ordinary with extraordinary - mystery and miraculous possibility. You will find him creating a future that only a Savior could have planned.
What you believe about the end of the story determines how you will live the rest of it. If you believe now there is no end, and that the Savior is waiting - after everything that only looked like the end - then you will have to spend the rest of your life with earth-shattering hope. There is still hope for those struggling with broken bodies and broken spirits. There is still hope for those searching for a job, and for the unresolved business between the parent and adult child - between siblings. There is still hope for the places of unrest in our world, and those in trouble in our own backyard. There is still hope for you, because a Savior is waiting up ahead. There you will see him. Alleluia, and Amen.
First Congregational Church
April 13, 2014
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
George Burns once said, “The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.” I say, “This morning’s sermon should be fantastic!”
It was Palm Sunday but because of a sore throat, 5-year-old Little Ole stayed home from church with a sitter. When the family returned home, they were carrying several palm fronds. Little Ole asked them what they were for. "People put them on the ground and waved them in the air as Jesus walked by," Big Ole told him. "Wouldn't you know it," Little Ole fumed, "the one Sunday I don't go and he shows up."
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Thank you, Shelby. This is such a beloved passage, probably because it connects us to our childhoods, but there are some parts that are rather hard to “take in.” The first one deals with the colt, or as some translations say, a donkey and the disciple cattle-rustlers. The “hard part to take in” is anyone who would be willing to allow their livestock to be taken, simply because “the Lord needs it.” It had to be the working of the Holy Spirit that made such an event even possible, considering it’s connection to the prophecy in Zechariah, written some 500 years before that first Palm Sunday. The second difficult part “hard part” is how the Rolling Stones have been able to have such a long career. (The stones will cry out.)
The messages this Lent have centered around the idea of brokenness: in people, in life, in trust and faithfulness, justice and even things so common and everyday as bread. In most cases, I’ve hoped - prayed, the important points have centered not as much on the brokenness, but on how Christ restores the brokenness - then in his death and now in his resurrection.
It isn’t too far to get an idea of “broken majesty” if we think about people like Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family, Anna Karenina, John F. Kennedy or Judy Garland. You may come up with other words that can link all those names, but one that comes to mind first, for me, was that of tragedy. There is tragedy, certainly, when we think of Jesus’ death, but our passage for this morning is one of many that demonstrates Jesus turning brokenness into victory and restores majesty - not to tragedy - but to blessing.
I think our human nature is to focus on the first part of the passage and the parade. Maybe it is “easy” to overlook the last part of today’s passage, about the stones crying out if the disciples don’t praise God, because there is a sort of sadness that underlies it. It’s sort of like this very day, Palm Sunday, and how much easier it is to focus on the hoopla, rather than the counterpart to this day, Passion Sunday, the part that deliberately turns toward the ugliness of the cross.
We don’t like the ugliness of the cross, the brutality of how Jesus was treated, and dare I say, that for many, it is politically incorrect to cause us to look at that part of the Bible and our history. But just because something is hard, doesn’t mean we should avoid it. In fact, going closer to the cross, especially during Holy Week, helps us to see not just the hard, horrible parts, but helps us to see the love and the mercy in the grace that came from Jesus that whole weekend. Most of us would rather skip Holy Week and go right to Easter. But when we do that, we miss the parts that bind us to Christ and each other in a way that is not possible by any other means.
Our passage paints the picture of a moment in time when Jesus could have changed history. He could have shushed the disciples, he could have taken the other road, the one that didn’t lead away from the Mount of Olives, he could have avoided going to Jerusalem altogether. But with a certain majestic carriage, he faced the path before him, perhaps in part to encourage us, when we are faced with “hard situations,” to do the same.
Perhaps more than anything else, we have this history to remind us that what looks broken may not mean it is broken, but a path or event to something greater than we can imagine. It doesn’t make the traveling of the path or the unfolding of the event any less ugly - or beautiful. It is a simple testament to the power of God, in us and through us, when we are willing to go where God leads us. Even as the royal Son of God, it wasn’t above Jesus to ask for God’s help in traversing that path, nor should it be above us. So let us pray.
God of all - the beautiful, the ugly, the easy and the hard - we are grateful that you gave us yourself - in Christ - to draw us closer to you - for all of eternity. In the days ahead, when we may be tempted to turn away from the hard or difficult parts of Jesus’ last week, help us to boldly look at him and all he went through, that we can learn the way of following him - not just in being resurrected to life with you, but going through all that which makes us real and majestic - as brothers and sisters of Jesus - the Christ. And all his brothers and sisters say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
April 6, 2014
Fifth Sunday in Lent
"Broken Bread Restored"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
They say truth is stranger than fiction. In light of today’s theme, never has there been a more perfect illustration. Last year, we celebrated Maundy Thursday with our Methodist brothers and sisters at the Elberta Church. Maundy Thursday generally has one or two foci: stewardship - with the washing of feet - and/or The Lord’s Supper. So after deciding on a particular readers theater piece, Rev. Fay and I decided that we would service communion intinction style, as we shall do today.
It so happened that one of the Elberta ladies had volunteered to make bread for the occasion, and had done so earlier that week. There was no plan as to who would hold what, so I ended up with the bread, and Rev. Fay with the cup. I would break off a bit of the bread, give it to each person, and the individual was to dip it into the cup that Rev. Fay was holding. With the very first chunk, crumbs tumbled to the ground. The bread was the perfect consistency for toast, not so much for breaking and dipping. With each person that came up, the circle of white bread snow on the floor grew bigger.
It wasn’t thinking much about it, because no matter how old or new the bread is, when you break it or cut it, pieces fall off. But this bread went far beyond the label of crumbly. At one point I needed to tear off bigger chunks, because even as an individual moved the two or three feet from me to Rev. Fay, more crumbs fell to the ground. For anyone who has been afflicted with the laughing bug during a particularly quiet moment in church, you can understand the position Rev. Fay and I were in - not to mention the fact that we were supposed to be the ones that set the tone for the communion as well as the entire service! Fortunately, and no doubt with a little help from God, we seemed to hold it together enough until we finished.
However, from the time we started, until this day, the theological significance of that evening continues to unfold. But before going down that path, we need to take a side trip for the scripture passage.
Our passage takes place after Jesus fed the 5,000 with the help of a little kid and his two fish and five barley loaves - the cheapest of bread at the time - even held in contempt because it was the grain of animals. The cool thing is that Jesus used it to feed everyone. After such a block party, Jesus needed some time away, so he went to a mountain by himself.
While Jesus started his retreat, the disciples decided to take a boat across the Sea of Galilee, to the city of Capernaum, which brings us to the second scene-setting miracle. As they sailed across the lake, the wind came up, the disciples became afraid, and Jesus walked out onto the water to ease the disciples’ minds and hearts.
The next day, the people that had camped at the scene of the great block party went looking for Jesus, and finally found him across the lake. They asked him about his trip, and Jesus called them on their motive for following him. He told them not to work for the food that spoils, but for food that lasts forever. When the people asked what they had to do to do the work God requires, Jesus said it was to believe in the one God has sent. Which brings us near to the end of John 6.
John 6:48-51 The Message
47-51 “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”
Thank you, Candace. In this Lenten series on brokenness, we’ve dealt with the woman with the broken heart who broke a jar of expensive perfume over Jesus’ head as he dined in Simon the Leper’s house. The second week was about Judas breaking Jesus’ trust in him and week three dealt with Peter’s broken promises of faithfulness. Last week’s topic was on broken justice, and how Jesus wasn’t about just about fixing the broken, but about raising up the restored to the status we were always intended to have: ambassadors - brothers and sisters of the King of Kings.
Today’s topic of the restoration of broken bread - Jesus being the Bread of Life - is sort of a misnomer. In Jesus’ day, when criminals were crucified, there was a difference in the way Romans and Jews performed them. Romans would leave their victims to linger on the cross - sometimes for days. Those deaths were as gruesome as a movie maker could imagine them.
But Jewish law was different, and the crucified one had to be removed from their cross before night. To hasten the dying process, sometimes the bones were smashed, which is what happened to the two that died with Jesus. It is interesting that back in the book of Numbers, there was a law that said of the Passover Lamb, “that not a bone of it should be broken (Num.9:12). When the soldiers came to Jesus, knowing he was already dead, but just to make double sure, they pierced his side with a spear.
In giving up his life, the Bread of Life became an offering of the craziest sort. It wasn’t an offering like a perfect loaf of uncut bread, but more like that of the crumbly kind, that falls to the ground and makes a mess and is hard to hold, and is anything but lovely. And yet, it is, a lovely thing that Christ did; even if there was no one else on earth, Christ would have offered himself that you may be restored to all that God has ever seen in you to be.
We are restored in the offering of the Bread of Life, because it, along with water, are the most basic needs of survival. The Bread of Life, restoring us, allows us to live - and flourish - in ways beyond our dreams and expectations. Even when it seems that we may be traversing a dry and barren land or desert, the Bread of Life, laying down his life for us, sort of like manna in the desert, whether we feel it or not, gives us enough to get us to the next day, the next place, the next whatever.
A number of years ago, when I was more into the making of real bread - the kind with yeast and kneading and hours and no bread-maker - my sister gave me a plaque thingy with a poem about bread. I couldn’t find who wrote it, but it says,
“Be gentle when you touch bread
Let it not lie uncared for—unwanted
So often bread is taken for granted
There is so much beauty in bread
Beauty of sun and soil, beauty of honest toil
Winds and rain have caressed it,
Christ often blessed it
Be gentle when you touch bread.”
I think that’s part of why I love to hold bread at communion, and maybe for some of you, too. It’s such a gift, so forgiving, so real, so essential, so spiritual. It is our reminder - that as Christ gave of himself, so can we give of ourselves, in the restoration of the brokenness of this world. Let us prepare our hearts, sweeping out the cobwebs, setting the tumbled chairs to right, throwing open the windows of our hearts, that the essence of Christ may move us to allow the Bread of Life to touch every part of our lives.
Let us pray. Gracious Holy Spirit, we thank you for being in our midst, most certainly in each other, the music, the words and the togetherness, but most especially in your Bread of Life. As we continue through this Lenten season, into Holy Week, Easter Sunday and beyond, remind us of how much have wanted us to be as you have always seen us - broken - perhaps - restored - most certainly - as your people. Remind us, each time we touch bread, see it or smell it, that all of life is holy, even in that which may seem ordinary. May that which we eat today strengthen us for the journey ahead. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.