‘bread-bakers all are we…’
August 5, 2018
Scriptures: Ephesians 4:1-6, John 6:24-35
I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
‘Do not work for the food that perishes’, Jesus told his followers that day, but rather for that which lasts ‘eternally’. Those who were there had gathered for a number of reasons. Some were there because they had heard of the wondrous miracle Jesus had performed by feeding over 5000 people with nothing but a small boy’s lunch of a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish the day before. Others may truly have been there because they were poor and in fact hungry. Others were probably there to see if this radical young preacher was going to continue on upsetting the applecart of polite faith and society with his inflammatory rhetoric and challenging works.
But whatever the reason, Jesus was not there just to do their bidding and to provide yet another miracle that would satisfy them for a few moments and leave them hungering for more without really understanding what his call and ministry was all about. Jesus wanted them to seek after the truth that he was sent from God to show them that there was a better way to live, a better way to love, and a better way to please God through the giving of oneself in service to others.
I think I was probably pretty young when I first watched my mom bake bread. She did it several times a week as a part of stretching the small budget she had to feed five hungry and growing children. Each time she made six loaves…one that often didn’t last much more than 5 minutes or so if we were around when it came out of the oven, several more for the week’s breakfasts and lunches, and at least one or two to give away to someone in need…something my mom always seemed to have a sense for…something that, like the aroma emanating from our oven, always carried the magic of her love out into the community.
And it was also when I was pretty young that I asked her to teach me how to make bread myself…something all of us kids eventually asked and learned. And it was then that I discovered that baking bread from scratch was something that blessed both the baker and the one who ate the bread, as the rhythmic and sensual kneading of the bread and the odors of the yeast working its magic was its own reward…along with of course the oven eventually filling the house with such wondrous goodness that seemed to bless all who were near.
But it was hard work as well…for the amount of dough it takes to make six loaves, which I still do today, was of a significant size to be able to work it thoroughly and completely into the proper consistency and state of readiness for the first or second rise. But it was good work, and in the end, always well worth the effort. Yes, making bread has always been truly a labor of love…at least for me.
On the other hand, making the ‘bread that does not perish’, which as I read it, is doing the work of revealing the Christ within us all together is also sometimes hard work, but it is indeed the ‘food that does not perish’ that Jesus is referring to. And for quite some time now we have all been trying to figure out how to bake together, how to fashion that special loaf of bread that shows the community in which we live that indeed our Lord is alive and well and residing here within our hearts.
All the things we do together have indeed become a blessing to our community, we have become a source of blessing, not only for each other, but for all those around. Last week I was sharing with one of our elders that it was not so long ago that the discussion within a monthly Council meeting was on how we might counter the impression within our community that our church was closed! At the time we were meeting in the Fellowship Hall for Sunday worship in order to save money by not heating the Sanctuary in the winter. And with time we grew more and more comfortable with the worship style the Fellowship Hall afforded us and resisted going back across the street even in warmer weather. But from the outside it looked as if our main church building had pretty much been abandoned except for an occasional gospel concert or two…leading some in the community to ask if in fact we had been forced to close.
And as I shared this with the elder, I also recounted how many individuals, from outside of our church family have come up to me across the street in the garden, or in the Thrift Shop or Food pantry, or even recently at the Farm Stand who have gone out of their way to thank me for all we have been doing for our community. And I must tell you that is a long journey we have traveled together in just a few short years. We have found ways to bake ‘eternal bread’ together through our community outreach, through our fellowship extended throughout all of our ministries, and through our music and worship experiences. As a result, we have begun to learn how to better extend the love of God into our community. Truly this is bread that does not perish…
Recently I was sharing with a close friend that I used to resist the notion that we all have a particular ‘lot in life’. I struggled with the idea that we were restricted at all by any force outside of ourselves, rather feeling that we each were, by nature of our free will, able to pretty much chart whatever course we wanted to take. But I have come to realize that having a ‘lot in life’ can be very much like having a ‘yoke’…not unlike the one Jesus asked his own followers to take up and put on…as long as it was his yoke and not one of our own fashion or choosing. For as those charged with baking ‘eternal bread’, we must all accept as well that we work for the Master Baker, and that our work is only of value and only eternal if it is done in complete surrender to the One who is willing to direct our hands and hearts in these works of graciousness and love.
So, having a ‘lot in life’ or a ‘yoke’ upon our shoulders is not necessarily a bad thing at all if we have taken on the yoke of Christ and given our lives over into service that pleases our God. In fact, having such a ‘yoke’ allows us to keep in constant touch with our Lord, allows us to feel the slightest tug or pull as the Spirit guides us into ways of being more loving, more gentle, more like Jesus. In fact, submitting to the guidance of the Spirit of our God in all humility and patience together as the church, allows us to fulfil our calling to be ambassadors of love to the world.
I guess what I am trying to share is that I feel we all should be grateful for all that God is doing in our midst, for all of the gifts that have come our way, for the energy, the enthusiasm, and the imagination that have allowed us not only to meet our obligations but to do so in a way that runs counter to the oft-recounted narrative of a declining church in America. God has been and continues to be so good to us here in our little church in our little community…and good to us in ways that make our influence and outreach far bigger than our size would otherwise suggest we could.
My good friend and mentor Father Michael Pleckon often sends me online copies of the latest issue of Christianity Today magazine. And in the issue he sent me last week the headline article was all about how young and talented preachers coming out of seminary are starting to choose to go to small rural churches not as a ‘stepping stone’ from which to move on to a larger more affluent urban or suburban congregation, but rather as a career choice…a place they intend to spend most if not all of their ministry. The article went on to say that these new enterprising individuals were getting into their communities in new and creative ways, finding ways to have their churches and congregations become important to and a critical part of their community. And as I read the article I was so comforted by the affirmation it was giving to each one of you here…for indeed that is who we have been becoming, that is the new wine of the Spirit we have been seeking after for a number of years now, a new wine that is just now becoming aged to the point that it is no longer just an experiment in how to ‘do church’, but rather the new way we have all found to live and to thrive together under the lordship of the Master Bread Baker.
So, let us all rejoice, let us give thanks for God’s patient presence in the life and ministry of this tiny piece of the body of Christ, and let us be mindful as well that baking bread can be hard work indeed, especially if the loaves we bake are supposed to last eternally.
And let us as well be ever mindful of Paul’s words in our reading today from Ephesians where he instructs, ‘…let us all strive to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For there is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism…’.
Let us together put on the yoke of our Lord Jesus as we set about putting our energy and enthusiasm into the work to which we have been called…let us bake…and break bread together, as one…