A reflection on Proper 13C, Colossians: 3:1-11 and Luke 12:13-21 12:16, St. John’s Burlington, WI, August 1, 2010
A few weeks ago in a sermon I preached at another church I used an illustration about making pie crust from scratch, which I love to do. Today I find myself thinking about bread. There’s something about the Gospel of Luke that is causing me to find connections between the ordinary things I do and love in life and the readings. So, I’ve been thinking about making bread and more specifically about making bread for communion. For one thing, at this church, you make your communion bread and have for a long time. It’s an art to make bread and a ministry of love to make communion bread.
A few days ago, on a really hot and humid day, (ok that could be any day this summer), I made bread. There I was early in the morning, mixing yeast into a warm water and honey. Before long the mixture was foamy, evidence of life bubbling within. I added a little butter and salt and then enough flour to thicken the mixture into a sticky ball - the beginning of bread dough. Next comes kneading. Bread gets its texture and consistency from kneading. By pushing and turning, pushing and turning, one kneads more flour into the mixture while at the same time working the texture of the dough until it becomes elastic and holds its shape. After about 7 minutes of kneading I formed it into a ball, rubbed some oil onto the surface and placed it into a bowl to rise, covered with a cloth. An hour later, maybe less, the bread ball doubled in size. When I placed the dough in the bowl it was a small dense oily ball at the bottom. But now it filled the bowl like a deep breath waiting to exhale. This brings me to one of my favorite parts, plunging my fist into the center of the bread/ball.
The final steps in bread making are easy. If you are making bread for Eucharist, as I was, you simply take the exhaled ball of dough, divide it into appropriate size portions and shape it. I made focaccia shaped loaves, about 10 inches in diameter and two inches thick. I let the loaf sit for about 10 minutes and then baked it in the oven for 15 minutes.
I've been thinking about bread lately in part because I had to decide if I was going to make bread for an upcoming worship service or buy it. Actually, it isn't going to be used in a Eucharist, but it will be used in a worship service that we are calling a "Love Feast." This Love Feast will come at the end of a conference for which I am on the planning committee; it will be our final worship experience. And because a number of the people coming are not "In Communion" with each other, or rather our Christian denominations are not in communion with each other, a Eucharist is not appropriate. So, really, any kind of bread would do.
It would have been much easier to just buy four different kinds of bread than it was to make four different bread recipes.
But somehow store bought bread just didn't seem right. Making bread for Eucharist or a Love Feast is an act of love and prayer, it's a ministry. It represents the coming together of many separate and distinct ingredients and creating a whole. Considering what we are hoping to create in and from this gathering making the bread just seemed right. In this conference we are going to considering the words, images, and symbols that speak to us about Christ, about God, about faith, about community. For me bread speaks to those elements we are considering. Bread, real bread, is for me a rich image of the gathered body of faithful sharing in a meal, being fed from the bounty of God’s love poured out in Christ. Bread is fragrant; it has substance and texture, color and taste. The bread I made, and I made four different recipes, were intended to reflect the diversity of those gathering at this conference– a crumbly gluten free bread from rice flour, a caramel colored, slightly sweet, white/whole wheat blend, a third loaf of 100% whole wheat bread, and the fourth loaf an earthy rye and bulgur – these loaves for a gathering of Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodist, Baptists, UCC, and other denominations – of Asians, Native Americans, Caucasians, and African Americans – all coming together to talk about the images, symbols, and words we use to talk about God and faith in our lives and in our worship. Talk and share, listen and learn, and wonder how it is that we are all Christians, are all the Body of Christ, for there is no longer Jew or Greek, Paul tells us in his Letter to the Colossians, just one Body, Christ in all, Christ is all.
I don’t know how this conference will play out with so many people from so many different understandings of Christianity.
I hope we do not disintegrate into some kind of righteous indignation, like the man in the parable in today’s reading in Luke, who comes across as selfish. I hope we are not self-centered on our own agendas but can instead be centered on God, or as Luke says, I hope we can be rich toward God. Rich toward God can be as simple as turning our hearts and minds to God and striving to do God’s work in the world.
The members of this conference are gathering to consider the various ways we love God and the ways we experience God’s love in return. As a result, to some extent, we also reflect on the ways in which one community knows Gods love might actually exclude others from that love. For example, there’s the conversation around who is invited to the altar for a Eucharist and who is not; or a conversation about the appropriateness of women clergy; or a conversation about whether the bread and wine, when consecrated remains just bread and wine, a symbol of Christ – OR is it changed, does it really become the body of Christ? So many levels to where the conversation might go, so many ways the body of Christ is divided instead of united. In bread language we might think of this in terms of gluten bread or gluten-free bread. If a community only serves gluten bread then those who are intolerant of gluten are left out of the love feast, the meal, the Eucharist, the body, the sharing of love in this way.
Certainly the call we hear in our readings today is a call to wholeness, to unity, to community, to be as one Body in our love of God. But also it’s a reminder that God loves for us, in our diversity, our parts, in our ordinariness as well as in our fullness, the whole of creation. This kind of love is hard work. We fool ourselves if we think this love that God calls us to is simple, even as that same God-love is commonly found in the ordinariness of life. It’s a lot like making breading, of mixing and kneading, of rising and exhaling, of shaping and forming. Of bringing together you and me and all our various life experiences and expectations and putting them all together at this altar as one body shaped and formed in love.