Monday, August 24, 2015

Bible Telling of 1 Kings 5-9

After Solomon became King of Israel, the Lord gave him rest from his enemies. During this time of peace, Solomon built the Temple. He gathered a large workforce from Israel to quarry stone and gather other supplies. Solomon also imported cedar from a friend of the late King David. 

When the Temple was complete, it was a sight to see. The inner walls, floors, and even the ceilings were lined with cedar. Each surface was ornately carved with cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. All of the vessels and furnishings were made of pure gold. The Holy of Holies - that inner room where the ark of the covenant would reside - was lined with pure gold. Solomon’s men worked for seven years to complete the Temple.

In time, Solomon gathered all of the leaders of Israel to Jerusalem to dedicate the Temple. Solomon created a grand procession from the Tent of Meeting - where the ark of the covenant was - to the Temple. Priests carried all of the vessels and furnishings from within the tent, the tent itself, and the ark of the covenant. All along the way, priests sacrificed oxen and sheep to the Lord. So many animals were sacrificed that they could not be counted. 

The priests placed the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. As they were leaving the Temple, the entire building filled with thick smoke. This was the glory of the Lord residing in that place. 
Solomon addressed the leaders of Israel. He proclaimed that he completed what his father had started. Solomon fulfilled the prophecy made to David that he would build the Temple.

Then Solomon turned to face the altar and raised his hands to heaven. He prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no other God like you. You have kept your promises that you have made with your people, including the promise of this Temple. May you always keep a descendant of David on the throne.

“This Temple cannot contain you! May you listen to the prayers of your servants in this place. When people come here to confess their sins and make amends, may you judge them appropriately. When your people are suffering under foreign enemies, from drought, or from plague, may you heed their prayers and bring them relief. When you respond to prayer, your people will fear you.

“With this Temple, your name will become great even beyond your chosen people. When these foreigners come to pray at your house, listen to their prayers. Show them your might so that all people across the world will know and fear you.”

Then Solomon turned once again to the people and said, “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people as he promised. Every promise made to Moses and our ancestors has come to pass. O Lord our God, continue to be with us and lead us to follow all the commandments.”

Solomon proceeded to offer more sacrifices to the Lord, including thousands of oxen and sheep. He also offered grain, fat, and burnt offerings. Then the people feasted and celebrated for seven days.

On the eighth day, Solomon sent the people to their homes. Some time later, the Lord appeared to Solomon saying, “I have heard your prayers. I have consecrated the house you built for me. My eyes and heart dwell in the Temple. If you stray from me and no longer follow my statutes, I will destroy the Temple so that foreigners will mock you. But if you remain upright and follow my commandments, I will keep David’s line on the throne. 

Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God!

Monday, August 17, 2015

The bread of transformation

John 6:51-58, 12th Sunday after Pentecost B, August 16, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Ms. Giovanazzi’s fifth grade class was learning about the Civil War. As a final project, she assigned the class together to create a living history demonstration. Each group of students was assigned an aspect of the war - from how they camped in the field to how they created hospitals. Each student was expected to make a Civil War uniform to dress the part. Then parents and younger siblings would be able to walk through the demos.

My group demonstrated what Civil War soldiers ate while in their encampment. My job specifically was to make hardtack, those bland crackers that seem to last forever. So, the night before my presentation, my father and I pulled out some baking supplies. We gathered a bowl, a sheet tray, a rolling pin, and flour. 

In the bowl, we mixed lots of flour with just a small amount of water to make the dough. That was it: no oil, no salt, no eggs; just flour and water. Then we rolled it out, divided it into biscuits, and baked it until it was truly hard. That was some bland bread. 

And that is about the extent of my bread baking experience. Sure, I have made unleavened communion bread before, and I certainly have made my share of cookies and other baked goods. Yet I have never made leavened bread. I always have feared making leavened bread because it looks so complicated and time consuming. The dough needs to be kept in a place that is warm but not too warm and left for a time that is long but not too long.

I recently listened to a TED Talk where the baker Peter Reinhart described the bread making process in twelve steps. Twelve steps that take hours - if not days - to complete. No wonder bread making sounds so complicated! 

The TED speaker reminded me of one more reason why making leavened bread scares me - because it is alive. Bread dough is literally alive, or at least the yeast is. As the yeast burps and sweats, the dough rises. As the dough proofs, it proves that it is in fact alive. Then, when the bread is put into the oven, the yeast dies. 

That is the crazy thing about bread. It goes from living to dead to living to dead to giving life. With the process of creating bread, we find the perfect metaphor for Christ. Peter Reinhart divides bread making into three transformations. 

First, from alive to dead. Bread begins as living wheat flourishing in the field. Yet the wheat must be harvested, or killed, before its seeds can be crushed into flour. 

In his TED Talk, Peter said, “And at that point, the wheat has suffered the ultimate indignity. It's not only been killed, but it's been denied any potential for creating future life.” The wheat cannot produce more wheat, yet it has become flour.

So also, Jesus begins his ministry alive and well flourishing in Israel. His teaching, preaching, and healing are important, yet before he can become the true living bread, he must be killed and his body crushed. Unlike the wheat, though, Jesus’ potential for future life does not die when he breathes his last.

The second transformation is from dead to alive. The flour is dead wheat, yet when yeast is mixed in, the dough becomes alive again. The proof is when the dough rises. All of those “yeast burps, sweats, and starch guts” show how alive the dough really is. 

Peter Reinhart said, “[The word] Leaven comes from the root word that means enliven -- to vivify, to bring to life… And we know it's alive because… it grows. Growth is the proof of life.” While the dough is growing, it is transforming more. The enzymes produce sugar; the yeast turns the sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol; and the bacteria turns sugar into acid. 

So also, Jesus becomes alive again after dying on the cross. After three days, the Lord raised Jesus from the dead. And, just as the living dough is much different from the living wheat, Jesus is different now too. Jesus’ body has changed. Now resurrected and on earth, Jesus can walk through walls yet still eat fish. Jesus now can do things and know things that he couldn’t before.

Third, the living dough is transformed into dead bread. In the oven, the yeast dies when it reaches 140 degrees. The yeast must die before the bread can be complete. Peter Reinhart said, “The yeast, whose mission it has been up till now to raise the dough, to enliven it, to vivify it, in order to complete its mission, [it] has to give up its life.”

Yet it is the finished bread, with the wheat and the yeast dead, that is finally food. The bread is what sustains people until the next meal. Wheat or yeast alone could not do this.
Jesus does not die again like the bread does. Jesus is changed once more, though. Jesus is reunited with the Lord in heaven now that his mission on earth is complete. Jesus is not dead, yet he also is no longer physically with us.

The Lord has transformed Jesus from life to death, from death to new life, and finally from new life to everlasting life. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51) 

All of the bread that we can make in the world, including that hardtack from the Civil War, is dead. The wheat is ground into flour, and the yeast is killed in the oven. Even the manna in the wilderness was dead. But Jesus is the living bread. Not even death itself can kill Jesus. 

Now Jesus is offering this living bread to us. Not just in communion, but in every way, Jesus offers his flesh to give us life everlasting. Jesus offers his flesh and blood as real food and drink, but not physical food and drink. Hardtack may be able to survive for years if stored properly, but only Jesus the living bread can survive forever. 

With Jesus’ flesh and blood, we never need to hunger for God again. We experience this food and drink not just in communion but also when Jesus abides in us. Jesus is with us, sustaining us through our deepest darkness and encouraging us through our greatest joys. 

Living bread is the best metaphor to understand who Jesus is and what he gives to us. Yet Jesus himself is the best gift of all. After all of this bread talk, aren’t you hungry for communion? Amen.