“The Bread of Life”, transformative yeast, and redemption
Scripture: John 6:35,41-51
Uncited/Unedited by J. Lavoy
I really like our scripture lesson, today. Its very interesting and we can have a lot of fun with it. The bread of life. I could be tempted to wage in a long, theological discourse on the subject – perhaps beginning in wonder over how the metaphor makes any sense, engages with some communion parallels, and so forth. I know that you’re always up for a 45 minute sermon. But that wouldn’t be nearly as fun as making bread.
Now, I know that our theme for worship, today, is “Anger Management,” and, barring my pattern of late, coming up with a new topic altogether, I assured Karen that I would stay ”on topic” this week. But I’m going to need you to use your imagination.
You see, as I’ve meditated upon our scripture reading for the day, the concept of redemption kept coming to mind. Redemption is nutritious. And I can’t imagine the Bread of Life being anything but nutritious. And when I think of nutrition, I think of an organic garden. Lets pretend our flour didn`t come from Safeway, lets imagine, instead, this wheat was grown on an organic farm somewhere between here and Red Deer on a beautiful farm, mountains in the distance, and the north Saskatchewan rolling by. And then we remember that, in organic gardening, farmers literally use manure and compost to feed their plants, to make them as nutritious as possible.
Think about that. Manure and compost. That`s almost the perfect definition of redemption. Cow dung, egg shells, the tops of celery that you don`t eat, coffee grinds…. What we consider to be waste, over time, becomes something deeply rich and beautiful, a source of nutrition for the plants we eat. Does that not sound like redemption – this thing we consider gross becoming a source of life? I can imagine Jesus telling a parable about it: He might have said, `The Kingdom of God is like a backyard composter; what human hands have refused has become the gardening cornerstone.` You can use your imagination here.
(Pour Red Deer wheat into bowl, and mix with salt, and a little oil.) `Fruit of the Garden of Redemption`
I know that redemption is a tricky word – but I wonder why? I know there are some negative connotations that connect it to inappropriate conversations about Original Sin, you know, where Eve is somehow blamed for the downfall of humanity. Maybe this isn`t very nuanced, but we don`t need to connect Original Sin and redemption. Redemption, to me, is acknowledging God`s transformative presence.
As I said in my Easter sermon, resurrection – more than a literal process of the dead coming back to life – is God`s movement in the world. Resurrection is the motion that God makes. Things of death are resurrected as things of life. So, when I feel or notice God moving in the world, I know this is resurrection. And to me, redemption and resurrection are two sides of the same coin.
Redemption, I`ve come to believe, is a way of describing how resurrection might happen. Redemption is transformation.
So, Jesus, in the scriptures today, says to the crowds, “I am the bread of life.“ The crowds say, “well, that`s rather bold. How can you be the bread of life? Aren`t you the carpenters son? The bread of life is how God sustained our ancestors in the wilderness.“ The crowds were skeptical. Here was some upstart saying all kinds of weird nonsense. I would be skeptical, too. So Jesus responds, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they eventually died, too. No, the bread from the grains and yeast that God provides through me, I am the bread of life. Whoever eats of me will live forever, in resurrection and redemption.“
Perhaps I can guess what you`re thinking. “wow, pastor James, this is really very convoluted.“ You would be right in saying so. But even this meagre sermon can be redeemed. Remember the manure from earlier?
One of my favorite pieces of our scripture story is verse 44: “No one can come to me unless drawn by God, and I will raise that person up on the last day.“ When I read this, I thought that Jesus might be making a yeast or leavening pun, here. Raised up?…raised…yeast makes bread rise. I investigated, and the word used here is anistémi, and it doesn`t seem to have any connection with yeast whatsoever. But – one of its meanings is, in essence, transformation. So, Jesus is saying, “on the last day, I will transform that person.“
And even so, if I put myself in the mindset of a person 2000 years ago, I might find yeast to be completely miraculous. Sure, they would have known that yeast made dough rise. They would have known that yeast made grape juice ferment. They would have known that yeast made yogurt out of milk. But the concept of bacteria wasn`t discovered until the 17th century. I can`t imagine Jesus` crowd would have known that little bacteria eat sugar, and release CO2 and alcohol. I think they would have understood the yeast to be magic dust, a gift of God, that transforms and preserves whatever it is applied to.
And maybe, if we just pause and marvel at God`s handiwork, rather than deconstructing it, we might realize the beauty of transformation, of redemption, that yeast is.
So, what we know as bread, starts out as grain, a little salt, a little oil, some water, and, a touch of redemptive yeast. Then, its forcefully needed together, and let to rise. Then, just when it rises enough, its punched down again. Then, its baked in a hellishly hot oven. Then, and only then, is it that delicious, if not a bit crusty, thing of beauty – bread of life, nourishment for the soul. I hope you can appreciate the metaphor I`m trying to make, here.
Our lives are not without challenge. And we may be tempted, like the crowd gathered to hear Jesus, we may be tempted to be skeptical. We may want everything to be clear and straightforward. We may want to use historical fact to dispute Jesus, to explain away our trouble – “God sent the manna to our ancestors from heaven.“ We will say.
But here is the remarkable thing: our souls do not grow and mature from a life of ease. Like the crusty bread, our souls grow from being kneaded, from being occasionally punched down, and from being fired in a kiln. And if we are lucky, after being egged on and totally fried, we may become French toast.
But I do mean this seriously. Here`s how my sermon becomes an anger management sermon: all things can be redeemed by God. All things can be transformed by God. If I sat here and clenched this dough, it would never become bread. Instead, I need to let this bread go, and allow it to rise. And it takes a while to rise. My bread always turns out badly, because I never let it rise long enough. There`s another metaphor in there.
Because all of the sugars in my sermon have been thoroughly digested, I`d like to offer you a concluding prayer. When you experience sadness or joy, frustration or contentedness, may you mutter this prayer:
`Beloved Jesus, let your yeast raise me up.`