11 Pentecost B—8/9/15
1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35,41-51
Pr. Scott Kramer
One of my pastoral visits this past week was to see Jim. Some of you know Jim. Before reading the scripture lessons for the week I explained to Jim that this time of year the gospel readings are all about Jesus as Bread of Life.
Jim thought about that and then said, “I make bread. Sourdough bread.” In fact, Jim told me he has sourdough starter in the fridge. And guess how old this starter is: forty years old! I perked up when I heard that because in today’s first reading Elijah eats the bread of God and “went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights!”
Now, I don’t bake bread so I needed to do some research. The thing about sourdough starter is that it needs to be refreshed. You have to add new ingredients on a regular basis. Jim said his starter hadn’t been refreshed in awhile so he was afraid it might be a bit “gamy.” I looked up the word “gamy” and found that it can mean rank, corrupt, tainted, or spoiled. But the starter is not so much unfit to eat as it is lacking the power to make a delicious loaf of bread.
What becomes of human beings when our spirits are not refreshed? Our lives become “gamy,” lacking power to be bread of life for a hungry world. Our readings from Ephesians during these weeks of summer describe what that looks like. Today, for example, the writer commands his readers to “put away falsehood.” Stop stealing. And in the church then, as now, evidently anger was a big problem: Do not let the sun go down on your anger…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.
And then we are shown what good, healthy, spiritual “sourdough starter” looks like. The human life that has not gone gamy is life that is refreshed by the things of God: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.
Jesus expressed his love for the world—for us!—in many ways. In today’s reading from John he says, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
What is “bread of life?” Think of sourdough starter. Sourdough starter is constantly renewed by new flour, new yeast, new water. It’s alive! Jesus allowed his Father to regularly add new ingredients to his heart, his mind, and his spirit. He was able to look, listen and change in response to the new thing that God was doing in him and all around him. It’s the example he set for anyone who would call him “Lord.”
During the time of his earthly ministry, however, Jesus was constantly confronted with spiritual “gaminess.” Religious people began to complain about him, John writes. We know this guy, they said. We know his family. We know our traditions. We know our ancestors. We have what we need. We don’t need anything new. We don’t need to change! We don’t want to change!
How different from the way of Christ! Do not complain among yourselves, he says to his listeners, because “complain” is what they did when confronted with anything new and different. St. Paul captures the spirit of Jesus in his letter to the Romans when he writes: Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.
What new ingredients are we allowing God to mix into our lives?
We Christians talk about renewal all the time. We speak of redemption, of resurrection, of eternal life. Very truly, I tell you, Jesus says in today’s reading, whoever believes has eternal life. But what is “eternal life?” In our culture it’s hard for us to imagine anything but personal: my life, my salvation, my future. But Jesus says, The bread of life that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Bread of Life and eternal life are not about separate individuals and our needs. Each of us is inseparable from the Body of Christ, which exists not for its own sake but for the sake of the world.
Jim’s sourdough starter may be forty years old, but what do you think–is it the same starter? No! There is nothing left in that starter that was there forty years ago. The yeast, the water, the flour—all of the original ingredients were used up long ago. What’s left in the starter are not the original ingredients but the gift of life passed on from those original ingredients through all the new ingredients that have been added since that first batch.
Likewise, this congregation today has no “original ingredients”—no charter members! The writer of Ephesians affirms the order of things when he says, If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; everything has become new. In Christ you are a new creation! Anything good and Christ-like that has been added over the past seventy years adds to and refreshes the Body of Christ. The bread of life—the Body of Christ–is renewed by openness of longer-term members, and by the new ingredients—new faces, new gifts, children and their new spirits–that have been added and continue to be added along the way.
This is a deeper understanding of “eternal life.” We are already living eternal life! Each of us has a role in refreshing the Body of Christ, and a responsibility to see that it is “eternally” refreshed by welcoming new ingredients that God provides. A healthy sourdough is healthy only when the old starter allows new ingredients to restore its life.
Sometimes aspects of our lives turn gamy, lifeless. Like our spiritual ancestors we become infused by a spirit of complaint, anger, resentment, resistance to new ingredients. This is as true for church communities as it is for individuals.
As it turns out, Jim’s sourdough starter turned gamy—at least, that’s what he thinks! He refused to allow it to be used for communion bread this morning. I think I need to have a talk with him and assure him that if he’ll let us use his starter—even a little bit–new ingredients will bring it back to life!
In the meantime, guess what. One of you, hearing Jim’s story this past week, didn’t have a sourdough starter but decided to make one. Our communion bread this morning is the result! The lesson here, dear friends: Eternal life means it’s never too late! New life is always within reach. God stands ready—no matter when, no matter what!—to add new ingredients to the loaf. God’s purpose—and therefore ours—is to turn even what might be gamy into bread of life to feed our hungry world!