I Am Sick of Talking About the Bread of Life

How does Jesus’ bread talk translate into something Christians can use?  It sounds good and it’s inspirational but will it connect with people in Galilee and on the margins of American society.  Those are the two questions I want to put to Jesus after four weeks of bread, bread, and more bread.

Yes, if given the opportunity, this is what I’d ask Jesus.

However, that’s not all I want to say.   I also want to tell him:

Enough with the bread already! I am sick of talking about how you are the bread of life.  Over and over, week in and week out, it’s the same message, repeated a hundred different ways.  We get it:  you are the bread of life, you come from heaven, you are not like Moses, you’re will not run out, you are everlasting, we will not go hungry, and have I left anything out?    I am on board.  How many times do we need to say the same thing?  Redundancy, Jesus,  is not a virtue.

Sometimes I feel like you believe we’re not only sinful but stupid.  We get it.  I understand that “the bread” will be on the final.  The metaphor makes sense to me.  I realize you’re not talking about cannibalism.  I understand the imagery and the relationship to Moses.  In fact, I picked that up about two weeks ago.  Honestly, I’m good. I’ve got it.  The congregation has got it down pat.  You don’t have to keep talking in these bread circles.  For the love of you, we can move on.  I want to know what I can offer besides making my congregation a) hungry b) wonder about my obsession with carbohydrates or c) puzzle over your self-association with bread or d) think John really wanted to be a baker.

Perhaps we try something new this week?  What about a nice parable or something involving water?  Maybe there’s a leper needing to be healed.  How about a blind, leprous, one legged, Phoenician prostitute needing water?  That’s right up your alley.  She’s about to be stoned by Pharisees.  And she’s fully stocked on bread.  This we can do.

I promise you Jesus, I’m not preaching one more week of this bread ridiculousness.  Joke’s over.

Okay, we’re done.  No more.  See you and the bread on Communion Sunday next month.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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Revoke King David’s Security Clearance: Send Him Back to Shepherding

Late last night, I took a moment to read through the coming week’s lectionary passages. Over the past few Sundays, I’ve wandered down the Old Testament path, looking at 2nd Samuel. That’s made things a little easier. The gospel and epistle readings have been tough. I say this prayer before I turn to the new readings, “Please God, don’t let them be about treating immigrants fairly, offering free health care to everyone in Galilee, and feeding people who aren’t on a welfare to work program. Amen”. That prayer never works.

Words like immigrants, justice, and peace keep popping up in the readings. It’s almost like Jesus wants me to talk about these important issues. In fact, it’s like the Bible is speaking directly to the social and political divides which haunt America. At those moments when I think I could marry some self-help mumbo jumbo with a bit of Jesus and preach about the “safe” topics; Jesus puts me back in the middle of the briar patch. Sure I could look for something else. I could go to other texts. I could preach a seven part summer sermon series with titles like:

Choices in Prayer

Life in Pieces

Spiritual Ideas I Gathered from Watching Marvel Superhero Movies

How to Calm the Waves of Brokenness

Jesus Died for Your Comfort

God Wants You to Walk on Water

You Have to Get Out of the Boat

Yes, I could preach those sermons but then I wouldn’t be preaching the Old Testament, the demanding stories of Jesus, or the hard words of Paul.  But is that really preaching?  If worship becomes a cross between Tony Robbins and a Ted Talk is it still church?  No.  It’s entertainment.

Still, when I read what’s on offer, I’m sometimes taken by surprise. Last night was no exception. I looked at where we’re headed in 2nd Samuel and there it was: King David is having an affair with Bathsheba. I immediately sent an email to God:

To: God@heaven.org

RE: 2nd Samuel 11

You want me to talk about a powerful ruler who has a history of sexual indiscretions and then commits treason by having one of his own men killed in battle?  Do you realize how awkward this is?  Aren’t people liable to get uncomfortable and draw conclusions to the world beyond church? This is what I’m supposed to preach! Not to mention, there are probably people in my congregation who’ve been impacted, in their own right, by infidelity and betrayal.  Color me queasy.  

Yours truly,

Richard

P.S. Amen

God is incredibly busy so I’m not expecting an immediate reply. That being said, I’m going to go ahead and mull this one over. So, without pushing too many hot buttons, I think King David is a real twit. In fact, I am all for removing King David’s security clearance. Have you seen this man’s history? A man who can’t be trusted to be faithful to his own wife or lead his own men in battle and is responsible for the murder of one of his own soldiers has lost the trust of the nation. There are words to describe such conduct: treasonous, cowardly, and a traitor. David has betrayed the very idea that undergirds the Kingdom of Israel and the very God who placed him on the throne. No, this man, this Judean shepherd can no longer be trusted to guide, guard, and shepherd this Kingdom. His clearance must be removed. Maybe, just maybe, Israel needs to think about getting a king who doesn’t give lip service to God.

If God gets back and wants me to talk about walking on water, I’ll let you know.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Unpopular Opinions for August 26th, 2017

1. What good is a 20 minute sermon on loving one’s neighbor (or other specifics of Jesus’ teachings) when many in our congregations have spent Monday to Friday as disciples of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity learning a vocabulary of fear and reasons to despise others?

2. After hours of daily radio broadcasts plus television with Tucker Carlson in the evening, how can the church of Jesus Christ present a different way to look at reality when so many people attend the Church of Fox News (and its offshoots)? Jesus, preachers, and mainline Christianity can’t do it.  We’ve lost this battle.

3. A Christian worldview contrasts from a Sean, Rush, Tucker, Fox News, or Breitbart worldview. A Christian worldview is incompatible with most of the dominant American consumerist culture.

4. Here’s the answer to the first question; it does no good. If our sermons don’t echo sentiments or reinforce ideas in line with what millions of people are hearing from their weekday Sunday School lessons from Rush or Sean, people will leave our churches and take their money.  It’s already happening. It goes by other names (opposition homosexual clergy and gay marriage) but this is what we’re witnessing. Jesus following isn’t a popularity contest.  We can’t argue with people who are convinced they’ll be waving to us from Heaven on our way to Hell.

5. Will those who remain in our churches do the hard work of preaching the Good News or just complain about their neighbors? I’m not certain. Jesus was willing to die. Memes are far easier to post.

6.  Love is hard.  We can love harder.  Be a living sermon.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Things To Do During A Dull Sermon

1. Work on your next sermon

2. Make a papier-mâché version of your own head to leave in the pew so it looks like you’re actually there when you’ve stepped out for a break (Great VBS Project!)

3. Compile weekly shopping list for trip to Food Lion

4. Raise your hand and ask, “Is this the one where you come out in opposition to sin?”

5. Shout “Amen” at the least inspiring moment in the sermon (works for the preacher or congregation)

6. Slap your neighbor. If they don’t turn the other cheek, raise your hand again and report them to the preacher

7. Walk outside to your golf cart where a bottle of whiskey awaits.  Then wait for the conclusion of the service to ask the pastor if you can preach next week.

8. Hold up a sign that reads, “WE ARE PRAYING FOR YOU”

9. Check the ferry schedule

10. Volunteer to work in the nursery

It’s Been A Smelly Week On Silver Lake

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It’s been a cooler week on Silver Lake with tourists returning and autumn peeking around the corner. Despite this being the last full week of summer, down at the Village Gas Hut, home of the Over Laid Back Eggs, new air conditioning units were just put in.  I don’t know quite what this means.  Like some sort of HVAC ground hog, Sean knows six more weeks of hot weather is coming down the pike.  Six more weeks of air conditioning, while tough on the electric bills, means we’re going to be alive.  A dear sister in Christ posted a note on a church Facebook page early Friday morning.  Out of the goodness of her heart, she wanted both to warn and tell us of an impending 6.6 level earthquake of the coast of South Carolina on September 25th.  North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia are scheduled for divine demolition.  God, so this woman thinks, is angry about something in these three states.   I too wish our college football programs were stronger but heavenly temper tantrums to wipe out the human race?  Sean is too shrewd a businessman to invest in new air conditioning if we’re about to fall into the sea.   I’m with Sean.

The cats came and went through Chairman Meow’s House of Feline Fixing and Finery.  Whether the cats share an email list, Facebook account, or someone forced them to come; I haven’t heard.  A couple of times a year, Chairman Meow’s House of Feline Finery stops selling collars, costumes, and that fancy litter imported from Buxton.  For forty-eight hours Meow’s becomes an impromptu veterinary surgery.  Fixing Felines is like learning how to make Over Laid Back Eggs; it is an art form.  You need to know what you’re doing.  That’s why people with college degrees, who wear shoes on a regular basis, and carry fancy titles after their names are recruited for this most delicate of tasks.  Cats, particularly those with legs, hair, eyes, ears, and souls do not like to be fixed.  If interviewed, most cats will tell you, “We are not broken”.   Brokenness, like beauty, is in the eye of the one doing the holding.

Time seems to pick up as the week go on.  Monday moves like Molasses Creek.  Tuesdays are, well, Tuesdays.  Who does anything much on Tuesdays?  I spent the better part of the evening talking about lighting at church.  Despite what you may believe, churches aren’t supposed to be dark.  We like them to be well lit with energy efficient bulbs.  Finding the right light, under which to sing or preach by may make all the difference in a worship service.  Why do you think the Dark Ages were so dark?  Intellectual darkness comes from physical darkness.

On Friday, I came to work as I always do.  I walked through the door marked “office” and then entered a second door also marked “office”.  The redundancy is for my benefit.  I’ve been known to get lost in churches.  The journey from the door one to door two takes me from the world of golf carts, traffic, and noise into the realm of religious reflection.  It didn’t quite work that way this morning.  The hallway, the entire back of the church, smelled like poop, waste, excrement, dung, feces, fertilizer, droppings, discharge, evacuation, stool, and generalized external defilement.  Old churches smell but not like this.  Something was way off.

The bathroom, located next to my office, had been defiled.  It, and I use the term loosely, was everywhere (and I do mean everywhere).  The first thing I did was make a phone call:

“Hey, it’s me”.  My wife is on the other end.  She’s my one phone call when I encounter poop covered rooms.

“The bathroom is covered with poop.”  This means I don’t want to clean it up.  My statement is really a question.  Will you come do it for me?

“What do you want me to do about it?”  This means the girls are coming home for lunch and I’m on my own.

“I’ll figure it out myself.”  This means my next steps are to find gloves, cleaning supplies, and to talk to Jesus.  I will need to come terms with this reality:  I will vomit sometime in the next few minutes.

What I told Jesus:

Dear Lord,

You have got to be kidding me.

This is crazy.  I didn’t sign up for this.

Who makes this kind of mess?  So, what are you going to teach me about Grace?

I hope whoever did this sees a gastroenterologist because they need it.

Amen, I’m going to be sick.  Be right back.

Richard

 

Food for Thought-Je größer die Hoffnung, umso fruchtbarer die Enttäuschung (2 Corinthians 5:20-6-10)

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Ash Wednesday Reflections

Offense, it’s what lost the Super Bowl on Sunday.  No, that’s not the kind of offense I’m talking about.  I’m really speaking about being offensive.  Etymologically, they two are related.  But I’m talking about something both obvious and subtle; the art of being offensive.  Being crude is easy.  Crudeness takes little skill or finesse.  Like a malformed piece of fruit, crudeness just “is”.  In most cases, the effort to be crude requires little more than the combination of respiration and basic brain functions.  To be truly offensive is a real art form.  It’s much more than politicians engaging in simple name calling on a debate stage.  This is why we often confuse rudeness with offense.  Rudeness, like crudeness, is a state of being.  One either is or isn’t rude.  This is where manners come into play.

Thought may be the epitome of crude, rude, and social unacceptable behavior. Thinking runs inimical polite social norms.  If you’re in a situation where you’re attempting to use manners, invariably you’re involved with other people, necessitating some kind of polite behavior.  You have to listen to the words of others.  It’s incredibly difficult to listen and think at the same time.  Thinking is innately rude, because when you’re thinking, you’re not listening to the other person.  Meaningful conversations are impossible between thinking people.  Persons who “think”, those who occupy this state of being, are far from popular, polite, or well-loved.  Is thought itself the breeding ground for all offensive behavior?  Sometimes it seems that way.

Taking offense and offensiveness exists beyond our identity as persons.  Offense is a subject (a specific thing).  To offer offense is to present someone with a gift which another person must choose to accept.  When the gift is accepted, all the rights, honors, and privileges thereunto appertaining to the offense are now in the other person’s care.  Our response, upon receiving the gift of offense, determines many factors:  will it be offensive, was the gift intended to be offensive at all, will we be hurt, shall be angry, will we return the gift, or will we do nothing at all?  This choice is ours.  Once the gift leaves the offensive artist’s hands, their power is gone.  We can return their power by returning the offense.   Or, we can change the nature of how power is defined and dispense with old notions of what it means to “take offense”?

Saint Paul, prolific letter writer, offender, and sometime seller of illegal Rolexes on the streets of Ephesus, wrote a letter to his friends in Corinth where he talked about being offensive.  As big and brash as Paul was, he wasn’t into sharing Christianity for the shock value.  He says, “We don’t give anyone any reason to be offended about anything so that our ministry won’t be criticized.”  He doesn’t want to intentionally give the offensiveness gift away to people.  Paul doesn’t want to alienate anyone or make people angry, hostile, or mad.  If he does that, it leads to criticisms he doesn’t want to deal with or need.  Again, if he does that, they’ve got some kind of power of him.  That’s not the way he wants to operate.

Paul knew there were parts of the faith which were hard to handle and difficult to hear.  He doesn’t want to roll up into any church with plans, Power points, and ideas that don’t work.  Paul knows more about manners and courtesy than we realize.  What he wants to do isn’t divide people along the lines which will lead to obvious tension and rancor.  Instead, he wants to bring people together with the one thing he knows holds everyone in common:  stories.

I’ll tell you my story.  I’ll not get you an offense.  If anything, I’ll tell you of the offensives I’ve received on behalf of the Gospel.  However, what you’re hearing are simply my stories, what it took for me to get here today.

In 2 Corinthians 6:4, Paul says there were “disasters” and things were “stressful”.  We all know about disasters and stress.  What started in hope, on the roadside outside Damascus has led to beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, and riots.”  It’s been a hard, beat up road.  It’s a story that’s still being written.  One offense after another has been given to Paul.  In verse 7, he says unmistakably, “We served with the Holy Spirit, genuine love, and telling the truth and God’s power.”  I was given the gift of offensive suffering, hunger, sleepless nights, riots, beatings, and imprisonments.  Paul says, “I did not give back an offensive gift of hatred, pain, sorrow or guilt.”  Paul told the truth, he told his story, a story that others now hear and feel set free to speak their own.  God story, told among God’s people, beats giving offense every time.

There’s a German aphorism (attributed to the Austrian poet Elazar Benyoëtz), Je größer die Hoffnung, umso fruchtbarer die Enttäuschung (the greater the hope, the more fruitful the disappointment).  I think it speaks to both this passage and the hope of the resurrection.  Christianity grows and thrives out of the most fruitful, stressful, and disastrous disappointments.  We are who we are because of the fruit grown from shattered expectations.  This is the essence of Christianity.  We have nothing but own everything.  We are beaten but not killed.  We live in pain but are always happy.  Tonight is the night we begin the beautiful embrace of nothingness.  We walk toward the fruitful disappointment of Good Friday.  For in Good Friday’s disappointment, we find the fruits of the resurrection.

*Je größer die Hoffnung, umso fruchtbarer die Enttäuschung-The greater the hope, the more fruitful the disappointment.