2016-05-29 Corpus Christi (C) John Keyes

 First Reading           Genesis 14:18-20 
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 11:23-26  and the words of  
           Chief Dan George in “The Wisdom of Native Americans” by Kent Nerburn
Chief Dan said: 
When [Jesus] said that [humans] do not live by bread alone,
he spoke of a hunger.
This hunger was not the hunger of the body.
It was not the hunger for bread.
He spoke of a hunger that begins deep down
 in the very depths of our being.
He spoke of a need as vital as breath.
He spoke of our hunger for love.
Love is something you and I must have.
We must have it because our spirit feeds upon it.
We must have it because without it we become weak and faint.
Without love our self-esteem weakens.
Without it our courage fails.
Without love we can no longer look out confidently at the world.
We turn inward and begin to feed on our own personalities,
and little by little we destroy ourselves.
With love, we are creative.
With it, we march tirelessly.
With it, and with it alone, we are able to sacrifice for others.
Gospel Luke 9:11b-17

Marilaurice asked me to prepare this homily and then sent me the commentaries.  It gave me pause when one of the commentaries brought up eschatological symbolism. Two others talked of the significance of Melchizedek’s genealogy.  If you want to discuss eschatological implications of today’s readings or the importance of the genealogy of Melchizedek, see Michael (prayer leader) when the service ends.  He will be right up here.  I will instead focus on the element in all the readings: bread.

Take, give thanks, share.  Remember.  Melchizedek brings out bread to share.  Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks and shares.  In our communion we repeat the ritual Jesus gave us to take, bless, break, share, remember.

Bread feeds us, literally, ritually, spiritually.  It gives us the lessons of our religion in one simple act: take, give thanks, share.  Feed those in need, whether the need is hunger, care, nurturing or love.  Do this and remember.  Do this together and form the bonds that turn us into the Body of Christ.

Bread has so many memories for me.  My mother made bread in a big way.  Those of you who find your way around a cookbook from time to time will recognize that a typical bread recipe will list 5-6 cups of flour in the ingredients and make two loaves.  My mother’s recipe started with 5-6 quarts of flour - 4 times as much - and when she was baking there would usually be her regular recipe and at least one more going at the same time, for sweet rolls or some other treat.  My mother was not so tall. She worked at a low table as she mixed and kneaded.  From the time I was very small, I would stand on the other side of the table, watching and talking to her.  My mom had a knack for taking any moment alone with any of us kids, or really anyone she came across, to engage in conversation in such a way that she conveyed her interest in and concern for you as an individual.  What was she doing?  Building bonds, fostering connections, one talk at a time.

As she worked, I would snatch bits to eat.  Then usually would come the story of Grandma Buss’s goat as a gentle reminder not to eat too much.  It seems that when my mother was little, she would watch her mother make bread and snatch pieces to eat, and her mother would tell her about Grandma Buss’s goat.  The story goes like this: one day at the Buss farm (my great-grandparents) Grandma Buss made a big batch of bread.  It was summer, sunny and warm, so she covered the dough with a towel and set it on the back porch to rise.  Grandma Buss’s mischievous goat got on the porch and ate the bread dough.  When the dough rose, the goat exploded.  It is very biblical: the goat gets blamed.

I bake bread almost every week for our family.  It usually makes me remember my mom and the goat story.  When my kids were little, they would often watch a little or at least stop by the table to grab a taste.   They all know about Grandma Buss’s goat.  It is a ritual; one that involves a distant memory to create new shared memories, just like Communion where the ritual of sharing an old story builds bonds of community.

In the front of my bread cookbook, I have a short piece I saved from a worship aid many years ago, a saying referenced as coming from a Mennonite cookbook:

Be gentle when you touch bread
Let it not lie uncared for, unwanted.
So often bread is taken for granted.

There is so much beauty in bread
Beauty of sun and soil,
Beauty of patient toil,
Winds and rains have caressed it,
Christ often blessed it.

Be gentle when you touch bread.

It is a lesson not just for bread but also for how we should treat those around us.  Now take that saying, and change the bread to a person in need, someone homeless or hungry or discriminated against or alone.  You will have the instructions of our purpose:

Be gentle when you touch her
Let her not lie uncared for, unwanted.
So often she is taken for granted.

There is so much beauty in her
Winds and rains have caressed her,
Christ is asking us to bless her.

Be gentle when you touch her.

Bread brings us together.  Have you noticed how once you have shared a meal with a person you feel like you have a little more of a bond with them?  Or when you have a person over to your home or go to theirs for a meal?  You feel closer to them.  More attached.  A closer bond.  Our community spring and fall dinners are great for doing that, visiting each other’s homes, sharing food, creating memories.  Working with Loaves and Fishes helps build community, within the group serving and with the guests, while feeding those in need.  Bless bread and share it, in a very literal way. Do this in memory of me.  

What is the bond we are forging? We heard it a couple weeks ago in the homily and discussion that we are God’s arms on earth.  We heard it last week when there was a comment about the nobility of community.  The name for this Sunday is Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.  The community we are building is the Body of Christ with the mission to be God’s arms on earth to feed those in need.

This theme flows through all four of today’s readings.  Melchizedek brought out bread to celebrate.  Jesus blessed and shared.  Paul told us to do this and remember.  Chief Dan told us our work is to feed more than physical hunger and do so as an act of love.

I once went to a church where, to emphasize the elements of sharing and feeding others, each person received Communion from the person in front of them and gave Communion to the person behind them.  It was an interesting way of pointing out the receiving and the giving.  When Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” the “do this” part can be as much the part of feeding those around as the part of repeating the ritual.  That would seem to be the lesson from today’s Gospel, as Jesus blesses, gives thanks and shares to feed those who had come to hear him.  They came from spiritual hunger and after time arrived at physical hunger.  Jesus fed both, and with Jesus there was abundance.  He gave more than could be consumed, on all fronts.  It is up to us to share that abundance by being the Body of Christ on earth.  

Take; bless; break; share; remember.  Amen

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