© Stacey Steck
When there is a natural disaster overseas, the calls goes out for aid and the Christian virtue of charity kicks in. Generous people clean out their closets and garages, bring their donations to the receiving area. The goods are packed into shipping containers and sent abroad to the survivors of earthquakes, hurricanes, or typhoons. People are helped, lives are saved. It’s a good thing. But there’s a dark side to this kind of generosity, and it has mostly to do with the language barrier. You see, some things just don't translate. I saw this first hand in Nicaragua back in the 90s. As I was walking through a community that had been impoverished by a recent hurricane, I came upon a man making his way through the mud in his bare feet. He was, to put it nicely, rather rotund, big-bellied in a way that suggested the relief workers had brought beer rather than clothing. And as we neared one another, I could see the words boldly emblazoned on his newly received tank top which proudly read: Bun in the Oven! Yes, sometimes there are unintended consequences of our good deeds.
This morning’s story of the new community of believers gathering together regularly for worship and fellowship and food paints for us a picture of a kind of generosity that the world needs more of. It’s that vision of sharing and caring that is responsible for our acts of charity when disaster strikes in Bangladesh, or when a member of the community enters hospice or has a car accident, or when a beloved pet goes wandering off. We pitch in and help, however we can, bringing our casseroles, or our deviled eggs, or simply our prayers, whatever we can offer to someone in need. And sometimes there are unintended consequences. The disciples found that out. “And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” I doubt that’s what they had in mind as they “spent much time in the temple, broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” It wasn’t a plan to attract followers to Jesus. It was just what took place naturally as they lived the days following the discovery of an empty tomb and the tongues of fire on Pentecost. And people noticed. They must have stood out in Jerusalem like a big-bellied Nicaraguan wearing a “Bun in the Oven” tank top, something you just don’t see every day, but which could only have come about by divine generosity. By simply breaking bread together, they bore witness to the community that God had created. By simply breaking bread together, they were sharing the hopes and dreams that God had brought forth out of them. And who wouldn’t want to come to a party like that?
We’re in the season of the empty tomb, the mystery of death becoming life, of transformation, of blessing. I’ve seen a lot of images of the empty tomb (like the one above) and I don’t know if that’s exactly what Jesus’ tomb would have looked like, but I sure hope it did, because it reminds me of a brick oven with its door wide open, the kind you make pizza in, or the kind you make a real hearth-baked artisan bread in. And what was it that Jesus said about himself? “I am the bread of life.” Just what was God cooking during those three long and lonely nights Jesus was in the tomb? Something to be broken, something to be shared, something to draw people together. Something to transform the world.
If you think about it, bread making is actually a pretty bruising exercise, if you’re the yeast, wheat, and water. Between the mixing, the kneading, and the dividing, by the time the loaf is placed in the oven, it’s been worked over pretty well. It’s kind of like a broken body placed in a tomb. But once inside, with heat applied, it is transformed, and what was a soggy, lifeless mass of ingredients becomes a delicious, life-giving loaf that feeds the body and the spirit. The Romans may have put the scourged, mutilated Jesus into the tomb, but it was God who turned on the fire and in that unknown and unexpected moment, when he was good and brown, reached in and took him out and offered him up to the world.
Maybe you’ve never thought about yourself in that way, but it’s true for you too. You’ve been in God’s oven. You’ve been in the tomb. You’ve been a soggy, lifeless mass you thought could never amount to anything. You’ve sinned. You’ve been sinned against. You’ve left you mark on others and they’ve left it on you. You’ve been mixed up, kneaded, divided in two, bruised, battered, scorned, and left for dead. But here you are. In church this morning. About to taste again the bread of life.
As you come to the table again, maybe you feel undercooked, half-baked, or stale, a little doughy or crusty, maybe even burnt to a crisp, but you don’t have to be perfect to be a blessing. I’m sure the bread the disciples broke wasn’t anything special, but it didn't have to be. It just had to be broken. And that’s what they were doing. They were letting themselves be broken for others the way Christ was broken for them. They shared themselves the way Christ shared himself. They took what God brought out of the empty tomb and didn’t keep it for themselves but shared with those who were hungry. And that’s all we need to do too. We just have to let ourselves be blessed, broken, and given for God to work through us. And imagine the divine unintended consequences of that!
Making bread takes patience. You can’t rush it. It has its own pace. It doesn’t rise when you snap your fingers. It makes you wait. But God is patient, and God has lots of other things to do while we are rising and falling, being shaped and prepared to be shared. As we prepare our hearts and minds for Communion, let me invite you to see how God is at work in your life through the images of this little video about the divine art of making bread
Friends, you are God’s bun in the oven. Let us break bread together. Amen.