Finding Life: Summer 2020
The Bread of “As If”
Jul 19, 2020
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To view Steve’s Spiritual Practice on Grief and Lament, click HERE.
We lost a legend, two days ago, Congressman, John Lewis.
I wanted to talk just a little bit this morning – about how he’ll continue to teach us to hope and change, and be in this world if we keep listening to his voice that is embedded in our society.
He was a great preacher and a teacher from birth – he said in his early years he was known to preach to his chickens! And his voice couldn’t be tucked away – and we would continue to learn from that voice as he became a seminal figure in the civil rights movement. He created and employed strategic plans and spiritual disciplines to bring about change in the face of brutal injustice. This is the work we know that he did “yes” in the 50’s and 60’s – and it is also the work of civil rights that he continued to do, right up until his death. He fought the fights and he did the actions… AND he also taught us how to center love as the mode by which we STAY in the fight – how we stay engaged when the justice we seek isn’t yet realized, when the fight becomes bone-achingly tiring, and it feels like midnight at every turn.
He showed us how to keep asking, how to keep seeking, how to keep knocking. – and not give up on this beautiful and broken world.
And he asked us to do this, by not giving up on one another. By releasing bitterness and believing for the beloved community. And he said, “you have to do this by seeing, by visualizing, by having this sense of faith that what you’re moving toward, what you believe for, what you imagine this world COULD BE, is already done. Imagining that it’s already happened.
He said, you have to live “as if.” “As if” that sense of community, that sense of family, that sense of one house”, has already happened. “As if” it is real.
This is what I want to talk about today – how we keep moving, keep asking, keep seeking, keep praying for the world we want to create, even when it feels like midnight.
Some of you may know that I’ve been holding a mid-week Communion service since the onset of Covid. I looked back and the first one we held together was on March 18th! Isn’t that wild? 4 months ago. To be honest I started this little 10 minute communion because I knew I would need a constant time in my week to pause. To commune with God. And I didn’t want to do it alone. I wanted to be in the company of others, to be held in connection with one another – even if it was quirky and done virtually!
And to be honest these 4 months have felt like a maze of days. I tried so many days to find my way out, to find the right path that would lead me OUT of the global pandemic! It’s been a time of asking all. the. questions – when will this be over? Which way do I turn now? Should I pay attention to this cough, should I get tested? They have been long days, long weeks, long months – where I have deeply found myself seeking the direction of God. … because it has felt like midnight. Dead ends, no answers, no one opening a door that says “This …THIS… is the way through this awful time” .
I came to that communion table week after week, with all of my asking, all of my seeking, all of my knocking – with my deepest needs of the day, asking for bread from God – hoping God would answer.
The surprising practice of communion – is that I did get to personally commune with God – but I also got to sit at an ancient table, in beloved community – with all of you who hopped on the call – and also with all of the stalwarts of faith, the prophets, the saints, the disciples, John Lewis – those who have sat at this table before me.
And I got to take into my BODY – the dreams, the visions, the abundance of hope, the strength, the bewilderment, the tears that they came with …. And I got to take in the bread, that was broken and passed around that table – and passed through centuries of Jesus followers – reminding me that I eat this same bread today… The bread of God’s love, the bread of strength, the bread of “as if”...
Communion has shown me that God will give me my daily bread – but that it has never been meant for personal/individual consumption alone – but for the breaking, the sharing/giving and feeding of those around me. It is the fuel I receive, to be an active, attentive and aware member of society – so that I can stay connected to those whose days are shrouded in midnight.
Because this is what our journey of faith is about.. It’s what these aspects of faith – taking communion and prayer – are about – it is about our relationship to God – AND – it is deeply about our active and attentive, PERSISTENT relationship to one another. Persistently engaged with one another, persistently showing compassion and working for justice -persistently honoring our shared humanity, all the while eating and partaking in the bread of God.
So before I pray could you take a moment with God to get in touch with, “what you are asking for, what you are seeking, what bread you need from Jesus, right now?”
I’ll give you a second to think about this with God.
Prayer: “Dear God – the one who offers us your full self – the one who breaks yourself open to each and everyone of us… may you bind us to one another in your spirit right now. Would you give us the bread we desire …. The sustenance… the resourcing we need… to keep moving, to keep acting… to keep loving.”
We are going to look at this parable today found in Luke where Jesus invites us to consider how we might respond when our days feel like midnight – when darkness covers our days.
A Knock at Midnight: Luke 11:1-10
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
5Then, teaching them more about prayer, Jesus used this story:
“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to your neighbor, ‘Friends of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for them to eat.’ And suppose your neighbor calls out from the bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though your neighbor won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, your neighbor will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Now parables as Lydia mentioned last week, hold so much! They are both fun and frustrating to roam around in … the characters, the ordinary elements in the parable can hopefully illuminate more of God’s nature to you… but also note that the hope of a parable is NOT that you would solve it, the hope is to see what is revealed to you in this moment in time. A pastor friend says, “that the best way to suck the life out of a parable is by attempting to neatly allegorize it or worse try to figure out the so-called moral of the story. Parables aren’t about morals; they are about truths — hidden, unyielding, disruptive truths. The kind of truths that simply can’t be contained.” (Nadia Bolz-Weber)
Parables are these beautiful stories that talk to us today. Parables that have so much play in the margins – beyond maybe the most known interpretation – which I think is often where the greatest truths reside.
This parable has been taught over time to me as the amazing power and value of persistent prayer. That makes sense – the disciples had just asked, “God teach us to pray” – and then he tells this parable of a relentless knocking, a persistent neighbor who in the middle of the night will not stop ringing the doorbell of their friends house.
And the message I’ve absorbed is to be bold. Be brazen. Be shamelessly persistent. Because it will pay off, with God – if you knock, pray, plead and shout long enough. You see here – it’s obvious that of course God will be so much kinder and more good to you than this friend in the house – who won’t even rise and get out of bed to open the door?
Ask, ask, ask, seek, seek, seek, knock, knock, knock. In Luke and all throughout scripture we are told to pray constantly, without ceasing. And we read that God will give you what you want if you ask, directly and incessantly, and long enough?
It so fits our American, individualistic tendency right? WORK hard enough, long enough, knock until your knuckles are bloody – and you’ll get what you’ve strived for…and it maps so nicely onto an American brand of Christianity that when you pray hard enough – you’ll be given, you will find, you will receive – the door will be opened unto you.
Except when it’s not. No matter how hard you’ve tried.
My guess is that many of you:
- Have found yourself outside of a firmly closed door.
A door that has never been opened to you, no matter how hard you knocked.
- Have asked again and again – and nothing has been given…
and your voice is sore, hoarse from shouting.
- Have sought and sought and sought – and nothing has been found.
Many of you perhaps, have only found midnight. Darkness. Maybe some of you have found “darkness so deep that it’s hard to know which way to turn”, (MLK Jr, 53), how to make sense of your faith – how to pray.
IF parables really can reveal truths that cannot be contained, I wonder instead of approaching this parable – with the lens of individualism – trying to find ourselves in a particular character; the weary traveler, the friend with no bread or the friend with bread. We could instead look at this story as a picture, a flow of community, of neighborhoods – of society. Of the interconnectedness of a beloved community – as John Lewis’ (and Jesus’) try to remind us. Because this parable IS indeed about persistent prayer – but it is about the kind of prayer that can not be uttered or heard, without connection to one another – and it is the persistent kind of prayer that requires an unreliquishing leaning IN, an awareness, an attentiveness to the collective shared humanity and needs around us. The truth is that prayer is seen and spoken when we embody Jesus, when we take on his way of persistently BEING in the world, take on his heart that seeks and longs for compassion, beauty and justice relentlessly.
Just prior to this passage in Luke 10 – we see the parable of the Good Samaritan… Which is Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question, “How do I inherit eternal life?” Jesus directly answers: “Love me – and love your neighbor as yourself”… and then tells the parable – to give a container of how to imagine, to stretch that answer into full, real life, living it out, embodying it. He says, “ Go and love – go and show mercy.”
He’s doing a similar thing here with the disciples when they ask about how to pray.. Jesus answers: “This is how you should pray – say:
“Our Divine Parent in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
3 Give us today our daily bread.”
And then he stretches it – he says – oh that’s not the full answer! You have to live this prayer out – you have to engage with the people around you, the complexities, the structures, the resources, the lack of resources, the inequities… “To love your neighbor… to pray persistently”… is to live IN – to be a part of, this messy world. AND to be fully AWAKE to it.
I do think this parable is about how asking, seeking and knocking – can be the key to a prayerful, abundant life that leads us into greater connection with one another and God.
I just think that God could be giving us this parable to reveal truths about our current day society – where being awake or not awake in love and prayer, to the present needs – is consequential to the health of our whole society.
I’m going to invite us to consider that the friend inside of the house with the sleeping family – and behind the locked door, with the bread… is one who is not fully awake to the needs and desires of the community.
We don’t know how long the friend on the outside of the door, has been knocking. We just know that for at least some amount of time the friend inside the house, was not conscious of this knock.
He didn’t hear the knock, he didn’t see the person knocking because he was asleep, and his response is delayed and reluctant.
And even when he becomes aware of the knock, it’s not regarded as an invitation to answer, to give, or to open the door. It’s regarded as an unwelcomed disruption, it causes him discomfort and annoyance.
There’s no movement. No getting up. No running to the entrance. No seeking.
Just yelling from the inside, “stop bothering me.” Your neediness is bothering me.
The bread on his counter – represents the bread of comfort, the bread of status quo (the doors locked, that’s the way it is), the bread of “see you in the morning. At dawn, when it’s light out.”
What is consequential here, is that the dawn can not be found when there is no one to crack the door of light. The dawn can not be found even when in the morning, the bread is stale and tastes of injustice. The continued sleepy state of the friend inside the house, who holds the resources in society, is an active perpetuation of the long midnight of the weary traveler’s existence.
Embodied love. Embodied prayer will always demand us to be conscious to the knocks of our day.
The Friend with no bread
BUT we also have this other picture – the friend on the outside of the door… who seems to have nothing – his hands empty. But his heart is full – of a belief of – maybe as John Lewis would have said, of living “as if”. As if the world he lives in – is the world he imagines it can be – and he locates himself as a part of that. .. .
- He shows us that to love your neighbor – whoever that might be – a stranger, a weary traveler – is to be disrupted.
- He shows us that to pray – is to extend energy – physical, soul energy.
- AND he shows us that to TRULY be awake to the needs around us we need to:
…ask, seek and knock…
- He ASKS this weary traveler what he needs…
- ANd he finds that this traveler needs rest and food.
- And he’s not deterred that he himself can’t provide it – he goes and seeks for it.
- He SEEKS – he gets up, goes out, he MOVES. He believes that there is a way forward when all it looks like is dead ends – when all there is is darkness.
- And then he KNOCKS – he knocks – that knock of justice at the site where resources are known. And he commands the attention of these needs, PERSISTENTLY – he knocks and knocks.. calling attention to the greater community.
- Waking up others to the needs evident in the community.
- He INVITES others to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with their God.. he refuses to give up on one another.
The friend who loves and prays – despite having nothing at midnight – does so by Asking, Seeking and Knocking with and behalf of his fellow neighbor. And he shows me that it is both important to do our part in finding and fighting for the bread of justice – these fundamental resources that the weary travelers in our society needs… AND he also shows me that I have rich resources within me – even when I feel like I have nothing to give…. He shows me that these resources: faith, hope, love, compassion, strength – are the daily bread of “as if”, that I get to receive and be given by Jesus.
This friend shows the weary traveler and all of us – that DAWN can crack through the eternal midnight.
Martin Luther King Jr. has an amazing sermon on this parable. (Please check it out if you have a chance)… and he says, “The most inspiring word that we can speak, as the church, as followers of Jesus, is that no midnight long remains. Because the weary traveler by midnight who asks for bread is really seeking the dawn. Faith in the dawn arises out of the belief that God is good and just. AND it is on US to show that God is good and just by our actions and movement in the world.
So we need to not just talk about how “ good and just God is” from behind our comfortable, safe, locked doors… we need to act as if we believe that truth and live it out. We need to open the door.
Because so many in our nation have been locked out, for too long.
So many are asking for bread. The bread that might be sitting on my counter – or your counter right now.
And the prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples and us – is to create a world we could imagine for… God’s Kin-dom here on earth, now. To “work with what is”, “what the current state of the world is” – and build it together, as we imagine it to be.
To again and again ASK for our daily bread from Jesus.
To unlock the doors of our threatened hearts, our resources, our positions in society and SHARE THEM.
To SEEK justice and re-equitize the stockpiles that reside behind certain locked doors.
To re-distribute, to SEE and LOVE our neighbors.
To take part in repairing – to take part in KNOCKING on the doors where the bread of justice, the bread of faith, the bread of compassion, the bread of freedom lies – before it goes stale again in our hearts.
John Lewis, lived by an African Proverb, “when you pray – move your feet.” And I feel like this parable encourages this…. Pray persistently – yes – and move your feet.
When you pray – be in connection with one another. PRAY deeply with your whole being. Be, as communion is teaching me – the eyes, the ears, the mouth – the body of Jesus wherever we are.
Persistently ask how your placement in this shared tapestry of life, is consequential to others.
Seek the guidance from our good, justice-loving, God – and learn from those that have come before us. To attune our ears to the ask of us, in our time.
Because if we listen – I think we’ll hear that the ask is akin to the work of John Lewis’ life and his legacy that we get to carry out – “to do the work of creating good and necessary trouble”… to willingly confront injustices… to aid in removing the persistent midnight.
And to ask ourselves, and collectively ask – “how do we remove the midnight – rather than perpetuate it?”
As we rest our heads to our pillows tonight – do we pray for our fellow siblings and neighbors and their perceived needs? Asking God to help us in that – “YES . we. do!”
AND we also wake up – get up – and move – pray with our feet, with our arms linked to one another….
And we go out into our neighborhoods, our communities and we ASK what the needs are…..and we listen.
And we SEEK – we search to help FIND what is needed. And we commit to going out even if it’s midnight.
And we join in the knocking, the knocking of centuries… we join in the persistent knocking that JESUS has been banging on our doors with – for justice to roll down into our neighborhoods like a mighty river…
Prayer is being connected to one another and to God. To know that we are not alone at midnight – and to do our best each day, in making sure the dawn comes for those who can only see darkness right now. This is how we see, visualize the beloved community – this is how we stay hungry for the bread of connection – the bread of “as if” – connected to that sense of family, that sense of one house here and now.”
As we close this morning, I ask you again to take a moment with Jesus… “What is the bread that you are hungry for, in need of? And what is the bread you have to give?”
And as we often did in mid-week communion – I invite you to offer now a “One Voice Prayer”. Whatever bread you need – or whatever bread you have to give…say it outloud. On the count of 3… 1-2-3…, “The bread of ______________________________”.