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Friday, August 24, 2012

Are We Eating the Bread We Have? (Mark 8)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

            You’re in a National Park in the mountains – a day set aside to be revitalized by nature.  You hike in, the trail taking you gradually up the steep climb until you’re on the ridgeline.  You tell those aching legs it’s worth it, just a few more steps and then a couple of miles along the ridge until you get to the clearing. Reluctantly your legs comply and after 4 hours, you’re finally there.  The view is so vast, so breathtaking; you feel like you can see all the way to the Mississippi. 
            Basking in the joy of the birdsong, the expanse of the canyon, the hum of the river hundreds of feet below down in the valley, you feel alive.  Your body reminds you that living things eat and drink, so you tip back your canteen.  It’s still ice cold, so refreshing.  Then you open the pack for those delicious and enormous sandwiches that will taste incredible after all the walking. 
            To your horror you see a bag of chips, two apples, two granola bars, and no sandwiches. You look at your hiking buddy.  Didn’t you pack the sandwiches? 
I was in the garage putting ice in the cooler.  Didn’t you hear me yell in to put the sandwiches in the pack?
No.  I was upstairs looking for sunscreen.  … Our sandwiches!  They’re on the counter.

That sort of happened to me.  I was with four guys on a 5-day trip and we wanted our camp breakfast the first morning to be extra good so we brought some packaged ham.  We knew that for most of the week we’d be on ramen noodles.  Some nice meat would be a good beginning.  The bear that visited our food bag while we slept that night agreed.  He was quiet enough not to disturb us and he was completely uninterested in our ramen noodles.  But, he opened our packaged ham and polished it off like he done that kind of thing before.  The only thing he didn’t do was leave a “thank you” note. 

In Mark 8, for a third time, the disciples are out on the boat on the sea.  In the first instance, Jesus is asleep in the boat as a huge storm hits.  Fearing for their lives, they wake him.  He calms the storm and chastises them for lack of faith.  The second time, the disciples are without Jesus and are trying to make way in a heavy wind.  They are straining and making no progress.  Jesus walks on the water to them, revealing his divine identity.  They immediately arrive at their destination, but Mark offers an editorial note.  Their hearts were hardened.  Jesus showed himself to be God, but they couldn’t see it, not fully.
In this third instance, there are no heavy waves to scare the pants off them and no frustrating wind to impede their progress.  The problem is not the weather but the preparation.  The disciples all look at each other and realize that they are miles out to sea, but the sandwiches are at home on the kitchen counter.  What do they do now?  What does Jesus do?
This question comes at the end of our six-week journey of looking for Jesus in the Gospel of Mark and in doing so, we look for Jesus in our lives.  Yes, he lived 2000 years ago, but in His Word, in His church, and in the activity of His Holy Spirit we actively look for Him today and in looking, we expect to see Him, hear from Him, and be led by Him that we might follow as his disciples.
But can we truly be his disciples?  Not on our own ability, we can’t.  Last week we heard Jesus say it is what comes out of a person that determines whether that one is defiled or pure on the inside.  As we digested his words, we acknowledged that all of us our sinners, so if you hang around us long enough, you’ll hear something to show us to be defiled, not pure.  But, then we looked closer and found that Jesus surrounded himself with defiled people. 
In following him, they got a bit cleaner.  What came out from them changed over time because their hearts were made new by God – God at work in them, working through Jesus.  What happened to those first followers also happens to us.  Call it transformation of the heart that is seen in the living of our lives.  Call it being made new in Christ.  Call it dying to self and being born again. However we phrase it, this newness – us becoming new creations – happens when we actively decide to follow Jesus and he works in us.  It is His work.  We must be open to it and cooperative and receptive.  Saying this is not a way of saying we achieve our salvation or our growth in holiness.  Salvation and spiritual maturation are things accomplished by God.  Mark is showing that as God worked in Christ and works through Holy Spirit to save the world, we, the ones being saved participate by being open and receiving what God gives. 
This we requires us to let go of many of the expectations that our culture has imprinted on us, expectations about what it means to be successful or happy.  I am not just twisting words around here.  Our cultural world encourages us to seek our own happiness as a primary value.  The Gospel says we are to rejoice in all circumstances.  Our culture values winners.  The Gospel tells us to strive as hard as an Olympic athlete but at the same time to die to self.  Our culture affirms giving to charity from our excess, after our needs and wants have been satisfied.  The Gospel calls for extravagant, sacrificial generosity. 
On the boat, a third boat trip in Mark’s gospel, the disciples are fretting about not having any bread.  Jesus seems completely uninterested in their dilemma.  “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees,” he tells them (8:15b).  They’ve heard so many amazing and sometimes to them incomprehensible things from him, this seems to be another.  Another odd teaching.  They whisper & mutter, “He’s irritated that we forgot the sandwiches.  We have no bread.” 
Whoops!  The disciples get it wrong – AGAIN!  Jesus unleashes a torrent of questions. 
Why are you talking about having no bread?
James: “Well you said the yeast, and we …”
Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
Peter: “No Rabbi, of course our hearts are not …”
Do you have eyes and fail to see?  Do you have ears and fail to hear
Andrew, elbowing Peter in the ribs: “I don’t think we’re supposed to answer.”
Do you not remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the 5000, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?
Philip, nervously looking to the others for helping and getting none, “um, 12.”
And the seven loaves that fed 4000, from that, how many baskets of leftovers did you collect?
James: “Well Lord, we all know it was seven, but we ate all those leftovers a couple of days ago.  Everybody knows John was supposed to go the market and …”
James, zip it.  Seriously, guys, do you not yet understand?

Jesus did not want his group worrying about lunch.  If need be, he would take care of lunch.  In this gospel, he allowed them to pluck grain on the Sabbath, technically a Sabbath violation.  He allowed them to eat without going through the elaborate hand-washing ritual.  Luke tells us that much of the time, a group of affluent women followed making sure the disciples never went hungry.  Twice, Jesus miraculously multiplied one person’s simple lunch and fed the population of a small town with leftovers.  Stop fussing over lunch.  Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees. 
David Garland writes that really, what Jesus said was beware of the “leaven,” not the yeast of the “Pharisees.”  Both leaven and yeast are used to make dough rise.  In Jesus’ time what was most likely used was leaven which had dangerous potential.  If the process for producing the leaven was tainted in any way, it would spread poison through the bread.[i] 
The teaching of the Pharisees was strictly on the Law of Moses – a good thing; a great thing.  The Torah, the Law, what we read in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, is a gift of grace from God.  Just as leaven fills the dough so it will become life-giving nourishment, the Law gives holiness to the community.  Our highest calling from God is holiness.  But just as tainted leaven poisons the bread, the way the Pharisees applied the law – paying attention to their spin on it while ignoring that it is a means of drawing people to God’s heart – leads people to death instead of life.  Legalism that neglects the heart kills the person.  Jesus offered a different way, but the disciples and the watching world and each one of us has to decide what we will choose. 
Would the disciples live under legalism and with the expectations of God that the Pharisees had imposed?  Prior to Jesus coming, their choices were the Pharisees or the Sadducees or the armed rebellion against Rome or full submission to Rome or retreat to the desert to live as a hermit while waiting for the end of time.  All these choices were awful.  With the arrival of Jesus, there was another choice – the true way of God, which is a way of love, invitation, forgiveness, inclusion, grace, and life. 
As I mentioned a moment ago, in our day and time, there are sets of values, priorities, and even thoughts about what is real and what is true – all dictated by various voices in our surrounding culture.  Much of this in direct conflict with what the Gospel says is real and true and important.  Which will determine how we live, the world around us or the Holy Spirit speaking through the Gospel?  The challenges we face in seeing Jesus and following Jesus are not identical to those the disciples faced, but the dynamic is the same.  Do we understand that Jesus is God and the only for salvation is in Him?  If we do understand that, then will we trust that truth to the point that when we have to choose between being of our culture or being of the Kingdom of God, we will choose being of the Kingdom?
Curiously, examine again how Mark describes the disciples in the boat.  They had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them (v.14).  To me it seemed that someone was supposed to plan for the journey and forgot or left the bread on the dock.  But, there’s always someone in the crowd who is a preparer, someone who is always ready for anything, always with a granola or a pack of crackers in the pocket.  They had forgotten to bring any bread.  But they had one loaf.
On a second look, it’s peculiar.  Garland, the scholar I mentioned, proposes that the one loaf Mark mentions is Jesus himself.  He writes that when Jesus quizzes them about the miracle feedings of thousands, they get the answers right, but they cannot see past the numbers of those fed to understand that they have, right there in the boat, a bread maker. 
This requires imagination, but by imagination, I don’t pretend.  I don’t mean if we all visualize bread, it will appear in our mouths and our and taste buds and bellies will be happy.   By imagination, I mean seeing the possibilities when we realize we are walking through life with Jesus, following Jesus, living in the power of Jesus.  Will he snap his fingers and suddenly the disciples all have the best bread they’ve ever eaten?  Will the water turn to heavenly wine as they consume it?  Or, will focusing on him and his way of submitting to God and choosing his way while rejecting the Pharisees way – will that mental/spiritual/emotional process occupy them?  They arrive at the next port with hungry bellies but with satisfied souls.
To see Jesus in our lives demands that we have the imagination to see the world on His terms and to live seeing his possibilities and participating with him as He brings His possibilities to reality. 
Here’s an example from preacher/writer Frederick Buechner:
You wake up on a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay their the evening before is no longer there – the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to  take in last fall.  All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on now is not the snow of Narnia nut the snow of home, which is no less shimmering and white as it falls.  The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence.  It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at, but unless the child in you is entirely dead, it is snow too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way, before your defenses are up.  It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever dream.

            If snow can do that in us, what can Jesus do, if we open ourselves to Him?  If the seeking of deep reality and mind blowing wonder has not died in us, what will Jesus do when we see Him?  See him requires imagination – not make believe; but, imagination that dares to believe that God is real and the hungry can be fed and the world can be redeemed and love can win because God is love and Jesus came to show us God’s love. 
            It’s a choice of the Pharisees’ leaven or Jesus’ wine.   It’s Martha in the kitchen worrying about hospitality, or Mary sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet, drinking him in.  It’s fear of not enough v. seeing hope.  It’s missing out on the big things God as we succumb to tyranny of the urgent, or living with divine purpose every day.  It accepting that death on a cross ends the story, or daring to imagine that resurrection can really be true. 
            But!  We have to make the choice to look for Him.  We have to open our hearts and our minds to see Him.  From what we already know – in the word, in the church, in the Spirit – we have to say resoundingly “No!” to our culture when our culture defies God.  We love our world passionately and compassionately, but we say No when our world draws away from God.  And we say Yes emphatically, by submitting ourselves to His teaching and His love.  He is the bread of life and He has come for us.  We choose not even worry about what we are missing because He is enough.  We eat the bread we have.

[i] David Garland, NIV Application Commentary: Mark, p.310.

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