Bread Alone? No Thanks

The search for a minister position is rather interesting. Virtually all churches who are looking for a minister essentially say a couple things when describing what they want in a preacher and his or her preaching. They want someone to inspire the congregation. And they want someone who elucidates and preaches in ways that apply scripture to their daily lives. Inspiration and application, the two big characteristics looked for in preaching. Now, I would add that preaching also needs to challenge us sometimes. One cannot live on inspiration alone. Sometimes, a spiritual nudge, or as my dad might say, a swift metaphorical kick in the derriere is necessary in good preaching.
Now, don’t worry, this sermon will not be doing any kind of swift kicking. But I just wanted to encourage you as you enter the busy season of looking for your next minister, that a church cannot live on inspiration alone. The talent of gentle nudging is important too.
There is another busy season we are entering collectively as a nation. The silly season of political campaigns, namely presidential campaigns. Thinking about the importance of applying scripture to our daily lives, we cannot avoid politics in our daily lives. We no longer live in the days when political campaigns could be ignored if wanted to. Back before radio and TV, back before 24/7 TV news or talk radio, folks could ignore the craziness that is presidential politics.
Before I go any further, I offer an important qualification in case you are worried. I am not going to be preaching partisan politics from the pulpit today. I will never preach partisan politics from a pulpit. The job of the preacher is to preach spiritual principles, not worldly politics. The job of the preacher is to, yes, sometimes preach justice and compassion in the face of the opposite wherever it lives. But partisan politics from the pulpit, never. Why?
It’s not that those in power don’t need to hear religious truths and spiritual principles. They do. But the church doesn’t need politics. To coin a phrase, the church needs politics like it needs a hole in the head.    Roger Williams, one of the United States founding fathers and one of my heroes, used the metaphor of the garden with walls. The church is a garden. The garden of the church needs walls separating it from the wilderness of the world. A separating wall protects the garden from the weeds of the wilderness.
Politics, which is the way of worldly power, corrupts. And preaching politics does the same. The beauty and purity and truth of the garden that is the church, that is the church’s greatest power. If the church makes a habit of looking below to the wilderness of politics and political power, it will lose its primary mission of preaching and spreading the good news of God’s love.
That said, because politics is so ubiquitous, so everywhere all the time, a preacher ought to talk about how we as Christians might approach the everywhereness of politics.
Well, I think Jesus gives us some help. He resists temptation in the wilderness. That alone is telling. Partisan politics is tempting. It lures us in. It easily becomes an obsession. It easily becomes harmful ideology. Indeed, partisan politics is a wilderness that we ought to resist as much as we can. We cannot live on politics alone.
Political power has a handmaiden. Can you guess what it is? It is economic power. It is interesting that both sides of the political divide share something in common. From the most laissez faire, free market preaching politician to the most socialist-leaning, government regulation preaching politician, the focus is on the means of production, on who controls industry, on economic wealth and power. Both sides focus on the economic pie and who has control of it and who has the biggest piece of that pie.
But Jesus would remind us of something very important. In resisting temptation in the wilderness, Jesus basically says we cannot live on pie alone.
Yes, who has the political and economic power is important. We can’t live in isolation from these things. We ought to vote and be informed and knowledgeable as we do our civic duty. But we cannot live on political and economic power alone. We need spiritual power. We need truth power. We need art power. We need music power. We need poetry power. We need beauty power. We need prayer power. We need scripture-meditation power. We need love power. We need God power.
We cannot live on bread alone.
Yes, we need to eat. There’s no getting around the necessity of worldly sustenance. As the old Disney song reminds us, we must look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities of life. Food, shelter, clothing, this is Old Mother Nature’s recipe that we cannot avoid if we want to live.
But bread alone isn’t enough for the abundant life Try eating just bread for every meal for a long amount of time. In the least, bread needs butter. In Jesus’s day, you dipped bread in olive oil and spices. Even Jesus preferred delicious food over bland food. Why? Because this thing called aesthetics is built into us as humans.
Aesthetics has to do with the principles of beauty and good taste. Have you ever eaten a dish of food that left you wowing with each bite and begging for more? This is aesthetics at work. We prefer what tastes good. All cultures and societies have delicious food. Pardon the pun, wanting what is aesthetically pleasing is baked into the cake of being human.
Yes, we could physically live on bread and water alone, at least for a time. But we would yearn for more. We would long for something beautiful and delicious. As humans, we need the arts, whether they be culinary arts, music, poetry, film, or literature.
Spirituality has a handmaiden, and it is the arts.
No doubt, we need worldly bread in our earthly lives. We need food. We need money, which interestingly bread is a slang word for. And we need health, the truest wealth. You know the phrase, a true one – health is wealth.
However, none of these is enough for a meaningful, abundant life. We also need spirituality and beauty which the arts provide. And we need something else. With this something else, I come to a close.
We need each other. We need to share our meals around a table and enjoy each other’s company. We need relationships. We need friendships We need community. As we in few minutes come to the table to share bread and juice, let us remember that the community around the table is as important as the meal. There is no such thing as communion alone. Whenever two or three or more are gathered, there Jesus is. Communion happens in community. Because we need both community and food. We humans are social creatures. We need each other. Just ask someone who had lived in isolation for an extent of time.
So, amid the silly season of presidential politics, let us remember to celebrate those intangible gifts in our lives. Let us celebrate each and every day all those things that make our lives better and fuller - faith, beauty, friendships, love, and community.  And let us make a habit of turning off Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and enjoy simpler, more beautiful, and good things give us in this life. Amen.

This week I’d like to offer something a bit different. Instead of a pastoral prayer, I’d like to offer a pastoral poem that will serve as our pastoral prayer.  
These words I will write will be an offering to you,
a poem as a prayer I will share with a congregation
a community I shepherd with your help.
As with prayer, one that now begins, I declare gratitude,
a thank you for merely being, for breathing this moment
void of labor and pain, whether physical, mental, or both.
The being and breathing of life is your primary gift,
one borne of creativity overflowing, a love that exuded
into space and time, a love that still moves us and in us.
So here is my hope, a hope enduring – that we return,
to your sanctuary wherever it lives, that we return
to be still and breathe in the love that created and
Creates us in each beginning, each enveloping present now.

From this now, give us the tenderness and tenacity
to recall those struggling more than we struggle this moment,
those born beneath angrier stars, those sick without healthcare
or hope for recovery, those aging and worried about what it means,
those dying and those grieving a loved-one’s passing always too soon.
For life’s struggle and suffering, here is another pastoral hope:
a peace beyond understanding, a comfort amid despair,
a strength that defies circumstances, and
a perseverance that keeps us keeping on.
Peace, comfort, strength, perseverance,
the four pillars of petition amid life’s hardships.
A last hope to conclude this prayer of a poem -
that we never forget the simple joys that accompany us,
that join us even amid down times that dip us in sadness and stress.
‘Tis a gift to be simple, making our joys more easily seen
and expressed with humble adoration to the giver, you which art love,
you the greatest gift who as love gives by simply being and breathing.



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