February 18, 2018 1st Sunday of Lent
Genesis 9:8-17 Mark 1:9-15 John 6:35 -40
Well, we have begun our forty days of the Lenten journey. This year I found a really neat Lenten preaching series based on the I AM sayings of Jesus. Now there are eight I AM sayings, and there are only five Sundays in Lent, so we are not going to get to all of them, but we will be getting to most of them, and you can look up the others. In fact next week I will have a cheat sheet for everyone so that if you miss a week you will be able keep up.
Why are the I AM sayings important? Because they give us clues to the nature of God and Christ, and our relationship to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. So as we talk about bread, light, doors, shepherds, and the resurrection, we’re going be talking about ourselves and our journey of our God connection.
Also every other week we will be having a short communion that is connected to the theme of the week. Some of you might find this to be strange, after all as Methodists we usually have communion only once a month. But actually in the Methodist church there is no rule about when you are supposed to have communion. Communion has always been a matter of availability. John Wesley actually encouraged people to have communion everyday, if they were in a place where a minister gave a daily communion service. He believed that communion connected us personally with God, and that it could be a touchstone to a person’s spiritual development.
Spiritual development is a journey that moves both outward and inward. During Lent we are supposed to examine ourselves on the inside, find out what is blocking us from getting close to God, try to get rid of it, and then try to come closer to God by applying our faith outward into the world. The more we see inward the more we see outward. The more we apply our faith outward, the deeper our faith develops inward.
If anyone is getting dizzy at this point don’t worry, the actual process doesn’t happen at a pace to make you sea-sick. In fact sometimes I feel that my personal spiritual development is moving at glacial speed. But it is interesting that if I look backward over a length of time I can see how I have become a little less agitated about things, and more tolerant of stuff that I would have condemned a lot more quickly. On the other hand I see injustice a lot more clearly than I used to.
But before I talk about Jesus as the bread of life, I would like to talk to you about a great exercise that I came across for Lent. This is from the health coach Ian K. Smith. Mostly he coaches physical health, exercise, and diet, but he has a neat system to help you get rid of bad habits and adopt new ones. He calls it the 1-1-1 process. Break one bad habit; add one good habit; and improve one good habit. For instance you might say that you will stop eating chocolate, start to walk a mile a day, and eat more vegetables than you already do.
But you can apply this to your Lent journey as well. What is a bad habit that is keeping you from connecting to God? What is a good habit you can add that will get you closer to God? And what is something that you already do to get closer to God that you can improve on just a bit more?
But before you decide what you want to do for your Lent 1-1-1 process let’s look at this week’s I AM statement. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Bread was the basic food of Jesus time. When you combine grain and water you get a type of protein called gluten. Besides gluten there are a lot of other nutrients in bread as long as you keep the grain whole. The complex carbohydrates in bread could sustain someone for a day’s work and provided needed calories. In a time when protein was scarce, bread provided a basic food that allowed people to get nutrition with readily available ingredients.
So when Jesus says that he is the bread of life he means that his teachings and system of spirituality are going to provide us with what we need to nourish our relationship with God. Connecting with God is not a one-shot now-we’ve-got-the-connection. Like eating bread daily we need to nourish our relationship with God every day. In the Gospels Jesus wasn’t just wandering around Galilee talking to people, he was training people in prayer, showing them how active mission work could change their attitudes and lives, and getting people to practice forgiveness and tolerance. I am sure that he was having his disciples pray everyday, and having them examine the scriptures and discuss how they could be applied in their lives.
One way for us to nourish our relationship with God is to pray. When we are children we think that prayer is something magical. So we pray for things like puppies or a new bike. But as we get older we learn that prayer is a purposeful focusing of our energy on something that we are thankful for, or something that is needed for us, or something that concerns us.
Sometimes what we pray for are nouns – people, place, and things. Dear Lord, thank you for my job, help me to pass my next exam, and please help my sister through this difficult time. But sometimes we pray about our attitudes. Dear Lord, thank you for helping me to keep calm, help me to have a good attitude at work, and help my neighbor find happiness as she tries to stop drinking. Either way you are focusing your energy on being a certain way and helping certain things to come to pass. What we pray for is put at the front of our minds so that we pay attention to it and get our minds to work on solving it. And at the same time we invite the Holy Spirit to connect us with what we need from the world to get the job done.
Another way to nourish our relationship with God is through mission. Now mission doesn’t need to be an overseas project. The word mission comes from the Latin word missio, meaning to send. Basic mission is sending your energy out into the world to help someone. When we help someone we establish a relationship with them. Maybe your mission is to call one person a day who you feel might like to have a conversation. Maybe your mission is to sit with someone in a nursing home. Maybe your mission is to teach someone how to knit. Maybe your mission is to teach someone how to make fishing lures. It doesn’t matter. Each of these missions has as a common denominator the creation of a relationship with someone.
The three commandments are all about relationships. We are supposed to have a loving relationship with God, with other people in the world, with ourselves, and with Christ. All we really have are our relationships. So our mission in the world should be to improve those relationships, and make them be more loving, anyway we can. When we nourish our relationships with each other we also nourish our relationship with God and ourselves.
But there is an important second part of the statement: Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Humans have a heart that hungers to understand our place in this world and the meaning of life. Some people look for their meaning in work, some in romance, some in hobbies; there are a million ways to look for the meaning of life. But Jesus says that if we follow his practice of love, and work on our understanding and relationship with God; if we connect with God, through prayer and worship, and work on our relationships through mission, then our hunger for love is fed and our thirst for understanding is quenched. What we need to remember is that it’s an everyday feeding and quenching that will sustain and nourish us all our lives.
For Lent I am going to try to give up my bad “not enough” habit. That’s the one where I say that I am not smart enough, or don’t know enough to do something. It’s a perfection problem and it sometimes stops me from even trying to do things or connect with people. I’m going to instead try to put on a good habit of “I am able to be good enough.” Not perfect, but able to get things done and I’m going to ask the Holy Spirit to help. And I’m going to try to improve my habit of organization by praying out my day to make it more God centered and relationship centered when I organize it in the morning. These are going to be my 1-1-1 habits.
This is my Lenten Discipline. Yours can be whatever you feel you need to work on, just try to make it connect more with God in the way you need to. Keep praying, keep looking for mission, and keep improving your loving relationships. And you will be nourished by the bread that is that is the Grace of God and Christ.