More Than Bread



Sermon Title “More Than Bread” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  It is so good to be back with you at Creekside!  It is a different season than when I left for Hawaii at the end of January.  I know it isn’t spring yet, but you can see it from here — that was easier to write a couple days ago before there was snow on the ground, but I still believe it.  I have snowdrops blooming by my house, and daffodils just coming up out of the ground; I can tell that the sun is coming up earlier and going down a bit later.  But in terms of the Christian year, it is now the season of Lent.  That isn’t unrelated to spring: Lent comes from the word meaning lengthening of days, which is exactly what is going on.  It is kind of a bummer when Lent begins before Valentine’s Day — or especially on Valentine’s Day, but I don’t make the rules.  Here are the ecclesiastical gymnastics, if you’re interested.  Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring equinox, and Lent is the forty days before Easter not counting Sundays.  So here we are.  If you’re good with numbers, you may have figured out that there are 6 Sundays in Lent — the final one is Palm Sunday.  You might look around and see if you can spot six of anything here in the Worship Center.

Many of our New Testament texts for the coming six weeks will come from the gospel of Mark. Mark is the shortest gospel — this doesn’t correlate with shorter sermons — and this morning’s reading is an example of how briefly Mark relates some pretty important information, beginning with Jesus’ baptism: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  And the next word is “And” — And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  These two things — Jesus’ baptism and being in the wilderness — are closely related.  They’re related by chronology; the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness immediately into the wilderness.  Mark uses the word “immediately” a lot: it gives us a sense that Jesus’ hair is still wet from the Jordan River and he is already on his way to the desert.

But there’s a thematic relationship here too, which makes the sequence of baptism and temptation in the wilderness very important.  I’m indebted to Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm’s commentary Preaching the Gospel of Mark for some of these insights.  This short baptism account has imagery which is birth imagery: coming out of the water, the heavens being torn apart, acknowledging a child.  Jesus will have a conversation with the rabbi Nicodemus in the gospel of John, and use the metaphor of being ‘born again.’  Baptism is a birth experience, and we have to be born before our journey begins. 

Mark gives us the temptation of Jesus in basically one sentence: Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.  Other gospels give us more detail: Jesus had fasted for forty days, there were three temptations — physical, spiritual, political, Jesus quoted scripture to Satan.  Those are all helpful things to know, but for this morning I want to focus on what sustains us on our journey, and what do we need when that journey goes through the wilderness?  I think we have to start by going backward — back to that sentence Mark write just before the Spirit immediately drove Jesus into the wilderness.  These are God’s words to Jesus and anyone else by the Jordan who heard the voice from heaven.  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Jesus’ journey begins with acknowledgment and blessing: you are mine, and you are loved.  Jesus didn’t have to prove anything in the wilderness, in the Temple, at the cross or anywhere else in order to be assured of God’s love.  We don’t earn God’s love by resisting temptation; the assurance of God’s love is what gives us the strength to resist temptation.  God’s love is one of things which sustains us in the wilderness.  Of course we have practical needs for food, shelter, and sturdy shoes, but we need more than bread; we need spiritual nourishment.  We need to be know we are blessed and loved.

I mentioned sturdy shoes a little while ago.  I want to tell you a bit about these boots on the chancel.  They’re my boots.  I don’t remember exactly when I got them, but I know I had them in 2003, because I wore them on a hike up Pike’s Peak.  I did that hike as part of a group of nine women.  Here’s a photo of us.  Some of us, not all, are from Goshen — you may recognize some of them.  If you don’t recognize me, I’m in the center of the front row.  This was a great trip, but I had a different appreciation of the significance of this hike a couple months ago.  We had a 20-year reunion this past November.  The seven of us who were at that reunion shared about what has happened in our lives in the past 20 years.  Two women who were single at the time of the hike in 2003 are now married, one now has school-age children, two women are divorced and re-married, two are widowed and one re-married, several of us are now grandmothers, one had an adult child who completed suicide.  These are things we chose to share — I know there could have been many others.  I share this not because I think it’s unusual, but because I believe it’s pretty typical of what can happen to a group of people over time.  And being typical doesn’t mean it isn’t significant: divorce, the death of a spouse, the death of a child are life-changing events — and they happen all the time, to us and to our fellow travelers on the road.

Change happens, to all of us, whether we cause it or not, whether we welcome it or not, and whether we like it or not.  At the very least, all of us who hiked up Pike’s Peak are twenty years older now than we were then.  We all have stories which started before and have continued since we spent five days traveling and hiking together.  The love of God is with us forever; the food we ate on the trail lasted for maybe a day; the nourishment, insight, and challenge we receive from other travelers on the road may last for days or years or decades; it is one of the ways which we are sustained on our journey.  We may not have much choice about the wilderness we have to travel through: an accident, an appointment with the oncologist, a heart attack — and immediately our lives are different than they were the day before.  This is not God’s judgement, or a curse, or an injustice, this is life.  Things change, and we can respond with anger, self-pity, or depression, but our response does not change the reality that things change.

What I’m about to say may seem obvious; I’ll apologize in advance.  The best time to prepare for the wilderness is before you get there.  I would never have tried to hike Pike’s Peak without good boots, a good pack, and training — although there’s no place in Indiana where you can breathe at 10,000 feet of elevation.  Of course I planned for that trip, because I knew it was coming.  But if we accept that life means change — maybe good, but sometimes not — then we need to be equipped; we need bread for every day, but we also need the things which nourish us over the long haul:  supportive relationships with other pilgrims, the love of our families and church family, the Word of God, the assurance of Christ’s blessing, the belief that God loves us in spite of our behavior and whatever our circumstances.  Part of equipping ourselves is practice: building the relationships and the capacity not only to receive care for ourselves, but to offer care for others.  If the only time we pray is when we’re in trouble, that doesn’t show much respect for God.  That’s like your college-age kid who only calls when he needs money.  If we don’t equip ourselves, we won’t have anything to give to others.

We don’t know for sure what Jesus was doing before he was baptized by John, but it’s a pretty good bet that he was studying scripture — he certainly knew it — and strengthening his relationship with his heavenly Father.  He could not have made it through forty days in the wilderness, his ministry of teaching and healing, and certainly not his trial and crucifixion without having those things to sustain him.Christianity has been described, by Martin Luther and others, as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”  We equip ourselves for the wilderness not only so we can strengthen ourselves but so we can share with others.  The love of God is boundless — beyond what we can contain or comprehend.  We are not competing for a limited resource with other travelers on the road, we are walking together so we can share with each other.  We can pray for a stranger, encourage someone we just met, or lean on people we’ve known for years. The more we give away, the more we have to give; the more we are given, the more we have to share.  We don’t know where the road will lead us, but we can be sure of who is with us along the way — the God who loves us and has blessed us for whatever lies ahead.  Amen.