Cornbread, Biscuits and the Bread of Life

breadBy Rev. Jane Weston

Rev. Weston is priest of St. Simon’s Episcopal Church.  This was her sermon at the annual Community Thanksgiving service in Rockdale County, Georgia.  Rev. Weston grew up Southern Baptist in Kentucky.

A couple of years ago I was looking through a stack of magazines and came across a poll where readers were asked, “Are you a biscuit or a cornbread person?” This debate was revived in the middle of our presidential election.

As someone who enjoys cooking, I was drawn into the debate and concluded that I side with the biscuit people. Before you criticize, understand that there are valid reasons why I choose biscuits.

I come from a long line of biscuit people. My grandmother was a biscuit person who treated her grandchildren to pans of biscuits hot from her oven. She even used locally milled flour. I inherited her biscuit cutter, an old snuff can with a dent in the cutting edge. To this day, my biscuits have a dimple in their sides. My mother’s biscuits were even better, and her stainless bowl and pastry blender are revered tools in her kitchen. She’s taught four generations how to handle dough for feather-light biscuits.

So, I come to the biscuit allegiance honestly.   I’ve picked my side. Biscuits are my southern bread of choice.

Now, understand that I know that the biscuit versus cornbread debate is a good-natured one.   Further, I’m hopeful that my recitation of family biscuit lore suggests we come to our positions in life based on our own heritage and life experiences. Yet, this “debate” points to an unfortunate trend.   Do we have to be a biscuit or cornbread person and nothing in between?

We’ve come to a point in our common lives where we are constantly being asked to pick sides, and take one position against another. Unfortunately, this has often led to taking a position against another person and not just against that person’s ideas.

A new Gallup poll suggests that 75 percent of Americans believe that we are divided as a country. News stories tell us that more people than ever do not want to be with family this Thanksgiving because they do not want to fight about politics. One person suggested that instead of having an adult table and a kids’ table, families should have a red table and a blue table to keep the peace.

Instead of engaging in healthy conversations about our national life, we have been polarized to such a degree that we refrain from talking about our common life because we are afraid of igniting an argument –even with those we love the most. What a sad and tragic commentary that families do not want to be together this holiday.

Our reading from the Gospel of John 6:25-35 offers good news because it offers a way forward. Have you noticed that Jesus always offers us a way forward? But note this: Jesus clears up any wrongful assumptions by the crowd that Moses fed their ancestors in the wilderness. Jesus reminds them, that the Father gives the true bread from heaven.

Transpose that to our situation today.   Jesus reminds us that it is not our earthly leaders that provide the ultimate sustenance for us, but it is God.   And in the real kicker, Jesus tells the crowds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Somehow that puts our current affairs in the right order.

When we find ourselves inclined to hunker down in our respective camps, we should take a deep breath, elevate our vision and remind ourselves that we are followers of Jesus, and that he is our ultimate bread of life.

Oh, and we should be really careful that we don’t try to turn Jesus into cornbread or biscuits. Let’s not try to form the Almighty into our image.

Jesus gives us a way forward. Jesus tells us to love God and love our neighbor. His is the voice we should listen to this Thanksgiving when the temptation is to throttle Uncle Fred when he crosses the line and says something inflammatory.   Instead of reacting negatively, give Uncle Fred a hug because you love him. It will shock him, and who knows, it might shut him up, too!

Jesus doesn’t give us a way forward just to get us through the holidays. He gives us what we need to move into the next year and beyond. As Christians we should acknowledge that we follow his higher calling and refuse to sink to the lows have been set before us. As followers of Jesus, we are the ones who can change the tide of negativity that is bringing us down.

In our baptism service, Episcopalians promise that with God’s help, we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

It seems that when we start really listening to those we consider opponents, we hear that for the most part, we want the same things. We in smaller towns especially know this to be true. We want opportunities for our families, safe communities, and justice for all. We may have different ideas on how to achieve these things, but that’s okay and even necessary. When we listen, we find that we are closer to our “opponents” than we think.

In fact, if you and I talk, you’ll learn that I like cornbread, and my cast iron skillet is seasoned to perfection. I might even share my Mom’s recipe for dressing. You see, she learned years ago that dressing made from biscuits is too heavy, and one made with cornbread is too crumbly. However, when you get the right mix of cornbread and biscuits, you get structure and texture. When the two breads come together in harmony, it is a thing of beauty. Perhaps I should send Mom’s dressing recipe to our national leaders!

This holiday season, God bless you and your family, our community, and our churches, and God bless this country of ours.

Speaking God’s Language: An Advent Reflection

b_tdfgfugwa-murray-campbellBy Joe LaGuardia

One of my childhood dreams was to speak a different language and adventure across Europe like one of those old spy or action heroes I watched on television.  My favorite was Indiana Jones, who spoke many languages and read hieroglyphics, many found in his father’s journal, enabling him to foresee traps and dangers along the way.

Others I know have had similar dreams.  Some imagined that they were heroes from one of those old Zane Grey novels, able to speak the native tongue of Cherokees across the west in order to defeat maniacal villains bent on greed and blood lust.

I am personally fond of the late Atlanta writer, Lewis Grizzard, who said that sometimes our actions speak louder than words.  He recalls a time when he was delayed in an airplane on the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport tarmac.  When he looked out of his little port window, he saw a Delta mechanic starring quizzically at his plane, scratching his head with a wrench.

In high school, my childhood dreams quickly faded as I realized I didn’t have a knack for languages.  I almost failed Italian.  Twice.  And I am full-blooded Italian.

Some people are good at learning new languages, some are not.  What I do know is that Advent is the season when we come together as a church and learn an entirely different language altogether: God’s language, the language of time.

The New Testament uses two Greek words for “time”.  One is chronos, where we get the word chronometer, which points to human, linear time — the passing of hours and days, minutes and seconds.

The second word is Kairos, which points to time that transcends the linear passing of hours.  It is the time of divinity, so to speak, where Trinity and spirit exist apart from what we know of as human beings.

It is larger than any calendar, it is cosmic and entails the entire fabric of creation, the heavens and the earth, and who we are as God’s people.

In Romans 13, Paul stated that we believers know what time—what Kairos—it is because we speak God’s language of time: one laden with hope and joy, anticipation rather than anxiety, one in which we know that our life is not our own.

It is kairos caught up in the larger drama of God’s redemption found in scriptures of old, and finding its fullest reach in the person of Jesus Christ, who submitted himself to our chronos, our span of life, in order to die and rise again, to bend time towards justice by giving us all the gift of overcoming time too, to taste none other than eternal life.

Do we speak that kind of language?  Do we know what time it is?

The world seems so anxious about time.   Some want more of it; others have too much of it.  We are anxious about those things that create a sense of urgency in our life.  Other times, we foretell the “end of the world,”perhaps with the election of a new president or the advent of a new millennium.

People who face their fragility and the extent of their time on earth plunge into despair, the acute recognition that death is around the corner.  That is the type of language the world speaks; it falls short on hope and the promise of eternal communion in the presence of God.

When Paul tells us that we know what time it is, that we are to live as people not anxious about time, we are awakened to our liberty in Christ, to have an understanding that transcends 24 hours and 7 days a week.

‘Tis the season to move beyond the seasons.

God’s language also celebrates at least three “times” in our life:

  • The time to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, born to a virgin long ago in a far off place of Galilee which up to that point only provided the world with peasants rather than a prince of peace, King of kings.
  • A time to celebrate God’s in-breaking in our life today as we witness Christ born anew in our hearts, and also allowing us to be born unto God. To be able to birth the hope and love of Christ in world that only knows the pain of birth pangs.
  • A time to anticipate the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, His Second Coming when he will judge the living and the dead, unfurl the great scroll of the book of life, and then grant us new, imperishable bodies in which we live in God’s new heaven and new earth, where tempest waters are as still as glass, where lion and lamb slumber together, and where children play with the likes of asps and vipers.

It is in Advent when we experience Jesus as our hero, one who teaches us a new language and speaks God’s kairos, a hero that puts to rest the anxiety we all feel when worrying about what tomorrow might bring.

It is about what is “now”, and salvation in Christ’s ultimate judgement and redemption that is the “not-yet”.

And in that tension of “now-and-not-yet,” we find hope to love deeply, worship richly, and live our life by walking to the beat and time signature of a different drum.

For many, time represents what one poet calls the “long unrest.”  But for us who live into Advent and celebrate Christ’s birth and life, we allow that long unrest to turn into wakeful celebration.  We may not know French or Russian, but we know what time it is!

In Him the long unrest is soothed and stilled; in Him our hearts are filled.”

Amen.

 

Celebration & Grief: A Season of “Firsts”

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By Joe LaGuardia

As I am writing this, the weather is a warm 80 degrees, and my wife and children are at the beach collecting shells.  There is a slight breeze.  I can tell by the waving palm trees just outside my office window.

All of this is a reminder that I am not in Georgia anymore.  After serving in ministry there for over a dozen years, I will spend my first Christmas season in Florida since we moved to Atlanta in 2001.  Something feels askew, and my biological clock is confused by the lack of changing leaves, “sweater weather”, and frequent wintry trips for hot coffee at Dunkin Donuts.

As my body adjusts, I have become mindful that as I spend this “first” Advent and Christmas at my new church, First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, other people will be spending their holidays with “firsts” as well.  In the last year at FBC, there have been several deaths that have shaped the community in significant ways.

One person who passed, “Chubby” Bass, was well-known for his leadership and commitment to the church.  I am currently in the Sunday School class he once taught.  I gather from the group that he was a legend, and I assume its for good reason.

Another person, Hiram Henderson, was chair of the FBC Pastor Search Committee.  I had two in-person interviews with the Search Committee, and both afforded me some time with Hiram.  He was a sweet and gentle person, and he listened intently as I told the committee of my philosophy of ministry and vision for my future at FBC.  I don’t remember a time when he did not have a big smile on his face–very assuring for me, a candidate nervous about his next call.

When I came to preach in view of a call, there were only a few empty seats in the crowded sanctuary.  One was next to Hiram.  He and I shared a hymnal, and I remember him embracing me strongly, despite his failing health, in the wake of an affirmative vote.  It was the last time I saw him.

Today I visited with a family members who stood sentinel with their mother, grandmother.  She passed away peacefully and seemed as beautiful as she was on the first day I met her six months ago.  She was 103 years old and had been the oldest living member of First Baptist Church.

There are countless other individuals I can think of who will be grieving a lost loved one this season: Families of Pappy Kouns, a local baseball legend in these parts, and Dana Howard, to name a few.  Then there are friends and families in the church who lost loved ones in the wider Vero Beach community.  I may not have officiated these funerals, but attending them has made me experience the depth of love and grace that exists in this place I now call home.

When I lost my father some three years ago, I knew from experience that the first year is often the hardest. Shit hits you over and over again like those constant waves my kids are spying at the beach right now.

Every birthday, holiday, season, and transition can bring back both the celebration that memories evoke, as well as the sadness of grief which seems just as fresh as on the first day of a person’s loss.

Coincidentally, the Advent and Christmas theme at FBC this year is “‘Tis the Season,” and it certainly is.  It is the season for many firsts.  All we can hope for is that there will be those who walk alongside us, helping us find a sure footing even when we may only have enough strength to put one foot in front of another.