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.

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Snowy, steepled church inspires Christmas blessings

churBy Joe LaGuardia

Just mention the word “church”, and people do not think of auditoriums with coffee shops, but the classic one-room, steepled church set in a snowy, foothills environment.  A red door stands ready to greet visitors and large windows provide light even on the darkest of days.  Perhaps there is a bell tower, chiming people to worship on the Sabbath.

Although I grew up in a congregation that met in a renovated library, this was always my picture of the stereotypical church.  There is something beautiful about it, something naïve. It’s like a Thomas Kinkade painting, an escapist perspective that makes us feel that all is well in the world.

I enjoy seeing churches like this on our family trips across the South.  We even purchased Christmas cards this year with a picture of one on the front.  “Christmas blessings,” it reads, anticipating a snowy Christmas in an otherwise mild-weathered year.

These churches also remind me of a song my children used to sing with clasped hands in front of them: “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple; open it up, and here are the people.”

Their fingers, waving in the air, represented the people of course.  It is not the building, but the people who make the church what it is.

The only problem is that the people who make up the church are imperfect, flawed individuals.  Get into the life of the congregation and remove the building, and issues arise in our perception for what it means to be Christian.

No wonder there are those who call Christians hypocrites.  Ask any churchgoer why he attends church, however, and he will be the first to tell you that he attends precisely because of his sins.

Like St. Paul, we Christians want to do what the Spirit tells us, but we mess things up instead:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” Paul wrote to churches in Rome (Romans 7:15).

You can keep your perfect people; I’ll take the misfits, thank you very much, because the very meaning of being a church is of being the people of God gathered together to bear witness to salvation that comes with grace and grace alone.

Several weeks ago, our church ordained our associate pastor, Karen Woods, to the gospel ministry.  Somewhere along the way, we read passages from Romans 12 and 1 Peter 3.  Both scripture lessons affirmed the gifts that God gives us, the gifts of the Spirit, and the gifts that empower us to do the work of the church and be the church in the world.

The passages also encourage us to give God the gift of our very life:

Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Christmas is a time of gift-giving and receiving, and though our perspectives of church become a little more serene and nostalgic during this time of year (how many people return to church after being absent all year long?), we are reminded of the great gifts we exchange with God in time for Jesus’ birthday.

We give God the gift of our life as a response to the great gift that God has given us in spite of our weaknesses and sin.  We acknowledge God’s grace although we are undeserving.  We celebrate our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who came to live for us, lead the way, die for us, and rise from the dead in order to give us eternal life.

What better time to come back to church than during Christmas?  Our churches may not look the same, but the feelings of entering the sacred space of what is historically called “God’s womb” remains constant.  It is there that we receive the singular mandate to repent, believe, and then share the good news of the Gospel with others.

A Christmas Prayer

untitledBy Matt Sapp

At a recent Wednesday Bible study group at my church, we spent time talking about what we would pray for if we really believed that God came to earth at Christmas to redefine justice, righteousness and peace.

I organized the group’s thoughts and wrote them down. What follows is our collective prayer:

God who comes to us at Christmas,

We honor you with our focused attention as we pray for your growing presence in us and in our world this Christmas season.

As we wait for your arrival, we remember the power you have to redefine our world. We pray that you will bring us new definitions of justice, righteousness and peace.  We pray that we can receive and apply those definitions with hope, joy and love.

JUSTICE
Lord, show us true justice.  Show us the justice of the Bible, and help us understand how that justice is different from the world’s justice. Show us a justice marked by equity and fairness and compassion and mercy.  Teach us that care for the vulnerable—the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the poor, the sick—is a central element of the justice represented in the manger of Christmas.

Open our hearts to the needs of others.  Make us consistent bearers of your image, and give us eyes to see your image in everyone else, too.  Give us the courage to represent you every day—even when it’s hard, even when it’s dangerous.  Give us the courage to name injustice when we see it—racism, discrimination, bigotry and hatred.  Give us compassion and empathy for people who are different than us.

We pray for justice in our nation and in our court systems.  Raise up fair and honorable judges and prosecutors and representatives in our court system who seek and distribute justice evenly, impartially and equitably.

RIGHTEOUSNESS
On this Christmas we pray not only for the world around us, but also for ourselves. We pray that you would lead each of us to new understandings of righteousness.  We pray that you would change us.  Change our hearts and our minds and our attitudes.

Help us find more space to focus on the needs of others.  Give us a spirit of neighborliness and friendliness to share with all in our communities.

Make us more tolerant and more forgiving.  Make us more accepting of differences.  Help us to be people who listen to others, who pray for others, and who have the right words and the right helping hands for others.

And in all these things help us to overcome the fear and mistrust and selfishness that often prevents us from doing the good we know we should do.

HOPE
As we wait for the arrival of your justice and righteousness, we do so with great hope: Hope for health and contentment and peace in our families and in our hearts.   Hope for a renewed faith that reminds us we can trust in you no matter what. We wait with hope for balance and harmony among all people, and with hope for spiritual rejuvenation and vitality here and all over the world.

We pray for our church with hope, too. We pray with hope for spiritual and physical growth, with hope for the courage to speak together with a prophetic voice and with hope for the wisdom to know what to say.

We pray with hope for a continued and expanded ability to look after the marginalized and the poor in our community.

PEACE
We pray for peace–for a new attitude and a new feeling in our world and in our hearts. We long for a peace that is more than the absence of hostility. We pray for a positive and active peace that itself represents the enactment of your justice in this world.

Help us find peaceful ways to express our differences.

Rid us of violence, anger and fear. Remind us that kindness doesn’t equal weakness. Help us create a world where tough exteriors are not required and where gentleness is celebrated and admired.

Help us to remember that our eternal security lies in you, that war is never in your will, and that one day you will reign on earth in peace upheld by your justice and your righteousness. We pray for that day to come.

JOY
Heavenly Father, even as we look toward an eternal future, we take joy in the assurance of your presence with us now. We pray with joy at our ability to be distributors and champions of your justice today. We pray with joy in our responsibility to reach out and speak out. We pray with joy in doing what is right. We pray with joy in our call to reach future generations for you. And with pray with joy in our salvation.

LOVE
Fill us with love this Christmas–love for you and love for others as we passionately pursue your justice in our world and your righteousness in our lives. Give us love that lasts even when we don’t get our way.  Give us love that endures through fear.  Give us strength to love even when we don’t feel like loving.  Give us love that helps us realize we always have more to give.

Help us remember that your love in us is only multiplied as we give it away.  Give us a love that is as perfect and innocent and holy as the baby in the manger and a love that is as transformative and self-sacrificing as the Savior on the cross.

We pray with hope, joy and love for your justice, righteousness and peace to come to earth with Christ this Christmas.

May they and we be made perfect in your name, AMEN.