Bread – Leaven

August 5, 2013


Readings for Monday, August 5, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 7:1-17; Acts 18:1-11; Mark 8:11-21; Psalms 77,79,80

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In our reading today from Mark, Jesus tells the disciples “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mk. 8:14 What is he talking about?

Leaven is that ingredient which causes bread to change chemically so that it rises. But, as far as we are concerned, it also makes bread tasty. Unleavened bread is bland.

One of the articles in this weekend’s newspaper was on the state of the baguette in France. Basically, the French have started using older, slower techniques of preparing their bread for baking so that it will taste better. Although they did not use the word “leaven” in the article, it was obvious that they were talking about a process of leavening, over a period of time, where a small amount of leaven would have the opportunity to change the big batch of dough so that it would make a proper tasty baguette.

Now, this writing is called “Bread” and we have just been discussing baguettes, so one might be inclined to think this “Bread” is about food. When Jesus talked about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod to the disciples, the disciples thought He was talking about food too. Jesus responds with a “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” Mk. 8:18. So, obviously Jesus is not talking about food. But He is talking about things that change one’s life.

What is the leaven of the Pharisees? The Pharisees were the keepers of the law in the synagogue, in church. Follow their (God’s) rules and you would go to a good place when you die; fail to follow their rules and you would go to a bad place. The remarkable thing was they really believed that we, as humans, could follow God’s law in all things, in our hearts, minds, thoughts, behaviors, speech, action, and attitude. Really? Name me one perfect person (other than Jesus) and naming yourself does not count! And yet, the leaven of the Pharisees requires one to have good works if one is to achieve their right place with God. Less you think this attitude is gone from the modern church, why do you go to Bible studies, attend worship, read the Bible, fast, meditate on the Word, read Bread, or do anything religious? Is it because you believe your works will help save you, or is out of gratitude for the work done by Jesus for you on the cross? In the first one, you are building your tower of Babel to the heavens. In the second, you are living in the presence of God’s kingdom on earth.

What is the leaven of Herod? Herod represents the world in all of its power and pseudo-glory. In another sense, he also represents education and reason. In another sense, he represents the perversions of the world, the lusts of the flesh, etc. Herod represents our reason, our base desires, our old man. He actually is us without Christ.

A little leaven goes a long way toward ruining the dough (if you consider the dough to be OK as is). Of course, a little leaven also makes life “tasty,” or so Satan would have us think.

Isn’t this last point why we deliberately let leaven into our lives or deliberately add it. We dabble in corruption, lying, lust, almost pornographic movies, books on evil (zombies) or sex, which appeal to our inner desire for things tasty – adventure, danger, power, money, fancy houses and cars, the most advanced electronics, stuff. We think we do it just enough to get a taste out of life, but Jesus reminds us that a little leaven affects the entire loaf, and that little taste leads to severe loss of who we can be in Christ.

The leaven of the Pharisees and Herod affects the quality of the victorious life we can have in Christ. Jesus’ question strikes home at this place, this time, these circumstances we are in – when we reach for the leaven of the world, He asks – “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”

And the short answer to this question is “No, we do not.” Most of the time we do not use our eyes to clearly see Christ; most of the time we do not use our ears to clearly hear Christ.

To do that, we need the help of the Holy Spirit minute-by-minute, day by day. It is not enough to say – “Don’t touch that hot stove, don’t touch that leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.” Instead, we must say “Come Holy Spirit” and then use, really us, our eyes to see and our ears to hear.

“God, protect me from leaven, because I cannot protect myself.” A short prayer, but a necessary one. And He will because, by His sovereign will in our lives and through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, He already has.

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© 2013 GBF

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Bread – Ritual

August 20, 2012


Readings for Monday, August 20 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Judges 17:1-13; Acts 7:44-8:1a; John 5:19-29; Psalm 106

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In Judge today, Micah has stolen 1,100 pieces of silver from his mother and returned it. She was so happy that she took 200 pieces of the silver, had them melted down, and had the silversmith make Micah a “carved image,” an idol. Micah took the idol and made a shrine for it, where it could be worshiped. He created a ritual around the image, made some saints (household gods) to go with it, created an order of priests to lead the worship, and ordained his son as first priest. To complete the creation of this religion, this ritual, and this liturgy, Micah took a Levite visitor, offered to support him for the rest of his life, and then made him a priest in the temple of the silver image. Micah then smiles, folds his hands, and says “Now I know the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.” Judges 17:13 (I made up the smiles and folds his hands part.)

I almost don’t know what to say about Micah, except that he looks a whole lot like us. We take some part of our life, polish it up, set it on a pedestal, set up rituals to preserve it, get someone else to buy into it, and sooner or later adapt something from some other religion to give it legitimacy. And then we say, “now I know the Lord will prosper me” because I am now doing it the “right” way, with the “right” elements, using the “right” words, facing in the “right” direction, wearing the “right” clothes, with the “right” kinds of music, candles, incense, and procedure, with the help of the “right” people.

And sometimes, in making our ritual concoction, we borrow like Micah did from paganism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Socrates, and Wikipedia — whatever fits our style, mood, and inclination in the moment. Whatever seems right. As pointed out today in Judges about Micah, what “was right in his own eyes.” Judges 17:6b

Now, what ritual was observed in our other readings today? None. Stephen died under an avalanche of stones for proclaiming Christ and His vision of Christ at the right hand of God, after he had already observed that God does not dwell in houses made by hands. (Acts 7:48, 56) Christ talks about doing what He sees the Father doing, pronouncing simply that “whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.” John 5:24 What ritual is in this?

Man wants ritual but he needs relationship. Man wants to do, but Christ calls us to believe and to be. Man looks at the stuff, the procedures, the words, the titles, and the clothes and sees value, the keys to the future. Christ says that seeing Him, hearing Him, knowing Him, and believing Him are the keys to the eternal life.

Who is right, Micah or God, me or Him? The choice is important, with eternal consequences. Choose wisely.

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© 2012 GBF

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