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 – Dagon

June 24, 2013


Readings for Monday, June 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 5:1-12; Acts 5:12-26; Luke 21:29-36; Psalm 89

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“Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold Dagon had fallen face down on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, …the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him…they [men of Ashdod] said “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.’” 1 Sam. 5:2-7

The ark of God has been stolen and removed to a place where God, the god of Israel, and Dagon, the god of the Philistines, sat across from each other. And Dagon loses the fight.

Now, you would think that the Philistines, seeing this, would have taken Dagon out of the temple, admitted that their “god” was totally inferior to the “God,” and begun to worship the true God. However, faced with a choice, the Philistines chose a more comfortable path. They got rid of God and kept Dagon, “their” god.

Every time I think about Dagon I think about evolution and science. I might also now think of global warming and science. Once science has locked onto a theory that is “true,” it is amazing the way that theory becomes their Dagon, their “god,” which they will hold onto through thick and thin no matter what the evidence is before them. Their religion is science, their temple is the university, and their god of the day is whatever theory they want to promote. The facts are irrelevant, the results are irrelevant, the thinking process is irrelevant. Given enough structure and time around their Dagon (evolution, global warming), they will always choose their Dagon over the truth.

But before we become critical of the evolution or global warming believers, don’t we set up and hold onto our own Dagons? Is the behavior of the Philistines any different from our behavior?

We go to church and bring back home God’s ark, His Word in Scripture melded into our heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. We set this ark of God up in the same room in our mind as our favorite addiction. The next morning we wake up, and our Dagon, our desire to have a drink let’s say, is on the ground prostrate before the Word which says in today’s readings “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life…” Lk. 21:34. We then dust off our Dagon and set him back up again and maybe that afternoon have a drink with our friends at “happy” hour. We then wake up the next morning and our Dagon is smashed by the Word of God, leaving only a piece of him. Isn’t it true that our reaction is the same as the Philistines most of the time, if not all of the time – “They [the men of Ashdod] said ‘The ark of God must not remain with us, for his hand is against us and against Dagon our god.’“ Rather than get rid of our worthless idol, we get rid of the truth, we get rid of God.

God’s truth is a battering ram which destroys all strongholds and all false gods. If we are intent on holding onto our Dagons, then we cannot let God’s Word reside in the same place for very long or, if we see what God does to our false gods, we must get Him out of our hair as fast as possible.

Why do we do this? Why did the men of Ashdod not bow down before the superior force, God in His ark? Why did they not reject their idol and chase after truth?

I think the answer to this question dwells in the phrase “Dagon our god.” And actually, not in the phrase but in a word – “our.” I cannot release Dagon because he is mine. I invented him, I built him, I have paid attention to him for a long time, and I like him. This other god, this true god, the one God, now He is not my creation; instead I am His creation. This other god, this true God, now He is not the one who I am comfortable with; instead, He is the one who makes me uncomfortable, who calls me out into a place beyond myself, where I have to love others and believe in Him.

We have willingly invited the ark of God into our heart and mind, but we have not willingly let alone His work in our lives. His work is to destroy our Dagons. But those idols are hard to part with, so we are constantly trying to put them back together. His work is to bring life into our lives; our work is to try to figure out how we can bring death back in.

So what do we do about this? I think a little prayer is in order – “God, when I see you destroying my Dagons, let me walk away and do nothing except thank you for doing something I cannot do and keeping from doing something I should not do. Let me suffer the brief loss of my close friend Dagon, the false god, so that I might spend more time with you, the true God.”

O God, help me to say of my broken Dagon, “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

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© 2013 GBF

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