Thinking about making bread during the pandemic. I have been using a no-knead recipe that requires only a ¼ teaspoon of yeast per loaf. You let it rise for 16 hours. Fold it once or twice, let it sit another couple hours, and bake it at high heat. That tiny bit of yeast makes a small amount of dough rise into a beautiful loaf of bread.
However sometimes the bread doesn’t turn out right. Do you ever have that happen? Sometimes I don’t follow the recipe exactly and it turns out kind of funny. The dough doesn’t rise enough or maybe it rises too long. Something is off in the timing or the heat level in the baking. Maybe the yeast is too old and I end up with a half-risen loaf, which is always kind of disappointing.
Sometimes I feel during this pandemic that we feel like half-risen loaves of bread at times. We get up in the morning but we don’t have the same level of energy as we would like. Or we feel we don’t accomplish as much as we would have liked. It’s not necessarily terrible. It’s just a bit meh if you know what I mean.We do all these check-ins during the pandemic and we’ve gotten to the point where at least for me things are okay. No real complaints, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
One thing about grace that is amazing, is it doesn’t matter how we feel. It doesn’t even matter how the bread turns out, whether the actual bread we are baking or if we feel like have a half-risen loaf of bread. With grace, the Holy Spirit fills us with God’s love. We might not always feel it. We might still feel a little meh, but sometimes it helps just to share a story, share how we are feeling.
We can share about gardening how some things are growing really amazing and other things don’t seem to grow at all. I don’t know how many tomato plants I have growing and some are sprouting up and flourishing and others are stunted in growth, whether it’s too shady and not warm enough or something else. That’s one thing that took some getting used to in Victoria is that it’s a gardening city, but there is a real cross section of gardens out there. There are beautiful flower gardens and there’s also just lawns of brown grass. People don’t realize it’s fairly dry here in the summer. It rains all winter, but it hardly rains at all in the summer. Sometimes just hearing about people’s gardens or a plant they have on a window sill is uplifting.
Sometimes we feel this whole range of feelings, from the flourishing rose bush to the lawn of dry brown grass, waiting for the rain to fall. Some of us have lost loved ones during the pandemic and needing to do multiple re-balancing during this time. Others are simply waiting for a COVID vaccine to appear so we can enjoy some activities more fully, to have a better sense of security of what lies ahead. To be able to plan things like trips and visits without worrying about another wave of the pandemic, but we’re not there yet, so make the best with what we’ve got.
At times we will cry out, “How long O Lord?” We’ll be sad, angry, bitter, resentful, and it’s okay to feel all those things. Jesus felt these feelings being thrown into ministry and a journey towards the cross. If even Jesus felt upset, it’s no surprise we do as well at times. None of us has all the answers. The parables give us glimpses of gospel and grace through the fog of life. Like those days we see the Olympic mountains through the clouds on the other shore. We’ve touched briefly on the power of yeast and I want to explore one more parable with you.
The parable of the mustard seed is a popular one. There is even a ministry serving people in need called the Mustard Seed here in Victoria and I expect many communities have ministries by the same name. Like yeast it has the power to convey an image with only a few words. The promise that the smallest of seeds grows into the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.
We need to trust more in the power of the mustard seed in our world. And not as magic, but the power of God’s love transforming real people to change things for good. There are so many things wrong in the world they are too numerous to mention. However in addition to the pandemic, another pressing issue is affecting our immediate neighbours including in Portland and also in Seattle. Because we’re on an island sometimes we feel we’re further away than we are. Seattle is just over a 100 km away. Port Angeles is right across the water from us. As you may have seen already in Portland there have been clashes between everyday people showing up for Black Lives Matter protests and federal officers who have concealed their identities. The officers have hit civilians with batons, used tear gas, and now there is a group of mothers forming a protective barrier between officers and protesters, but they’re being attacked as well. Apparently later a group of fathers showed up, no doubt shamed that the mothers were doing all the work while they did nothing. At least one many had a leaf blower to blow away the smoke from the tear gas. Sounds like a Home Depot block party gone horribly awry. And it’s not just Portland because federal agents are being dispatched to other cities as well and it’s pretty scary.
I’ve heard from Lutheran colleagues in the US, some of whom are used to showing up to protests, that they find it all pretty scary. It’s different this time. No one was expecting secret police to start rounding people up. These are the kinds of things we associate with authoritarian regimes. And yet here we are. We have a duty as Christians to talk about it. And not just the typical, “Thank God we’re in Canada and it’s not that bad here.” These are our siblings in Christ and many are at a loss what to do and what could come next. No one really knows. Political stability during a pandemic is paramount for public health and with the run-up to the election in November.
Some of us have cross-border families and friends. In general it would be hard to over-estimate how much our economies and policies are tied together. What happens in the US ends up spilling over into our communities as well in different ways.
And so we cry out, “How long O God?” How long until peace and justice prevail? Again it’s okay to have these doubts and say them out loud. In our reading from Romans, we hear “The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Even the Spirit is sighing, groaning, praying, waiting, abiding. In the meantime we remember the mustard seed, how God has planted each one of us as part of the kingdom or dominion to bring about change. Not that we accomplish the change, but that despite our doubts and shortcomings, God makes use of us the way we are.
As the body of Christ is transforming us from the dry expanse of brown grass into flourishing gardens. Trust that the Spirit is at work in your life, watering, pruning, giving space for new growth. Sometimes we don’t see the growth until it’s already happened and we are surprised, “Look at that! When did that happen?” Trust that the Spirit is at work in us as well.
Returning to the Yeast
Returning to the yeast, trust that God’s grace is at work in our lives. Whether or not the bread we bake always turns out, the yeast of the Holy Spirit keeps rising within us. God keeps connecting us to one another, even if our experience of it is one of doubt, sadness, or anger. We can feel all these things while doing faithful work at the same time.
I know I struggle at times with how many challenges our communities and world is facing. I wonder “How long O God?” And that’s okay. That too is part of a healthy prayer life, a life of questioning and wondering.
What we want to avoid is people feeling so cut off from the body of Christ, that they fear church is no longer for them, that Christian faith is no longer for them. Healthy doubt remains in dialogue with the body of Christ through community. When we become isolated in our faith, we start to doubt whether anyone cares. Sometimes the church has dropped the ball. It’s one reason some people have drifted away and that’s a pity.
And yet there are so many people hungering for a gospel of grace. They say things like, “I never knew a church could preach unconditional love to all people.” “I never knew we could be overtly queer affirming or say Black Lives Matter.” We have an opportunity to live these things out in the world. We can let the Spirit rise within us, witnessing to God’s grace and love for the world.
Wrapping up, know that you are enough. No matter your doubts and feelings of sadness or anger, God is with you.
Trust that faith of a mustard seed is enough for God to accomplish great things through us.
Take heart that the Spirit is rising up inside us, yeast leavening the whole loaf of bread, sharing the joy of the kingdom, justice, peace, and love with all our neighbours. Amen.