[Sung] I love the unknown. New places and new faces show how much I've grown. The chance is coming the time is near. How will I know where to go from here? No signs or lights at the side of this road and the destination is still untold. Now don't get me wrong, cause I'm grateful for the dilemma this puts me in. No matter where I go I'll take with me where I've been. I can't quite see what's in front of me. I wish you would show me. Where I can be all of me. Love is what the dance will be. My intuition will lead me home to a place where my heart is free to roam. X2
I wrote that song in 2010 while I was doing my first “church search.” I was reeling with all of the possibilities and choices before me. The landscape I was stepping onto was in motion. I was leaving school, something I had known for a long time, and entering a time when my reliance on God to show me the way was palpable. It was a time when I was actively kneading my faith.
Before I share with you this morning why I choose the theme of kneading faith or explain why is smells so good in here... I want to tell you about my tremulous relationship with yeast. Growing up with my parents in the kitchen I had two very different teachers. See my mother is super creative in everything she does. This is especially true in the kitchen when she hardly ever does the same thing twice and it seemed to me, when I was young that she shunned the use of measuring utensils. She is the type of person to look at what's in the fridge and figure out how to mix it all together and have it come out tasting amazing. On the other side of the spectrum I have my father who measures everything to the tiniest crumb, or so it seemed sometimes. Everything he made came out great because he had followed the printed recipe.
When it came to baking, my parents stuck to cookies and pies and quick breads like banana or zucchini. The only time I can remember my mother baking anything involved was a flan. She was floored that it had worked and that it tasted really good. However, she vowed she would never do it again because of how much work it would took... My father on the other had, simply didn't have the patience for anything in the kitchen that took longer that 30mins to make. So needless to say we never used yeast in my parents house.
My first experience of using yeast was helping my Uncle Scott make homemade cinnamon rolls. It was an early Friday morning after Thanksgiving and I happened to be up at 5am with him because I was 7 years old and still woke up at that hour. I handed him the ingredients and he mixed them together. After mixing them he worked the dough into a ball and covered the bowl with a towel. Now, remember that I had only ever seen my mother make quick breads. So I said to him, “Uncle Scott I don't think you are supposed to put it in the oven that way.” He looked at me strangely and then told me, “We aren't finished. We have to wait for the dough to rise.” Here I am, at the age of 7, thinking yeah...that's why it needs to go in the oven...to make the bread rise, because it was the only way I'd ever seen bread rise. An HOUR later we went back to the bowl and sure enough the dough had gotten bigger. I was amazed! I was so happy when he started to roll out the dough and mix the ingredients for the filling. But then, after cutting the dough into rolls and placing them in the pan, he covered it with a towel AGAIN! Seeing my sad face he said, “Good things come to those who wait. We need to let the dough rise again.” Once the dough raised again like magic, he finally put them in the oven.
Fast forward ten years and I, remembering that awesome experience with my uncle, decided that it was time for me to make the cinnamon rolls myself. So I went to the store to get the ingredients, including this weird yellow packet of fast acting yeast. I don't know where I got my information – but it wasn't correct. Because I promptly proceeded to fill a cup with lukewarm water and dumped the yeast into the water. I mixed that in with the rest of the ingredients. I put a towel over the bowl like I remember my uncle doing and came back an hour later...to a runny mess. I was so distraught. Even at age 17, I thought that the magic had failed me. I left it there for another hour, thinking I had misremembered the time it took. Nope. So I threw away the mess and haven't touched yeast again, until this summer.
“He spoke to them another parable. 'The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.'” This verse is from Matthew 13:33, and it was that verse that urged me to try ONE more time with YEAST! I figure if it's in the Bible – it must be possible, right? Not to mention that thousands of bakers make it happen every day. So I called a dear friend of mine who is a wonderful cook and baker and told her about my attempt at baking bread. When she could finally breath again, after giving her the best laugh she'd had in awhile, she said, “Emmy you have to feed the yeast!” Now I trust my friend, but doubt was in my voice when I replied, “I'm sorry, what did you say?” It was then that I finally learned that because yeast is alive, it needs to be fed sugar to cause it to create carbon dioxide, which is what causes the bread to rise.
So, per my friends recommendation, I bought a bread maker – to help make it easier for me to make bread. I will confess that when the first loaf I made came out beautifully, I cried. I did. After 25 years of wishing and hoping I finally made a loaf of bread and it was more wonderful than I could have imagined. Here's what I learned: yeast, in order to produce carbon dioxide needs something sweet to eat. It also needs warmth. Perhaps the most surprising lesson was the importance of salt. When putting the ingredients in the bread maker's pan, the instruction manual says the yeast and salt need to be “far away from each other, but do not leave out the salt as it is important to the process of making it rise.” I don't think there is a more wonderful smell than fresh made yeast bread. It is a sweet smell, one of comfort and, for many, of coming home. This my friends is not unlike the smell of faith rising.
When I first began reflecting on our passage from Luke this morning, it was September 22nd, nine days before our government shut down. At that time I honed in on the last verse, which says, “I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” I happen to like biblical scholar, Fred Craddock's translation of this verse which reads, “When the Son of Man does come, will he find faith still alive among us?” My adventure with baking bread caused me to read this verse as striking at the heart of where we are right now in our history: religiously, spiritually, politically, culturally and so on. Will we give our faith the something sweet to eat, warmth, and needed salt for balance that will cause our faith to rise? Will we knead our faith in this historical climate of undulating landscapes?
In Diana Butler Bass' book, “Christianity After Religion” she speaks about how the word religious and the word spiritual are currently viewed in our time, compared to 10 years ago. She states that according to sociologists P.L. Marler and Kirk Hadaway that, “The most significant finding about the relationship between 'being religious' and 'being spiritual' is that most American's see themselves as both.” Bass goes on to say that this has not always been the case. In 1999, before the “horrible decade” as 2000-2010 is now being referred, Gallup polled Americans asking whether people understood themselves as spiritual or religious. At that time, people answered as follows: 30 percent were Spiritual Only, 54 percent were Religious Only, 6 percent were Both Spiritual AND Religious, and 9 percent were Neither Spiritual or Religious.
In 2009, Princeton Survey Research asked whether respondences considered themselves spiritual or religious. There results, just ten years after the Gallop poll, are a bit startling, but not perhaps in the way one might guess. In 2009 people responded: 30 percent are spiritual only, 9 percent are religious only, 48 percent are spiritual AND religious, and 9 percent are neither spiritual or religious. Notice the shift. The big shift was from people who previously described themselves as religious only, falling dramatically while the number of people who described themselves as spiritual AND religious rose from 6 to 48 percent.
Spirituality AND Religion. Something sweet to eat and needed balancing salt. There is great fear on the undulating church/religion/belief/faith landscape right now. I have heard the terror behind the question of where “church,” as it has been for the past 100 years, is going? There is at lease some animosity towards those who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. Yet remember, the percentage of spiritual but not religious stayed at 30 percent over the past 10 years. What is changing is the desire to knead our faith. What is changing is our desire to be in a religious church community that provides something spiritually sweet to eat in a warm and welcoming community. What has changed is that we are HUNGRY. In fact we are STARVING. We are like bears waking up after a long winter's nap. We have an aching need to feed our faith.
I believe that a part of the anxiety around the changing church landscape is the fact that we, in our desire to grown closer to the Divine, to each other, and to the world, we are the ones causing the changes by stepping out in a leap of faith onto that changing landscape. Metaphorically speaking it is like walking on the “floor” of a bouncy castle, never sure if we will be able to keep our balance, or where we will end up if we or someone else starts to bounce. Whether this changing landscape is one that frightens you or excites you it is clear to me that we all have to be about the task of kneading our faith.
Let me state, for the record that I believe each and everyone of us has a different faith. Just like the uniqueness of your fingerprint or of snowflakes, the faith residing with in each of us is unique. Because of this, we all require different things to feed and need our faith. Oh we all need the sweet, the warmth, and the salt but those things have a lot of variety. For example in bread I can use white or brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave nectar and the list goes on. Are you someone for whom Bible, book or video discussion is your faith sweet? Are you someone for whom serving in soup kitchens, building a house, or collecting coats is your faith sweet? Are you someone for who caring for the sick, comforting the afflicted, or visiting those in jail is your faith sweet? Most likely it is a combination of those and exponentially more sweets.
There is one sweet however, that I believe all people of faith everywhere need. This sweet comes in many different varieties, but I believe that prayer is one of the critical sweets to making our faith rise. Fred Craddock, in a book published in 1990 says, “In a large gathering of persons concerned about certain unfair and oppressive conditions in our society, an elderly black minister read this parable and gave a one sentence interpretation: 'Until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you do not really know what prayer is.' His and our encouragement comes not only in this parable but also in Jesus' own prayer life. Luke says Jesus sometimes prayed all night. And incase you are asking the age old question, how can I keep praying constantly? The point is not to keep the words flowing out of your mouth never ceasing, but to get into the prayer groove of asking, seeking, knocking and waiting. The point is to allow the the prayer be a continual presence in your life that has movements of fast and slow.
In this time of unknowns, unsure of where “church” will look like in 30 years, let alone the rest of our society, we need to faith. Yes, that's correct I just used the word faith as a verb. I think we need to start faithing all the time. I know your faith is hungry – so is mine! I count myself as one of the spiritual AND religious people. Even though, I don't know where I will be in ministry in 30 years, because I don't know what ministry will LOOK like in 30 years. I do know one thing, that if I continue to knead my faith that I will always have hope for the future. You know that sweet smell that wrapped around you this morning when you arrived? That's the smell of hope my friends, that's the smell of faith rising. Amen.