Gaps in courage

July 20, 2009

Bread summer is upon us. Few lectionary preachers are thrilled about coming up with five consecutive sermons on John 6,
the bread of life discourse. You may decide that in Year B, the 17th
through 21st Sundays in Ordinary Time are a fine time for preaching on
the Old Testament or epistle readings, going off the lectionary or
welcoming guest preachers. But
Barbara Cawthorne Crafton has agreed to write five posts focusing only
on the Gospel of John readings. She'll also be including a bread recipe
with each—use this for communion, or a snack to get you through a late
Saturday night of especially difficult sermon writing—Ed.

There
is enough. In fact, there is more than enough. Jesus knows this, but
nobody else seems to. Why would they? They can count—five loaves and two
fish versus all those people. So it's just Jesus and the little boy
against all the voices of common sense.

One of the hardest things
about life together in an institution like the church is the tension
between the responsibility of leadership and the possibility of vision.
Being a leader forces a person to become very protective of what is, but that very protectiveness can make it hard to respond to what might be.
One can become such a good custodian of the past and the present that
the future is unimaginable except in the terms of what we already know.

The
future is by definition unknowable: you can make educated guesses about
it based on what you know, but there will always be an element you
cannot predict. What makes selling a vision for the future especially
hard is that you can bet that some of your usual supporters won't
support you. They can't, because you can't give them a diagram or a
photograph of a vision. Your vision throws them back upon their trust in
you, and this is hard on them and on you.

Have you been faithful
and dependable in the past? Do they know you want the good things they
want? How willing will they be to follow you into something neither you
nor they can fully predict?

Here, Jesus relies exclusively on
that kind of trust. He doesn't "bring them along" or "get them on the
same page" in any of the ways a management consultant might advise
someone who hopes to be what the consultant would call "a change agent."
Without explanation, Jesus tells the bewildered disciples to sit the
people down and distribute an amount of food that is clearly not enough.
They obey. Don't try this at a vestry meeting.

It may well be
that some of the people to whom you will preach on this passage are
dealing with the challenge of an unknowable institutional future right
now. Maybe you've butted heads about it at meetings, meetings in which
you've pleaded for them to have the courage to walk into the future and
they've dragged their feet. Or maybe you've been the foot-dragger,
uncomfortable in the role of The One Who Doesn't Want Change but aware
that you are responsible to a wider swath of the community than they
are. Maybe you wish that you could always Just Do It. But you can't, not
always.

Maybe this is simply where we live: in the tension
between the gaps in our own courage and the gaps in the courage of
others, prisoners alternately of our own lack of imagination and that of
others. That's why we arrange our common life with the checks and
balances we have and why organizational change can be so slow. The
impatience we feel is built into them.

----

This summer
offers five straight weeks of gospel readings about bread, which ought
to just about do it for our bread needs. Accordingly, each of my five
posts will include a bread recipe. Here is this week's:

Whole Wheat Bread

Sprinkle
1 envelope active dry yeast over 1 cup warm water. Stir and let stand
while you mix 2 cups hot milk, 1/2 cup honey and 1tsp salt, using a
mixer with a dough hook or a stout spoon. Add the yeast mixture.

Begin
adding flours, mixing in 1 cup at a time: 1 cup white flour, 4 cups
whole wheat. You may also substitute other grains in this: 1 cup corn
meal, 1 cup oatmeal (which helps gentle the texture a bit) or other
grains.

Add more flours and mix until dough is stiff, then knead
with hook or by hand until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes. In all you
may be adding 6-7 cups of flours; it's difficult to be exact.

Turn
the mixture into a greased large bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise
in a warm place until double, about 90 minutes. Punch down and turn out
onto board. Divide into two equal portions and shape into two loaves.
Place in loaf pans, cover and let rise again, about 45 minutes. Bake at
375ºfor 30 minutes, or until nice and golden.

Barbara Cawthorne Crafton is an Episcopal priest and retreat leader. She founded The Geranium Farm, an online institute for the promotion of spiritual growth, which publishes her "Almost Daily eMo" series of short essays.