On Monday evening, I gathered with some of the elders in our church parlor, our usual monthly meeting to put our hearts and heads together in service to Christ and to you. We begin the evening with time for worship, prayer and hearing God's Word. Just earlier in the day, amidst a handful of other things I was working on, I flipped open a devotional book in order to find the Gospel reading assigned for that day. It was Mark 6:30-44, the well known story of Jesus feeding five thousand men out in the middle of nowhere, much to the surprise of the disciples who were ready to send the potentially unruly crowd back to the city for McDonald's or Subway.
After Lisa Cooper read the story, I commented on how often this drama continues to play out between us and Jesus: we see only limitations and scarcity, our minds dominated by the reality of this world ... 5,000 hungry families and only five measly loaves of bread and two salty fish from Galilee; economic uncertainty and mounting costs! But, I also remembered another important message that is contained in this story. It involves the four things Jesus does with the bread that is given to him. He takes it. He gives thanks for it (blesses it). He then breaks the bread, and - finally - he gives it to his disciples.
Taken. Blessed. Broken. Given.
In almost every instance where Jesus celebrates a meal, he uses these four words (it may be in every instance). Not surprisingly, those four words have become the four key words that I and every other Christian servant uses during the Lord's Supper. The minister takes the bread from the plate. She lifts it unto God and gives thanks. She digs into the hard crust with her thumbs and tears it apart as small crumbs litter the white cloth on the table. And, she gives it to the elders and deacons as they take it to the people. Taken. Blessed. Broken. Given.
This is all clear enough. Nothing profound about that. But, it has long been understood that these four words capture the essence of being Jesus' disciple. This is what it looks like to live by faith: Taken. Blessed. Broken. Given.
We are taken. God takes us, chooses us. We do not choose God. We feel we are quite ordinary, maybe even useless bread, but then by God's grace we are called for. We are desired. And we find ourselves being employed by God. Jesus has a purpose for us.
And to make it even better than that, Jesus blesses us. In the concrete reality of our baptism, but also in the thousand God-moments of our life, we find God is not impartial and indifferent. God is actually looking out for us and blessing us. He is pouring upon us the things we need. We are called beloved. We are told that riches material and immaterial are guaranteed and bestowed upon us through Christ. When God blesses us in this way, we are overjoyed. To be a Christian, to be God's child, is better than we could have ever imagined. And when we have experienced this, we openly and lovingly confess our faith: "Yes, I'm a Christian. Yes, I want to give God my everything." We have gone from being an ordinary loaf of bread to being holy bread; we have gone from stumbling around on the margins to being someone of worth invited to God's table. But, we have experienced just two of the four words. We still must be broken. We still must experience being given for the sake of others.
Broken: it is this word more than any that causes us to give up the faith. If our church or our minister promised us only pleasure and joy and success, it is our faith that breaks. We feel taken all over again, only this time we look the fool. But, the better mentor, the loving community reminds us that the third word is necessary. Before we can be fully Christ's beloved, we must be cleansed. We must be purified as the precious metal must experience the refiner's fire. So, God takes us, blesses us, and then breaks everything we are holding onto that is not of Christ: our dreams, our own plans, our own systems of salvation, our own means of success. God breaks our little, selfish plans for creating and enjoying our own Kingdom here on earth. And, as we kneel holding the broken pieces of "our life" in our hand, God lifts our head, and we see the Kingdom of God breaking out and breaking into this world in a million different ways.
Then we are ready, and we are sent. Cleansed of the delusion that we can build God's Kingdom through our strength, or our ingenuity, or our political designs, we are ready to be used by God as God wants to use us, as God the Father used the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit to be that messianic light breaking into all places of darkness. And, yes, more often than not, the places we are sent are the very places that we would not have chosen ourselves. We realize we have been called and blessed so that we can go right back down into those places where people are feeling all too ordinary, trapped and spoiled to ever feel they deserve even a minute of God's attention and love.
In a very definite way, by God's grace and by our willingness to be caught up in God's great and gracious plan for our lives, these four, simple words define and describe our life.
For some of us, these four words sometimes mark very definite moments in our faith journey. We can remember a definite moment when God called us or blessed us or even broke us. But, most of the time, the process is fluid, and - in fact - it is not uncommon to find that God sometimes takes us back to certain points. We may have an experience of feeling called in a very specific way as a young man or woman, only to discover God calling us in a whole new way when we become a parent or when we have advanced in our careers. I guess we're kinda like laundry in that way. Sometimes we need a few spins in the cycle in order to get the job done!
If you're someone who journals, you might take some time to think about how this has been true for you. And, you can ask yourself what word seems to best define your life right now. Also consider where God might be sending you these days. Is there a specific relationship or situation or organization that you can think of where you might be called to share the light you've received from Christ with those who are in darkness?
And know this: however you feel right now, know that just as Jesus had his hands on that bread way back on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he still has his hands on you. Jesus has come to take your ordinary life and to do marvelous things with you and for you, even if it means he tears us and shares us as well.