What We Don’t Know About Bread - thrive UMC Official Blog

What We Don’t Know About Bread

1 Corinthians 5:6-13

            Since most of us have probably forgotten about what Paul had to say to us two weeks ago, I thought I’d offer a bit of a quick refresher.  In our last reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul had told the predominately Gentile church in chapter 4 not to judge anything before the right time.  They were to “wait until the Lord comes.”  He had also told them that the purpose of the letter wasn’t to shame them, but it was to warn them –“since you are,” he says, “my beloved children.”  And in our last message of this series, we talked about becoming free from shame.

            Today we’re going to hear Paul talk out of the other side of his mouth.  It turns out that someone in the church is causing a scandal by having inappropriate and illegal relations with their step-mother!  Let’s pick it up in 1 Corinthians, chapter5, verses 6-13.  It says this:

Your bragging isn’t good! Don’t you know that a tiny grain of yeast makes a whole batch of dough rise? Clean out the old yeast so you can be a new batch of dough, given that you’re supposed to be unleavened bread. Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed, so let’s celebrate the feast with the unleavened bread of honesty and truth, not with old yeast or with the yeast of evil and wickedness.

I wrote to you in my earlier letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 But I wasn’t talking about the sexually immoral people in the outside world by any means—or the greedy, or the swindlers, or people who worship false gods—otherwise, you would have to leave the world entirely! 11 But now I’m writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls themselves “brother” or “sister” who is sexually immoral, greedy, someone who worships false gods, an abusive person, a drunk, or a swindler. Don’t even eat with anyone like this. 12 What do I care about judging outsiders? Isn’t it your job to judge insiders? 13 God will judge outsiders. Expel the evil one from among you![a]

            So here we see Paul say, in chapter 4, ‘don’t judge too quickly –wait until the Lord comes;’ and now, in the very next chapter, he’s asking the whole community: isn’t it your job to judge each other?  And what’s more, in 4:14, he says, “14 I’m not writing these things to make you ashamed but to warn you, since you are my loved children.” but then a little later, in 6:5 he turns around and says “I’m saying this because you should be ashamed of yourselves! Isn’t there one person among you who is wise enough to pass judgment between believers?”

            Just by reading this, I get a sense of whiplash: I mean, which is it Paul?  Are we supposed to judge people –or refrain from judgment?  Should we feel ashamed of ourselves or not?   Are we sinners, or are we forgiven?  On the surface, it seems like such a blatant contradiction –because you can’t simultaneously judge and not judge someone.  But then you get into the weeds of what these people were going through, it starts to become more and more of a mess!
            Here they have, in their own community, someone who is committing a grievous and very public sexual offense: a member of their church is having sex with a women who, in today’s terms, is his step-mom.  It’s his dad’s wife.  And that was, back then, not only totally gross, but also illegal, according to Roman law.  And, by the way, the Romans were not exactly what you would call prudes when it came to sex.  In fact, by Paul’s Pharisaic standards, all normal Romans were already total pervs. So to have someone doing something that even the Romans considered to be completely taboo, and then to have it become a public scandal –and then to hear that no one else in the church is doing anything about it is a problem for Paul!

            And more than that, it is a problem for the whole church. It has developed a terrible public reputation; there are power-struggles among the leadership; there are moral outrages happening among the people; and then, to top it all off, there is a complete absence of any kind of social accountability.  In short, the whole thing is a mess! It’s a ship that’s getting ready to go down; and before that last, crushing wave hits, Paul decides, hey, with the whole sex-scandal going on, now is the perfect time to talk about bread.

            Seems like the most logical transition, right?  ‘So you’ve got some incest going on, let me tell you a thing or two about bread.

            But this is actually a really powerful metaphor –if you know how bread is made.  But for most of us, of course –bread is a thing that comes from Hy-Vee, in hermetically-sealed plastic bags.  Does it grow on trees; what are the ingredients –we don’t know!

            (Have any of you made fresh bread from scratch before?)

            Probably a few out there know how to make it; but let me educate the rest of you –because I had to spend 30 minutes on youtube this past week looking it up.  There are, in its most simple form, only two ingredients you need to make bread.  Water and flour; that’s it.  Kneed those two ingredients together in the right proportions, roll it out, and throw it on a hot skillet and you can half fresh flat bread in about 10 minutes.  But most of us would try that and go: that is definitely not going to win any bread contests. It would taste and feel like it’s missing something. 

            And what it’s missing –for those of you who know how to make good bread- it’s missing a little salt, a little oil or lard, and most of all it’s missing –that’s right, fungus!  We call it yeast, but that’s what yeast is –it’s a single-celled variety of fungus, which feeds off of grain.  Now: most households in Paul’s day probably would have had a jar sitting around somewhere which functioned as a yeast farm.  And as it turns out, starting your own yeast farm is pretty easy: you just take a little soggy dough you’ve kneeded up—flour and a little extra water, and you let it sit.  And after about three or so days, the soggy dough will start to look a little like a sponge, because the fungus has spread and released gas, which makes the bubbles. And that’s what gives bread it’s desirable texture and unique flavor: fungal flatulence. And different strains of yeast can yield different flavors of bread.  Anyways, back then, every time you want to bake a new batch of bread, you’d kneed in a little of the yeasty dough into the fresh dough, then let it set until it rises, and then bake it –viola, delicious bread. 

            But here’s the thing Paul wants to point out: as everyone would have known back then, your yeast-farm can, and will, stagnate and go rancid. To keep any yeast-culture going, you have to take some of the old dough out, and mix in new flour and fresh water on a weekly basis.  If it sets too long; or if it gets too wet or warm; or if other unwanted microbes start to grow alongside it, the yeast is ruined. You will know this by the smell.  Once that happens, there is no cleansing or salvaging it –even today, you have to throw it out and start all over.  And once your yeast went bad, it meant you had to eat dense flatbread until your new yeast culture matured (or borrow a bit of your neighbor’s yeast).

            Of course the Jewish people had a long-standing practice of tossing out their yeast-farms every year at Passover.  At the start of each season of the grain harvest, they would get rid of their old yeast, eat unleavened bread for a week, and then start a whole new culture together.  There are lots of rich and complicated reasons for this; but on a very practical level, it was a powerful illustration for starting over.  It was a new season, a new harvest, a new flavor, a new life.  And the flatbread was a very tangible symbol of a new, but humble beginning.  This why Paul tells the church in Corinth: “clean out the old yeast so that you can be a new batch of dough, given that you’re supposed to be unleavened bread.” As a new kind of community in Christ, they are supposed to be a new life!  It is not their job to preserve what had been; their purpose is to be a clean slate.   He then goes on to explain that Christ is the Passover lamb, who has been sacrificed, to initiate a new era, and a new celebration.  Therefore, that whole old culture has to be tossed out –pagan and Jewish alike. They’ve got to let go and get rid of it. Their kitchen smells like a rancid grave –everyone’s walking around holding their nose.  So of course no one wants anything to do with their bread  –because it’s no good! It might even kill them.  Because they’re baking with bad yeast.  Their culture has gone wretchedly sour. 

            Brothers and sisters, are we grasping the picture Paul is painting for us?  In just a moment, we’re going to share the Eucharist –the great thanksgiving.  And we’re going to celebrate it by sharing bread and wine.  Both of them are the rich and nourishing foods that were transformed from their original elements by an invisible culture of yeast. Grain and water are mixed, and left to sit to rise.  Then they’re passed through the fires of trial and suffering to become bread.  Then the fruit of the vine is taken and smashed until its blood runs out.  And then it sits in a dark tomb for a while, until it is, at the right time poured out, transformed, as wine –a drink of a powerful spirit.  Jesus says to his disciples, come, this is my body; this is my blood  –it is the stuff of transformation.  Join me –be transformed with me. Become a new people enriched by the Holy Spirit!

            But we cannot do this, we cannot join the living Christ if we’re stuck hanging on to our old ways. If the yeast culture isn’t continually divided and renewed it will stagnate, and sour, and rot.  In fact, it will stagnate anyway, just with time.  So don’t get attached to the medium –the stuff; be invested instead in the process. We –you and I, we’re like a bakery.  The yeast, the grains, the loaves, the ovens –even the bakers- they will all come and go.  And that’s okay.  Our purpose is to stay focused in making the best –the richest, the most nourishing and flavorful bread we can. For we have been charged with nothing less than feeding the world with the Bread of Life. Therefore, we’ve got to be ready to let go of all the temporary and transitory stuff.  And sometimes that means we’ll have to say ‘good bye’ to some people.  Because some people won’t want to change. They’re too invested in that old culture –what they used to do, and who they used to be; and they won’t accept any innovation that the Holy Spirit is ushering in at this new moment.  Simply put: some people won’t be on the side of transformation with Christ.  And we have to take great care that their example of stagnation or rot does not overwhelm the whole body.  

            To that, Paul tells us all: it’s time folks.  Judgment day has arrived.  “Isn’t it your job to judge insiders?” he asks.  We will be known by our fruit and by our bread.  It is up to us to ask: is it any good?  If not, it’s time to clean the kitchen. It’s time to toss out the old culture and grow a new one.  And that means that we’ll have to eat flatbread, the bread of humility, for a while.

            But also, let’s not forget the other side of judgement: sometimes we can smell the bread and decide: this is so good!  And because its good, that gives us cause for celebration and for joy.  Wherever there is good ministry, good bread –let’s lift it up and acknowledge what God is doing in our midst, because we are and we have been richly blessed!

            Before we close today, I wanted to share a little bit about our next type on the Enneagram, which is type 5, ‘The Investigator.’  Their basic Desire is to be capable and competent.  (They simply want to be able to do what is required of them.)

Fives are alert, insightful, and curious. They are able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. Independent, innovative, and inventive, they can also become preoccupied with their thoughts and imaginary constructs. They become detached, yet high-strung and intense. They typically have problems with eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation.

At their Best: visionary pioneers, often ahead of their time, and able to see the world in an entirely new way.


            If you’re wondering if you might be a 5, here are four sentiments that 5’s tend to resonate with:

  • “I like to get into things in depth and pore over details until I’ve figured something out as completely as possible.”
  • “I need time alone.”
  • “Other people would think I’m crazy if they knew what I was thinking most of the time.”
  • “When you really think about it, you can’t get much stranger than so-called normal behavior.”

The gift of 5’s is their ability to detach and see and sense things a little more objectively.  And because they can detach themselves from the moment and from their own position within it, healthy 5s can make excellent and fair judges in sensitive times.  They tend to have sharp noses, and can help pick out what’s worth celebrating, and what might be ready to be pitched.      

So here are some tips for Spiritual Growth for the 5’s in all of us. 

  • Let feelings arise naturally, in the present. Then you can let them go.
  • Try sharing more of your life with others, trusting they won’t misuse the information
  • Take up yoga or another activity that will connect you with your body. Overcoming the disconnect between your body and head will be life changing.

Let’s pray