Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hot Cross Buns

Matthew 7: 7-11
You might remember a rhyme about Hot Cross Buns, those delectable little buns that begin appearing in bakeries on Good Friday.

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
one a
penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters,
give them to your sons.
One a penny two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

My dad, whom I think you all know by now was a baker, always brought home hot cross buns for our Good Friday consumption.  If you haven’t had a hot cross bun they are spiced sweet buns filled with raisins or currents and they are marked with a cross on the top either in yummy white icing or cut right into the dough.  Good Friday and Hot cross buns mark the end of Lent and the cross on top of the bun is a reminder of the crucifixion of Jesus and the spices are symbolic of the embalming spices used for his burial.  Although there are other traditions and stories that go along with these delicious little buns that is the one I grew up with.

So it’s always this time of year that I think about my dad and hot cross buns and begin to develop a hankerin’ for them.  When I read the scripture for today from Matthew I was reminded of Hot Cross Buns in a circuitous sort of way.  Stick with me on this!

This is the final sermon in our series entitled, Stone by Stone.  Each week we have offered a scripture reading for reflection that used stones or rocks as a metaphor to help us think about our lives in light of the Lenten season.  We’ve given you visual reminders in some form of a rock to take home with you each week that, I hope, have been helpful.  I promise you that I will not disappoint you this week because I have yet some final stones to be given out.  They remarkably resemble Hot Cross Buns to remind you of God’s goodness and love.

Our scripture today is one that is familiar from the Gospel of Matthew.  It is set within the context of the Sermon on the Mount although it is at almost the tail end of his sermon.  Jesus’ sermon presents his ethical teachings and lines out the ways in which we are to live.  In this passage he is exhorting us about prayer.   From the seventh chapter of Matthew:

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?  Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

So what, you might ask, do hot cross buns have to do with holy writ?  Well you see it’s the part about the child asking for bread that shakes up the grey matter in my head.  Perhaps because I’m a granny now, or because I have fond memories of my dad. When I asked for bread as a kid I received bread, and when I asked for brownies I received brownies and the same for chocolate donuts, my father never would have brought home a stone or even would have thought about boxing up some pebbles or rocks for me to eat while I watched Saturday morning cartoons.  No, he was a kind and gentle man who knew what I loved, knew what was good for me and granted my wishes, in moderation, of course.  I was never presented a hunk of granite to gnaw on.

Jesus’ argument is pretty simple here, in fact he couldn’t make it any plainer.  It’s his charter for prayer.  The rabbi’s might ask, ‘is there a father who ever hates his son?’  And Jesus asks would a father ever harm his child?  Of course not!  Even those who are evil, he says, still give good gifts to their children, not gifts that would harm them.

In this passage Jesus presents us with two solid facts about prayer.  The first is that God answers our prayers with wisdom and with love.  Our prayers are met with God’s grace and are infused  with divine understanding so that we ultimately receive what it is that God wants us to have or the way God wants us to be. 

So it is appropriate to think about the ways in which God has offered us bread rather than stones when we have asked, and the way in which God offers us salvation and forgiveness through the cross of Christ, the cross magnified even on sweet little buns.  Our prayers are always answered.  That is a promise.  And they are offered in the form of life giving metaphorical bread. 

‘Bread is the staff of life’, they say, we cannot live without it and the bonus here is that our daily bread comes in all forms.  If you think about it, all gifts from God, consumable or not, are bread in essence because gifts from God are life-giving.  And so are God’s ‘answers’ to our prayers even though the ways in which they are answered and the time that it takes for an answered prayer is usually and most often different than what we expect or hope for.  God’s time and our time, not similar.  God’s knowledge of all things and our knowledge of all things, well you can’t even compare that. So that’s the disappointing reality of prayer if in fact it’s all about you, and you getting what you want.

The second fact that Jesus is bringing to our attention is that we need to be unrelenting in our life of prayer even when it appears that it’s not going the way we want it to.  Ask, he says, search, knock keep on, keep on keep on praying, that’s your obligation.  Be persistent in your efforts and your efforts will not go unnoticed.  Praying is so good for the soul and perhaps (and often) it needs no answer.  I feel better when I pray, when I bring every last thing that is weighing me down before the Lord it releases the heavy burden off of my shoulders.  And when I am grateful just expressing it to the divine and wondrous God brings me joy.  No expectations, just here I am Lord, in gratitude, keep me in your grace.

The poet Mary Oliver writes in her book ‘Thirst’ a short poem about praying: 

It doesn’t have to be the blue iris,
it could be weeds in a vacant lot,
or a few small stones;
just pay attention,
then patch a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate,
this isn’t a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”[i]

God’s voice, our listening.  Our prayers needn’t be fancy, in fact words really aren’t even needed.  Just your persistent and willing presence placed in the presence of God is what prayer is all about.  Ask and it shall be given you, the door will be flung open wide and God will always offer you a loaf of life affirming bread.  Or maybe, if you’re lucky, a hot cross bun instead.


[i] Oliver, Mary.  Thirst. Beacon Press 2006

Pastoral Prayer
Abundant and life giving God we humbly come before you now in prayer.  You above all else are glorified and great and so we offer our grateful praise to you.  We know you want fancy words or correct grammar from us, just a willing and sincere heart placed in your presence.  So here we are, your beloved children asking and seeking.  There is a lot that is on our minds today and so much that resides within our spirit so we entreat you now to bend your compassionate ear towards us and hear us as we pray….

For a healing balm upon those who are ill in body, mind or spirit (mental illness, addiction)
For the consolation that resurrected life brings and peace we pray for those who mourn or grieve
For our country and the men and women who serve in the armed forces we lift up before you Kristin, Michael, Eugene, Nicholas, Gabe, Jason, William, Joshua, Zachery, Justin and Ryan grant them strength and fortitude.
For the newest members of this your gathered community of faith we pray for the hand of Christian fellowship be extended far beyond this day.
For Orange Congregational Church during this time of redevelopment and for the church world wide we pray for guidance and for discernment of our future through you.
Instill within us a thirst for knowledge and may the spirit of joy be with us today.

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