The Breaking of Bread Today

A Sermon by Rev. Julian Duckworth

Text: Luke 9.16

Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.

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‘And Jacob said, Behold, I have heard that there is provision in Egypt.’ This word ‘provision’ here stands for a word which means ‘a breaking’ in the original language. The reason for this is that in the Ancient Church bread was broken when it was given to another, by which action was meant the sharing of what was one’s own and the passing of good from oneself to another to be his own. Thus it meant making love mutual. For when someone breaks bread and gives it to another he is sharing with him what is his own. Or when a loaf is broken and shared among many, the single loaf becomes one shared mutually by all, and all are consequently joined together through charity.

What do you think of when I say that something is breaking or has been broken? Maybe it’s your washing machine or your computer, or your leg, or your will-power. Perhaps it’s a friend’s marriage after twenty three years. Or the recent strong gales in Sydney which broke huge branches off so many trees. Or maybe it is yourself, under stress in a fast and demanding world, finding it hard to cope and breaking under the strain. It’s a real shame that our first association with something breaking tends to be with these sorts of things, things or people breaking down, breaking up, falling apart, coming to an end.

Let me remind you that there is the other side to ‘breaking’ which, because it’s gentler and quieter, doesn’t come so quickly to mind. There is of course, every morning, the daybreak, the break of day as the sun rises. There is your breakfast as you put morning food into your body to energise you for the day ahead of you, and you break your night’s fasting. And more spiritually, there are those amazing breakthroughs when you see something, feel something or can do something that you’ve never seen or felt or done before and the world – your world – feels a very different place than it did only yesterday. And so on. So things can sometimes ‘break’ in very positive and purposeful ways.

And let’s add another insight into this idea, that many (if not all) of the situations in which anything breaks – whether it’s the computer or your marriage or your mind – these bring the same opportunities for change and growth and newness that we might think of at daybreak, breakfast or during one of those personal breakthroughs. Breaking down can be the means of breaking the mould. Breaking up is a chance to break through into new things, new ways.

I’m going to re-read that passage from our church’s teachings which is on your service sheet and this time I would like you to follow it carefully and get into what it’s really trying to say. ‘And Jacob said, Behold, I have heard that there is provision in Egypt.’ This word ‘provision’ here stands for a word which means ‘a breaking’ in the original language. The reason for this is that in the Ancient Church bread was broken when it was given to another, by which action was meant the sharing of what was one’s own and the passing of good from oneself to another to be his own. Thus it meant making love mutual. For when someone breaks bread and gives it to another he is sharing with him what is his own. Or when a loaf is broken and shared among many, the single loaf becomes one shared mutually by all, and all are consequently joined together through charity.

Breaking involves sharing and distribution. Breaking bread brings mutual love and unity through charity. Strangely the bread itself which is broken into lots of little pieces actually brings everybody who eats a morsel of it together into the same company partaking of the one original loaf which is the Lord of course, who is the Bread of Life. The Lord offers Himself like this and says ‘Share Me among you. Share Me among you so that each of you receives Me and then you will come together in My name.’ Jesus took the bread and fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. And it goes on to say … So they all ate and were filled. Breaking bread means making love … mutual. When someone breaks bread and gives it to another he is sharing with him what is his own. But you’ve got to see it happening both ways … you the giver, you the sharer, but also you the receiver, you the gainer. And THAT is what we’re all about. If you ever get the idea of mutual love you will understand everything there is to understand, and if you go further and practise this mutual love you will taste the bread of heaven which comes down and gives life to the world.

The Lord gives you your life – your bread – but He gives it to you in a special way full of great respect. He so generously allows you to find things out for yourself. He allows you to explore all the possibilities, all the philosophies, so that you can make up your own mind. He doesn’t force anything on you at all. And what’s more, He allows you to go through a whole range of different experiences, some of them are wonderful (fresh-baked bread), some of them are hard (like rusks), some of them are just plain ordinary and boring (yesterday’s cold pizza), some of them are passionate (apple strudel). There they are, the Lord’s gifts, these breads of life. And it is up to you to use them and see the process, this creative process of how He is constantly leading you on but never once demanding or forcing you against your will. He is simply inviting you to supper and the breaking of the bread of this mutual love … the Lord and you, you and the Lord.

But it’s not only us and God. We’re also in this together, in community, which is another of the Lord’s great gifts of course. Here we are today, Saturday 20th September 2003, celebrating 150 years impressive continual community of this church, the Melbourne Society, in this building and in others before it. But mercifully for you I am no historian.

What I do want to do, in terms of a celebration, is to tell you what I believe the New Church is all about, and why I am personally happy to be in the New Church and stay in it for ever. I’ve just shared with you a truth about God and His huge respect for you and me, and the freedom that comes from this respect. I believe that is what the true New Church is about, about encouraging people to think about their beliefs, what feels true to them, and to stay alongside them in their journey, without making them or expecting them to fit some kind of pattern. That is the noblest gift we can give. It allows us to break bread together, both ways. For when someone breaks bread and gives it to another he is sharing with him what is his own. Or when a loaf is broken and shared among many, the single loaf becomes one shared mutually by all, and all are consequently joined together through charity.

But don’t get me wrong. This open-mindedness doesn’t mean that we are all things to all people and don’t really believe in anything much. If you DO know anything about the New Church you will know that while we don’t have hundreds of people we do have hundreds of books. We have a complete theology and a very wholesome one at that. But that theology is based on freedom and responsibility. So the one thing we stand for is your right to find out for yourself and make up your own mind. We are fervently dogmatic about your freedom! Because God is too.

And what this means, in a very real and wonderful way, is that we can accommodate a very wide range of outlooks and approaches and we’d even encourage that because we will all grow in the sharing of ideas and experiences together. It’s our breaking of bread. You share yours with me, I share mine with you. And we use a special word “charity” which really means having the Lord in our mind while we’re swapping and exchanging; having the Lord there so that we look on someone else’s feelings and ideas with acceptance and good grace. When a loaf is broken and shared among many, the single loaf becomes one shared mutually by all, and all are consequently joined together through charity. And that’s essential, because in breaking bread it would be all too easy for us to say Hey your bit’s bigger than mine. My piece is better than yours. And then we’ve lost it.

The other day, there was a radio news item about health. They were talking about the common cold. We tend to think you catch a cold by being too close to people but what they’ve recently discovered is that people who socialise actually catch less colds that people who keep more to themselves. So socialising is good for your health. We always knew it was good for the soul. For by breaking the Lord’s bread together and sharing ourselves in mutual love, we strengthen ourselves and gain immunity.

The world we now live in is breaking down many longstanding bastions, heralding a future that is different from the present or the past. I for one celebrate that development because it demands we face up to our own individuality. But hopefully we will continue to do that together in the breaking and sharing of the Lord’s bread among us, to the benefit of us all.

Amen.

Welcoming all people to be part of a living community serving the Lord and encouraging personal development