I was reminded again this week of a sermon I once preached on baking a Jesus Cake. Those who know me will quickly realise how unusual this type of sermon is for me and therefore perhaps why I will never live it down. It starts like this...
Talking about God is notoriously difficult. Dr Val Webb describes it as trying to catch water in a net. Most of us can relate to the challenge of trying to communicate something that doesn't easily fit into words. You hear a great new song on the radio - how do you tell someone about it in a way that completely captures the rhythms, the harmonies, the melodic movements? You have a fantastic meal in a restaurant - but you just can't recreate it at home from taste alone. Jack Spong talks about the Biblical record capturing a movement from Experience to Exclamation and then to Explanation. Each stage inevitably dilutes the fulness of the previous one. Jesus spoke in Aramaic in the first decades of the first century. His story was recorded in Greek in the last decades of that century and we read about him in English two thousand years later on the other side of the world. It would be ridiculous to assume that something hasn't been lost in translation. The explanations will always differ but perhaps there is a core experience that is shared nonetheless.
We can never really duplicate our own experiences in order to communicate them, because they are always filtered through the personal background and cultural understandings of other people. Sometimes we might well wonder why we even bother at all? However, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. For those of us that have found the experience of the sacred to be transformative, who continue to find deep meaning in the ancient words of the scriptures, who sense the presence of God’s spirit to be at work in the world today – we often feel that to keep this to ourselves would be wrong, that the best response to these things is to share them with others.
When I first came to faith, I thought that there was only one way to be a Christian. I now realise that it's more like baking a cake – some like to do it from the box, others have a favourite recipe, some like to make it up as they go. When we make the decision to be a Christian, we enter into a wonderful tradition of cake makers! We're talking about 2000 years of tried and tested recipes that are still evolving. Jesus cake isn't a single flavour and it isn't always topped or filled the same way or with the same ingredients. Of course sometimes we mess it up and it tastes awful, not at all like what we were intending.
The recipe for Jesus cake is based on an even older recipe which we see in the Hebrew scriptures. When we search that tradition, we find a number of explanations about God and humanity, some of which we would now instantly reject and others which we continue to find meaningful. Sometimes we need to adapt rather than simply adopt and it's possible to do this while still being true to the tradition.
Being part of a faith community is about sharing our recipes and learning to bake together. Consider today what we might be able to learn from one another in our own journeys as we travel together with the history of Christianity behind us and the future in front. Ask yourself how your cooking is going? Are you still learning? Has your cake lost its flavour?