Bread and Baseball Cards
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
I would guess every person here has bought something this weekend. Maybe it was a ticket to the high school football game on Friday night. Maybe gas for your car, a meal out, food from the grocery store. Maybe a gift for someone else, a gift for yourself, an online impulse buy, or an online automatic purchase. Each one of us looked at an object and said, “That thing has value and I will give something that is mine in order to have it.”
Entire economic courses and divisions of companies are dedicated to the how and why of value attribution and pricing structures. The concept of supply and demand is one part of the equation. There’s also the idea that there is an ideal price point that makes the object affordable for the consumer, but still pricy enough for the seller to make a profit. It’s an amazing psychological dance between seller and consumer that produces a world where things for sale for $999 sounds like a much better deal than a similar item that costs $1,001.
In fact, an object’s price is part of what makes it desirable. If Gucci handbags cost only $3, they would cease to be as desirable because everyone could have one. If Fruit of the Loom came out with a pair of underwear that cost $50, no one would buy it; but Under Armour can sell $50 pairs of underwear without breaking a sweat (pun intended).
Speaking of handbags and underwear, let’s bring it back to Jesus.
Jesus is in a bit of a bind. He knows that his physical body will not last forever; in fact, he knows it will not last much longer. And yet, there is nothing more valuable to the world than Jesus’ flesh and blood. The people need the incarnated divinity in their lives even when he is gone.
The very idea of salvation (that is, an intimate and restorative connection to the divine) is found in the incarnation of the divine into the body of a first-century Jewish man – the Word made flesh. So how would Jesus make the gift of salvation available when creation can no longer gaze into his eyes, touch the hem of his cloak, feel his restorative touch, or hear his stories?
Jesus’ surprising solution is to declare that the incarnation of the divine will continue in perpetuity in something as seemingly mundane as bread and wine.
If church and communion have been a part of your life for a long time, you might take this idea for granted. But try to let it sink in anew. The flesh and blood of Jesus of Nazareth is just as infused with divinity as bread and wine that is given and consumed in his name.
This idea has to sound bonkers to economists and marketers. Jesus–the most precious and valuable “thing” in the world–promises to be found in two of the most common physical objects in the world. I mean, can you imagine God placing such value on something so mundane? It would be like if God would look at ash and dust and declare that it is valuable.
Which, by the way, is exactly what God does.
Which, by the way, begs the question, “What is it that we value?”
Do we have the capacity to see the divine in something mundane and easily missed, like ashes, soil, wheat, bread, a poor person, a kid who is bullied, or a person with a physical or mental illness?
Do we have the capacity to ascribe value to the things and people who are overlooked and taken for granted our world? If so, we are walking in the footsteps of the incarnated Christ. If Christ is eternal, then the idea of the common and mundane being valued is an eternal truth.
Allow me to approach this idea from a completely different angle.
I am blessed with a spouse who keeps me organized and forces me to purge things I have accumulated. So one day I was in the basement, at my spouse’s request, looking through the boxes of stuff that my parents had dropped off. A couple boxes were full of baseball cards. Then I found my collection of old comic books. I opened the box and found a note on the top that was handwritten on a piece of paper. It read,
“Hi Aaron! Well it’s 1999 and you’re about to graduate. Cool. These comics are estimated to be worth over $1,000 now. I want you to sell these and use the money towards your tuition.” Signed, “Aaron Stamper.”
It was a letter I wrote to myself over 25 years ago...apparently back when I thought the word "want" had an apostrophe in it. The letter is precious on a number of levels. First, who doesn’t love it when kids write to older versions of themselves? Second, it’s humorous that I thought $1,000 would make much of a dent towards tuition. Third, it’s downright hilarious that I thought those comics would be worth anything at all. It’s an idea that I had regarding my baseball card collection also. I always assumed that the things that gave me so much joy, like comics and baseball cards, would only grow in value and that I could capitalize on them at a later date.
I had Lindsey read the letter, and of course she laughed…and then she told me to get rid of them. So I did. I got rid of MOST of them – the cards, that is...I couldn't part with the comics. But I also gave a few baseball cards to my boys – a completely random assortment of late-80s baseball players with mustaches and a surprising number of pastel uniforms. We sat together to sort them by team and rank them by which teams and players were best back then. Next, we used the cards to play games the boys dreamed up.
Those cards and comics didn’t make me rich or even pay for one cent of my college tuition. I never could monetize them. But there was something beautiful about watching my kids play with things that I valued, but which they valued for a completely different reason.
The eternal truth I proclaim this morning is that the things we think are valuable often end up insignificant; but the things that are truly valuable are the things that are all-too-easily overlooked.
The meal we share every week is financially insignificant. I mean, a prime rib dinner would be a much more impressive meal than a humble offering of bread and a couple drops of wine. And yet is the most outrageously valuable thing any of us will touch, taste, smell, or see. Only when we realize this can we then go out into the world and see everything and everyone, no matter how seemingly-insignificant, as truly valuable.