Posted by: smstrouse | August 6, 2018

Bread of Life – And No Carbs!

31821_sfs-sourdough-8If you know me, you’ve probably figured out one thing about me: I like to eat. And one of my favorite foods is – bread. Any kind of bread: wheat, rye, pumpernickel, and of course since moving to the Bay Area, sourdough. I also love anything made with bread dough: pizza, pretzels, bread bowls, you name it. Maybe the same is true for some of you. Maybe we would also share another thing: the fact that our love for food can cause problems. Bread, in particular, can be a nemesis for the diabetic and gluten intolerant, as well as the weight-conscious among us. As much as it breaks my heart, I know I have to limit my intake.

So it’s with mixed feelings that I entered into the series of gospel reading for the next imagesseveral weeks, which are all about – bread. It started last week and will go on for the rest of the summer. Which is kind of strange. You may not have noticed this, but up until last week, we were reading from the gospel of Mark. We’ll go back to Mark in September. But in between, the lectionary (schedule of assigned readings) has thrown in five weeks from the gospel of John. It’s as if the creators of the lectionary have announced,
We interrupt our regularly scheduled program with this important message from John.
It’s weird in a way because we’ve jumped out of the earliest of the gospels into the latest (at least 20 years after Mark), from Mark’s no-frills, just-the-facts Ma’am account into John’s more mystical and metaphorical creation.

So we need to shift gears a bit to figure out what’s going on. Five gospel passages from the same chapter that go on – and on – about bread. It must have been really important for John because he takes a whole chapter to talk about it. But I mean, how much can you really say? Bread of life: we get it.

But I actually like this detour we’re taking. Maybe it’s because I struggle with food that I appreciate the necessity of wrestling with what John is trying to tell us in these passages. Of course, we know that what John is talking about here is Jesus, the Bread of Life – not your everyday pumpernickel. It’s one of the many ways that John tries to convey the immensity of who and what Jesus was and is. In this case, he confronts us with the question: How is it that God is trying to feed us with food that gives life?

one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other-27204709Last week, it was (on the face of it) all about physical hunger and physical food. Jesus fed 5000 people with just five loaves of bread and two small fish. The other gospel writers also tell the story, but John has his own unique way of telling it. If you had one of those pictures that showed the four gospels and said “one of these things is not like the others,” you’d have to pick John, who has crafted a way of portraying the Jesus story through the use of metaphors, particularly the seven “I Am’ sayings, like the Good Shepherd, the Vine, and of course the Bread of Life.

He also doesn’t use the word ‘miracle’ to describe some of the works of Jesus; they’re called ‘signs.’ Again, there are seven – another way of telling that he’s using a lot of symbolism. The first sign was the changing of water to wine at the wedding in Cana. Last loavesfishesweek was a double-header: signs four and five, the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water. The feeding ‘sign’ in last week’s reading was meant to point us back to the prophet Elisha, who was able to feed over 100 people with some barley loaves and grain because God said, ‘They’ll eat and have some left.'”Sounds familiar, right? And then today we’re reminded of the Moses story, when God provides manna – bread from heaven.

So we had the feeding story, but now we’re going to go more deeply into what John is getting at. Because Jesus challenges the disciples to go deeper: “What you saw back there wasn’t about eating your fill of bread. That’s food that perishes. Necessary for life.
But now it’s time to seek the life-giving food that lasts for all eternity.“

In John’s gospel, Jesus is clear: “I Am the Bread of Life.”  John wanted his community toI-AM- know that Jesus brought the very presence of the Divine (the great I Am) to his followers through these signs. Now some 2000+ years later, we are reading this profound claim that lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus.

But what does it mean to be fed with the Bread of Life? How do we get this bread? The disciples didn’t get it at first; they took the feeding sign at face value. If Jesus would continue to pull off miracles like that, well, no one would go hungry. Indeed, with actions like that, Jesus could gather enough support and power to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression. Life could be good. But as we learned last week, Jesus took off when he realized they wanted to make him a political ruler, a king.

So what is the point then? Why does John’s Jesus go on an on about being fed with the Bread of Life? I believe there are three parts to the question for us to ponder:

  1. How is it that God is trying to feed you with food that gives life?                                                  
  2. How is it that God is trying to feed your congregation with food that gives life?
  3. How is it that God is trying to feed the world with food that gives life?

monkimage.phpTo start with (going back again to last week), we remember that Jesus often shared meals with people – in large gatherings and small.  At the very heart of the Jesus movement was the good news of the immediacy of active Divine presence among us, the realm of God. As practiced and taught by Jesus, this realm of God was expressed in signs of renewed community among people, especially among people who were overlooked by the powers-that-be. Maybe the most visible sign of the realm present among the people gathered around Jesus was the way that people shared meals, crossing social boundaries and discovering new community. It was truly radical. In the interfaith community, it is often said that the best way to make friends with your religious “others” is to have a meal together. Or as one person put it, “at every interfaith gathering, you have to have music and food!”

In the realm of God, there’s not only enough for everyone, there is abundance. The ‘sign’ stories in John evoke the expectation of super-abundance in the messianic kingdom at the end of time. But Jesus proclaims that time is now. Living in the realm of God, we discover that God is oh, so generous with us. And God calls us to be generous in response.

Of course, you may have recognized language here that reminds us of Holy Communion. Communion SymbolsAnd here we can certainly find one answer to our question. We can be fed with the very presence of God every time we partake of bread and wine at the table of grace to which we are all invited. It’s a mystical experience every bit as powerful as a little boy’s lunch providing enough for everyone to eat or water being changed into the finest wine. We can come away from the table filled, fulfilled, with hearts overflowing with the realization of being touched by the Holy. Knowing also that there is plenty of gratitude, love, and compassion to be distributed out in the world – by us. Call it a sign or a miracle – it is truly a wonder!

And don’t we need this feeding in order to go out into the world? There’s no doubt that we live in troubling times. We struggle to know how to respond, how to participate in the healing of our families, our communities, our nation, our world. We feel discouraged, hopeless, helpless, even despairing at times.

If it makes us feel any better, in some ways we’re not too different from the people of John’s day. They had a hard time making sense of what was going on around them. The fledging Christian community was struggling to follow the teachings of Jesus in the midst of political and religious chaos. Yet, John declared, there was Bread of Life, food for body and soul that would enable them to have life abundant, even in the midst of turmoil.

There’s food for us too. How is it that God is trying to feed us with food that gives life? It’s here today. It’s here every week. The meal to which we are invited has the power to take our discouraged, hopeless, helpless selves and transform us into renewed, hopeful, energized communities of hope, life, love, justice, and mercy.

We have a lot to do out in the world, no doubt about it. But we need to be adequately nourished or we won’t be able to withstand the slings and arrows. Thankfully we have spiritual resources near at hand.

And there are other ways of being fed and nourished by God’s Presence. These can be more attuned to our individual tastes and personality types. Listening to music, contemplating a work of art, spending time in nature, gardening, devotional reading, meditation. Actually a lot of things can be nourishing if we sense that it’s a way that God is trying to feed us with food that gives life. Watch for signs in these coming weeks, keep your senses open to the Divine all around you. Take it in, share it out.

But remember, that here, in the community of Jesus, the Bread of Life, we know what God is doing. We are invited to a meal where we don’t have to worry about calories or carbs. All of our anxieties and fears can be laid aside, as we take nourishment – tangible food and drink – from our God who is always with us, always with enough and lots left over for us to take to whatever part of the world we inhabit.

Can we believe it? Really believe it and live like we do? Maybe John knew we’d need five  weeks for it to really sink in. Can you imagine: people like you and me – bread for the world through Jesus? It really is a miracle.

Amen

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Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
                                                                                                                                  They began to complain against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness.The people of Israel said to them, “If only we had died by YHWH’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat next to pots of meat and ate our bread till we were filled! But now you have brought the whole community out into this wilderness to die of hunger.”

Then YHWH said to Moses, “Look, I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people will go out and gather a day’s portion every day, so that I can test them to see if they will follow my instructions.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole Israelite community, ‘Present yourselves before YHWH, who has heard your complaints.'”

As Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of YHWH appearing in the form of a cloud. Then YHWH spoke to Moses and said,”I have heard the complaining of the people of Israel. Say this to them, ‘In the evening you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have your fill of bread. then you will know that I, YHWH, am your God.'”

So it came about that in the evening quail flew in and all around the camp. And in the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp. When the layer of dew evapor-ated, there on the surface of the desert were flakes of something: delicate, powdery, fine as frost. When they saw this, the people of Israel said to one another, “What is it?” – not knowing what it was. But Moses told them, “This is the bread YHWH has given you to eat.”

John 6:24-35
When the people saw that neither Jesus nor the disciples were there, they got into the boats and crossed to Capernaum looking for Jesus.  When they found Jesus on the other side of the lake, they said,  “Rabbi, when did you get here?”   

Jesus answered them,  “The truth of the matter is, you are not looking for me because you’ve seen signs, but because you’ve eaten your fill of the bread.  You shouldn’t be working for food that perishes, but for the life-giving food that lasts for all eternity; this the Chosen One can give you, for the chosen one bears the seal of Abba God.” 
At this they said,  “What must we do to perform the works of God?”   

Jesus replied,  “This is the work of God:  to believe in the one whom God has sent.”   

So they asked Jesus,  “What sign are you going to give to show us that we should believe in you?  What will you do?    Our ancestors had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says,  ‘God gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”   

Jesus said to them,  “The truth of the matter is, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Abba who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Teacher, they said,  “Give us this bread always.” 

Jesus said to them,  “I am the Bread of Life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry; no one who believes in me will be thirsty.”

 

 

 

 

 

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