Proper 14, Sunday August 9, 2015
1 Kings 19:4-8, Psalm 34:1-8
John 6:35, 41-51
Lord, Give Us this Bread Always
In the morning I usually start the day sleepily making my way downstairs for that first cup of coffee which I drink over the morning paper. It is a ritual I enjoy. I could get most of my news from the Internet; but there is something about actually holding the paper and turning the pages that I like. Anyway, on Monday morning I flipped through the San Francisco Chronicle and began to feel depressed. Within the first few pages I had already read about deadly bomb attacks in Turkey, a stabbing at a gay pride event in Jerusalem, a shooting of a police officer in Memphis, and immigrant family detentions right here in the United States. What demons of fear and mistrust fuel these destructive acts? How do we become so alienated from one another?
Then, I turned another couple of pages, and was surprised by grace. In the letters to the editor section, sandwiched in between commentary on Donald Trump and other political goings on, was a piece a man in Alameda had written about the plight of the poor and homeless. He mentioned the tactics cities use to try to “control the homeless problem.”, such as breaking up their camps, putting up barriers to keep them away from businesses, and spraying them with water. Then, he said, “We pretend they don’t exist.” He went on to say that there really is no separation from us and them, that there is only us.” What a welcome message of inclusion, of connection, of solidarity! A message of life, of the bread of life. Then I flipped a couple more pages, and found another amazing story of grace. Some of you are probably familiar with the story of Maddyson Middleton, the 8 year old Santa Cruz girl who was brutally assaulted and murdered by the 15 year old son of a neighbor. Laura Jordan, the mother of the slain girl, came upon the mother of the accused, who was kneeling and weeping at a memorial for Maddyson. Laura did not shun her, or vent anger and revenge on her. No, Laura Jordan, who had lost her daughter at the hands of this woman’s son, Laura Jordan, who was grieving this horrendous loss, put her hand on the woman’s back, and held her close. She said “I love you, I don’t blame you, and it’s not your fault.” What grace and courage! You could hardly blame her if she cried out bitterly and vented her rage. Yet this woman was feeding on some spiritual sustenance, drawing from a well of grace that enabled her to reach out in reconciliation. Besides the memorial donation that has been started in the name of her daughter, this amazing woman is thinking of starting a fund in the name of the accused to help reach out to violent, troubled youth! She is truly feeding on the bread of life.
What about us? What feeds us? Do we feed on fear, on bitterness, resentment, or out of control competition, or the quest for power? Do we eat the bread of isolation and shut ourselves away from others because we fear being hurt? Or are we nourished with the bread of life, the presence of Christ in our lives who transforms us into loving people who seek to reconcile and make peace in his name? Are we feeding on the Bread of Life?
In today’s reading from the Gospel according to John, Jesus says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to be will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” By way of background, the Gospel of John is the latest of the 4 gospel accounts, probably written around 90 A.D. The theology of who Jesus was, the meaning of the cross, salvation, the resurrection, had begun to develop. Liturgical practices around the Eucharist had time to grow and unfold, and all of this is reflected in this passage. For John’s community, Jesus was not only God’s Son who came into the world, the long-awaited Messiah of the people of Israel, or the bearer of the good news of God, he was the good news of God, co- equal with God, with God from the beginning of time, the Logos, the Word. We don’t find this emphasis in any of the other gospels. In this gospel, Jesus describes himself with all kinds of “I am” statements, such as I am the light of the world, I am the good shepherd, I am the vine, I am the bread of life…” John connects Jesus to the great sweep of Israel’s history, with the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land, with the miracle of the manna, There is continuity with the journey of the Israelites, and then a wonderful discontinuity, as God is doing a new thing. People ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This manna is just a shadow of Jesus, who is the living bread that brings eternal life. The bread that he gives for the life of the world is his flesh. His life, his giving of himself for us on the cross, his rising to new life, is the only food that can truly satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts.
How can we feed on the Bread of Life? In the scripture, Jesus invites us to come to him. We have to take the step, we have to choose. He can’t do it for us.. We have to admit our need. By ourselves, we feed on our own limited vision, our egos, our fears, our desire to be in control. We have to come to him and ask him to reign in our hearts to nurture and heal us, to help us become the people of God we are created to be. We need to believe, not facts about him, not theological formulas or doctrines, but in him, in his love for us, to be in trusting relationship with Christ and allow him to transform us and feed us with the divine life. To do this, we need to make space in our busy, often hectic lives. We need to slow down and seek God in prayer, for prayer is our lifeblood, and helps us feed on the Bread of Life. Like any relationship, we get to know God better and deepen our relationship through spending time with him. If we can, it is good to take a few days to go on retreat. We also grow in our relationship with God through participating in worship, fellowship, study, and service. Week by week we share the story of his life, death and resurrection through the liturgy. We remember together and hold up the story of our faith, and see that it is our story. . This is what it means to feed on the Bread of Life.
We are called to come together week by week, through all the seasons of the church year and our common life, at the Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is not only our meal of joy and remembrance, of union with Christ and each other, it is food for the journey. It is the food of sojourners, pilgrims, and wanderers. And it cannot be separated from our lives in the world. For the Eucharist is not the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood if we only spread the table in our houses of worship and not in the world. It is not just a meal to which brings comfort and union with God- it is a table that opens a window on the needs and hungers of the world. We must share our bread with those who have none. When we break the consecrated bread of the Eucharist, we must remember the brokenness of the world that Jesus longs to make whole. We must let others be bread for us, and sit at the table of fellowship with those who invite us. Then we will find Jesus spreads his table at the homeless shelter, at the bus stop, in the prison, as well as the halls of power and wealth and influence. He shares the table with the saintly and godly, and sinners and outcasts, and those who are on the margins. And he shares his table with us, whole and broken, saints and sinners, God’s beloved. As we receive the bread of life, we must allow ourselves to be broken and shared in the world. The world around us feeds on many things that are not bread, Our culture feeds on power, money, prestige, fear, and scarcity. These things will not satisfy. We are called to feed on the bread of the Kingdom that nourishes with health, life, and abundance. We say, Lord, give us this bread always.
So when you come to Communion today and receive the sacred bread in your hands, I invite you to look at this bread, to really look at it, made by human hands, broken and shared, the sign of Christ’s body broken on the Cross out of love for us. Feed on him, the bread of life, and then go out from this place, and break God’s bread, and share God’s table, with the world. Amen.