In the breaking of the bread

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Watching for the morning of April 30, 2017

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

A resurrection appearance still dominates the readings for Sunday. This is the week we hear Luke tell us of the disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

The narrative is pregnant with meaning for a community known as “the way” – literally, “the road”. The unseen Christ walks with us. Through him the scriptures are opened to us. In the broken bread we recognize him. It is the story not only of the first believers but of every generation.

Where else can we turn to make sense of this unexpected ending to the one who opened the gates for us to see and taste the kingdom? In his words the scriptures were alive. In his teaching was the Spirit of God. In his work was mercy for the margins and a daring challenge to the ruling center. In his hands crowds were fed, sinners welcomed, a new path set before us. And in that moment when the old empire should fall, he is stolen away. Where else can we turn to understand? And as we reread the ancient words they shine with a new light. The suffering servant of Isaiah. The humble king of Zechariah. The faithful one of the psalms. Suddenly the scriptures seem to explode with new insight.

And then there is the bread – the promised feast in Isaiah, the five loaves and two fish, the last supper, and now the bread and wine. All the threads of scripture, all the hope of a world made whole, weave into this moment when bread is broken like his body was broken – and shared freely as he shared himself freely for the sake of the world.

In the teaching, in the bread, they see him. They recognize his presence. They see the perfect love. They see the dawning of the promise – a world governed by this wondrous and holy Spirit.

Now the vision is complete. Christ is gone but not gone. And they race back to share the vision, to proclaim the news, to rejoice in the wonder of God.

So Sunday we will hear Peter declare the promise is for all and invite them to turn and show allegiance to this crucified one whom God has made both Lord and Messiah. And the psalmist will sing of deliverance from death and Peter writes that we “have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

The new creation is dawning. We hold the bread of the great feast in our hands.

The Prayer for April 30, 2017

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 30, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” – a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from a threat to his life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism, here urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATand%C4%B1r_bread.jpg By jeffreyw (Mmm…pita bread Uploaded by Fæ) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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Where else will we find anything like this?

Friday

John 6:56-69

File:Cristo nel labirinto.jpg66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“Now the Feast and Celebration,” the liturgy composed by Marty Haugen for the Campus Ministry at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, uses this verse for the Alleluia sung by the congregation as they rise to hear the reading of the Gospel:

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Each Sunday in which we use this liturgy contains this small yet profound acknowledgment that the words of Jesus are beyond us but precious to us, challenging yet comforting, confusing yet compelling.

Where else shall we go? Here we hear the challenge to build our house on rock, to enter through the narrow way, to judge not lest we be judged, to forgive seventy-seven times. Here we hear of evil driven from hearts and minds and bodies, yet his body surrendered to torture and death. Here we hear the unthinkable – that God sends rain on the just and the unjust, that sinners are forgiven, that the unclean are welcomed. Here we hear the requirement that love of God is more important than love of family, that our attachment to God supersedes the duties to parents. Here we hear that we cannot serve God and possessions. Here we hear Jesus tell the rich man to sell all and tell us that it is better to lose a hand or an eye than to lose the kingdom.

It is too much. But it is compelling.

We want to hear this Jesus. We don’t want him buried in the slop of a lovey-dovey gooey marshmallow God. Nor do we want him hidden in that bitter grist of an angry God demanding blood in payment for our debts. We cannot have him lost beneath a sterile white bread, white potatoes, repristination of middle class morality. We want this strange, compelling Jesus whose words push those in power to murder. We want these strange words – and deeds – possessed of eternal truth and life. We want the good shepherd who lays down his life, the royal king who is butchered by usurpers but rises from the dead, the precocious child who has more wisdom than all us religious teachers. We want this perfect vessel of the Spirit through whom God heals and redeems and raises the dead. We want the man who welcomes the little children and speaks blunt and brutal truths about the elites. He names them blind guides yet welcomes Nicodemus and tries to help him see the life that is from above.

This Jesus is wonder and mystery, puzzling and outrageous, making a whip of cords and kicking tables but telling us to love our enemies – enemies he forgives though they have his blood on their hands as they throw dice for his clothing.

We want to know more. We want to hear more. We want to be encountered by this strange wondrous man. So even though his words puzzle and offend, we stay. Even when it’s not what we want to hear, we listen. Where else will we find anything like this?

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Alleluia.

For information on the picture go to: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACristo_nel_labirinto.jpg

Provoking a choice

Watching for the Morning of August 23, 2015

Year B

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 16 / Lectionary 21

File:Track Choice - geograph.org.uk - 129367.jpgSo what do you choose? It is a question Joshua asks the Israelites and Jesus asks his followers. “What do you choose?”

Israel has come through the desert and, as presented in Joshua, God has led them on a victorious march to claim the land from its Canaanite inhabitants. There are hints in the text that the process was more complicated than this – but the author wants to emphasize God’s fidelity in fulfilling his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all their descendants. The God who opened the Red Sea and freed them from every enemy has fulfilled his promises. Now what will this people do? Its time to choose: the LORD or the gods of the land?

It’s a tougher choice than we imagine, because we are by nature syncretists. We think we can worship God and the gods of our land: we can worship God and mammon, God and country, God and success, God and power, God and sexuality, God and family, God and self – or God and some of all of these.

Joshua demands they choose. Jesus makes us choose. With audacious, provocative, even offensive words he forces us to either see with new eyes or walk away. And many depart, many who were disciples. But the twelve respond: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” There is no true life in those other things, no enduring life, no imperishable life.

As we face this challenge, the psalmist reminds us of God’s faithfulness and Ephesians bids us put on “the whole armor of God.”

The Prayer August 23, 2015

Keep us, O God, in your eternal Spirit
that, when challenged by your word, we may never turn back from following you,
but always confess and believe that you have the words of eternal life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 23, 2015

First Reading: Joshua 24:1-3, 13-18 (Appointed 24:1-2a, 14-18)
“‘Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’” – Joshua gathers the people following the forty year wandering in the wilderness and the occupation of the promised land and challenges them to put away their foreign gods and serve the LORD with fidelity.

Psalmody: Psalm 34:15-22
“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.”
– The concluding section of an acrostic poem declaring God’s fidelity to those who are faithful to him.

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
– The author uses the metaphor of a Roman soldier’s armor to call the community to faithfulness to God.

Gospel: John 6:56-69
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’” – The words of Jesus about eating his flesh has revealed that many even among his followers do not understand the meaning of the sign of the bread (the feeding of the five-thousand) and they turn away. Jesus then asks the twelve: “Do you also wish to go away?”

 

Picture: Kate Jewell [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh

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Once more on Last Sunday

(I have written also about last Sunday at my blog Jacob Limping. But there are things we need to say before moving on to next Sunday and the next portion of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel)

John 6:35-51

51 The bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.

This word ‘flesh’ matters. We have a hard time holding on to it. We tend to spiritualize Jesus. We talk about his death in abstract terms. We think of him as a transcendent reality. We attribute to him our notions of divinity above suffering. It was a long, hard, battle in the ancient church to keep Jesus grounded in the flesh. His own flesh. His own bleeding and dying.

We can imagine Jesus in the flesh, but the price is usually that we relinquish the claim that he is the incarnate one, the embodiment of God. Jesus becomes a prophet and a martyr, a mere man, not the incarnate Lord of All. But if we hold on to his divinity, his uniqueness, his status as Son of God, we tend to lose his humanity. Somehow we have to hold on to both.

This word ‘flesh’ matters. It is not just Jesus’ teaching that was given to the world. It was not just a vision and a hope and a promise. It was his flesh. He hungered. He ached. He wept. He drank and danced and soiled whatever ancient equivalent there was for diapers. He chased butterflies and learned to break rocks and build. The Holy One was enfleshed. He was one of us. Fully human. Fully flesh.

The bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh

What he gave for the world was his flesh. And he gave it all. He surrendered up his laughter and joy and feet and hands. He surrendered up his head to thorns and his back to stripes. He surrendered up his flesh to death.

And he surrendered up his flesh to resurrection.

This life giving manna is not just the flesh that dies; it is the flesh that lives, flesh that is raised, flesh Thomas can touch. The risen Jesus is not a spirit being; he is an enfleshed being. It is a flesh beyond death, a flesh not bound by the realities of our world this side of Eden, a flesh that participates in resurrected life, a flesh that is a real part – the true nature – of God’s glorious creation.

This crucified and risen flesh is the bread that brings true life. Jesus is more than teacher or sacrificial lamb; he is the bringer of the age to come. Resurrection has broken into our world. The tomb stands forever empty. The re-creation of the world is dawning. The Spirit is breathed out. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the new reality in which all debts are wiped away and we live in God and God in us.

Most of us are more comfortable with the notion that God is in heaven and we are on earth until, hopefully, we too go to heaven. But God reigns in heaven; God wants to reign on earth. God’s purpose is to set right his world, to raise his world from its bondage to death into its true life.

In the flesh of Jesus the resurrection has come. The new creation is dawning now, here. Here is heaven on earth. Here is risen life now. Here is the age to come that will never perish. Here is forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. Here is true love of God and neighbor. Here is the holy.

The bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh

The meaning of Jesus cannot be shaken loose from the body, the flesh, the physical reality of skin and bones and breath, of laughter and loving, of eating and drinking, of anger and tears and spoken words. It cannot be shaken loose from that body made dead and that body made alive and all creation carried on his shoulders from death into life.

 

Image: Hans Holbein: The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521, Oil on wood) [Public domain].  File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_Holbein-_The_Body_of_the_Dead_Christ_in_the_Tomb.JPG#file

Heaven’s true bread

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Watching for the Morning of August 9, 2015

Year B

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 14 / Lectionary 19

So we have seen the sign of the bread (two Sundays ago) and heard the conversation that Jesus is the true manna from heaven (last Sunday), now we hear that this true manna from heaven gives life – not to sustain us for a day, but eternally.

Our readings this Sunday begin with Elijah fleeing for his life only to be met in the wilderness by a messenger of God who provides bead and water for his journey. As God gave Israel bread and water in the wilderness, God provides for Elijah to bring him to Horeb (Mt. Sinai) where he will be encountered by God.

With the psalmist we sing of God’s faithfulness and hear the exhortation to “taste and see that the LORD is good.”

In the reading from Ephesians we hear the call “live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” with specific exhortations for our life together.

And then we come to the wonderful words of the Gospel that show the crowd murmuring like Israel in the wilderness, but speak of the life that Jesus, the true bread from heaven, gives through his death and resurrection.

I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Unfortunately the references to death and resurrection are skipped in the appointed verses, but they need to be read, for they draw out the meaning of Jesus’ promise that “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 manna kept the people of Israel alive for a day; the death and resurrection of Jesus will keep us alive forever.

 

The Prayer August 9, 2015

O God of truth and life,
draw us to your self, and feed us on the bread of life,
which is your Word, made flesh for us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 9, 2015

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-8
“Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water.” – Elijah is fleeing the queen, Jezebel, who has vowed to kill him for his triumph over the prophets of Baal. In the wilderness he is met by a heavenly messenger who provides him bread for his journey to Horeb (Mt. Sinai).

Psalmody: Psalm 34:1-8
“O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.”
– The poet calls upon the community to join him in his praise of God for all God’s goodness.

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
– The author speaks to their common life, urging them to live in love, recognizing that they are members of one another in Christ.

Gospel: John 6: 35-51 (appointed 35, 41-51)
“‘Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.’” Continuing the reflection on the meaning of the sign of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus develops the idea that he is the true bread from heaven. The manna in the wilderness sustained the people for a day; through his death and resurrection, Jesus gives life that shall never perish.

 

Image: Filippo Lippi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Page: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALippi%2C_piet%C3%A0_del_museo_horne.jpg

Trust and allegiance

One thing more from last Sunday

John 6:24-35

File:Jesus at Sumela.jpg28“What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The texts from last Sunday continue to rattle around in my head but, amidst all the talk about bread and manna, this verse shouldn’t pass by unnoticed. “What must we do to perform the works of God?” What is it that God requires of us? What do we need to do to serve him? What is God’s will for us?

I remember the struggle with the question of God’s will beginning my senior year in high school as I was in a formative period for my faith and wondered if and where God wanted me to go to college and what I should “do” with my life. I spent one summer hitchhiking around the country convinced this was God’s will for me. It didn’t turn out the way I expected, though I won’t say that it wasn’t Spirit led – or, perhaps more accurately, Spirit protected and used.

There were those around me who thought God had a very specific plan for their lives: what they should do, where they should go, whom they should marry, but finding that plan was not simple for me. And then I came upon this verse: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” which, for a long time, I remembered as saying “This is the will of God…”

Americans derive so much of our identity by what we do. It’s the first question we tend to ask a new acquaintance. But the ancient world would ask to whom we belong. What is our family? What is our clan? Americans don’t memorize their genealogies back to Abraham, but in the Biblical world, who you are is revealed by those with whom you are connected.

So while we think about the will of God as what we should do, Jesus answers in terms of those with whom we are connected. The will of God is that we be connected to Jesus (and his community). And the ‘work’ of God – of the work for God – is not answered in terms of ritual obligations but trust and allegiance.

This is not a small conversation. What does it mean to show allegiance to Jesus (and his community)? There are, in fact, lots of things that that we are to do – feed the hungry, shelter the poor, do justice, love one another, love our enemy. But it is the way we embody Christ to one another that is at stake, not whether we become a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker. We are to live our gifts, to follow those passions God has given us – whether it for law or dance of family. But whatever we do, our trust and allegiance is in Jesus and God’s reign of grace and life in and through him.

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The crowd is not quite ready for this. They are attached to their temple (as we are attached to ours, whether temples of stone or ideas.) But in this verse lies a very important and profound element to the question of God’s will for our lives: it is about trust in and allegiance to Jesus.

 

Image: Ceiling of one of the chambers of the Sumela monastery.  File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJesus_at_Sumela.jpg.  Photo: By Vladimer Shioshvili (Flickr: jesus) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

From grace into grace

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Saturday

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

3“If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

I have laughed at the petulance of the people in the wilderness. It’s a comfortable position of moral superiority. As if I would not have been among the grumblers.

It’s an easy thing for a pastor to do, faced as we are with grumblings in our congregations and people whose eyes sometimes seem to be less concerned with the Promised Land than the fleshpots of Egypt. It’s oh so seductive, as you read the story, to imagine that you occupy the sandals of Moses. But such a hearing of the text, however delicious, is not only presumptuous, but altogether too shallow. It makes caricatures of the people of Israel as well as the members of our congregations.

The people of Israel have seen wondrous deeds, though I suspect the wondrousness has been exaggerated in the retelling. There are hints in the text that the events at the Red Sea (technically, the Sea of Reeds) weren’t like the Cecil B. DeMille drama. In fact, most of the Biblical “miracles” are really pretty ordinary events – but events that were wondrous in their timing. That the wind blew all night to dry up the marshland enabling the Israelites to escape is wondrous in its timing if not spectacular to behold.

So these people have been rescued by what moderns would likely call “good fortune” (a phrase that explains nothing and refers to an ancient deity in the Greco-Roman pantheon) and now they are hungry and thirsty in the wilderness. They are refugees in flight, not a triumphant victory parade. And there, in the barren lands of the Negev, the thought of perishing slowly in the desert makes the suffering of Egypt seem preferable. It is a choice we all often make. The long road to freedom requires a great deal more courage and sacrifice than most of us muster easily. We can put up with a great deal of tyranny for a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs.

I know that the larger sweep of the Biblical narrative is a story about a broken covenant and rebellious people. So from the perspective of the generation assembling the narrative in exile in Babylon with Jerusalem in ruins, the story is about the persistent faithfulness of God in spite of our faithlessness – even as it yet summons us anew to faithfulness.

But as I ponder the story, as I consider all the different layers in the narrative, I begin to see something other than petulance; I see grief.

“If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

They didn’t ask to die in their beds; they wished that God had slain them in Egypt. This verse is the corporate equivalent of Jeremiah declaring that God should have killed him in the womb or Job lamenting the day of his birth.

Cursed be the day on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, saying,
“A child is born to you, a son,” making him very glad.
Let that man be like the cities that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb;
so my mother would have been my grave,
and her womb forever great.
Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow,
and spend my days in shame?

It is the cry of despair born of grief.

Job has lost all his family. Jeremiah is forced to witness the folly of his nation as it plunges towards destruction and the terrible suffering of siege. Israel in the wilderness was not a happy march into freedom. This was a people who had lost a life, however harsh. Yes, they have fled the suffering of their bondage. But they had also fled in fear for Moses had made this people a stench in the nostrils of Pharaoh. They were the cause of Egypt’s troubles. They had become the object of the nation’s hate. There is language in the story that they were driven out of Egypt. They had lost their life and their homes there, however cruel and harsh it had been.

But now they are in a cruel desert. Weary, hungry, thirsty, far from a home of any kind.

“God should have just killed us when we were still in Egypt.”

It is hard to hold to a promise in such times, hard to keep putting one foot in front of the next. Hope doesn’t come easily to the grieving. We see only what is lost not what might be.

In grief we tend to lose the thread of our story. The imagined future that has shaped our lives is lost to us. I remember a widowed woman in a nursing home, in a room she had shared with her husband, bitter that he had left her. “We were supposed to go together.”   They had been a couple without children or friends, but they had always had each other. Now she had lost the story line that had shaped her life.   It is the same with the death of a child or a sibling. One of my daughter’s early comments at the death of her sister was: “She was going to be my maid of honor.” It is the anguish of divorce, the crisis of a lost job or career.

In grief we lose the thread of our lives. The days become a wilderness through which we stumble, because we no longer know where we are going. My mother wanted to trade her life for my daughter’s. We all would have.

The wilderness is still wilderness. What was is no more and what will be is not yet. The people grieve – and God provides. Day by day there is bread enough for the day. And water is found in unexpected places.

There is a layer in this story of faithlessness and testing. But there is also a story of mercy. God provides. God leads. God upholds them even when they wish they had never been born. And the Promised Land comes. Not easily. Not quickly. But it comes.

Those little pieces of bread we receive each Sunday morning are a far cry from the feast envisioned by Isaiah or celebrated in the vision of the New Jerusalem. But they are enough for the day. They are sufficient for the journey. They witness to God’s persistent faithfulness. They bear witness to the promise. They call us to journey on. And in that bread and wine we find the thread of a new story, of a life and a world borne forward from grace into grace.

 

Image: By Anonymous (Meister 1) (Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Life-giving bread

Watching for the Morning of August 2, 2015

Year B

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 13 / Lectionary 18

File:340 MS 65 F168 V.jpgThe people come looking for Jesus, but Jesus rebuffs them. It is always uncomfortable when Jesus is rude to people. But they are on the wrong path and he needs to jolt them out of it. And he’s only just beginning.

We are talking about the meaning of the sign of the loaves and fishes. It will occupy us for the rest of chapter 6 in John, which we will read over the next four weeks. And the first part of this conversation is about the manna that sustained Israel during the forty years in the wilderness.

So we will read from Exodus of the people’s complaint and the bread they received each morning. We will hear the psalmist sing how God gave them “the food of angels.” And we will listen as Jesus challenges the people that the true bread from heaven, the true life-giving bread, was not the manna in the wilderness but Jesus: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The reading from Ephesians speaks to those who have received Jesus as the bread of life:

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

In contrast to the unbelieving crowds hunting for Jesus the author of Ephesians takes up the image of the victory parade of the conquering hero entering the city and lavishing gifts upon the people. But our conquering hero is not Caesar returning from war with plunder, but Christ ascending to the father and lavishing gifts for ministry – gifts to bring the Christian community to full maturity in Christ, gifts to bring this life-giving bread to the world.

The Prayer August 2, 2015

Heavenly Father,
you sustained your people through the wilderness with manna from heaven;
sustain us through the days of our lives
by the presence him who is the true bread of life,
your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 2, 2015

First Reading: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.” – God provides manna in the wilderness and it is both a gracious providing and a test of the people’s allegiance to God.

Psalmody: Psalm 78:22-29 (appointed 23-29)
“He rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.”
– The poet sings of the faithfulness of God who provided for the people in the wilderness.

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
– The author begins his exhortation for the community to live in keeping with the grace of God they have experienced in Christ.

Gospel: John 6:24-35
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – The crowds seek Jesus after the feeding of the five-thousand but Jesus challenges them to see that the true bread from heaven was not the manna God gave them in the wilderness. The true life-giving bread is present to them in Jesus.

 

Image: Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, ca. 1411-1416.  Limbourg brothers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not about the bread

About last Sunday – and the ones to come

John 6:1-21

File:Raffaellino del garbo, moltiplicazione dei pani e dei pesci, da s.m. maddalena de' pazzi 09.JPG15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

This is an important piece of information that shapes what will come next in John’s Gospel: the response of the crowd moves quickly from wonder to self-gratification.

The text says that they “saw the sign.” They recognized what this pointed to, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world,” but they became preoccupied with the bread. They looked at the physical and missed the spiritual. They saw bread. They saw full bellies. They saw a release from the labor and anxiety of the fields. They attended to the obvious and missed the profound.

It’s hard to blame them. We are all like them in a way, concerned about what we need from Jesus rather than what Jesus needs from us.

The five thousand gathered on the hillside around Jesus were people who were familiar with hunger. They were what we now call “food insecure.” It is a chronic concern of subsistence farmers, those dependent upon the rains and beneficence of nature for the crops that will sustain them through the year. And it was exacerbated in Galilee by the high portion of their crop that went to landowners and the temple and the state. But now, here is one who, with a boy’s lunch, can feed 5,000. You can almost hear the rumble through the crowd: “We will never be hungry again!”   It takes no special insight to understand that they would make him king.

But the bread is a sign. It points beyond itself. It points to the God who created a bountiful world. It points to the commandment that bread be shared – that the hungry would be fed, the sick tended, the poor aided. It points to the will of God in creating the world. It points to our true humanity. It points to the beneficence of God and the promise of a world restored to its true purpose. And it points to Jesus. It points to him who is the face of God, the witness to our true humanity, and the opening of the path to our re-creation – our being born from above.

Joel Osteen is coming to town and tickets are $15.00 a head. The capacity of AT&T Park is listed at 41,503 – so he starts with a gate well past half a million. He will tell everyone how God wants them to prosper. And it’s not untrue. It’s just that he has everyone looking at the bread and not at the sign.

Christian faith is not a technique for peace and prosperity. Nor is it a denial of death through a promise we will be with loved ones again. It is a witness to the truth of God, the truth of existence, and the truth of our humanity. It is a witness that this ultimate truth has dwelt among us. And it is a call to follow where he leads: to live now the life that is eternal.

God knows we all need bread. But the bread we truly need is the bread of life, the living bread, the living Word who breathes upon us his Spirit. We need our humanity – not our frail, broken, “everyone makes mistakes”, “we all have our dark side” humanity, but the humanity that is born of God.

 

Feeding the multitude by Raffaellino del Garbo.  Photo: By Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
For more of this artwork, see https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Feeding_the_multitude_by_Raffaellino_del_Garbo

I am. Stop being afraid.

Friday

John 6:1-21

File:Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, c. 1907.jpg19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.

I remember reading this as a young person and hearing it to say that “Jesus can do anything.” I saw in it a demonstration of power. I didn’t have the experience yet to recognize the true power of the imagery.

I didn’t know yet what it was to be cast adrift in the storms of life. I didn’t know yet what it was to be battling rough seas in the dark. I didn’t know true fear or chronic anxiety or what it was like to be in distress and wondering why Jesus is not with us.

All of this is in this story.

I didn’t yet know about the turbulent times in which Mark’s community lived – with brutal war and ideologies raging about them. I didn’t know that storms at sea were understood to be spiritual assaults rather than natural forces.  I didn’t understand what it means that these stories are stories about a community not individual faith. And, most of all, I didn’t yet know that the words we translate “It is I,” are deeply significant words that, translated literally, say “I am” and bespeak the name of God given to ancient Israel.

The message of the story isn’t that with enough faith we can walk on water. Nor is it that Jesus is a man of power (and can do anything for us if we believe firmly enough). The message is “I am. Stop being afraid.”

“I am.” Christ Jesus is the living presence of the eternal God who called forth the world from the chaos of the primordial sea. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the eternal God who called Abraham and Sarah to go forth on the promise of a new country. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the holy one who met Moses in the burning bush. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the mighty one who divided the waters of the Red Sea and delivered both Egypt and Israel from slavery. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the voice that spoke at Sinai commanding fidelity to God and one another and directing a people to live justice and compassion.

Though we are beset by storms, though we dwell in darkness, though Jesus seems absent, he is yet the living presence of the faithful one who does not abandon his people or the world he has made, but gathers all things to himself.

In the midst of life’s chaos, in the midst of life’s sorrows, in the face of life’s evils, God is yet God. Christ is yet Lord. The hidden one has shown his face. His faithfulness is sure. His promise abides. And with him we will reach the far shore.

He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

 

Painting: Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons