Bread that Sustains

bread2A sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 5, 2018.  The scripture readings are Exodus 16:2-4,9-15Psalm 78:23-29Ephesians 4:1-16, and John 6:24-35

Listen to the sermon HERE

Last week, we heard about Jesus using limited resources to feed thousands.  This week, our scripture from the Gospel of John continues just after the feeding of the thousands.  Some of those who witnessed the feeding of the thousands have crossed the lake in their boat, and when they get to the other side they seem surprised to see Jesus.  They ask him how he got there and where he came from.  But Jesus reads their hearts and says, “You ask about me not because you really want to know but because you’re still thinking about the food for the thousands we just ate.”  “And yet,” Jesus says, “you still want more.”

We all probably know someone who can never be satisfied, but always wants more. Sometimes the appetites are external—the desire for more money, more clothes, more food, more drink, more stuff.  But often these mask internal appetites that are sometimes the very hardest to satisfy—the desire for acceptance (self-acceptance or the approval of others), the desire for a purpose, a vocation, or a cause. There’s the desire for excitement, or challenge, or change—or its opposite: the desire for peace, for calm, for silence.  There’s the desire for love.

Those who experience any healing from addiction know that at some level, external cravings are related to internal instincts, and until the internal, spiritual aspect of hunger or thirst is dealt with, there will be no success with the externals.  And that sort of spiritual work is something each person can only do for herself or himself, as hard as we may try to help another.

So much of our “wanting more” relates to the future.  We need to save and prepare—of course.  But Jesus (again and again) cautions us about worrying too much about the short run. Jesus senses this in the disciples and tells them, “Don’t focus so much on the food that perishes but focus on the food that endures for eternal life.”

To this, the disciples remind Jesus that God provided for the people of Israel when they were hungry.  And we hear about that in today’s first scripture reading.  The reading from Exodus recalls the when the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. They became tired and irritable. They got hungry. And then, God fed them with manna– this mysterious, odd, flaky-like substance. In the words of the psalmist, “Mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them food enough.” (Psalm 78:24-25).

But the manna was only for the day. It was daily manna and needed to be consumed or it would spoil. If they left it out it became wormy. If it remained in the sun, it melted. This is because the manna was food, but it was more than food. Manna was meant to be consumed with faith. It took faith to rely upon the Lord to lead through the wilderness. It took faith to go to sleep each night trusting that there would be manna for the morrow.

Perhaps it’s from that old, ancient story about manna that the prayer began to be formed that would pray for daily manna, or daily bread. When we pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread,” this is a part of what we’re praying for. Not just bread for right now, but bread for tomorrow, bread of promise, bread of hope.

Biblical scholars like to point out that the grammar of the Lord’s Prayer actually conveys this sense of praying for tomorrow, for bread of the future. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects on this in a meditation where he writes about this phrase

…At least some people in the early church understood [this phrase from the Lord’s Prayer] it to mean the bread we want for tomorrow or even the bread of tomorrow; “give us today tomorrow’s bread”. And they’ve thought that might mean give us now a taste of the bread we shall eat in the Kingdom of God. Give us a foretaste of that great banquet and celebration where the universe is drawn together by Christ in the presence of God the Father. And so … Holy Communion is, at one level, bread for today, it’s very much our daily bread, it’s the food we need to keep going; but it’s also a foretaste of the bread of heaven, a foretaste of enjoying the presence of Jesus in heaven, at his table, at his banquet… Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

Jesus says, “Look to God for the true bread from heaven. Look to God for the bread that comes down and gives life to the world.” And then Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

For Christians, Christ is our bread.  If we stay in relationship with Christ, we are fed—spiritually and in every other way.

Of course, we forget. We sometimes forget to eat or drink of the Spirit.  I was reminded of this when I heard a commentator talking about marathon runners.  The commentator pointed out how important it is for the runner to drink water BEFORE she’s thirsty. The person explained, “If you’re running a marathon and you wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, it’s too late, and the water you get will not do what it needs to do to replenish and refresh.” The spiritual life is a little like that, as well. If we wait until we notice the absence of Christ, if we wait until we feel God’s distance, then it can be much harder and slower to feel the strength, the consolation, the encouragement, the faith, we may need. And so, we eat and drink regularly, at this table, in this kind of worship.

By taking into ourselves the Body of Christ, we become one with Jesus and the Father through the Holy Spirit. Communion happens to us. Communion overtakes us. Communion is God moving toward us and inviting us closer. Communion is our reaching out toward one another and even reaching beyond the church into the world.

Sometimes we forget to eat. At other times, we prefer junk food—the stuff that seems like it quenches the spirit, but only serves to fill us for a moment.  We can fall victim to addictions or temptations that move us away from our true self and true sustenance.  But we can always come back.

We can come back to the Table (to the Sacrament of Holy Communion).
We can come back to the food of Christ’s Spirit (through prayer).
We can come back or reach out for the experience of Christ’s Body (as he is made flesh in other people.)

Bread for today is a gift. Bread for tomorrow is our prayer. We are called to live with hope and with faith for whatever is ahead. We have challenges in our personal lives and we may have worries. God invites us to have faith that when tomorrow comes, God will give us the resources we need. We have problems that seem unsolvable, but with tomorrow’s bread, perhaps God will also give us new answers, creative solutions, and deeper insight.

Late summer is a good time for us to think about what it means to live by faith. There is still time for vacation, but plans are already being made for a new year at school, a new program year at church, a new season for business or work of any kind.

The scriptures leave us with a few questions:  In what ways, might God invite us to look for “bread for tomorrow?” In what ways are we invited to clear out the cupboards, the hiding places, the storage areas that build up our confidence, and rely on God for strength, for nourishment, for sustenance? Might God be calling us to a new place of faith? Might God be calling us to live a little more closely in touch with him, listening more closely for the new word, looking for intently for that which will feed and sustain and grow the Body of Christ into the future?

May we come to know in our hearts, minds, and bodies Him who is the bread of life, in whom all hunger, thirst, and desire are surpassed beyond our wildest dreams.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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