Proper 14, Year B, 2006

Someone in your home is baking a loaf of bread.  For an hour now the warm fragrance has drifted around corners and under door frames and over tables to tease you with its inviting scent.  Despite Dr. Perricone’s warnings about the dangers of simple carbohydrates, you know that when the loaf of warm bread is ready to be sliced, you will be first in line to cut off a large piece, slather it in butter, and slowly savor the way it melts in your mouth.

As you put the bread in your mouth, digestive enzymes begin working, breaking the bread down into smaller, more manageable pieces.  As the bread travels through the stomach and intestines, it is further broken down and becomes fuel and nutrients. Much of the bread literally becomes part of you, providing the energy for your day and some nutrients to help your body function.  Once the bread passes through your mouth into your stomach, eating the bread shifts from a sensory experience to a primal, biological one.

We are disconnected from the nutritional importance of bread, but for many around the world, that piece of bread would literally give them life.  That piece of bread, with all of its nutrients and carbohydrates would fill their bodies with energy, boost their immune systems, and give them hope.

Thousands of years ago, wandering in the desert, God’s chosen people also needed bread.  They had been walking for years, without regular food and drink, and were exhausted.  To make sure they relied completely on him, the only food they received was directly from God.  When God did choose to provide food for the wandering Israelites, he first chose to shower them with manna, a mysterious, heavenly food that resembled, of course, bread.

This manna fed the wanderers, but did not ultimately satisfy them.  After a few hours of eating manna, they were starving again.  And when they became hungry again, God’s generosity completely slipped their mind and they began complaining almost instantly. But still, the manna sustained them for many years.

Finally, after 40 years of wandering and complaining, the Israelites entered the promised land.  The land was rich with food-fruit, vegetables, meat, and ingredients for all the bread they could bake.  The Israelites needed the manna no longer. 

Fifteen hundred years passed, and even though the Israelites complained about the manna while they were in the desert, as a people they never forgot about it.  Manna became a symbol of God’s faithfulness, and the importance of relying on God, rather than your own resources. 

Do you remember two weeks ago, when the gospel reading was about the feeding of the 5000? (Yes, yes you do.)  This is the passage in which Jesus miraculously turns a few fish and a loaf of bread into an abundant feast.  The people who experienced it were amazed, and told all their friends. 

Once Jesus gets off the mountain, people start following him, hoping for a repeat performance.  Maybe they are curious, maybe they are hungry, but they want to see the magic man make some bread!

Immediately before our passage today, Jesus makes a speech to them, explaining that they are looking for the wrong thing.

Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.

They go on to ask for a sign, for Jesus to prove that he is special. 

So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you. What work are you performing?  Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”  Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 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. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.

Jesus is redirecting their curiosity and question.  He is saying to them-if you focus on the bread, you’re missing the whole point!  Neither the manna, nor the feeding of the 5000 are about bread, they are about God-about God’s abundance and faithfulness.  These miracles are about God’s love for his people and the way God looks after us and provides for us.

Jesus is the height of this provision and love.  Jesus is explaining that he has been sent as a new kind of bread-a bread that never runs out, that never will leave us, and that gives us not only life-but life eternal.

Manna and other kinds of physical bread, no matter how miraculous-or delicious–will never satisfy us, never fill up all the places in us that are broken, lonely or grieving. 

Physical bread cannot give our lives meaning, show us avenues of hope, or help keep us off our high horses. 

God sends Jesus to feed us, to be our fuel, to give us the nourishment we need to live lives that are pleasing to God. 

At the Eucharist, we consume the body and blood of Jesus.  Early Christians were accused of being cannibals because of this.  As Episcopalians, we believe that the bread and wine we eat and drink, doesn’t actually turn into flesh, but does contain the full presence of Christ.  When we consume them, we consume Christ.  Just as a warm slice of bread breaks down and becomes part of us, somehow at the Eucharist we consume Jesus, Jesus becomes part of us, becomes incorporated into our mind, and heart, and hands.  As he becomes part of us, we become part of him.

The Eucharist is more than ritual and tradition.  The Eucharist is more than remembering.  During the Eucharist, we take Christ in to our very being, not only our spirit, but into our flesh.  And so the Bread of Life lives on in us, and we in him.



Proper 11, Year B, 2006

Just a little rest.

That’s all Jesus and the disciples wanted: a little rest, a little quiet.  They had so much to say to each other.  So many days had passed since they had been together.  So much had happened. 

The disciples have been exercising their ministry for the first time.  Jesus sent them out two by two and they have been preaching, healing, and exorcising demons.  Jesus pushed them out of the nest and the disciples did not fail!-the disciples were so much braver than expected and the miracles actually worked!  With their own hands and God’s power the disciples were able to heal sick people!

In the meantime, Jesus had his own troubles to consider. His beloved friend and cousin, John, was brutally murdered by Herod.  Jesus wants to take time to mourn that loss and be together in a quiet place with his disciples.  Jesus and the disciples have been going at a breakneck pace-traveling, ministering, listening, teaching, healing.  . .they just need a little time to reconnect to each other.

So, Jesus and the disciples get in a boat and head to a deserted place. 

Before they can get there, though, followers of Jesus figure out where they are traveling and beat them there!

By the time Jesus and his friends get to the deserted place, it is already packed with people hungry for a little of Jesus’ teaching. 

Jesus has to make a decision.  Taking time out to pray and to rest is a very important part of Jesus ministry.  He knows he needs to reconnect with God and his disciples, but there are thousands of people clamoring for his attentions.  Jesus makes the decision, for the moment, to choose his followers over himself.

Jesus gives them the spiritual food they are looking for and begins to teach.  Before too long though, the crowd starts to get hungry.  The disciples get edgy, because they know it costs nine months salary to feed 5,000 men, and there were women and children there, too! 

We all know what happens next. Jesus uses bread and fish that the crowd already has and miraculously multiplies it to give it to his followers. 

The NRSV translation of the text we read today, says that Jesus gave the bread and fish to his disciples, but the NAU translation says that Jesus “kept giving” the loaves and fishes to his disciples.

Jesus “kept giving”.  What a powerful image.  Jesus was tired and sad, but instead of turning away from the crowd, he turned towards them.  Instead of giving them what they needed in one fell swoop, he gave to the crowd over and over and over again.

Jesus gives to us, too.

For whatever crisis we face, somewhere, deep inside us, we have all we need.  Just like the crowd already had a few fish and a couple loaves of bread, we have a small kernel of what we need already planted inside us. 

Whether we need strength to carry on in a difficult time in our lives, or courage to make a leap of faith, or creativity to work our way out of a corner, we already have what we need.

If we offer that kernel to Jesus, he will transform it through his love and give it back to us hundredfold.

I think about the local teacher who felt a desire in her heart to help disadvantaged kids experience farm life.  This woman continued to teach part time, and after much prayer and many conversations, started an after school program.  Children are brought to her farm in Ivy, where they are taught basic gardening, cooking, swimming and other skills.  This program, called Graceworks, has continued year after year, creating a generation of kids who have a set of rich experiences that will inform the rest of their lives.

What kills me about this lady, is that she has FIVE children of her own.  Five.  You know she wasn’t sitting around her house saying, “Man, am I bored.  I need a hobby.”  Her sense of call came despite the exhaustion that must come from working and having a house full of children. 

Rather than seeing herself as depleted from all this, she saw herself as enriched.  She already had all she needed:  a farm, a love for children, a background in education and an understanding family.  What Jesus gave her was the vision, energy and networks she needed to make her dream a reality.

What have you been longing for or dreaming of that seemed just too impossible? 

Do you want to go back to school as an adult?  Get out of an abusive relationship? Take better care of your health?  Start a new ministry? 

You already have what you need inside of you. 

All you need is to pray and be open to Jesus working in ways you might not expect.

The disciples could only see one solution to their problems:  to buy food.  This panicked them, because they knew they did not have the money they needed to provide for the thousands of people at their feet.  Jesus showed them another way, an unusual way, a miraculous way, and Jesus will show us those ways, too.  Like the director of Graceworks, Jesus will give us creativity and strength when there is no earthly reason why we should have them.

Our lesson today shows us that we can feel free to follow Jesus, and persistently ask for what we want.  We don’t always do this.

The world is in such a crisis right now, with wars and global warming and floods and drought, that sometimes we shy away from Jesus.  We want to give him space to deal with the big problems the world faces.  We don’t want to bother him with our petty prayers.

But remember that pushy crowd–Even though Jesus was facing a personal crisis, he did not send the crowd away. Jesus ministered to them. Jesus performed a miracle for them.

Yes, the world is in crisis-an awful crisis-but if we stop praying, then it will be harder for us to hear Jesus.  And the crisis is not going to resolve itself.  We are going to have to help resolve it, and Jesus will show us how through our prayers.  If we stop praying, the crisis will only get worse.  Like the disciples, we Christians continue the legacy of healing into the modern age. 

We don’t need to be afraid to bother Jesus, to interrupt him.  Jesus does an excellent job of taking care of himself.  The verse that follows the passage we read today tells us that after Jesus feeds the 5000, he gently dismisses the crowd, then takes time to go up the mountain to pray.  Jesus loves us passionately enough to pour his energies into feeding us, but he also knows when to refuel.

We resist Jesus for many reasons.  We resist the blessings that Jesus wants to continually give to us, to keep giving to us, but Jesus keeps inviting us to accept them, gently nudging us to trust him, to live into the joy he has prepared for us.

Who are we to reject such an invitation?