Bread of Life – Proper 13(B) – 2015

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a and Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Jesus is daily sustenance. He is bread to be savored, gathered around. Bread to inspire thanksgiving, to remind us of the wonder of life, to strengthen us. We can contemplate him thoughtfully, chewing slowly, pondering, but we will gain more if we come to him as hungry beggars, open to whatever he places in our outstretched hands.

To read the sermon, click here.

Download the sermon for Proper 13B.

Written by The Rev. Amy E. Richter is rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Maryland.

 

Food that endures, 10 Pentecost, Proper 13 (B) – 2012

August 5, 2012

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a and Psalm 51:1-13 (or Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 and Psalm 78:23-29); Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

A deep spiritual hunger is implanted in every human heart. Different people will seek to fill this need in different ways, but the hunger is not unique. People yearn for a deeper connection, an eternal spiritual connection, and when that is lacking will seek any means to be fulfilled.

Jesus said he came that we might have life and that abundantly. Yet, he who offered fullness of joy was often met by people with simpler, lesser needs. In the fifth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus met a Samaritan woman who longed for living water so she wouldn’t have to keep returning to the well each day. Jesus started with that basic need and used it to forge a relationship with her that ended with the woman reconnected to God and to others in her community.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus has met the immediate needs of a host of people. Those remaining after he fed 5,000 with a little fish and bread seek out Jesus. Jesus tells them, “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.”

The previous day, Jesus fed their physical hunger with bread and fish, and the crowd sought him out once more. Jesus points them to their spiritual hunger, which is what he really wanted to fill. After all, the people were created to love God and love others as they loved themselves, and in chasing after other needs, they risked getting further from the real nourishment they needed.

Jesus compares this to the original bread from heaven, manna, with which God miraculously fed the children of Israel for 40 years in an uninhabitable wasteland. This was the daily bread that would come anew each morning, with enough to last the day and a double portion for the Sabbath. Now Jesus compares the daily bread of manna, which God gave in the desert, to the Bread of Life, which God offers in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus offers nourishment, which goes to the heart of our most basic human need to fill a spiritual hunger. Having been created to be in relationship with God, without that connection, we can feel empty.

It is an easy move to connect Jesus referring to himself as the Bread of Life to the Eucharist. For in the mystery of the Eucharistic feast we eat the bread and drink the wine, and in so doing we partake of the body and blood of Jesus. But we don’t want to jump to that correct response so quickly that we miss the bigger picture.

This discourse comes when Jesus has two more years of ministry ahead of him. In fact, this is, after all, John Chapter 6, out of 21 chapters. There is much more time left in Jesus’ ministry before he gets to that last meal with his disciples. John’s gospel makes clear what the other three gospels only hint at: the Eucharist is not about Jesus’ death alone. Jesus’ self-giving act in communion is not only concerned with the Last Supper, the cross and the empty tomb alone. Jesus’ whole life, rather than just one or two events, will institute the sacrament of communion. Put differently, faith is not in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone, but in Jesus’ whole life – from Bethlehem to Golgotha, and beyond to an empty tomb in a garden, Jesus’ appearances to his disciples, and his ascension to heaven.

Everything Jesus did – who Jesus was and how he acted – are part of God’s revelation to us. We cannot separate one part of his life from the rest. Nor should we have a Christian part of our lives separate from the rest of our lives. We are to take Jesus’ whole story and make it part of our whole story. This is much more than hearing the word, it is word and deed.

In baptism, we do not simply hear of Jesus’ baptism, but water is poured over us as a sign that we are united with Christ through baptism. We don’t just hear the story, we actually get wet. In the Eucharist, we don’t merely listen to the words, “Take eat,” but we actually get up, come to the altar rail to take and eat. It’s not just the bread that we take, bless, break and give. God took Jesus’ whole life, blessed, broke it and gave it to us. We are to let that story of God’s love for us take us, bless us, break us and give us back to the world.

Jesus wanted those who followed him after having their fill of fish and bread to discover real spiritual nourishment so that they would never hunger again. And yes, one is fed through the Eucharist, but this too is only part of the picture. Our Sunday worship is to be just a part of how we are fed spiritually.

Compare spiritual nourishment to food. Eating out once a week in a restaurant is not unusual. In fact, it is rare to find someone who eats out only once a week. But what if that was the only meal the person ate. Someone who goes back to their familiar seat in a restaurant week after week to enjoy their one meal of the week could never be nourished enough to make it through the remaining six days.

In the same way, common worship in church on Sunday is meant to be an important part of one’s spiritual food and drink, but it will never sate your hunger if this is your whole plan for feeding you spirit.

Fortunately, the Episcopal Church has a centuries-old norm of daily prayer that is well suited to filling this void. The Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer as found in the Book of Common Prayer are a wonderfully enriching daily devotion. When praying in this way, together with the daily scripture readings, one is better prepared to meet whatever comes. It is not that troubles never occur to people who pray and read their Bible; it’s just that those who marinate daily in prayer and scripture are more connected to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Then whatever comes, they can call on that connection.

For those looking for an easy way to get started, there is the very helpful “Forward Day by Day,” which in booklet form or online offers a brief daily reflection to accompany the scripture readings. The booklet offers the same readings as those used in the Daily Office. Either way, you’ll spend 15-20 minutes out of each day re-centering your life in the ground of your being, the God who made you and redeemed you. There is no better way to nourish your spiritual side than through a daily meal of prayer and scripture reading.

So much of our lives is spent working for the food that perishes. We must work to earn food, water and shelter and all the extras that make life enjoyable. But we know there is more to life than the daily grind. For a fulfilled life, one should commit a portion of each day to prayer and reading the Bible, for that is the food that endures for eternal life and the gift of Jesus who came so that you might have an abundant life.

 

— The Rev. Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He writes on congregational development at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

Jesus is daily sustenance, 9 Pentecost, Proper 13 (B) – 2009

August 2, 2009

(RCL) 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a and Psalm 51:1-13 (Track 2: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 and Psalm 78:23-29); Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

A widower had some raspberry bushes. The first summer after his wife died, a woman from his church asked if she could come over and pick raspberries. She knew he and his wife had grown the bushes from the spindly young canes that came from the mail-order catalogue into thick healthy shrubs laden with fruit. “They have to be picked if you want them to keep producing,” she explained. “And I want to make you a pie. You don’t get raspberry often because it takes a whole lot of berries and you have a whole bunch of berries just waiting to be made into pie.”

She picked the berries in the morning and returned in the afternoon with the pie: homemade crust, red raspberries and filling peeking through the golden brown lattice crisscrossing the top, and still warm.

“Enjoy a piece with me?” he asked. “I can’t eat an entire pie by myself.” He poured them each a glass of 2% milk and cut two pieces of the pie. It was marvelous – sweet, tart, gooey delicious fruit; flaky, tender, slightly salty crust. Perfect, especially with the milk to wash it down and clear the palate for the next bite. He thanked her for the pie.

Although the pie would have been a luxurious treat – he could certainly have enjoyed it piece by piece by himself – he got an idea. He packed up the pie and went to visit a friend. “Here, have a piece of pie,” he said. He sliced a piece and dished it onto one of the paper plates he had brought along. “I won’t stay long, but I think you will enjoy this.” They visited while the friend ate the pie, a small piece, enough to taste, but the richness of the sweet and tart and tender pie made a small piece just the right amount.

He thought next of who might actually not just enjoy a piece of the pie, but need the pie; who might need some simple pleasure, some tangible reminder that unassuming things like berries and sugar, flour and salt can be transformed into something that lets you actually taste summer in a mouthful; who might be served by this undemanding manifestation of care and love in edible form.

The pie was too good not to share. He spent the rest of the day sharing the pie, slice by modest slice. He and those with whom he shared it found that even a small piece could convey the essence of it: sunshine, earth, abundance, creativity, compassion.

He came to think of it as communion by pie.

It was a kind of grace that conveyed the knowledge that he was part of a larger community and that connection was part of what he hungered for. The pie did not cause the connection, of course. But the pie was the means for it, a way to say: “I see you. I want you to join me in enjoyment, in nourishment, in a moment set aside. Take off your work gloves, turn off your computer, set down your cell phone, check book, dish towel. Sit down for a moment and do nothing more than enjoy a piece of pie.”

Pie is not bread. A good homemade pie says indulgence in a way that most common loaves of bread do not unless one is truly hungry. But a good homemade loaf can also remind us of humble elements transformed: flour, salt, yeast, maybe some egg to glaze the crust. The tangible and instantaneous connection with foundational processes of life: sun ripening grain, earth and rain feeding growth, human labor and creativity transforming raw materials into life-sustaining nourishment.

Attention to the ingredients connects us to a web of labor and laborers whose efforts make this food possible. We may even catch a glimpse of generations past whose ingenuity and fortitude laid the foundation for the bread before us.

We could go all the way back to ancient times, but we don’t have to in order to show the preciousness and perseverance of people dependent upon bread for their daily sustenance. Immigrants packed their trunks with wheat seeds when they journeyed to the great plains of North America. Refugees sewed seeds into the hems of their skirts and their children’s shirts for the voyage so the new life they longed for would be sustainable in a new home. They knew that with even a bit of bread, they could be nourished. They knew they could sustain life – planting, tending, harvesting, milling, mixing, kneading, waiting, shaping, baking, taking, giving thanks, breaking, sharing.

We meet Jesus in today’s gospel just after he has fed the multitudes. After everyone has had their fill of bread. They have had the pleasure of eating enough. We know that people have pushed away from the table Jesus set for them in the wilderness feeling sated, satisfied, because according to the story, there are even leftovers.

They ate until they were satisfied. They had enough.

Funny thing about “enough.” Just what is “enough”?

The people Jesus had fed wanted a guarantee that they would always have enough. Jesus’ provision of plentiful bread seemed to them something they wanted more of. So they pursued him. They thought if they could have him, they could have bread – limitless, wonderful, unending bread. Enough.

Jesus fed hungry people. He knew people need to eat. He told his followers to feed people, real, physical, tangible, nutritious food. But he also promised that he himself would be enough.

He didn’t want to be just a provider of physical bread. He wants to be our bread – our sustenance, our nourishment, our daily strength, our source of satisfaction.

Jesus is bread, but he wants to fill the hunger of our hearts and not just our stomachs. He wants to fill the gnawing, aching emptiness that we try to fill with lesser things, to satisfy the longing or the boredom that we use substances of all sorts to quiet, to put an end to the grasping, fretting, worrying about having enough of anything that will in the end possess us, rather than allowing ourselves to fall into the hands of the one for whom we were made.

Jesus is daily sustenance. He is bread to be savored, gathered around. Bread to inspire thanksgiving, to remind us of the wonder of life, to strengthen us. We can contemplate him thoughtfully, chewing slowly, pondering, but we will gain more if we come to him as hungry beggars, open to whatever he places in our outstretched hands.

He was taken, blessed, and broken. He is to be shared. The sharing of his life invites us to exercise the creativity of an artisan bread-baker and the compassion of a mother sewing seeds into the clothing of her children so they will always have sustenance for the journey.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”

 

— The Rev. Amy E. Richter is rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Maryland.