Weeks of Bread, #2
Aug 01, 2021
10th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: John 6:24-35
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Let the Weeks of Bread continue! And, that they will, for three more weeks after today, as our focus on the sixth chapter of John also continues.
I do not know yet if any of you baked your favorite bread for us to share in the Kinship Café? Making all this bread talk more palatable and reminding us that Jesus is the bread of life. But since we are on the topic of bread, do any bread stories, memories that feature bread, come to mind? I know that one of you has memories of her mother slicing a loaf of bread to be used in Holy Communion, making the wafers we use seem not quite right.
My bread story occurred in three different locations – the house where I grew up, my cousins’ home, and my grandparents’ farm. In each place, I suppose using the same recipe, my Mom, Aunt Ruth, and Grandma made yeast cinnamon rolls with plump, sweet raisins embedded in them. The smell of them baking woke up your taste buds at any time, but especially early in the morning. We – my cousins, brothers, and I - stuffed them in our mouths as if we were starving. That’s the bread of which I could never get enough.
The people in today’s Gospel lesson have a similar problem: they want more. We may recall that in last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus blessed five barley loaves and two fish, which, when distributed, became enough food to feed thousands of people. There was more than enough, and their need was met. This sign, which was intended to point beyond the event itself to the power of God at work in Jesus, caused some in the crowd to view Jesus as the prophet – Elisha or Elijah returned, or the Messiah, the coming one. But others thought that his being prophet was not enough; they wanted Jesus to have worldly power and would have made him King, but Jesus evaded them.
While Jesus was avoiding the crowd, his disciples got into a boat to cross to the other side of the lake; a storm blew up and began to rock the vessel, and fear bubbled up within them. Even more frightening, though, was the sight of Jesus coming to them, walking across the water. In both of these stories, the theme is the same. When there is a need, Jesus’ power is revealed, and the need is met.
As the account picks up today, many of the people Jesus fed crossed the lake in their own boats to find Jesus; you could say that they chased him down. It was not that they were so enthralled with the man or his teaching; they wanted free breakfast, lunch, and supper, having missed the point that the feeding of the multitude was a sign pointing to who Jesus is.
I like this quote from Chelsey Harmon’s commentary on the situation: “Their short-sighted effort to find him is from the wrong motivation. Understandable, I’d say – when you’ve been given a good meal, don’t you hope for a return invite? And yet, this is our typical approach to our relationship with God: we seek him through quick prayers for whatever we are in need of: a decision we need to make, a resource we lack, a struggle we need saving from; we want a full belly, and we know God provides. But, we keep missing what Jesus is offering in abundance: (which is), a heart full of wonder, a much fuller feast.” (1) In other words, we miss the big picture. The promise of spiritual satisfaction, the meeting of the most significant need we have, and the one which, when met, makes it possible to endure all other needinesses.
The irony, both in this Gospel lesson and in our lives, is that even though we want God to meet our needs, we also want to control what God does through our actions. The people chasing Jesus liked the idea of “food that endures for eternal life” that Jesus mentioned, although they probably were thinking of fish that will never spoil or bread that will never get moldy. But, his simply giving it to them sounds too easy. What if he changes his mind? So, they ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” In other words, let’s make a deal. If we do this, then you, Jesus, are committed to (obligated to?) providing that imperishable food, OK?
Jesus does not agree; he doesn’t give them a list of “good works” that, if done, will assure the relief of their physical hunger and meeting of other needs. Instead, he tells them to believe in him whom God has sent; the verb that is used implies an active commitment to someone, in this case, Jesus.
Well…that’s not what they had in mind…they need some proof. For example, they say, remember our hero of the faith, Moses? He provided our ancestors manna in the wilderness, bread from heaven to eat. Why don’t you do that, Jesus, the people said, and then we’ll commit ourselves to you. (We heard about that in the first lesson, the people freed from slavery in Egypt complained about their hunger, and the Lord responded saying, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have you fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” So, God gave them manna in the morning and quails at night.) What about you Jesus, they ask, if Moses did that for our ancestors, what will you do for us?
At this point, I imagine that Jesus is more than a little exasperated. First of all, it was God, not Moses, who gave food to the Israelites. Second, Jesus has more to offer than Moses; he is the gift of God coming down from heaven to the whole world. Quoting Chelsey Harmon again, “Jesus tells them that if they come looking for him to spiritually feed them (and not just their stomachs), they will never know what it is like to be spiritually hungry or thirsty. In and through Christ, we receive the abundance of God. As full as Jesus has made their bellies, the Spirit can (and will) fill their hearts with wonder that will never cease.” (2)
With that promise in mind, let me share another bread story. This one was told by Robert Hoch about his family’s return from the United States to the United Kingdom in December 2020. The pandemic was still limiting interactions: their children visited with grandparents, whom they had not seen in over a year, through a window. They had come a long way to be closer to family but felt so distant. The same was true of their neighbors, Nancy and Mike. They had waved at one another now and then, but that was all.
But one day, as they stepped out of the cottage, the neighbor Nancy came out of her front garden, calling out to them. In her hands, she held a freshly baked sourdough bread loaf, still warm from the oven. It was for them, she said. Robert saw it as a sign, a promise of a future meal to be shared again as neighbors. (3)
Bread, and especially the bread of Holy Communion, is a sign for us, an ongoing guarantee of Jesus’ promise of constant spiritual fullness that cannot be depleted. Jesus is offering in abundance a heart full of wonder, a much fuller feast when he said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Let the Weeks of Bread continue!
(1) “The Lectionary Gospel: John 6:24-35” by Chelsey Harmon, July 26, 2021, Center for Excellence in Preaching.
(2) Same as #1
(3) Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Commentary on John 6:24-35 by Robert Hoch, www.workingpreacher.com