thoughts on Bread from Heaven

This sermon was preached on 11-27-13 for the Thanksgiving Eve/Pie Church service.  The reading was John 6:22-35.

I scoured the Bible for texts about pie, but it seems like there is a definite absence of pie in the Biblical narrative.  I suppose it hadn’t yet occurred to anyone to try mixing fruit with sugar and sticking it between two thin pieces of bread.  I did find fruit, though, and honey, and a lot of bread.  Starch, it seems, is the most basic staple of diets around the world, whether it’s potatoes, rice, noodles, or even—dare I say—lefse.

But is bread enough?

From a position of nutrition, we might argue that it is not.  After all, everyone from the lunch lady to the First Lady is trying to get children to eat more vegetables.  This is important, when some people consider ketchup and pizza sauce to be vegetables.  What about the people who don’t have access to fresh fruits or veggies?  Can we dismiss their health, saying that they can do alright just on carbs?

There’s an activity that has been done on high school and college campuses to raise awareness of the disparity between the wealthiest and the poorest around the world in terms of food.  Upon arriving at the cafeteria, the students would draw a colored ticket from the basket.  10% of the tickets are blue, 30% are yellow, and 60% are red.

Upon presenting the blue ticket, that student receives a plate loaded with a pork chop, risotto, asparagus, a dinner roll, and a dessert plate with their choice of strawberry shortcake or brownie.  They’re told that they can come back for seconds and are seated at a small round table with cloth napkins, silverware, and a floral centerpiece.  There are several choices of beverages in attractive glass pitchers.

Next comes the yellow ticket.  These students fill their own bowls with rice and beans, the dish that makes up their entire meal.  Oh, there’s corn and some sparse peppers in the mix, and it’s been flavored pretty well with chicken broth and some herbs.  These students are seated at long tables tightly packed with the other yellow ticket recipients.  Each student is provided with a spoon and paper napkins.  Plastic pitchers of water are placed on these tables, with no other choices for a beverage.

Finally, the red ticket students get their meal.  A smaller bowl is given to them, which they may fill with rice.  Plain white rice with a little salt makes up the entire meal for 60% of the students.  They pick up a spoon at the end of the line and are directed to be seated on the floor.  They can get up and walk over to the dispenser if they want water.  There are no second helpings.

The point, of course, is to teach students that their expectations of “enough” to eat may be very different from those of people with much less.  Is rice enough?  To the red ticket students, that yellow-ticket bowl of rice and beans looks like a feast.

Imagine what would happen if I tried to pull the same stunt with the pie downstairs.  You’d probably call the Contextual Learning office tonight and demand a new vicar.  Don’t worry; the pie is there for everyone, no lucky ticket required.

Of course, this congregation is already heavily involved in work to reduce hunger in this community and around the world.  There are partnerships with CES, collections for Change to Change the World, offerings for the Food Shelf, groups volunteering at Feed My Starving Children, and cooks serving meals at Our Savior’s Shelter.  We pray for CES every week because we believe that their work is important.  We believe that no one, man or woman, girl or boy, should have to endure the pangs of hunger.

It seems that this is a mission Jesus shares.  Just the day before the conversation in our lesson occurs, Jesus feeds 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  It’s the ultimate example of a food shelf taking your money and multiplying it to buy 10 times the food; here Jesus takes a small amount of food and multiplies it perhaps a thousand times in order to feed the crowd gathered at his feet.  There are baskets and baskets of leftover bread.  Is bread enough?

It’s certainly enough to send the crowd chasing across the sea to find Jesus.  He tells them, quite bluntly, that they have come not because they believe but because they’ve gotten hungry again.  It’s simple, really.  They’ve come to get what they want, what they think they need, but Jesus knows how to play this game, too.  The crowd is looking for bread.

Jesus sees this and informs them that he, the Son of Man, will provide them with heavenly food that never leaves the eater hungry.  As we might expect, the people are skeptical and a bit ungrateful.  Moses gave our ancestors bread from heaven, they say, implying that if Jesus could just give them some more to eat, maybe they would be convinced that he, too, is worth believing in.

Jesus is not to be sidetracked.  He offers the bread of God, the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  Finally, the people seem to get it.  “Sir, give us this bread always!”

Because they need life.  They need God.  They need this heavenly bread.  They need to be fed and nourished spiritually even more than they need bread for their bodies.    They begin to see that bread to nourish their bodies, while important, is not the need that Jesus has come to fulfill.

“I am the bread of life,” says Jesus. Not Jesus plus mandatory attendance at the Temple.  Not Jesus plus tithing.  Not Jesus plus the Augsburg Confession.  Just Jesus.  Those other things are nice and good, just like it’s nice to have butter and raspberry jam for your bread, but ultimately they are not the staple.  It’s that bread that gives nourishment to live.  It’s the bread from heaven, Jesus Christ alone who gives life.  He gives totally freely, no strings attached.  This bread sustains us through joys and sorrows, through loss and thanksgiving.

Is bread enough?  Yes, thanks be to God, the giver of the true bread of life.

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