10th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 18): "Bread of Life"
August 2, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the story of Jesus’ feeding 5,000 very hungry folks, with only 5 loaves of bread and two fish. Now, no way were they going to let this guy out of their sight, yet in front of 5,000 people, Jesus quietly slips away for parts unknown before the sun set. Next day: “Hey, I’m hungry. Where did that guy with the bread and fish go?” And so the hunt begins. Next thing you know, this enormous crowd is sailing across the Sea of Galilee, in hot pursuit of Jesus in what surely must have been a fleet of boats. Jesus certainly had to see them coming, and was probably hoping that they had now realized that he was the Son of God. They no sooner get out of their boats, and ask Jesus a rather irrelevant question. “So, Jesus, when did you get here?” He sees right through them and knows they don’t want him, they just want another fish sandwich. Ouch! That must have hurt.
He patiently tries to explain to them about the difference between a fish sandwich and food that endures for eternal life, but they are clueless. “Yeah, yeah – whatever. What do we have to do to? What do you need? Is there a secret handshake?” He tells them they only need one thing, “You must believe in him who God has sent”. Hmmm. Believe. Simple, but not easy. “Alright then, show us another sign so we CAN believe, like when our ancestors were in the wilderness, Moses gave them manna, bread from heaven.” But Jesus corrects them, “No, that wasn’t from Moses. It is my Father who gives you the True Bread from heaven, the bread of God which gives life to the world”, but they are still not getting it. “Yum! True bread from heaven! Can you give us this bread always? Can we put in a standing order? ”
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus explains. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Most of us know where our next meal is coming from, though we may not have decided where or what time we’re going to eat it. In today’s readings, nobody seems to know where their next meal is coming from. The Israelites in today’s reading from Exodus, wandering in the wilderness, accuse Moses and Aaron of trying to starve them to death. They cry, “When we were slaves back in Egypt, at least we had plenty of bread. So, thanks a lot, Moses!” We know that they don’t starve to death. God sends down bread from heaven, manna, every single morning, without fail (for 40 years!). Did they really think God would let them starve to death? He loved them! He parted the Red Sea for them! He drowned pharaoh’s army for them, horses and chariots into the sea for them! I mean, after all, they had history with God. For them, though, all that Red Sea business?-That was yesterday. Today they are hungry.
Almost 1,500 years later, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, so they too, have some history! But, the next day, when they can’t find him, they’re hunting him down, hoping he will do it again, like it’s just another magic trick.
When I was a little girl, my grandfather, who lived next door did the most amazing things. He could actually take a quarter out of my ear- no kidding! I was maybe 5 years old, easily amazed. Wide eyed and slack jawed, I’d check my ear, look up at him and say “Do it again” – and he would! Do it again. Do it again. That’s kind of how the crowd was treating Jesus. “Do it again! Do it again, Jesus!”
We already know that Jesus will give his life for them, so it’s easy to feel impatient with this crowd. Yet, in this story, we are that hungry crowd. Some of us have experienced very hungry, dark or scary times when the cupboard was almost bare- or maybe the cupboard got washed away in a storm- and yet, nobody died of starvation and the baby had new shoes, or “nearly new” shoes, thanks to our Social Ministry Committee and the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. So, we have history too!
And like the Israelites, some of us have spent some time (or perhaps still are) wandering in our own version of the wilderness: lonely, longing, restless, roaming, grieving, feeling lost or scattered-there’s all different kinds of hunger, the kind of hunger that a fish sandwich, even a porterhouse steak can’t fix. But, the True Bread come down from heaven, Jesus Christ, who is our Holy Manna, fills that God-shaped empty space in our soul, that gives us the strength to keep on walking. Oh yes, we have history, don’t we? And we have a future full of promise.
And like the Israelites, our relationship with God is defined everyday with each step of our journey. As you step forward to receive the True Bread from heaven, bring your history with you, for this is a meal of remembrance. Bring your hurts to the table too, for this is a meal of healing and strengthening. Bring your hungry, yearning hearts. 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.”
The invitation to this meal is for everyone who believes, so come and get it! You will leave the table strengthened to BE living bread for the hungry hearts you meet this week. You’ll also leave this table with another invitation, to a heavenly banquet, an invitation with no date on it- but that’s OK. The Host knows exactly when you’ll be arriving. Your reservation is guaranteed, and somebody you love very much is already saving you a seat at that table. Amen.
Linda S. Magill