1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51
I love making bread. My Mum taught me at a young age how to make a sponge with warm water and yeast. To let it rise and then add flour. Mum showed me the techniques of kneading, punching down and then shaping it into loaves. I worked first with bread and pizza dough, then moved on to doughnuts and bagels and later reached out into brioche and other trickier dough’s. I really like bread, the process of making it, the smell of it and the taste – I love eating bread! This is all made more difficult by the fact that I am allergic to wheat. Part of why we have switched to gluten free bread for communion, is that unless the bread is gluten free, I can’t take part in communion. We want to include all in this body of Christ.
What memories of bread do you have? Was bread made in your household? Did you take a sandwich to school everyday? Was it white bread or whole wheat? Have you ever felt that hunger sitting in a room smelling bread baking and then having to wait till its cool enough to slice so that you can have a piece smothered in butter. Most of us eat bread – even those of us that are gluten free. Lots of cultures have their own bread even if it doesn’t look like the fluffy bread we eat. I know in some places a meal is not complete unless you have bread. Have I made you all sufficiently hungry now?
So it is no wonder that Jesus uses the image of bread for one of his first “I am” statements in John. “I am the bread of life”. I worked for 5 summers at summer camp in Pennsylvania, Vermont and then Indiana. At these camps we needed ways of getting to know each other better so that we could support one another and jump into the intense community with each other that camp asks of you. One way that we would jump-start this getting to know you process and start the community growing, is that we would get staff to write “I am” sheets.
You would write down a lot of I am statements – I am a daughter, sister, very loyal friend. I am a dancer, swimmer, reader of fantasy junior fiction. You get the picture of what my I am sheet would look like. But these sheets also gave us the space for vulnerability. I am a missionary kid who sometimes feels homeless. I am hardly ever on the same continent as all of my family. I am racists and I am trying to become more culturally aware. They opened up windows into our lives. What would you put on your “I am” sheet?
Jesus gives us windows and invitations into understanding more of who he is through these “I am” statements in John. The gospel of John writes with layers of meaning and this text is no exception. Jesus is not only the giver of bread but he is the very bread itself. God gives and Jesus is the bread. There are multiple things in the text that invite us to remember other stories from the Bible. The Jews murmur and are skeptical even critical of Jesus and his words. This is one of the few places the word murmur shows up in the New Testament and it harkens back to the Exodus when the people murmured with discontent because they had no food in the desert. And God gave them bread. God provided bread that would sustain them for the journey. Not too much but enough bread for that day.
I want to jump over to the Old Testament text we heard read this morning. In this we find our friend the prophet Elijah in-between two stories we know really well. Elijah has just come off the mountain where he challenged the prophets of Baal to a standoff – my God against yours. Elijah lets the prophets of Baal go first, begging their god to send down fire to consume their offering. Elijah stands by and mocks them. No fire comes. Then Elijah asks them to soak his offering with buckets and buckets of water. He prays to God and the offering and all the water is consumed by fire. The text after our story is where God is not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire but in the silence, the still small voice.
But in today's text we find Elijah in-between. He comes down from the mountain where he has proved that God wins over Baal, that God is the Lord of Hosts and is alive. And he goes fleeing off into the wilderness. We find an Elijah who is depressed. He sits down under a solitary broom tree and asks to die. And then he goes to sleep. Elijah has literally come down off of a mountaintop high and goes so low that he wants it all to be over.
The next part of the story is so gentle. An angel touches him. We don’t hear any trumpets or see bright lights. Just a touch and the words “get up and eat”. This is not your mother yelling up the stairs that breakfast is ready and you better get down here and eat or you are going to be late. This is bread and water brought to where Elijah is laying and the angel saying “eat”. There was a cake of bread and a jar of water and Elijah ate and then laid down again and went back to sleep. The angel came back and once again touches him. Doesn’t shake him or scold him. Just a touch and the words “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” Elijah eats and that food keeps him going for 40 days and 40 nights. That must have been some bread.
At Kids Club this summer we have been learning the Lord’s Prayer with the Kids. We told the story of the great banquet and learned the part of the Lord’s prayer that says “give us today our daily bread”. As we sat and ate snack with these kids from our neighborhood, some of whom are food insecure, we talked about having enough bread for today. The Lord’s prayer teaches us to pray that we have enough bread this day. And I am reminded of the words of another table grace – Thank you O God for our bread and give bread to all those who hungry and a hunger for justice to those who have bread.
Jesus is this bread of life that is offer to us. Not forced into our hands but given. Jesus talks about being draw to God, maybe like a mother drawing a child to her chest.
I invite you to think with me today - what is this bread that is offered? What do we need to sustain us as a community and as individuals? There are many needs around us. This weekend we think particularly of the need for healing and radical change in the way our society approaches race. As we come to the one year anniversary of the violent clashes in Charlottesville, I wonder what is the bread that my African American brothers and sister need to sustain them on their journey. Maybe Jesus the bread of life needs to make us uncomfortable in life the way it is, so that we can see that our comfort comes at a cost for others.
Do we ever even let ourselves be hungry? We spend a lot of our lives working so that we don’t need. Do we allow ourselves to really long for things and to hang out in that hungry unsatisfied space? Because we rush around meeting so many of our own needs I wonder if we miss the needs of others and if in removing our need to long for things, we are removing our longing for God?
Where is our need and what is being offered through Jesus as the bread of life? Can we remove our blinders and get beyond our murmuring complaints and see where God is offering to feed us?
Sometimes I find it hard to be honest with God. It is a challenge to be vulnerable and name my need and then to actually trust that God will fulfill that need. A few weeks ago we had a singing Sunday where we focused on God as shepherd. It was the Sunday right after Virginia Mennonite Conference summer sessions and the Sunday right before I left with the youth for our service trip. I was tired and teary. I thought that maybe God had put me in the wrong place and time and that Sunday I told God that. I was weary and I was not ready for the journey ahead.
As we sang I felt the breath of an invitation to trust this God that I claim to follow, to be open to receiving what I needed. Over the week through laughter with the young people, conversations with our cooks, the care of others when I was hurt and through quiet moments of prayer, I felt God gently giving me the bread I needed for the journey. Jesus the bread of life sustained me so that I could open a space to meet with those we had gone to serve.
This bread of life comes as a surprising and gentle invitation to the very spot of our need. Can we have the trust to name our need and receive the bread that God offers.
The children are going to help me hand out bread. Take some bread. Hold it, feel it, smell it, eat it slowly. What is its texture, flavor, feel in your mouth. As you take this bread think about your own life. What is your need? What do you need from Jesus, the bread of life, to sustain you for your journey? Are you placing your belief and trust in this God? Take a few moments to reflect.
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