The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bread alone?

16 August 2009
Proper 15B
John 6:51-58

In the name of God. Amen.

The old adage is that a person cannot live on bread alone. I’m beginning to think that the compilers of our lectionary did not agree! This is the fourth out of five weeks in which the primary metaphor in the Gospel lesson is about bread.

It began three weeks ago. The crowds following Jesus had earthly needs – perhaps the most basic of earthly needs: they were hungry. They were gathered in a field and their resources were scarce. But somehow, Jesus gave them their fill. Then, after their immediate needs had been met, the people clamored around him. He retreated from them, but they continued to follow him.

So in the lesson that we heard two weeks ago, he began to teach.

He knew that the crowds were following him because he had fed them with bread. But he also knew that they needed something more. They could not live – at least not really live – on bread alone.

They had come to him in search of bread, so he met them where they were. He taught them about bread. They had eaten the bread of the earth – the toil of their hands. They had had their fill. But their hunger was more persistent than that bread could satisfy. So he told them of the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

“Sir, give us this bread always!”

And that’s when he springs it on them: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

And that was it. Like the cliffhanger at the end of a drama, we were left with that bold, unexplained statement. ‘I am that bread of life. Through me your needs will be met.’

So it’s understandable that we came back to the story for another look last week. There’s bread that gives life to the world and this guy claims to be it? Sure, he’s done some incredible things, but that might be pushing it.

And that’s right where we found the story last week. Jesus has just given away the secret – in the terms at least most likely to make any kind of sense to this crowd – and they were shocked. How can he claim to be some kind of magical bread from heaven that will give life to the world? Then they remembered who he was. ‘Is this not Jesus, whose father and mother we know? He’s just this guy, and here he is claiming he can give life to the world…’ You can almost hear the crowds mumbling against him.

Imagine if it were you. Once upon a time, you’d hired an intern to work in your office. She was just out of school and, maybe as a favor to her parents, you took her on for a while to help show her the ropes. Fast forward a few years and she’s back. This time she’s a consultant that your boss has brought in to help strategize for the future of the company. Imagine how you might feel when she starts telling you what you could be doing better or more efficiently. What nerve! You knew her when she didn’t know anything!

That must have been just how the people of the crowd felt that day. Jesus had certainly done well for himself. There was the whole feeding of the five thousand thing. But now he was just taking it too far.

I have to admit. As I was preparing to preach this week, I found this text pretty frustrating. Not only was I frustrated to have to be preaching on bread again, but also it started to feel like the message was beginning to get lost in the metaphor. With so much focus on bread, it felt like I was loosing the real focus. I mean, I get it. Jesus is like bread. Through Christ we are nourished and sustained. Without Christ we wander through the world with an insatiable hunger. Yeah, yeah. I get it!

But the thing was, I didn’t really get it.

I started looking for a way out. I found myself thinking; maybe I’ll focus on one of the other texts and just mention the bread thing again. In that desperation I stumbled on the line from the Letter to the Ephesians, and it was like something clicked: “Do not get drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit!”

That’s what the bread talk is really all about: “Don’t get drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit.”

We have earthly needs. No one can deny that we need our daily bread. But it’s easy to make the mistake of allowing those earthly needs to grow into something more: a kind of temporal drunkenness that distorts our vision of what is true.

Many of you know that I am an advocate for finding ways of bringing the church into new media and technology. I have long argued that churches should have great websites not just because it’s good marketing, but also because it is what I describe as “the new red door”. They are the first things that prospective visitors of the 21st century are likely to see.

I personally hate text messaging. Even with my iPhone, I just get annoyed with typing on the tiny keyboard. And if we’re going to be having a conversation anyway, why don’t we just call one another? But I do it, because I think that it will help me to reach people who might not be reached in any other way.

I blog. I facebook. I twitter. Certainly for fun, but also because I have this sneaking suspicion that these tools will bring me a step closer to finding and sharing the Body of Christ. And like Jesus talking to the crowds about bread, I believe that these tools can help me to meet the people of God where they are.

That was almost disrupted this week when I received a “gift” on facebook. In case you’re not familiar, one of the ways that facebook can be used is to give electronic gifts to people. For example, on someone’s birthday you may send them a little image of a birthday cake. Several months ago, in my circles, people were giving one another “exquisite vestments” – birettas and copes and whatnot. All in the form of little images. There are gifts for nearly every occasion.

And then it came: this week, a friend sent me a “communion” on facebook. Yes, you heard me right. There is now a facebook application that allows you to send virtual bread and wine to your friends.

When Trinity, Wall Street began tweeting the Holy Eucharist, I chuckled. But I thought, it’s really no different a concept than church bells. They’re just announcing to the community that Christ is present. But instead of a local neighborhood, the community to which they announce is the nearly 600 people from around the world who follow them on Twitter.

But virtual communion? At what point does the virtual world become nothing more than the temporal world? To what degree does it share a clearer vision of the Body of Christ, and to what degree does it simply distort what is true?

Perhaps these questions are more explicit in the online world, but they are the questions that face us in our lives as Christians every day. What is real? What is temporal?

Yes, we need our daily bread. But can we live on bread alone? God knows we can’t. Amen.

7 comments:

Anders Branderud said...

John Richardsson wrote:
“The crowds following Jesus had earthly needs – perhaps the most basic of earthly needs: they were hungry. They were gathered in a field and their resources were scarce”

(le-havdil)
What did the historical person in the original version of what now is “Matthew” teach and how did he live?

If you want to follow the first century historical man Ribi Yehoshua (the Messiah) from Nazareth: A logical analysis of the historical documents and archaeology shows what he taught and how to follow him.

Learn more here: www.netzarim.co.il
Anders Branderud

Obie Holmen said...

Thanks for your prayers for Goodsoil. I will be there as a volunteer and live blogging. You may follow if you like at http://theliberalspirit.com

Jon M. Richardson said...

I published Anders' comment because there was nothing in it that was inflammatory or impolite. But please do not see my acceptance of this comment as an endorsement of the website that he is advertising.

The website was sufficiently vague as to not attract too much attention, but through a quick Google of the comment's author I easily determined that he has anti-Islamic, anti-Arabic, (and it may be assumed, anti-Palestinian) motivations.

Such position are NOT supported by this blog.

But free speech is.

So I let the comment stand with my personal objections.

Jon M. Richardson said...

Obie - Thank you for your work with Goodsoil! I look forward to hearing of your work in Minneapolis!

Anders Branderud said...

Jon M. Richardson,
To reply to your latest opinion about me.

I like arabs and I have arab friends.
I am 100 % against the terrorism and terrorism support that exists among many arabs. (proven by statistics - http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1208422645447&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull ), which I strongly oppose on my blog.
I am not anti-Arabic, which would make me a racist.
I strongly oppose that some arabs uses terror in the name of Islam.

Anders Branderud

Jon M. Richardson said...

Mr. Branderud:
With all due respect, I would not consider the Jerusalem Post to be an unbiased or fair-minded source.

While I agree with you that terrorism should not be tolerated, I notice in the article that you linked that there is no mention of the Israeli state sponsored terrorism against the Palestinian people. Settlements continue to be built (see http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105384977 - no one can accuse US media of being biased in ANY way on this subject, except perhaps in a pro-Israeli way). Palestinian land continues to be stolen by Israelis. For a map (admittedly old) see here: http://www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/IMG/jpg/Wall_Map_February2007.jpg This shows the "Green Line", the divergence from that line through the current and planned apartheid wall, and the VAST regions of Palestine that are occupied by hostile and illegal Israeli settlements.

I am in no way anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish. I do, however, think it is unacceptable for a strong state, backed by untold millions of US dollars (another very strong state) to be stealing from another marginalized people. It disgusts me.

And I'm not even the one being stolen from! I can only imagine the desperation under which the Palestinian people live. I can only imagine how that desperation might require me to act in desperate ways if I were the one being so clearly oppressed.

If Israel needs a wall to separate itself from Palestine, that is it's own choice. But the minute that wall extends beyond the green line and the minute that Israeli citizens steal a single square inch of another people's land - I support the victim. Never the perpetrator.

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