The Miracle of Bread

Proper 14B
John 6:35, 41-51

In the name of God: the divine, the ordinary, and the union between them.  Amen.

When I was in high school, I was a show choir nerd.  Show choirs aren’t big in this part of the country – and they weren’t really in Louisiana, either.  We represented an oddity in our region of the performance genre that was much more common in the Midwest.  So don’t be surprised if you don’t know what a “show choir” is, or have never heard of them.  Most people around here haven’t.

But, a show choir is a choir that, rather than just standing and singing, incorporates dance and movement into their performance.  Imagine the nuns from the movie Sister Act – we had a bit more choreography than that, but it was more a choir than a dance troupe.  If you ever watched the TV show Glee that was on a few years ago, you’ll have a clearer understanding of what I’m talking about.  The main differences are, it wasn’t as “off the cuff” as they made it seem, and we weren’t nearly as well-funded, or as talented.

But this week, as I was studying and thinking about today, this one song that we sang in my show choir kept coming back to mind.  It was a ballad – a quieter song, without any real dancing.  Barbara Streisand recorded it in 1994 and it was called “Ordinary Miracles”.  It’s beautiful expression of how we are surrounded by wonder every day, even when we fail to see it.

The song says,

“Pebbles make a mountain.  Raindrops make a sea.
One day at a time, change begins with you and me.
Ordinary miracles happen all around.
Just by giving and receiving, comes belonging and believing.”

Through the few months that this song was a part of our program, it began to really have a deep impact on me.  It helped train me to begin seeing the world in a different way.  I wasn’t just a passenger, but a participant.  Like everyone else, I had this chance to change the world.  It didn’t have to be huge.  I didn’t have to move mountains or perform miracles.  Loving, and participating in the world was miracle enough.

This week, as we continue our exploration of bread, we hear once again that Jesus compares himself with bread.  Not lightning bolts.  Not explosions or magic.  But bread.  That simple stuff that anyone can make and everyone has had.

He says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

“Bread that came down from heaven” might sound strange to us.  Usually, our bread comes from a grocery store.  Or if we’re willing to do the work, maybe even from our own kitchens.  But never from heaven – at least, not directly.

But in his context – among the Jewish people of the ancient world – “bread from heaven” was a rich phrase, filled with meaning and allusions to the ancestors.  Jewish people would remember the story of Moses and the Hebrew people wandering in the deserts and the wilderness after escaping Pharaoh in Egypt.  They would remember the stories of their ancestors starving, and unable to care for themselves as they wandered, lost.  They would remember that their ancestors cried out in regret after having followed Moses away from Egypt.  And they would remember that when all hope seemed to have been lost – when they were at their very end – they would remember that God intervened, and fed them with manna from heaven; bread that came down from heaven.  Saving bread.

In my own life, I’ve come to realize that one of the greatest gifts of the life of Jesus and the stories of Jesus that have been handed down to us through the generations, is that they help to teach us to begin looking for holiness in the human form.  They teach us that God can be as close as the next breath.  As close as a hand we hold, or a face we see.  God isn’t just high and lofty, but near and dear.

In The Weight of Glory, his book of sermons and speeches, C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal…  Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Jesus helped to teach us that: that miracles could be ordinary.  That God could be present, even among us.

It’s important to remember that as we explore the idea that something as simple as bread can be enough to show us God.  Bread is a really simple thing.  In its purest form, it’s no more than just flour and water.  It’s a simple thing of human origin – something made by our own, often-incapable hands.  It’s literally been around, and been made in homes and over camp fires for thousands of years.  Bread is almost as ordinary as anything can be.  We sometimes dress it up.  We do things to change the taste and the texture – things to make it seem more complicated than it really is.  But in the end, it really is just something simple.  Basic.  Something completely normal.  But that’s also what makes it holy.

God has been using the most basic elements of creation to make miracles as far back as we can remember.  God has been using people – completely flawed people like ourselves – as agents of God in the world since before we could remember.

When we hear the Apostle Paul – a flawed person in his own right – calling on us to “be imitators of God” it can feel like more than we’re capable of doing.  It can feel like an insurmountable hill to climb.  How can we imitate the God of all creation?  How can we imitate the one who made the heavens and the earth?  How can we imitate the one who sent Christ as the savior of a world that was nearly lost?

We can imitate God by not casting off the ordinary as unimportant, but by, like God, using the ordinary stuff of creation to bring about miracles, and healing, and holiness.  We can honor the things God has given and that God uses to make the world better.

The real hallmark of God isn’t the big, flashy miracles.  The real hallmark of God is seeing the world for what it is: simple and useful; and, recognizing and declaring it to be good.  That’s how we can be imitators of God – by using the simple stuff of the world to make the world better.  A little at a time.  Each in our own way.

None of us will become God.  But we can all contribute to the mission of God.  We don’t need any special powers to do it – just the simple things that God shows us how to use.  Things like flesh.  Bread.  Water and wine.  The fruits of the earth and the fruits of our labor.  Because, what dwells within all of that is Love, and when we love, however impoverished it might end up seeming, we are taking a share in the nature of God.  That’s the living bread.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.