Who is God for you? Where do you find God? Is God spirit or person? Belief, lifestyle, or creed? Hope or chimera?
One of the few Jesus stories that’s in all four of the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – is the feeding of the 5,000. This story, which Pastor John Roberts preached on last week, is the basis for the next four weeks of gospel readings all from the 6th chapter of John, for a total of five Sunday’s. That gives us these next four weeks to figure out who Jesus is, as the Bread of Life. Is this too much time for such a simple theme as bread? Or, not nearly enough for such a complex aesthetic as life? How important is it to know the Bread of Life? If we know the Bread of Life, will we know God?
My mom is someone who loves good food, bread – sure - but especially desserts. If you know me, you know I have the same weakness for sweets! But my mom is so funny – whenever she sits down to dessert, whether home-made or store bought, chocolate or fruity, she always says the same thing, ummhh… this is my favorite!
And who isn’t a food lover, especially in this city of great restaurants – famous chiefs opening new venues all the time, local favorites that have been around since forever, from hot dogs to foie gras, we have it all! In our Logan Square neighborhood we have Lula’s, a trendy, hipster-infused hang-out that has a new menu every time you go. Though, bordering on the pretentious, the things they do with spices and herbs are truly amazing. From Bread Pudding French Toast, currently on the Brunch menu, with caramel sauce, peach compote, raspberry coulis, whipped sour cream, and pecan praline, to the Dinner menu’s Parsnip Risotto, with marcona almond, wild mushrooms, smoked pecorino, and spring onion dashi, the fussiness in not fake, but actually, out of this world. Whenever I dine there, I always find myself remarking on the way out that I could die and go to heaven!
I also like simple, well done, meals. Nothing is more filling and delicious than the Frugal Gourmet’s Lentil Salad, a great summer meal, which, you’re lucky, I don’t mind saying, if you’ve tasted it when I’ve brought it to pot luck – haha! – it’s just chilled cooked lentils with parsley and scallions, olive oil and lemon juice, and four spices, black pepper and garlic, coriander and cumin. And yet, a moderate bowl with a slice of your favorite bread, is not only a meatless meal with complete protein value, but always delicious and satisfying. It’s filling, so that you never feel like snacking in between meals.
What’s your favorite meal? What fills you up, or keeps you coming back for more?
The crowds that go after Jesus, who have just had their fill on the hillside, fed with the Bread of Life, have what is sometimes called, a famished craving. Like the latest restaurant opening, they are drawn to Jesus for the fabulous meal, but do not see the sign pointing to God. And so they come back repeatedly for more tasty meals and treats – they’ve eaten, but not been filled or satisfied. “You’re not looking for me because you saw signs,” Jesus says, “but because you ate your fill of the loaves,” what he calls “the food that perishes.”
It reminds the crowds of when Moses led them out of slavery into the freedom of the promised land, and how he produced manna for them, along the way, in their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. “Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat,” they remind Jesus proudly. Can he do this? Is Jesus as good as Moses? Will he be their king? But, I wonder? Did they really eat that well in the desert? Were they satisfied? I seem to remember something about complaints, it wasn’t as good as the food the ate in Egypt, in captivity!
Jesus, who invites them to come to him, does not, and will not, indulge their famished craving, their appetites for bland or sugary food, the kind that lifts you up, before it slams you down! “Amen, amen,” Jesus tells them – let me remind you, “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven…” And with that, our taste buds suddenly turn sour, and that comforting place in our brain that tells us the sugar rush is out of this world, is interrupted! We may even take offense. What do you mean Moses didn’t give us the manna?! But, if we are open to the Holy Spirit, if we do not take offense, we may find that Jesus is about to turn us!
Who gives us our bread today? How is it made, and who sets the price? Why do some countries and cultures do better at feeding their people than others?
Bread is only water, salt and yeast, and of course, wheat. What can possibly go wrong with this simple recipe? Of course, there are other ingredients that go into the bread equation we don’t always count, like petroleum, both in production, often by huge combines instead of the many hands of labor as in times past, and in getting the bread to market, sometimes thousands of miles away. There is also the climate: sun, air, water and soil, which can be affected by drought and flood.
And so, for example, when in the 12 months leading up to the Arab Spring last year, wheat prices rose drastically due to petroleum speculation and multiple world-wide crop failures, Egypt was hugely affected. One in five Egytians live on less than $1 a day. Combine that with the high unemployment for young people, and they were ready to take to Tahrir Square. When President Mubarak stepped down after 18 days of protests and a 29 year reign, they thought they had died and gone to heaven!
But success turned into famished craving, when some of the protest leaders failed to get on the ballot, and the military conspired to take back control of government and writing a new Constitution. Bread was the trigger for all this, on their walk to freedom, but the road to the Bread of Life looks to be a long and winding one!
And yet Jesus is always about making a way, to turn us! Bread is important, it’s vital in fact. But bread alone is not enough to fill us up or keep the peace. The one who Jesus calls Father, the one who sent him from heaven, from above, who is the creator of us all, the true giver of life, our motherly-father, our parent and progenitor who provides and then frees us, who gives us enough, blesses us, and then says to us, share – this one, this power beyond all knowing, gives manna, the dewy morning meal, to all. As the Exodus story goes, whoever hoarded the manna, or tried to save some for later, that is, not share it, was not allowed to stay in the company of journeyers, on the way to the promised land. It is like the punishment of death for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit. And so we find too that there is death all around us, starving people in our streets, oblivious obese over-fed people in high places, and in a report this weekend, the highest rates of poverty in America since “the war on poverty” was declared 50 years ago. “Inequality” is too good a name for what we live with today, all because, you might say, we don’t know where our manna comes from, and how to share.
Jesus, the Bread of Life, points us to this power that is both very near to us, and totally other – our meal and salvation for whom we could die and go to heaven! Not everyone who claims to know Jesus, however, or Mohammad or Buddha or Abraham, have understood the sign of our times, or the God it points to. Bread is simple food. Bread is also as complex as our politics and our diverse ecosystem – it is the staff of life or the sentence of death. We share the Bread of Life around this table. It fills our bellies, it satisfies our craving, it points us to the source of life, the living one who empowers us to be the body of Christ in the world. It is that simple, and that overwhelmingly beyond our knowing. And even in the face of sometimes large injustices and sinfulness, those who continue to feed at the trough of a famished craving, and refuse to share, we say yes to the Bread of Life, and let it do its work in us. Jesus continues to invite us to the table of grace. Jesus turns us and forms us, to love and share, share and love. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,” he says, “and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”