God In the Every Day: Bread
The Season of Lent
March 17, 2019
You may have seen the news this week – a major scandal broke related to our attempts as parents to help our children get into college. On Tuesday, over 50 people around the country were charged with helping to falsify their children’s college applications through the help of a firm in California that assured them that their beloved son or daughter would be admitted into one of America’s finest schools.
That’s right, we all know about students cheating in order to improve their academic standing, but by and large, this scandal involved parents who were cheating in order to improve their children’s standing. Further, these were well healed folks – Hollywood elites, CEOs and others paying from a few thousand to over a million dollars in their quest to curry favor with just the right school. In many cases, the parents involved paid much more just to get their student into an elite school than it would cost for a full four years of normal tuition rates had they sent their children to a more middle of the road school. (Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman Among 50 Charged in College Admission Scheme, NBC News.com, March 12, 2019)
Now why do I begin my sermon at this point today? I do so because it is a prime example of our unending quest for more. Rarely if ever are we satisfied with where we are or with what we have. Instead, we constantly buy into the idea that the next job, just a few more dollars in the bank or the next accomplishment for ourselves or for our children will finally bring us what we all so desperately want – a sense of contentment and satisfaction.
Our unquenchable desires can all be summed up in statement from one of the world’s richest people, John D. Rockefeller, who was once asked, “how much money is enough?” Rockefeller famously replied, “just a little bit more.” (The God We Can Know, Rob Fuquay, pages 25-26)
In this world where we constantly want more but are never satisfied with more, the gospels invite us to discover the power of having enough. Oddly, the New Testament suggests that this doesn’t come in a few more dollars, just the right job or entrance into the perfect school. Instead, the suggestion is that it comes in the form of the person, Jesus, and in a relationship with him. Jesus, the gospels suggest, is the answer to our quest for enough. When we embrace this, it not only satisfies the longing of our soul, it also satisfies all of these other longings of our lives too.
One of the places that the gospels get at this most directly comes in our text for today, John chapter 6, with one of the most powerful of Jesus’ I am statements. Here, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life… no one who comes to me will ever be hungry again. (6:35a)”
This statement is not just about the life of faith. And, this statement is not just about how we approach life in general. This statement is about both. Further, Jesus offers this statement in the midst of comments from his followers that clearly show that they too had struggles, on every level, with what it meant to have enough.
Here is the context. Jesus offers this statement of himself as bread in the midst of his followers wanting another miracle. What is interesting is that chapter 6 of John begins with two of Jesus’ most famous miracles – the feeding of the five thousand and his walking on the water. With a few loaves of bread and a few fish, Jesus feeds 5,000 people with left overs to boot. On the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gets out of the boat and literally walks on water. But, by verse 30 of this same chapter, on the heels of these two events, Jesus’ followers say, “show us another miraculous sign”.
Feeding 5,000 and walking on water – it is not enough. They need more. Only then will they believe.
In the midst of this desire for another miracle, the people reference the Old Testament miracle of manna in the wilderness as an example of the type of miracle that would help them believe. Ironically, even in this, they illustrate their inability to understand what God had been trying to say all along.
In the story of the manna, God gave the people just enough manna for each day. They were not to store up manna and they were not to hoard manna. This bread like substance called manna came as a gift from God – new each day. Each day, one of the lessons of the manna should have been clear, this is enough, God is enough.
Even, as Jesus taught the disciples to pray, one of the lines, you will remember says this, “give us this day our daily bread”. The prayer is not “help me to stockpile plenty of bread for the next 20 years”. The prayer was again about our daily needs. It was about learning to see the basic provisions by God for the day as enough.
These various “bread” images provide us with both spiritual truths and life truths. They are about the day to day business of life and about the kingdom of God at the same time. In seeing Jesus as the bread of life, we are being reminded about bread for our souls and bread for our stomachs and the power of enough.
So, let me say it as basically and as succinctly as I can…On the one hand, seeing Jesus as the bread of life means remembering that a relationship with Jesus is the only thing needed to fulfill our spiritual hunger. We struggle with this. Some of us do so because we have never given our lives to Christ. We have never professed our faith – we just keep on debating, pondering and trying other things. Jesus says it straight – I alone can satisfy the hunger of your soul. Allow me to be enough.
For others of us, we have been a believer a long time, but we have struggled with satisfaction and contentment. We have never really given ourselves over fully to God because we just need another sign. If we can just read this book, attend this study, learn a little more, then we will have enough. To us, Jesus says, “in the midst of your questions, debates and unsolvable mysteries, let me be enough, just as I am.”
On the other hand, seeing Jesus as the bread of life, means recognizing that this word is for every corner of the rest of lives too. We may have accepted Christ and we may have given our lives to Him. But, honestly our most of our lives suggest that it is just not enough. For some of us, its Jesus and lots of money that will satisfy. Or, for others of us, its Jesus and just the right job that will make us happy. Or, for others of us, it is Jesus and just the right accomplishments for our kids that will get us where we want to go. Or for others, it is Jesus and just the right house that will do the trick. To all of us, Jesus offers a divine “no’, it is not me and anything.
Jesus says, “I am enough for today. I am enough for happiness and peace and well being. It is fine to pursue success and accomplishments in all of these areas as long as you don’t buy into the lie that they will make you content. They will never be enough. I, I am like this loaf of daily bread. Like the manna new each day, I will satisfy you, if you will allow me to do so.”
A few years ago, I had that all too common life experience of loosing my wallet. With Ann Marie’s help, we looked everywhere for that lost wallet and in fact we looked most places two and three times. We talked through my day, I retraced my steps and again we checked the same places a fourth and fifth time. Eventually, I became convinced that the wallet was gone and I began to think about the steps involved in calling to get a new license, credit card and medical card. With all hope gone, and without thinking, I grabbed my coat to head out for an errand. As I reached my hand down the sleeve, my hand hit my wallet. Ultimately, what we came to realize is that when I had gone to the gym the evening before and laid my work clothes in a pile, I had placed my wallet on top of the pile and on top of the coat. When I had regathered the clothes, the wallet had amazingly slid down into the coat and ultimately down the sleeve. For what seemed like an eternity of looking, the wallet had been right in front of my eyes. Yet, in our defense, it had been in a terribly hard place to find.
The same point holds, I think, with the idea of Jesus as the bread of the world. The answer to our contentment truly is right in front of us in the person of Jesus just as was that pesky wallet. We really are like “people riding an elephant while looking for an elephant” as the old saying goes.
Yet, in our defense, and in God’s grace, there is an understanding that this is a hard answer to reach, a hard place to find, like a wallet stuck in the arm of a coat. After all, our world keeps saying just add this, just do that, just a little more.
It isn’t easy. Nonetheless, the good news is that there is a bread that satisfies. Christ is that bread. That bread is free and accessible to you and to me, today. Amen.