When We Eat This Bread

This summer while you and I have been going about our business, archeologists have been digging in the Black Desert of Jordan, and under all that sand they unearthed something surprising: a piece of bread baked in a stone oven 14,500 years ago, made by a people called the Natufians, a people who lived in huts with round fireplaces, where they cooked meat and vegetables, as well as a kind of bread made from wild barley, wild oats and wild tubers.

Now that is an old piece of bread, for sure, but what makes it significant is that it’s older than the next oldest piece of bread ever found by five thousand years, and those who made this discovery are saying that this prehistoric piece of bread is actually changing what we thought we knew about the development of human society, because the people who made it were nomadic people.

Until now, we thought that nomadic people figured out the process of agriculture, learned to plant crops and harvest them, settled down and then came to the happy discovery of bread.

But now, because of the piece of bread found this summer, these researchers think people knew how to make bread from wild sources and it was BECAUSE these people discovered bread that they decided to settle down.

These scientists are suggesting that these people loved bread so much, found it so filling, and thought making it so worthy of their time, that they found a way to domesticate the plants used to make bread so that they could give up their nomadic lifestyle and settle down to make bread.

The discovery of bread may have been the catalyst for the agrarian revolution, which is to say, as important as we know bread has been to humanity, it may be even more important that we thought.

Sharing bread takes us the core of what it means to be human, and to the heart of what it means to live together in community.

My grandmother made homemade biscuits every morning from the time she was a teen into her nineties.

When we would go to visit, by the time we woke up she had already mixed flour, baking soda, lard, salt, and milk; she had already kneaded and rolled out the dough and used a tin can to cut out the biscuits and placed them in the oven to brown.

As we came down into the kitchen we could already smell those biscuits cooking.

Grandmother would mix up the dough, never once measured anything. She could feel in her hands how much of each ingredient she needed, because she had learned from her grandmother, who made biscuits the same way.

When we gather around the table to break bread, we remember how God has sustained us from generation to generation to generation until today.

When we eat this bread, we recall the Israelites on the desert journey, on their way from Egypt to a promised Land, who woke up each morning hungry and found bread already prepared and lying on the ground, given as a gift by God so they could continue the trip to a home God was preparing for them.

When we eat this bread, we remember Elijah on the run from Jezebel, afraid for his life, and how God gave him food to strengthen him so that he could continue his journey and ensure the name of the Lord was proclaimed to the people.

When we eat this bread, we remember how Christ fed five thousand ordinary, hungry folks like you and me with just two fish and five pieces of bread, and then said, “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven.”

Now, that crowd gathered around him; while their bellies were so full they couldn’t eat another bite, they approved of him. But when Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” they complained.

The people in the crowd say, “Well he might be a wonder-worker, but listen, we went to high school with this guy, and we know his Mom and his Dad, and just who does he think he is?

And so, their Yelp review on Eating with Jesus reads: “We liked the food. Good bread. Miraculously created, which you don’t find every day. Generous portions, and lots of leftovers, but the service was offensive. Jesus says he is the living bread come down from heaven. We don’t think so! One star.”

And we might ask ourselves if we are ever like that crowd: grateful to God when he provides for us, but less-enthusiastic when his words are challenging – when he requires our ultimate allegiance, or ask us to forgive one another, or commands our compassion to someone in need when its inconvenient for us.

So Jesus reminds the crowd, and any who have doubts about him, that what he is doing is in God’s character. It is in God’s character to provide for our those who hunger, to accompany those who are in trouble, and to make a way for our freedom. And no matter what people think of him, Jesus will be obedient to the Father’s will, continuing his walk to the cross.

So that when we eat this bread, we also remember that on the last night of his life, this same Jesus takes bread in his hands and gives us a new promised land, a new home, new strength for the journey, and invites us to taste and to see the that LORD is good.

When we eat this bread, we truly receive Jesus, and his real love is given to us again.

We take part in Jesus’ eternal, abundant life that lasts forever and we’re invited to sit down at a table that stretches through time.

This bread joins us to all God has already done for us, but it also stretches into the future and is also a foretaste of the feast to come.

When I was a student at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, we would worship every Thursday night in Christ Chapel. The service was open to the community, but most of those gathered were faculty, staff, and students. We worshipped together on Thursday nights because we were all out in field parishes in the surrounding community on Sundays.

Once a year we would have a homecoming for clergy and people connected to the seminary and the weekend kicked off with worship in the chapel and it would be jam-packed.

What was essentially the fellowship hall and kitchen was directly below the chapel and about half-way through that service, as we were worshipping, we could start to smell all the good food cooking downstairs. It was palpable. We could smell the fried chicken, the ham biscuits, the green bean casserole, the macaroni and cheese, and all sorts of goodies, being prepared just for us. And we would be invited to come forward and receive the Eucharist, Holy Communion, knowing there was a feast waiting.

Today Christ invites us to his table, for a foretaste of the feast the Lord is preparing. God is preparing a feast of his mercy, his love, his kindness, and his healing for you, and for me, and for the whole world.

In Christ, at his table, we are joined to all our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers and all who are at rest in God, and we are joined to all who will come after us until the day Jesus returns to consummate all creation and take us home to be with God face to face.

This bread of Jesus has changed the course of human life. We were destined to die but now, here at this table, we are given life.

This bread changes what we thought we knew about ourselves and this world.

Here at this table we learn that we do not need to be afraid.

Taste and see, and do not be afraid of the future. Do not be afraid of the unknown. Do not be afraid that you will fail. Do not be afraid of the turmoil in our country. Do not be afraid of the suffering in this world. Do not be afraid of your doubt or your shame.

We don’t have to be afraid of death, because it’s not the end.

We can live with courage because Jesus promises he will raise us up on the last day.

I was visiting with Jeff and Susan freeze this past week and we were talking about this Epiphany. They appreciate your prayers and love while they are not able to be with us and they send you their love and prayers. They are so thankful to be a part of this congregation. And Jeff said it wouldn’t be good to be proud about it but they are also glad to be Lutheran.

In fact, Jeff and his family like to say, “We’re Lutheran born, and Lutheran bred, and when we die, we’ll be Lutheran dead.” And we laughed, because a lot of us could say that, and we’re glad for anyone who is adopted into the way of following Jesus in the Lutheran expression of the church

But we know there is more.

Lutheran born and Lutheran bred,

And when we die, we’ll be Lutheran dead,

But my dear friends, hear what Jesus said,

“I feed you and I am Living Bread.”

So we will die, but live again,

In a life with God that has no end,

A bright new day, the night all through,

In Christ – Alive! In Christ – Brand new!

Clamed by the One who was crucified,

Who is now alive and walks by our side.

So from birth and all the way to the grave,

We can meet each day and not be afraid,

Since Christ our bread has come from above,

To feed us and fill us with God’s own love.

 

 

 

 

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Together for Good

I don’t know if you’ve ever been locked out of your house, but two Fridays ago, I was headed back to Richmond with our 19 teenagers, adult leaders, and parents after having been on retreat at Roanoke College for a week of Kairos. I was grateful for a great group of youth. I was thankful for a week of spiritual growth and fun. And I felt renewed in my faith in the future of our church with leaders like those young men and women who have been raised up in this congregation. But I was also tired. No, make that exhausted.

Sarah and our kids were still at Lutheridge, where they had been for the week, and as we drove home I was looking forward to a quiet Friday night eating a microwavable pizza and lying on the couch, but when I got to our house and put my hand on the back door knob, a sinking feeling came over me as I remembered I had left my key with my neighbor so they could take care of our cat while we were away. I looked over and their house was dark. I knocked. Nothing. I texted them and called. No answer. I went through a mental list of all of you. Who would be okay with me sleeping on their couch?

Well, I decided to come here to the church and drop some stuff off, maybe do some work, and when I came through the doors by Price Hall I realized the 24-hour Quilt-a-thon was in high gear. I went in to say hello and the quilters invited me to have supper with them. They had no idea how good that invitation was. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until they asked. There were all kinds of good food and veggies and dessert and I loaded up the plate high and we all sat together and I was glad for the company and for the food, and as we ate together I decided everything would be okay.

An hour later I got a text from my neighbors that they were home and had my key for me.

I don’t know what happens to you when you’re hungry. I start to think less clearly. I am more anxious. In our house, hunger is a leading cause of kicking and hitting and biting.

A crowd of five thousand-plus people were hungry. They were anxious and worried and not thinking clearly and their children may have been melting down, kicking and biting, and Jesus sees their real hunger and gives them real food. They relax and begin to feel like everything is going to be okay.

But they get separated from Jesus when goes back up on the mountain, and so the next day they go looking for him, because the next day they get hungry again. And they’re confused when they arrive at the opposite side the Sea of Galilee and see Jesus because they don’t know what we know – they don’t know about how he walked on the water to catch up with the boat that had gone on ahead of him. But the crowd finds Jesus and they ask, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

Now its clear that they haven’t made up their mind about Jesus because they call him “Rabbi.” They’re not quite ready to call him Son of God, or Lord, or even Master.

And Jesus sees their hesitation and he says, “You are looking for me because I fed you bread but not because you’ve figured out the significance of what I did.” And Jesus so challenges them. He says, “Don’t work for the food that perishes but work for the food that endures. Work for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

We experience hunger in our gut that sends us to the fridge, to the grocery store, looking for a place to eat. But we experience hunger for love. For belonging. For coming to know the Source of our life.

Jesus is the face of God who invites us to be filled with unconditional love and acceptance and belonging.

In mid-life or perhaps in the second half of life we come to see more clearly that some things of life are lasting and some are temporary.

In our culture, we spend time on and we value a great deal of things that do not last: our entertainment from movies to tv and sports, much of the ridiculous content that pops up on our phone, or how great a meal or a drink may taste, the clothes or the car or the house and what it means that we have what we do. But here’s what lasts: love, friendship, connection, relationship.

Look around as we worship today. These relationships will last for eternity. God is already building something eternal now, among us.

Jesus says that some things in this life perish and some last and he invites us to discern each day which is which, and to remain intentionally focused on the things that last.

We are enormously, graciously, abundantly showered with gifts that last.

God the Father loves so much that he gave us the Son. The Son loves us so much that he gave bread to the hungry, health to the sick, friendship to all, and even his life on the cross for us. The Father and the Son love us so much that they give us the gift of the Spirit to enlighten us, gather us, and equip us for ministry. At this table, God gives us his own body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. At the table, Christ invites us to sit down and eat our fill and enjoy the company and believe all will be okay….all will be well.

Like a river of love, God gives and gives from the wellspring of his goodness and mercy, and we just receive, we just accept.
Everything we have is a gift and the hunger that follows us each day – the physical, bodily sensation of longing – is a reminder of our need to receive. And God gives us this gift of hunger every day to remind us of our need for him.

This is why Christians stop and give thanks around a meal, hold hands, and remember that our deepest hunger is filled by the one who is the Bread of Life.

Jesus says, “The work of God – each day, every day – is to believe in me.”

We have so much work to do. I do. I know you do.
The work of God isn’t to reply to every email in your inbox. The work of God isn’t to finish that project hanging over our head. The work of God isn’t to invest well and secure the funds we will need for our retirement.

There’s nothing wrong with these things but we shouldn’t confuse them with the work of God.

The work of God is to believe in Jesus.

Listen to this: the work of God isn’t even to feed the hungry, or to take care of the poor, or to treat our neighbor with kindness and respect.

All of these tasks are good and right, but they all flow from the wellspring of the source of the mighty river of God’s love in Jesus Christ. All good tasks of kindness, ministry, helping, doing lie downstream from the relationship of trust and love that God initiates with us in Jesus and which we say yes to.
But we don’t do this work alone.

Jesus gives us this work to do together.

The quilters of our congregation fed me, as they took care of countless others by making quilts that will bring warmth, assure health, and communicate compassion in the name of Jesus.

We believe together.

And we are all given different gifts that get channeled through us – to teach, to sing, to organize, to promote, to pray with another, to mother, to father, to befriend, to equip others – but all these various and unique gifts are given by our One Lord, who gives us one faith, and unites us with him in one baptism.

God gives us everything, including our trust in him and we believe together.

I was reminded of this one night at two weeks ago at Roanoke College.

Speaking of insights that come in mid-life, the week of Kairos I was playing basketball with teenagers and I was shooting a jump shot when my back went out. Like never before. I realized I can’t play like I used to. I was in a lot of pain and I had to lie down and take medicine and put a heating pad on it. I missed dinner, large group, small group, in the end I was flat on my back for about 24 hours. But lots of youth came to my room to say hello and Scott and Kim took care of me bringing my meals.

And that night, when I had been away from the group for about 7 hours, Cole, a rising 9th grade student came to my room and Scott was there and he pulled up his chair next to my bed and said, Pastor I know you missed our Bible study time tonight, I have come to lead Bible study for you. And Cole lead us in our conversation and brought the Bread of Life to me.

We believe together. Christ is feeding us at his table together.

May we eat with joy and gladness.

May Christ give us continued discernment of what is temporary and what is eternal.

May God inspire us to use his many gifts to point to the one who is Bread for a hungry world.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.