The lectionary, or prescribed biblical readings, is designed so that over the course of three years we rotate through a variety of stories within the Bible. It's a good way to get the overarching flavor of the Bible, but we don't hit on every single story in the course of the three years. However, lucky for us (or unlucky if you're a pastor) in this cycle we do get to spend 5 long weeks contemplating, discussing, and pontificating on Jesus's self-description as the 'bread of life.'
One would think that A) Jesus could be more creative and B) the lectionary gods could come up with more variety. But, alas, that's not the case, so here we are stuck in week 2 of the 'bread of life' marathon. I guess the good news for Pastor Steve and me is that we get to divvy up the 'bread.'
If I'm honest with you, part of what is difficult for me, besides staying with the same metaphor for so long, is it's so basic and simple and ... boring. I've been doing this gig long enough that I don't have a lot more insight on bread to offer. And, well, I didn't ask Pastor Steve this, but I imagine after alllll his years, he may be starved for a better metaphor too.
Please don't get your hopes up, I didn't come up with something better than Jesus did, but my exasperation with Jesus did open up a different window for me this week.
And so, today I want to start with the crowds' request to Jesus, when they demand, "Sir! Give us this bread ALWAYS!"
They have some nerve. Really.
They've chased Jesus from one side of the sea to the other.
They seem to be freeloaders (at least that's what Jesus implies when he says, "You're only looking for me because last week I multiplied bread faster than a Panera Bread at 7am can.") [obvious paraphrase on my part]
They want Jesus to impart his powers to them so they can be like God.
And... they challenge His divinity by saying, "Prove to us that you really are worth believing in." [again, obvious paraphrase].
After all this they proclaim, implore, beg of Jesus, "Give us this bread that you speak of - ALWAYS!"
Like I said, some nerve.
Nerve. Or desperation. Or both. Which seem to constitute what embodies a prayer.
And I guess that's where I landed this week. "Give us this bread always," is the prayer of every heart. Feed us, sustain us, nourish us, save us.
And then, in some strange twist of fate, I wasn't able to write a sermon this week. Or maybe, more accurately, a sermon didn't seem to fit after I kept hearing their desperate demand as a prayer. But, I was able to write a prayer. I went back and forth in my head and my heart whether or not a prayer could really be a sermon, but then I decided that if the Lord of the Universe can be bread, then a prayer can be a sermon. And if not, there's bread again next week...
And so -
Lord who gives life to the world, I pray,
As you did for those in Capernaum, off the Sea of Galilee, have mercy on us and hear our pleas. When we seek you, let us find you, for we are hungry. Hungry for healing and wholeness; hungry for courage and faith; hungry for love and intimacy; hungry for meaning and purpose; hungry for life.
Sustain the things we think are barely hanging on. Sustain firefighters in California, weary from heat and sweat; who haven't slept in far too long. We thirst for an end to ravaging fires and loss of homes. Sustain the addict: the 'junkie' in the park we creep past whose eyes hold a small glimmer of life and those who've become too good at hiding their appetite for a fix, quietly hoping no one will know, and yet, hoping someone will help. Sustain the woman curled on a park bench in Bethesda and the immigrant child caught in the middle of brokenness. And, Lord of Life, I pray for those who fight demons at 3am. Let them drink deep from your well and be nourished by you for the start of a new day.
Nourish those who are doing their best. Nourish the overworked father who burns the candle at both end and hungers for time. Time to just 'be' - with family and friends. And nourish the mother with the baby at her breast, may she know the gift she gives matters. Nourish the elderly couple, who've held hands best they could through all of life's struggles, who wonder what tomorrow holds, and if it matters anymore. And when chemotherapy drips and medicinal regimens fill our bodies, may they nourish us with new life and fill us with your goodness.
Fill up those who dream and desire, who believe and long. Fill up the kid on the ballfield who dreams big dreams and plays the game like his life depends upon it. Fill up the pastor whose marrow has all but dried up, but still carries the mantle. Fill us all with good words and deeds, to stand up for what's right and to stand against what's wrong. We pray for children who sneak popsicles before dinner and those who never get dessert; for those who are showered with love and those who thirst for a hug, for every good gift comes from you. Lord, save us.
Save us all who are starving for life. You are the bread of life, and yet, the saving part of prayer is always fraught with confusion and desire for proof. And still we pray, with nerve and guts, to the one who promises to give life to the world. It is you whose morning dawn gives breath for each moment. Let us partake. Give us this bread, give us you, always... for it is you we crave.
And when you have fed us, nourished us, and sustained us, teach us to bake bread. Teach us to share it and become life-saving bread for the whole world. And by all means Lord Jesus, make us rich, hearty, grainy bread - not fluffy Wonder Bread. In your sweet name we pray. AMEN.
That's it, I guess for this sermon, or prayer actually. May you be fed and sustained by the Lord God who welcomes you and invites you to His table to taste and see that He is good. And amen, again.