Choices, choices, choices, we live in a world of options and ever more sprout up whenever we open our eyes to see the world around us and see what it has to offer.
Will you spend a little extra up front so you can spend a little less over time and buy the hybrid? Will you go all out and buy the electric car instead? Will you stick with the tried and true, the car you’ve always wanted, the car you’ve always driven?
Some of those choices are intellectual, they are economic and they are driven by cash and pride and there is nothing unusual or wrong about that. But they are compounded by taste and style, what we see as an appropriate image for ourselves, what someone in our position should drive or what kind of person we aspire to be.
If you’ve got a spouse, then they get a vote as well, how much you can afford, is it this or is it a little more money to save up for a down payment? Do you buy or do you lease?
How do you make a decision?
And that’s just cars.
Last week, we talked for a time about the bread we have nowadays versus the bread we had back when I was a kid, you know, way back then. Can you imagine what kind of picture Jesus is painting for the people who hear his words this morning? Can you try and dig deep and let go of the notion that bread is some kind of modern, first-world choice that we make and see it instead as the only thing between you and starvation, the one blessing you have, the only thing to eat most days, the real staff of life?
We, who have so much, struggle to get a handle on what Jesus meant when He said “I am the living bread from heaven” because we simply do not know what he meant by bread, that he may have just as well said I am the air that you breathe and without me there is only death.
We read in the scriptures that Solomon’s court ate a prodigious amount of food, great varieties of animals and oil and grain, oxen and the like, but I don’t think that Jesus was, for the most part, talking to the King, or if He was, that the King was listening. Jesus is most likely talking to the folks we hear from in Ruth, the laborers in the field and across the spectrum of those who work with their hands for their sustenance.
That sustenance was bread, sometimes dipped in vinegar, sometimes accompanied by parched or roasted grain and water to drink.
Bread and water; a punishment meal for prisoners in old movies, the daily fare for a great deal of humanity in Jesus time.
Sure there were olives and greens and eggs on occasion for breakfast and for dinner and the occasional roasted bird or fatted calf at festival times but the average person relied heavily on bread to keep them hale and hearty
The average person.
Maybe that’s the secret. We probably think of ourselves as the average person. After all we know a lot of people who are in roughly the same boat as us, we dress within the margin of error, fairly well alike, we eat roughly the same diet; we play shuffleboard on the same Lido deck.
Andrew Carnegie is said to have remarked once that it wasn’t until he was fifteen that he realized that everyone in the world didn’t live on Park Avenue and get driven to school in a horse drawn limousine, since everyone he knew until that time was. That was the average person in his world.
We enjoy the blessings of an industrial civilization like all of the people we meet on a day to day basis and so we find ourselves wrapped in the blanket of the modern world, thinking that we are the average person who walks upon the earth.
Even though we know better.
Odd though it may seem the average person walking the face of the earth is only slightly better off than they were in Jesus time, all things considered. We have industrialized grain prediction such that bread is far easier to achieve but in places of famine and starvation parched or boiled grain, what we might call porridge is the common meal.
In places facing less hardship it can still be fairly said that bread is the staff of life.
Is it any wonder that the Word of God finds better purchase there than in much of the developed world with its choices and its magnificent wealth?
They understand something we seem to have forgotten, that Jesus isn’t bringing another option to the menu of how we might live our lives, Jesus is offering the only restaurant in town where the fare is simple, but the reward is greater than we can imagine.
How do we encompass that idea? How do we, as this magnificent people, this colossus of achievement and blessing listen in on Jesus conversation with the average person and feel the power in His words the way that they do?
For me, and I can only legitimately speak for me, it is in the confession that I find my peace, that I find my humility before God and it is there that I find the perspective I need to move through the world as a worker in the vineyard and not just a drinker of the wine.
It is in the daily, and yes, I try and repeat the word of the confession at least daily and sometimes a couple of times a day; it is in the daily repetition of this brief piece of liturgy that I find my place in God’s workings in the world and in that place, find my calling to work and live and lead and preach and carry on in this world God has given us.
We can seek out the wisdom of God and find in it the bread that will sustain us no matter the winds and the rains, no matter the blazing heat or trembling earth. Wisdom sets a table and offers up all she has; the knowledge that love will triumph over hate and that being on the side of love from the beginning is not winning ourselves but sharing in the victory nonetheless.
To our modern ears it might sound like having to give it all up, surrendering all that we have and all that we are because all Jesus is offering is bread and after a while you get tired of bread, and don’t get me started on Gluten intolerance and Celiac.
To people with nothing it sounds like everything, but to us? It’s no wonder that people have a hard time hearing it. Next week in the “bread of Life” season of the church, the disciples all cry out at how hard it is to hear these things and I wonder what they might cry out today.
But the Gospel is not a way of poverty and deprivation, we do not eat merely of the bread of life from heaven but instead eat abundantly because we eat the bread of life from heaven, and drink abundantly, and laugh abundantly and drive fast cars abundantly and cheat at cards around the family game table abundantly, and do all that we do with more joy because we are not afraid; do all that we do with less worry because we know our salvation belongs to Christ; do all that we do in love because we are fed with love, showered with love, washed clean with the love of God in Christ Jesus and for us there are no limitations because we are not limited to this side of the veil of death.
We can see beyond. We can see into the promises of God, into the heart of Christ which is for us and for our welfare and joy. We can see beyond our own shortcomings into the promised world where they will no longer plague us and cause us to tremble like children in the night.
What? You don’t tremble in the night? Never?
We all have doubts and fears that plague us when we are not thinking on our salvation. That’s pretty normal. Folks wonder if they have put aside enough to retire, if they have prepared enough to live out their days in their home, if they are smart enough to plan ahead at all, if they are good enough parents, spouses, children, lovers, friends.
There is plenty to worry about and the love of God in Christ Jesus will not banish all worry from your life.
Unless you let it.
Because the bread of life from heaven is not the ending of choice. We are not restricted to a diet that Jesus would have recognized, the occasional fish, the bread, the egg, the roasted bird, the fatted calf at festival time.
The bread of life from heaven comes to make all of the other choices fuller, richer, more satisfying because in it is the taste of heaven, the taste of holiness and the promise of God. In our Eucharist, we enact this bread of life from heaven and call it a foretaste of the feast to come even though it is, to modern eyes, so small, so limiting.
For us the bread that comes from heaven is respite from all of the magnificence we have accrued over centuries of agriculture, war, industrialization, colonization and exploitation because even those things have built for us the world in which we live, the world that we cannot imagine not being real; they have brought with them new and excitingly different fears and doubts. Nobody Jesus was actually talking to was worried about their mortgage, or gingivitis, or internet pornography, or cancer, or diabetes or any of the myriad plagues our accomplishments have brought to our doorstep.
They worried about the crop, about the ruler, about the child, about the dinner table, about their relationship with God. The Bread that came from heaven was a promise that they might never be hungry again and how many of us have ever felt that particular fear?
We are given a chance to be simple again. Jesus is the chance to know what it is like for all of the fears in our lives to dissipate, to shrink to insignificance alongside the promise, to live completely free even if only for a second, only a second until the world begins to intrude again and it is time to pay the bills.
But you have to be able to see the bread of life as the greatest gift of all; to see Christ as the center of your life and the lens through which you will see every day that follows, not as if you were still a stone mason or shepherd in Biblical times, but just as you are, in the world that you inhabit, only changed because of what you can see now that you have tasted Him and have had him abide with you for a time.
We may not be able to imagine a world in which bread looms as large as it does in our Gospel this morning. What Jesus proclaims in our hearing today fights against all that we know, and that is as it should be.
It should challenge you, because it will alter your world and turn the darkest and scariest night into the blessed day of promise and blessing if, instead of trusting in the wisdom of the market, you turned to Christ and held out your hand, knowing as Luther did that we are beggars receiving a world we cannot seem to build on our own; a world that does not bring with it new and exciting opportunities to fear or to doubt but instead brings nothing but hope that tomorrow truly can surpass today in all things good.
But if we can seize the chance to be simple, if only for the moment when we reach out for the bread and receive the wine and take into ourselves the promises of God and find our peace there, if we can be simple for a minute and know that what we are given can and will change our world, then we can live lives transformed by grace with Christ at the very heart of us and never know the hunger of being separate from God again because we have life in us.
I don’t know what metaphor Jesus might have used if he were to speak to today’s culture. Maybe I am the Wi-Fi from heaven, without which you will watch no streaming videos, or instead of the way the truth and the life, the GPS, the internet and the Wi-Fi? Is there something we feel we cannot live without?
Let us pray that we never become to jaded or magnificent that we think that we have enough and do not need the simple gift of bread, the simple gift of life, the blessing of grace, but receive them and allow ourselves to be transformed forever.