August 2, 2015
Retreat leaders Matthew, Sheila, and Dennis Linn tell the story[i] that…
During the bomb raids of World War 2,
thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve.
Some were rescued and placed in refugee camps.
But, even though they now had food and care,
many of these children
could not sleep at night.
They were afraid of waking up to find themselves
once again homeless and without food.
Nothing seemed to reassure them.
Finally someone hit upon the idea of
giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime.
Holding their bread, these children could finally rest.
The bread reminded them,
“Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow”.
Holding the bread they could say, “Today I ate,
and I will eat again tomorrow.”
Most of us do not need to hold a piece of bread in our hands at night,
to rest assured that we will be able to eat tomorrow.
Most of us cannot fathom
what it’s like to be a refugee in the time of war.
Just last month, however, the UN reported that largely because of the war in Syria,
there are more refugees around the world now than ever before –
59.5 million people.
In just one year, the number of refugees jumped by 8 million people.[ii]
That’s a lot of people who have trouble sleeping at night…
a lot of children who are afraid.
In our world there are people desperate for food,
who go to bed hungry each night…
There are also people who have plenty of food on their tables,
but who feel just as hungry;
they feel empty in a different way.
Sometimes these groups don’t understand each other…
The rich say to the poor, “How can you still be hungry?
There is more than enough food for everyone in the world!”
The poor say to the rich “How can you still be hungry?
You have so much already.”[iii]
The Israelites are refugees in the wilderness
(and as it so happens, not far from Syria).
They know what it is to be hungry.
They start to complain…
all of them at once.
The reading from Exodus says that the “whole congregation” begins to complain
that there is no bread.
God hears their cries and promises them bread –
manna raining down from heaven –
all they need to do is gather up enough for one day…one day only…
and wait for God to provide the next day.
But they can’t do it.
Like the children in WWII they are afraid that there won’t be enough…
so they hold onto the bread – more than they need for the day
…just in case…just so they can sleep.
When Jesus crosses over the Sea of Galilee into Capernaum,
the crowds who follow him shouldn’t have been hungry.
He’d just fed over 5000 of them with the bread and fish…there had been leftovers!
But they too are afraid…
they want more – more physical food – just in case…just so they can sleep.
Jesus looks at them with their hands out for bread,
and I think he’s disappointed.
There’s no doubt that Jesus wants those who are hungry to be fed.
For those who are physically hungry,
he wants their stomachs to be filled.
But now he’s confronted by people who aren’t hungry for physical food…
their needs are spiritual – and he wants them filled too.
“Don’t you understand?” he says.
Yesterday’s bread goes stale; it gets moldy.
Don’t set yourselves on that kind of food…
Now that your basic needs are met…
now that there is physical food in your body, here’s your chance…
Search for the soul food –
look for the food that can satisfy that inner part of you
which you know is longing for
something more, something deeper, something more meaningful.
The people ask Jesus,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
And Jesus responds, “I am that bread. I am the bread of life.”
In a few moments we will eat some of that Jesus bread.
We eat it every week…
but as it disappears into our bellies and becomes part of us,
sometimes we forget that it’s there.
Today I’m going to invite you to take some bread home with you.
(We have gluten-free too!)
May it be a reminder of this table and this community.
Perhaps you’ll eat it – that’s okay, when you’re physically hungry,
Jesus’ bread can satisfy.
But perhaps you’re hungry in other ways.
Think about how you might “hold onto bread” as you go out into the world this week.
Put it in your pocket or purse.
Put it on your kitchen table or in the refrigerator
where you’ll see it in the morning.
What difference might it make in you?
Maybe like the children in the WW2 refugee camp,
you’ll find that holding bread makes you less fearful.
Maybe you’ll find that holding bread helps you be more forgiving to others.
Maybe you’ll find that holding bread makes you more thankful for what you have.
Maybe you’ll find that holding bread helps you to be more generous.
Jesus feeds us with his bread.
The bread of life brings peace, forgiveness, gratitude, generosity…
Take and eat;
this is given for you.
[i] Linn, Dennis, Sheila, and Matthew, Sleeping with Bread, Paulist Press, 1995, 1.