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At St. Paul’s: “Our primary mission is to relate to, and minister to people who are living on the edge, who seek God’s will for their lives, struggling to find direction and purpose in a society that can be violent, insensitive and money-grabbing.”
Food is the hot topic these days. Some people eat to live and others live to eat.
best-selling books in stores right now tell you how to cook it, and the diet books
tell you how not to eat it. We have award winning chefs with their own TV shows
and next up we have shows about how to lose big. Who can be the biggest loser.
The Chicken story taught me about my obsession with food.
Well, I am sure that sometime this week you, or someone close to you, will buy a
loaf of bread. It will be readily available at any store. There will be quite a variety
to choose from. Some stores have walls of bread from every bakery imaginable.
You will pay more for the packaging that wraps up the bread than the cost of the
wheat to make it. All in all, you will think it a very uneventful trip, but you will be
It is quite difficult for us, as Americans, to understand a lack of food. A simple
bowl of rice or a loaf of bread: Something we may take for granted, means more
in certain parts of the world, the lack of it brings suffering. Obesity is not a
worldwide problem. It is only among those who have access to enough food. But,
let me suggest that food is not really the issue. It is how we approach food. It is
how we approach living. This is a spiritual issue.
For me, for many of us, we have never suffered with hunger. How could we really
understand it, unless we have been hungry, or have seen extreme hunger first hand,
we don’t know what it is like. It is the same with war; unless we have been in war,
or in a gun battle zone, we don’t really know what it feels like to be shot at, or
shoot someone, or run for your life, or be trapped by a sniper. Unless we really
walk with people on their journey, or have felt depressed or lonely or isolated
enough to commit suicide, we don’t know what people like Robin Williams at the
end of their lives feel like. We know intellectually, perhaps, but most of us don’t
have the experience.
So the point is this: I believe that experiences are the leaven that causes our lives
to be spiritually rich and rewarding. Jesus in Matthew 13, said: “Without the
leaven, the dough remains flat. But the secret is the almost invisible leaven
making her loaves fluff and rise.”
Many significant theological events in the Bible revolve around the subject of
receiving food, finding bread. The most important event in the Old Testament,
of course, was the Exodus event--the trip from Egypt to the Promised Land. But
what caused the Hebrews to come to in Egypt in the first place? You may recall
that the wheat crop in Palestine had failed due to draught, and the Hebrews,
particularly Joseph’s family, followed God’s lead to settle their family dispute and
had migrated to the land of the Pharaoh; the land of opportunity to find food.
Later, when Moses was leading the Hebrew people on their way to the Promised
Land, and they were facing starvation in the wilderness, God rained down bread
from heaven in the form of manna. God provides, even for the lilies of the field
and the birds of the air.
Recall the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he went into the desert, where he was
tempted three times. As the hot sun beat down upon him, he looked out with
sweaty eyes at the round white rocks, and we are told that they took on the
appearance of loaves of bread. Satan tempted Jesus to turn the stones into bread
and give it to the people so that the suffering of the world would end. Yet, Jesus
spurned that temptation, saying, “man cannot live by bread alone.”
One of the most important commands that Jesus left with his disciples was the
famous “Peter do you love me; feed my sheep!”
And Jesus taught us how to pray, saying: “Give us this day our daily bread.” You
see the shift here.
Perhaps supremely, we remember that on the night that Jesus was betrayed he took
a loaf of bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the disciples, saying: “This is my
body, which is broken for you. Every time you eat it remember me.”
Which brings us to the PREVIEW to our story this morning: Just prior to Matthew
13, People in Galilee have just witnessed the great event known as the feeding of
the 5000. You know the story: a small boy brought five barely loaves and a few
fish. From that meager supply, vast multitudes ate. After this event Jesus escapes
across the sea of Galilee. I say escapes because the act of feeding 5000 has
generated a couple of controversy. With this act, Jesus is equal to Moses.
So, a group of temple leaders, scholars and skeptics approached Jesus as he was
teaching and said, in effect, if you the are Messiah, the one we are waiting for, you
will do greater things than Moses. If you are the Messiah prove it. They pointed
out that when the Hebrews were in the wilderness Moses was able to bring bread
Some might immediately say, well, was not the feeding of the 5000 proof in their
eyes? Yes and no. They were impressed--no doubt about that--but, you see, Jesus’
critics most likely argued that he merely fed 5000 whereas Moses had fed a nation.
Jesus, they said, you have fed these people for one day but Moses did it for 40
years. What you have done is multiply a few loaves and fishes but Moses made it
appear from out of nowhere.
Jesus teaches the crowd by saying that they had misinterpreted the Moses event.
The bread had not come from Moses but from God. They were putting the
emphasis in the wrong place. Moses was the facilitator, but not the originator.
Anyway, said Jesus, they failed to see that the real bread from heaven was not
manna at all. That was only meant to be a symbol of the true bread. The real bread
from heaven comes down and feeds not only humanity's physical needs but also
the spiritual hunger as well. It was at this point, and don’t miss the significance of
this, Jesus said: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger
and she who believes in me shall never thirst.”
Bread is central to the major stories of the Bible and has always played a
significant role in human existence. But Jesus was saying “don’t put too much
emphasis on the physical bread.” And this is where we get today’s quote aimed at
the Pharisees and Saduccees: “So when I speak about leaven, I am not talking
about what we will eat for dinner. I say again, avoid the leaven of the
Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Jesus is saying, in effect: I am offering you a new paradigm. Follow me and you
will give your life. And in the giving you will receive life. You helped feed the
5000, you in effect, are also worthy, able, courageous enough, strong enough,
broken enough, to give life. I am the bread, broken for you. Be broken, be the
people God has created you to be.
And, relax: God will provide. And looking at it through our 21st
see that Jesus is also confronting the power structures of the time. The Roman
Emperor Aurelian, 200 years earlier, had initiated something called the “bread
dole.” This meant that grain could be supplied to the poor for half price. The dole
quickly became a political tool to be used to buy voters. Bread played a significant
role in world politics. Feeding people was not simply a gracious action. Wheat
to make bread could be given to purchase power, or withheld in order to coerce
leaders to change their way of thinking. We see this form of coercive power in
the form of sanctions, embargos and political manipulating today against people
in countries where disease, famine and suffering are greatest. We see it in the US
Congress these days as Senators and members of Congress payback their friends
in the military industrial complex with money and favors, disregarding the ever
increasing poverty of the American people. Beware the leaven of politicians.
century lens, we
Jesus, I believe, knew the power of food to control society; he knew the power of
food in people’s lives and understood that his lesson had to focus on the deeper
issues of spiritual renewal and God’s grace.
Anyway, this issue of the power of food also has implications here at St. Paul’s.
We wonder why so many of our regular friends from the drop in center miss our
Sunday worship services. It is the power scheme we may not be aware of; we are
the ones who give away food, clothing, and other necessities. We are not equal
with them, so they feel a bit intimidated. Charity is a difficult balance of power
that sets up an awkward dynamic. As gracious as we can be, people can perceive
our generosity as power. The solution comes in the form of our humility, love
and compassion -- building relationships, recognizing the worth of all, seeing,
teaching that life is more than putting food on the table. Feeding the soul is even
more important. Here we have the essence of discipleship. Here we have the direct
training program of people who have committed their lives to following Jesus.
Let us not lose our souls in the pursuit of anything: money, bread, oil or other
things that cannot satisfy. While life depends upon food, bread, bread only sustains
life, it does not make life what God intended it to be. Let us partake of the bread
that is not here today and gone tomorrow. Let us partake of the staff of life which
nourishes us for all of eternity. What is this bread? It is Christ Jesus our Lord. He is
the bread of life—now and forever more. Amen.