“I am the Bread of Life”
Rev. Kirsten Snow Spalding, Sermon 8.1.15
Last week, we heard the story about Jesus feeding the 5000. If you were here, you might remember that I talked about the lesson that I learned from my friend Sisana in South Africa. “God has provided plenty, and we experience that abundance by sharing with one another.” Last week we talked about the Eucharist, and an experience of a heavenly banquet in a tiny morsel of bread and a sip of wine.
This week (and for the next three weeks), we are reading from the 6th Chapter of John again. Our lectionary has given us time to really focus on God’s promise to us that Jesus is the bread of life. We end todays passage with this very important “I am” statement: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” I wonder if the scholars who put together the lectionary wanted us to have the same experience as the people in today’s passage. The people who follow Jesus and the disciples to the other side of the lake, were the same people who were fed in last week’s story. But they didn’t understand, they didn’t get it. So Jesus explains again.
When the people get to the Jesus, they ask the wrong questions. First, they ask, “When did you come here?” Jesus doesn’t answer that question, he challenges the people, “You aren’t here because you saw signs, you are here because you ate your fill of the loaves. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” He says, stop looking for more bread, start focusing on the eternal sustenance. Then the people ask, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" And Jesus again rebukes them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
In this dialogue, I hear Jesus almost annoyed with the crowd—they experienced a feeding miracle, but now they want more. Instead of looking for more bread, focus on the new life that Jesus brings, the eternal, the everlasting food. But I found myself with the people this week asking again and again, what does it mean to believe in Jesus when people are still hungry. Even after they have one meal, they still need more.
I am going on vacation for the next two weeks. My family and I are going back to Bosnia. It’s been a busy week as we’ve been packing and communicating with friends and colleagues there. I have found myself really torn up, trying to figure out what to bring with me. If you were here last year while I was away, you may have received my letters talking about the people lived with in Tuzla. The city is desparately poor with unemployment way up over 50%. Our friends who are well educated and hard working, can’t find work. Last summer there were massive floods that devastated the country and more than a thousand people in our city lost their homes.
Bosnians don’t have the things that we take for granted. College students can’t afford computers, they can’t buy books. Even if they have a little money, they don’t have access to things from Europe or the US—Amazon doesn’t deliver there, and people can’t get visas to travel easily across borders. So I’m looking forward to seeing them, but I’m also anxious. I’ve been stressed out about what to bring. I think of little tokens—symbols of the Bay Area, Golden Gate Warriors T-shirts or photo books of San Francisco. Or should I try and bring more substantial gifts-I-pads, laptops, games for kids, English books for academics. I want to share “bread”, the stuff that we take for granted, things that are part of everyone’s work life, toys that Marin kids have. But I know that whatever I choose, I can’t fix the situation for our friends and colleagues there. I can’t bring enough stuff to make a difference. I guess I found myself really torn as I made my preparations, asking the same question as Jesus’ followers, “What must I do to perform the works of God?”
I listen to Jesus’ answer today, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” What does that mean for my trip tonight? I have been praying about this. I think that maybe it means that I should focus on building up hope and working for real changes there. I should trust that God is working in Bosnia. Rather than feeling helpless about what I can do, I should focus on what God can do with all of the people there. I know that it is God’s will that all of those people should thrive. God has provided enough for everyone. And in some ways, there is enough. While I get discouraged about the unemployment numbers, there are no homeless people in Tuzla. There are plenty of beggars, but there is no starvation. People are not paid for working at jobs, but there are many, many people who are working to change the systems in Bosnia even though they aren’t paid.
So maybe my job is to build up hope. Maybe the best thing I can do is show up and tell people that I’ve been thinking about them, praying with them all year. I haven’t forgotten. I still care. Whether I give a small token to a friend, or a little bit of money to an organization that is providing food—this is not the most important gift. The most important gift is for me to say that I know that people are suffering. I know that this is not right, it is not God’s way. I have to tell people that I continue to hope, to dream of a better system for them. I have to support the forces for change with my presence, with my faith, with my prayers.
Jesus is the bread of life, whoever believes in him will never be thirsty. Jesus promises us that God is working in the world. There is an “incarnate” presence. This is not a far away promise, this is a divine presence in a human being. God walks among us, caring for us in our bodies, our hungry bellies, our ill health, our poverty. When we pray to Jesus, “You are the bread of life”, we are praying that God’s work will be made manifest here and that every person will have that experience of God’s presence in their lives.
I move from last week’s message that we are called to share whatever we have, to this week’s message—that we are called to do more than share one meal. Healing is more than fixing one person’s aches or illnesses. It’s about an end to all hunger everywhere, an end to all suffering, an end to all poverty. We are called to believe in God’s real presence here among us. We are called to hope. We are called to spread God’s love, as we live as the Body of Christ. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
I invite you to join me today in prayers for the people of Bosnia. I will be gone next Sunday and the following Sunday, returning on August 17th and I’ll be back in the office here on the 18th. Please continue to pray for the people I will be with. If you would like to contribute to my work there, I will be taking some money from my discretionary fund to give to organizations that are feeding people, to workers groups who are trying to solve the unemployment crisis, to women’s organizations that are working to heal the traumas from the war. If you would like to put cash or a check, I will take it and distribute it while I’m there. But when I make gifts, I will spend time with people telling them that you all are praying with them. I will tell them that you care, that you believe that it can be better. I will share this promise, that in God there is eternal life, no hunger, no thirst, a better day is coming. Amen.