All Saints’ Church / August 2, 2015
Proper 13 / Year B
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 / Psalm 78:23-29 / Ephesians 4:1-16 / John 6:24-35
A couple months ago, I was in Colorado for a friend’s wedding, and I was staying in a shared cabin. I had gotten there pretty late at night, and as the single friend, I was sleeping on the pull out couch in the living room. Around 2am, when I couldn’t sleep, I tiptoed into the kitchen and went into the fridge.
This is a habit of mine. Maybe of yours too. Can’t sleep, feel uncomfortable, maybe feel a little depressed about having to travel to a wedding all by yourself–go check out the fridge.
Now, it’s one thing when it’s your own fridge, right? But it’s another thing when it’s a shared fridge in a shared cabin and you’ve just gotten there and you KNOW pretty much for sure, unless a miracle happened (and let’s face it it probably hasn’t) that none of the food in there is yours. But still, maybe there’s something you can eat.
In this particular fridge, there was a nice soft fluffy looking loaf of sandwich bread in a plastic bag. There was also a toaster just to the right of the fridge and there was some honey and I thought, PERFECT. Some honey on toast is exactly right and I’m sure no one will miss this bread and what’s a little honey?
So at 2am, I made myself threeeee pieces of honey toast, and careful not to drip the sticky sweetness all across the room, I took them back to my torturous pull-out couch and started to eat them.
There is something so specific about white sliced sandwich bread–how spongy and light it is and how perfectly it toasts. And this bread was … not that.
This bread was dry and chalky and it stuck in the back of my throat. This bread was crumbly and dropping all over the bed and the honey was going everywhere.
This bread was basically mocking me for stealing it, somehow, I knew it. I could feel it. This bread must have had some security mechanism in it that made it inedible to anyone who was not its true owner.
I got up to throw it away. And I looked at the bread in the fridge and realized it was gluten free bread! And then I remembered that one of the people in the cabin was gluten free, and I realized that this was his special bread, and that I had probably ruined a good portion of it for him, and actually it was kind of important bread. So I shouldn’t have done that.
This story actually happened, of course, but it’s also a kind of moral tale. A nice reminder not to steal from strangers. A nice reminder not to stress eat in the middle of the night. A nice reminder that bread has its limitations.
And I have a memory of the way that bread clogged up my throat, the way that bread smelled, and the way it felt.
I wonder what kind of memories you have about bread?
I wonder what the bread was like where you grew up? Probably better than my spongy Meyers Italian white bread, which I really never eat anymore, but which just one whiff of would send me back to school lunches and late night cinnamon toasts.
I wonder what the bread was like when you first took communion? Wonder bread and grape juice? A pressed wafer and wine? Real bread?
Jesus is always using bread as a metaphor, as a way to teach us about abundance and about God.
Just before the story we heard this morning, Jesus and his followers find themselves surrounded by thousands of people. 5000 people, in fact. It’s the feast of Passover and all of these people are following Jesus because he has been performing miracles.
Actually, the Gospel of John is very careful to call these “signs” and not miracles, though we may colloquially use that term. Jesus heals people, Jesus does seemingly impossible things for people who are in a lot of distress. And these are not miracles, only, but these are actually signs that Jesus is God, and that people should pay attention.
So people have been paying attention, and now there are a lot of them, and the disciples start to get nervous about what kind of food they could have to offer so many people.
There is a little boy with five loaves and two fishes and Jesus takes the food and blesses it, gives thanksgiving for it, and all of the people are fed. There are 12 baskets leftover!
This is a sign. The story we just read picks up right after this, when Jesus has gone across the lake to Capernaum. Some of these people follow him there–
I think this is a natural reaction, if you witnessed a sign like making food stretch that far, and you were a person who probably could use some more food, you might follow the source of this food to see how you could maybe do this miracle on your own.
Jesus, how do we do that? Is basically their refrain. How do we do that? How do we make more bread and more fish for ourselves, whenever we want it? That was a really cool sign!!!! How do we do that?
Sometimes, when you’re reading a story about Jesus, you can kind of feeeel him rolling his eyes. As if to say: that’s not the point. You missed the point, here. It’s not about the loaves and the fishes. It’s not about being a bread factory. It’s a miracle, yes, but it’s mostly a sign.
Jesus says: “This is the work of God: that you believe in him whom God sent. … I am the bread of life.”
A lot of the time I stand up here or Father Paulikas stands up here or whoever, and we gesture over to this area, to the altar, where we are all about to “do communion” together.
And we say: this is where God feeds you. This is where you taste the bread of life. Not the food that perishes, as Jesus calls it. This is where you encounter Jesus; this is where you are with God.
I know for many of you, this is the most familiar part about church. And I know for many of you, this is the weirdest part about church. And that’s one of the really beautiful things about All Saints’ Church–the diversity of people’s backgrounds–all the different breads I know we all imagined when we thought about what we ate as children. All the different breads of communion–maybe a wafer, maybe none at all.
But what we do here at All Saints’ is practice this remembering–this bread remembering–together: in order to get closer to what Jesus tells us to do, to forget about the food that perishes and focus on the food that is eternal.
The disciples ask Jesus: What must we do to perform the works of God?
Can’t you relate to this question? Not just to maybe figuring out how to multiply loaves and fishes, for your own ease of eating, but also for feeding your friends, for feeding your community. Don’t you want to be involved in the business of performing your own miracles?
Jesus’ answer to us is to think bigger. Jesus’ answer to us is to get out of these specifics. The work of God is to believe. The work of God is to come together at the community table.
When we do this here, we end up with things like our Evensong program where we have a community meal downstairs, where we all join together and chop mangoes and cook rice and feed our friends, and raise money for CHiPS.
When we come together here at All Saints’, we figure out a way to keep the doors open during the week so that people can come sit here even when there’s not a church service happening. People from the hospital across the street, people who walk by and need respite.
When we come together here at All Saints’, we make a home for our children to learn about Jesus at Sunday School, to make friends with each other and go to Brooklyn Nets games.
And there are so many other ways we can do this kind of work together. And it’s part of my job as your program minister to help you–help all of us do this together.
I want to go back to that gluten free bread. I said it was a metaphor–and it is–for the ways we seek food in the wrong places. Late at night. Food that is not ours.
But the food at this table IS ours. It is yours. It is God here for you–for all of us. Come and be fed.