Bread of Life

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August 02, 2015

People ask why there are No miracles today. They’re looking for something dramatic like turning 2 fish and 5 loaves into enough food for 5,000 people.

But Jesus said, to do the works of God is to believe in me. When our hearts are transformed by believing in Jesus, we no longer need something spectacular to see the power of God’s presence. We will see it in every act done in love. These are today’s miracles.

Perhaps you knew Gordon and Elizabeth Young. Gordon Young was a federal judge and he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Young who lived next door to my Grandmother Payne in Malvern. The elder Mr. Young was a dignified man who briskly walked each day to and from the bank of which he was president. I don’t think I ever had a conversation with him, although he politely tipped his hat when he met me even though I was a little girl. Mrs. Young, Gordon’s mother, was different. She had the sweet, plump, glowing face of an angel. She came out to chat with her grandson and me when we were engrossed in searching for roly-polys and cicada shells under the big oak tree in their front yard. Mrs. Young was also a baker of bread and that is my fondest memory of her.

One day I was visiting my grandmother when we heard a tap, tap, tap at the back door. Close friends and close neighbors used the back door, just like the family did. Tap, tap, tap. My grandmother went to the door and there stood Mrs. Young offering a fresh-from-the oven loaf of bread. It smelled heavenly. My grandmother saw the greedy look in my eyes resting on that bread, and she offered to cut a piece for each of us to sit down and eat. We slathered it with butter and soon had a second slice. It was so delicious.

Mrs. Young gave us more than bread to eat. With her sweet and generous hello and gift, she gave us what Jesus gives: bread of life. She gave life that comes from a circle of family and friends whose source of generosity and love is Jesus. Unlike a loaf of bread grabbed from a grocery shelf, her bread was the delicious reminder of Jesus himself – a reminder that Jesus transforms our hearts and turns our work and attention outward.

As you may know, making bread takes several hours. First you mix the dough, knead it, put it in a big bowl and you let it rise. Then you punch it down and let it rise again. After you shape it and put it into pans, you let it rise a third time. Then you bake it. Altogether it takes a good three or four hours. And then you give it away? Yes. If you love like Jesus did, you give it away to friends, neighbors, and family. Mrs. Young’s bread nourished us much more than ordinary bread. The miracle of one loaf of bread carried so much meaning that I remember it all these years.

I’ve told you how friends and neighbors and the church surrounded my family

with cinnamon rolls, and love, and a beautiful burial for my father after he died when I was a teenager. Many of us have been loved, comforted, and ministered to when we suffered the loss of someone we love, and other devastating losses.

Please do not say, well of course we did. That was nothing extraordinary. The healing comforting love we share is no less than a gift from God who loves us and created us to be loving. If we are looking for something spectacular, we overlook the simple acts which are filled with the capacity for healing.

Jesus was disappointed in the people who followed him after his miracle with the loaves and fishes. Their stomachs were growling again, and they wanted more food. They didn’t see the meaning of what he had given them. They took the miracle at face value without noticing what it said about Jesus and what he was teaching.

They didn’t see that God had sent the manna in the wilderness. They hadn’t seen beyond Moses. They didn’t see what Jesus was revealing about God when he multiplied the loaves and fishes. God cared about their hunger, and about all things in their daily lives. Seeing behind the miracle, we learn to see God. Seeing beyond the bread of communion and the bread we share with friends and strangers anywhere, we remember that Jesus is the giver – Jesus is the bread of life.

If we allow God to transform our hearts, we see God’s guiding presence when we feed someone who is hungry or visit someone who is sick or heal someone who is lonely or grieving. A mystery is different from a problem. A problem is hunger or loneliness. Food and company are a couple of obvious solutions. The power of love offered with bread to someone who is hungry, or real presence offered with a visit – this is a mystery, a miracle. This is spiritual power Jesus entrusts to us.

Miracles have an interesting history. The early Christians saw no reason to question miracles which disrupted the natural order. Their belief in God’s power was strong and scientific knowledge was in the future.

When I was a teenager, my teachers wrestled with faith and science. (People still do.) They thought miracles needed a scientific explanation. Feeding the 5,000 people was one of the explanations I remember. They explained how there was enough food for all the people. Because of the boy’s example of giving away his 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread, everyone else was moved to be generous. They pulled whatever they had from their bags and cloaks and pockets and shared with their neighbors. I don’t remember what, if anything, they said about Jesus’s part.

What does it mean that Jesus fed 5,000 people? that he could work a miracle which disrupted the natural order, if he wanted to? That isn’t the meaning. Miracles are not an end in themselves. Their meaning for sustaining our lives is not just food,

but that Jesus is the bread, the sustainer, of life. This miracle shows the abundance of life in God’s realm, both physical and spiritual. Some how, some way, there is plenty for everyone when we see as God sees.

Whether we believe in miracles at face value or not, the stories are not as important as the meaning behind them. The meaning is more than the story. What we have in common with all Christians in every time is the capacity to see that each miracle revealed something about God and God’s kingdom. We can see who God is when we look for meaning in what Jesus did. God’s desire for us is to love and be loved—to live life to the fullest. Jesus fed people who were hungry in body and hungry in spirit. Nicodemus is a good example – short Nicodemus who climbed a tree so he could see and hear this Jesus he had heard about. Nicodemus had plenty to eat, but he wasn’t satisfied until he found Jesus.[2]

Other miracles reveal more about God. Jesus healed people of their illness and of fear and loneliness. How lonely the woman Jesus found at the well must have been.

She came for water at noon (not the usual time), so she wouldn’t have to face the other women who came in the morning. How frightened the woman who was caught in adultery and was about to be stoned. Jesus offered forgiveness to the woman at the well who had had seven husbands and to the men who would stone no greater a sinner than they were.

Jesus forgave old and young people, rich and poor people. He didn’t treat thieves any differently than people who were stingy or arrogant. There are no little sins or big sins. All sin separates us from God and each other. Jesus forgave all sinners. In turn, our hearts grow forgiving.

Jesus showed his disciples how to live. He trusted them to carry on, to show the next generation how to live. He sent the Holy Spirit to continue to guide them and us. Generation after generation of people have shown, through their lives, what we need to know about love — God’s love and how to love. There is always the possibility of a miracle — every day – miracles in which we can participate, with God’s help. We can be instruments of God’s miracles. We are God’s incarnational presence – God’s bodily presence.

We each have different spiritual gifts to exercise whenever an opportunity arises.

Some of us are teachers, some prophets, some are particularly good at serving,

others are merciful or generous. Some are leaders, administrators, and preachers.

Some are healers and some are bakers of bread.

Jesus is the bread of life.

He gives us everything we need to do the work we are called to do –even miracles.

[1] Year B: John 6:24-35.
[2] John 3:1-6.