“Real Food for Real People”

                                                                  March 18, 2012


Exodus 16:1-5, 13-21

Mark 6:30-44

The Lord's Prayer has six separate petitions. During Lent we have been examining them one by one.

When we pray the first three petitions, our prayer speaks directly to God about God. Marilynne Robinson reminded the adult education class a couple of weeks ago that the old words “thy” and “thou” once expressed a sense of intimacy that we no longer hear. Dazzled by the grandeur of what occupies us—the name, the realm, the will of God—we pray: “Thy name. . .thy kingdom. . .thy will,” and sense that we are addressing a power far beyond ourselves yet intimately close.

There is a change as we come to the second part of the prayer that Jesus teaches us. We speak directly about matters that affect us directly—sin and forgiveness, temptation and trials. We speak from this world about worldly concerns. We speak as bodies, not souls or spirits, about matters that affect our bodies.

Perhaps this is most clear when we pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” We pray as real people for real food. This prayer which seemed caught up in the heavens is now firmly grounded in our daily lives on this earth.

Martin Luther developed a rather extensive list to explain the meaning of “bread.” It included food, drink, clothes, shoes, houses, farms, fields, land, money, property, a good marriage, good children, honest public servants, a just government, favorable weather, health, honors, good friends and loyal neighbors. Since Luther others have agreed that we can think of “our daily bread” in the widest sense of the term. And certainly we could quite quickly expand this list to include other necessities for our contemporary lives. All of our needs can be the subjects of our prayers.

But it helps to keep our eyes on the original sense of that word “bread” in all its concrete simplicity. Bread is the minimum nourishment necessary for human life. It is the opposite of hunger.

Throughout the Bible bread serves as a sign of God's care and love for us in this world.

Strange, isn’t it, how often the people we hear about in the Bible are hungry? We heard two stories of hunger this morning.

Look at the crowds gathering around Jesus. They have come to hoping to hear a word of good news. They have come hoping to be cured.

The disciples stand by, looking. And they quickly make an assessment of the situation.

“Here we are out in the middle of nowhere. These people are going to need something to eat. We should send them away from here so that they can find food.” Get them back to the city where there are some good restaurants—or maybe they can stop at some drive-through place on the way.

It makes good sense. Those of us who seek to follow Jesus often have good, practical ideas, don’t we?

But Jesus, as usual, has something else in mind.

“You give them something to eat,” Jesus tells his followers. There’s a disturbing directness about those words. It seems an impossible request. I used to have a poster in my office that showed a loaf of bread and a fish along with those words of Jesus: “You give them something to eat.” Finally the demand and the burden of those words became so great that I took the poster down.

I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t have felt so bad. After all, even Moses wasn’t capable of doing what Jesus asked of his followers.

Remember Moses in the wilderness?

The Hebrew people leave slavery in Egypt and, finding themselves on the other side of the Red Sea, they begin to think that captivity wasn’t so bad after all. At least in Egypt they had all the bread they could eat! Now in the wilderness, they are pretty sure they are going to starve.

What Moses is unable to do, God does.

In the morning the Hebrew people look around. Fine flakes appear on the ground. Those who study such things tell us that these flakes were most likely the excretion of two scale-insects that feed on the twigs of the tamarisk tree.

"Man-hu?" the people ask in Hebrew. "What is that? Man-hu. Manna.

Manna. The word doesn’t have any content. It’s simply a question. The providence of God often just leaves us questioning, wondering. What is this that we have received? Is it what we asked for? Is it what we need, what we want?

Moses tells the questioning people, this is your bread. Actually it is their daily bread—for it turns out that it can’t be hoarded or saved from one day to the next without rotting. But it is enough for the day.

Moses said: “This is the bread that God has given you.”

Centuries later, Jesus is telling his disciples: You give the people something to eat.

These Twelve had been sent out by Jesus to heal the sick and to announce the good news of the realm of God. And apparently they did all of this very well. They did what Jesus was doing.

But they don’t for a minute think that they can provide food for the crowd of people that had gathered around Jesus. They know their limits and giving daily bread is beyond their ability.

So Jesus does what the disciples can’t do.

Jesus does what Moses couldn’t do.

Jesus does what only God can do—which is some indication of whom we are dealing with here. Jesus takes bread, blesses, breaks and gives it.

There’s something here about the way that God works in our lives, in our world.

Jesus doesn’t show up with a basket of food, ready to feed the people himself. Instead, he calls those who walk with him to set aside the myth of scarcity and gather the resources that are all about us. We encounter a Christ who challenges us to make the most of what we have and who we are—not just to feed the hungry (although we might do that) but to live our lives to the fullest.

The faithful response to the challenges we face is to gather the available resources, perhaps in the process discovering things we never imaged would be there.

Listen as Jesus gives thanks for what is there—which is more than we often do.

Maybe he uses the common ancient blessing that reminds those present of God’s care for the Hebrew people on their Exodus. “Blessed are you, O God, Ruler of the universe, who makes bread to fall from heaven.” He gives thanks, breaks the bread and gives it to the people.

And the next thing you know, they’re collecting leftovers—twelve baskets full!

You figure it out.

Some very liberal, very reputable theologians have said that what took place was a supernatural multiplication of the loaves and the fish. In this way Jesus showed his power—God’s power—even over material objects. That kind of talk makes me a little uneasy—but maybe that’s because I don’t want to admit my own limited knowledge of both God and nature.

Others suggest that the real change occurred not in the bread and the fish, but in the hearts of the people. Perhaps one who earlier was complaining of hunger, on seeing and hearing Jesus, turned to a neighbor and said: “Well, you know, I do have a piece of bread with me as well. Here, there’s enough for the two of us, really.”

And so on and so on. Hearts were opened, hands were opened.

The loaves were multiplied.

That’s a more “natural” accounting of this event. But that explanation makes me a little uncomfortable too, because I want to think that God is capable of even greater things than people being kind to one another—as astonishing as that often is.

Whatever happened, it points to something beyond that single event. It points to God feeding the world that God loves. It points to God giving us our daily bread.

To be a Christian is to be fed by Christ, the living bread, and to share bread with others.

We express this most vividly in the Lord’s Supper. But each week as we worship we are given the chance to be fed and to feed. Each week we are reminded of God’s abundant giving and are allowed to participate in it. Through our prayers and singing we find nourishment and offer it to our neighbors. Sharing in the offering, we continue the work of this congregation in providing food for both body and spirit.

Our need encounters God's generosity.

The One who provides bread teaches us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Holding out empty hands, ready to receive our bread, we pray: “Give us. . .”

But think about this. All in all we’ve done pretty well for ourselves, haven't we? We have late model cars and comfortable homes; our vacations take us to Europe, to sunny islands, and snowy ski slopes. We dress well and eat well.

So why should we pray at all? Why, especially, should comfortably upper-middle-class Americans say to God “Give us . . .”?

Is this the height of greed?

Or an invitation to pathological neediness?

Not really.

To pray in this way is to acknowledge before God and to ourselves that all we have is a “free and simple gift of God.” The house that you woke up in this morning—a gift. The car in which you drove here—a gift. The food you ate for breakfast, the brunch you will enjoy—all gifts.

“Wait a minute,” a voice says. “I work for a living. I'm up early and I go to bed late. I got what I have through long hours of labor.”

That's certainly one way to look at it.

For those who pray as Jesus taught, however, there is no such thing a self made man or a self made woman. We are creatures given life by our Creator, children before the God whom we call Abba—Daddy, Mother.

So John Calvin said: “The fact that we ask for our bread to be given signifies that it is a gift, however it may come to us, even when it would seem to have been obtained from our own skills and diligence and supplied by our own hands. For it is by God's blessing alone that our labors truly prosper.”

Our prayer becomes the basis for all the work we do.

To pray “Give” is to see ourselves as we are—empty, open, in need before a loving God who takes up our cause as God's own.

In faith, we look at what we have from a new perspective. Our time, our talent, our money and possessions are not ours to simply do with as we please. Our resources are God's gifts and should be used as such—wisely, honestly, generously.

Giving is the nature of God. In our giving, we give to strengthen our own congregation, to help the less fortunate, and to deepen our relationship with God. I’m never apologetic in asking people to give. After all, when we give, we are showing yet another aspect of what it means to be created in the image of God.

We have two hands. With one we receive. With one we give. We need them both.

Until we let God feed us—with forgiveness, with love, with bread—we will have nothing.

If we only let God feed us—and do not offer the same food to others—we become bloated and unable to act.

Friends, the generosity of God is without measure.

It works in your life and mine in a thousand different ways, seen and unseen.

We are given what we need—and so much more.

Let us enter into that generosity each day.