St. Paul’s Congregational Church
August 8, 2021: Exodus 16:2-15; John 6:24-35
The Bread of Life – 13B
The Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds
This year my vacation has been like none other – in so many ways - just like the past year and a half has been different in so many ways! Instead of traveling to see my family, doing as much Christmas shopping as possible to get a head start on the rapidly approaching Christmas season, beginning the planning for a new church year, sleeping late, spending lots of time in my gardens, catching up on cleaning and organizing in my home – all those “normal” things most of us do on our vacations – well, not so this year as we’re all still smack in the middle of a “new normal.”
This year for me it’s been a time of a new journey, a new normal in my daily living as I’ve had to deal with major surgery in January, radiation treatments through Lent and the recovery from that, and now getting used to a new routine of weekly chemo therapy: during my time off I had 13 doctor’s appointments, including a same day surgery preparing for the chemo with another one scheduled for tomorrow to hopefully restore at least some of my hearing loss after the radiation treatments – getting used to a new reality of a compromised immune system that does limit my travel, shopping: the things I’ve enjoyed so much over the past years. Listening to the news of the delta variant of COVID brings great concern to all of us I’m sure – including our decision making on returning to in-person worship. Honestly, I have found myself stressed out more than usual – I’m sure many of you have felt the same way as we’ve all faced this new normal. But it’s led me to some new reflections as to what this new normal means, not just for me, but for us as a church.
The minister at my home church in Farmington, Connecticut wrote in their weekly email: “As most of you are aware, scientists are learning more about the delta variant of the corona virus and the public health recommendations are rapidly changing.” They have resumed in person worship in Farmington as well as continuing remote worship, asking that all wear masks (whether vaccinated or unvaccinated) when attending indoor gatherings there.
She continues, “Just when we thought we were out of the woods, we’re told to be patient, to slow down. I’m not happy that we have to wait – I’m ready for Broadway, big unmasked worship services in the Meetinghouse, communal hymn sings, hugs – but we’re not there yet. There’s a saying: don’t let the time do you! You do the time. We have a choice in this moment. We can let this time eat away at us – spend all our time lamenting where we are and where we are not. OR..we can pay attention in this time – to really see where we are, what is going on within us, and what God is doing.” Susan says, “In In all honesty, I think/hope this is a small blip in the road. Yet, I also know that in the past slowdowns have prodded me to pay more attention to where I am, to what is important, and to be more attentive to God's hand in my life, in the current moment. The Psalmist asks, "Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?" (Psalm 139:7) God does not flee, says the Psalmist. So sit here, be still, breathe, reach out to your neighbor, pay attention, wear your mask, and pray. Something is emerging. Something important is being revealed. God is at work.
Let's do this time!”
Friends, we are called to do this time too. Like it or not, we’re in the midst of a new normal – we will not and cannot go back to December of 2019. Too much has happened. Too much has changed. And yes, that’s a tough reality to accept. But our God is still speaking! Our God is with us! That we can rely on.
We have so much, don’t we. More than enough for sure. We are so safe here in our lives compared to so many around the world, even as close as our neighbors in Newark. We have so much to be grateful for. It’s a good thing to realize this – to have the time to realize this – to take the time to realize this. And then offer a simple prayer of thanksgiving.
Our scripture readings this morning touch that perspective, I think. I’ve always loved the story of manna from heaven – those complaining, ungrateful Israelites and their “murmuring” – a nice word, isn’t it. But through all their trials, they had enough, thanks to the abundance, the outrageous generosity of a God who loved them, even when they didn’t realize it! Even when they didn’t recognize it!
Bread – a symbol of the basic necessities of life. For the Israelites it was the manna God provided them – not what they expected to see, but food enough for their needs. In fact, when the Israelites took more than enough it rotted! Interesting concept, isn’t it.
It is good to have your fill of bread. If only everyone in the world could have their fill every day. If only we with so much bread would share it with those who have none. If only there would be food enough for each and every one of us day after day. Well, the reality is there is enough. The world food supply is more than enough to feed every man, woman, and child on the planet. Yet thousands die each day for lack of food. They die, in part, because of the fears of those who have food – their fears that they will not have enough – or that if they share their food without price – without cost – they will have to live with less.
I can’t help but think of the sin of it all. The blindness. The lack of understanding. The lack of trust. The lack of compassion. The lack of love. The lack of action!
But this week I heard the story again from Nutley Family Services about one of their volunteers in the Food Bank who went to a number of bakeries in Nutley and asked what they did with the unsold bread and other goodies at the end of the day. Most owners responded they had to throw them out – this woman and a friend of hers began to collect that bread and other baked goods every week and brought them to the Food Bank – where they were distributed to hungry people right in Nutley – if you ever worked at the Food Bank, you remember seeing this bounty and the joy of the clients as they were the beneficiaries of this compassion, this action on the part of two women!
A new normal was born. A new normal that continues today.
What will be our new normal here at St. Paul’s?
What will our ministry to look like? The reality is, we’re a small church – we don’t have a large number of people to engage in our ministry – what do we do well? What dreams do we have? What gifts for ministry do we have? Are we burned out after so many years of struggle? What new possibility, what manna exists right under our noses that we haven’t recognized yet? We all know that church is more than the building – that’s become clear this past year and a half. How do we explore that together as a community of God’s people? Lots of questions indeed – and the church council has been struggling with these questions for a long time – how can we come together as God’s people and join the journey? All of us have something to offer – how do we bring that out in each other? How do we encourage each other to see their gifts to share?
Our involvement in the Body of Christ is not limited to Sunday mornings during the school year. Our involvement in the Body of Christ is not a part-time job that can be separated from our whole life process. It’s all intertwined, isn’t it – being here in community gives us the strength to continue on this awesome journey of life where we are called to seek first the Kingdom of God. Everything else is secondary.
Aren’t these radical thoughts in today’s world. Well, the church has always been countercultural and today that’s so very clear. We offer a radical welcome. We offer radical safety here as we gather where everyone is accepted as a child of God, created in God’s image, where everyone has gifts to share – 24/7 not just on Sunday mornings.
Jesus said, I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never go hungry, and those who believe in me will never be thirsty. We are called by God – the giver of life – to eat the bread of life - that bread provided by God in Christ Jesus that bread that is shared at this table today. And then we are called to share it!
As we celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper today, we celebrate how the Bread of Life is broken – and given to all who are at the table – so all may eat and live.
Where people are being oppressed, the table of the Lord speaks of exodus or deliverance from any kind of bondage.
Where believers are rejected or imprisoned for their faith, the Bread and the cup reveal the life of the one who was rejected by people but has become the “chief cornerstone”.
Where discrimination by ethnicity, gender, or class or any other kind of bias is a danger for the community, the table of Christ enables all people – all people – to partake of the one food and to be made one people.
Where people are affluent and at ease with life, the Bread and the Cup say, as Christ shares his life, share what you have with the hungry.
Where a congregation is isolated by politics or war or geography, the Lord’s Supper unites us with all God’s people in all places and all ages.
Today, let us go past the surface appearances of this world and the immediacy of our physical needs and celebrate the one who brought this world’s life out of the deep unordered waters of creation, and who in Christ Jesus gives us the bread of heaven that we may eat and never die. Let us with faith and hope and joy enter into the new normal – it’s fitting that we begin at the table of the Lord which is set so that together, we may be made strong in this world and prepared to enter the world to come. Friends, we can do this! It’s up to us, with God’s help. Let us listen. Let us dream. Let us share, let us act! Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, we suffer from many hungers. We come to you, seeking to be fed, hoping to be filed with all that our hearts’ desire. Feed us, bless us, and heal us. Lord Jesus, come to us, not as we would have you be, but as you are. Lift our desires above our mere bodily needs and toward your realm. Feed us, Lord. Be for us that bread of life that satisfies always. Amen.