St. Paul’s Congregational Church
August 15, 2021: 1 Kings 19:4-8; John 6:35. 41-48, 14B
The Bread of Life
The Rev. Cynthia Reynolds
A good friend and colleague of mine, the Rev. Mary Lou Howson wrote a piece for the Connecticut Conference Weekly devotional page that is so appropriate as we continue to reflect on Jesus as the Bread of Life, the Living Water, it offers us some special insights that we rarely think about. Her introduction to her poem says: “For many of us in Twenty First Century America, bread is something that is made in a production line far away and comes in a plastic wrapper from the supermarket shelf. Often filled with preservatives and genetically modified wheat, it is frequently to be avoided. We have never seen it made, and we do not think about it.”
But today we do think about it – may her words touch you:
“As I sit to write Four crows outside my window cawing over one crow's food for each needs to eat. One after the other, they fly off seeking nourishment.
Earth gives its sustenance to all, sacrificing that we may live. fruits of grain, water, salt, and yeast - only life gives life transformed in order to transform.
Yet the hard outer shell of the growing grain's protection must first be broken away.
The grain inside washed and cleaned, crushed and pounded into flour (perhaps like our egos).
Salt, necessary for life, a preservative, included in all grain offerings sign of sacred covenant between Israel and God irrevocable relationship of love and trust.
Yeast's energy, that bubbly, unpredictable irrepressible ingredient offering new life that we cannot imagine, the living spirit at work and play.
Water; without which life cannot be, over 60% of our bodies, the very water of life cleanses, cools, sustains, and purifies, transforming flour into dough.
Mixed, rolled, kneaded, pounded each element, releasing its essence as it is shaped into a loaf. Placed into the fire of transformation, death into new life mystery of the cross.
She ends her reflection, “To eat the living bread is to participate in the journey of inner transformation into which Jesus calls us. It is a second birth - for this living bread offers new life.”
Our lessons this morning again speak to us of that new life found in something so ordinary: bread.
First, Elijah’s story: like us, he is on a journey – he runs away out into the wilderness in fear for his life, comes to a solitary broom tree, sits under it – and falls asleep. He’s had enough – asks God that he might die.
His journey – and our own journeys through life too – take us through some very dangerous country – into some very desolate wilderness places. So when Elijah falls asleep under that tree – we understand that sleep – a sleep of exhaustion, of escape, a sleep of stress so high and the energy to go on fighting so low that it sweeps over him and us. But the new day comes too quickly.
In the night though, something happens – an answer to his prayer: an angel comes and touches Elijah – wakes him up – and tells him to "get up and eat". And there is food - a Cake of Bread - and drink – a jar of water set near. He gets up, eats and drinks, and lies down again. The angel of the Lord comes a second time, touches him, and says, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” And he got up a second time, ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food to Horeb, the mount of God.
No matter how much we want to, we can’t run away as Elijah did these days, can we. Even though we too find ourselves in our own wilderness times, we can’t run away from our daily lives – there are too many people depending on us, too many responsibilities, too many things to do – but that same bread of life, that living water, is available to us too. All we have to do is take it!
The angel tells Elijah, tells us, the journey will be too much for you. Listen to and feel the power of that statement. The liberation in that statement! The hope in that statement! We don’t have to make the journey alone. We can’t make the journey alone. We can stop trying – we simply can’t do it all ourselves and we aren’t meant to! We’re only human.
Yes, sometimes our aloneness makes us enter our own cave, sit under our own tree, go off to our own wilderness and that’s sometimes what needs to happen – but let’s not get stuck there. Because it’s exactly at these very times when we yearn to feel God’s presence the most, when we need each other the most.
We yearn for that cake of bread, that thirst quenching water: and God is with us, is reaching out to us, touching us. Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord, has come to us and shared our common lot. And just as the angel of the Lord urged Elijah to eat to give him strength for his journey, Jesus invites and urges us to share a meal to give us strength for our journey. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
You may recognize this verse from the gospel of John from last week – yes, the lectionary gives us partially the same reading this week again. That certainly tells us it’s important – honestly, I believe this is the core of our faith – who is Jesus? I am the bread of life. Using such a familiar earthy image, Jesus tells us who he is and shows the promise and the hope he brings to each one of us. That’s why I always put out the chalice and the plate in my worship space at home– these symbols remind us of who we are and whose we are as well as providing the strength for the journey we all face.
Because nowhere in any of these texts are we told that the journey will be easy. Nowhere in these texts are we promised that things will always be wonderful. What we are promised is this: that we will receive strength for the journey. That God will touch us, and if we respond, if we waken to the presence, we will find our way.
I know we don’t always get answers to our questions. The why questions especially- too often those answers are God’s alone and that fact can make our journey so long and hard. When there is no clear answer it’s then that our faith can and will sustain us. That if we awaken to God’s presence around us, and in us, and through us, we will get a strength we never knew was possible. And through my journey this year, I absolutely KNOW that’s true – deep in my core.
God comes to us with an invitation to get up and eat, knowing the journey will be too much for us alone. Haven’t you too experienced this? Have you ever been in your cave and received a phone call? A letter? An email? Or heard your doorbell ring – found a friend who’d just stopped by? It’s breathtaking to realize that we’re not alone – that the presence and love of God surrounds us in most wonderful and sometimes surprising ways. It takes practice, I think, to recognize that presence but it’s so worthwhile – what a gift it can be when we need it most. We too are surrounded by angels!
It’s ok to cry out to God when we are in need,: the tap on our shoulder that will come in the midst of our pain, our worry, our fear: hear the voice that whispers in our ear - that tells us to believe, to trust, to rise up and take the bread and the water that will be there for us and to eat and drink - and to eat and drink again -- and go forth strengthened to continue our journey.
Are you running on empty? Do you sometimes feel that you do not have the strength to travel onward for another day? Let alone another 40 like Elijah?
Maybe it’s time to stop and eat.
The food is all round us - in the people who sit beside you – who you meet every day - people who have faith - people who know the story and who know where God is to be found.
God is here - God's angels hover round us.
God is here - in the truth that we proclaim – in the bread we have received in this place - in the light that enters through the windows - in the water that flows in the streams outside these doors.
God is with us – in workplaces, in hospital rooms, in our homes.
Angels are with us - in the ordinary things - the daily miracles that we may miss – that we may take for granted -
- the rising and setting of the sun, and the moon and the stars, and the ever changing mountains and the rhythm of the seasons
- in the breath that comes in and out of our lungs each minute
- in the crying of a baby and the laughter of a child.
God is here in the Christ. God is in the one who says: "I am the bread of life", the living bread that came down from heaven - whoever eats of this bread will live forever."
God is in the one who said to his disciples and to us: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." There is food available: food that will sustain us on our spiritual journey. Let that grain and water and salt, and yeast that MaryLou spoke about in her writing work in you! The bread of transformed life is ours for the taking and sharing. Receive the promise, the hope, even the joy. Receive and savor the promise of never hungering or thirsting again.
Rest for a moment. Simply be in that loving presence. Let those concerns and anxieties and fears – whatever weighs you down – let them go just for a moment. Go with Elijah into the wilderness, sit under a tree, climb into a cave.
And then feel the touch on your shoulder. Take and eat and drink and let the presence flow into you and through you.
And then come out of the cave, awaken to the new strength within you – the strength that can come only from God. Know that you are changed – transformed - that you are newly connected – that you are no longer alone. We have shared the Bread of Life with the One who feeds us.
And then, like Elijah, we can and we will get up, nourished by the strength of this food, and continue on our journey. As you leave worship today, take a taste of this bread for your journey. And go forth and share, go forth and be an angel to someone else, praising God that we are never alone, that the Bread of Life, the living water will sustain us now and always. Amen.