Psalm 51:1-12– Create in me a clean heart O God…
or Psalm 78:23-29 – The LORD rained down manna upon them to eat. (Ps. 78:24)
Ephesians 4:1-16 – Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are to equip the saints for ministry until we all arrive at unity of faith and spiritual maturity.
John 6:24-35 – I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
Pentecost 9B – July 29, 2012. John 6:1-21 – Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.
Pentecost 10B – August 5, 2012. John 6:24-35 – I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
Pentecost 11B – August 12, 2012. John 6:35, 41-51 – I am the bread of life, the living bread which comes down from heaven. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me, and I will raise you up on the last day.
Pentecost 12B – August 19, 2012. John 6:51-58 – Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. The one who eats this bread will live forever.
Pentecost 13B – August 26, 2012. John 6:56-69 – Eat my flesh for eternal life. This is a difficult teaching; who can accept it? Does this bother you? Do you also wish to go away? Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…
I got to thinking about the high of the ELCA Youth Gathering this past week. The enthusiasm of the youth. The engaging speakers. Serving in the community. I felt more of the hope and joy of the church than I’ve felt in a long time. It gave me great hope for the future of the church.
I realized how much I need hope. It is like soul food. It’s that visionary picture of what the kingdom of God might be like, and what a community in Christ might look like. It is like the picture of the church in Acts, where people share what they have so that no one goes hungry. I need spiritual food. They say you can live thirty days without food and three days without water, but not a minute without hope. The gathering reconnected me with the fire that drove me into the ministry.
After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus once again take off. And once again the crowds find them on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus tells them, “You folks aren’t looking for me because you saw signs, but because you were filled up with bread.” And then he does something he does often in John’s gospel. He moves from the physical to the spiritual. “Do not work for food that perishes, but for that which shall endure for eternal life.” Jesus starts talking about being born again with Nicodemus in John 3, and Nic at Nite thinks he’s talking about a physical rebirth, but Jesus is talking about a spiritual rebirth. Jesus talks about water with the woman at the well in John 4, and she takes him literally, but soon he starts talking about quenching a spiritual thirst. Later in John Jesus heals a blind man and talks about blindness, but it soon becomes clear he is talking about the spiritual blindness of the religious leaders of his day. When Jesus talks about bread in John 6, he is talk about oh, so much more.
Luther picks up on this in the Small Catechism, when talking about the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” from the Lord’s prayer. What is meant by bread?
Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as meat, drink, clothing, shoes, house, homestead, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful magistrates, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
Luther understands bread very broadly. Even good friends are considered bread. Good friends feed the soul.
In his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore says,
It is impossible to define precisely what the soul is. Definition is an intellectual enterprise anyway; the soul prefers to imagine. We know intuitively that soul has to do with genuineness and depth, as when we say certain music has soul or a remarkable person is soulful. When you look closely at the image of soulfulness, you see that it is tied to life in all its particulars – good food, satisfying conversation, genuine friends, and experiences that stay in the memory and touch the heart. Soul is revealed in attachment, love, and community, as well as in retreat on behalf of inner communing and intimacy.
Jesus invites us to consider not just the needs of the body, but the needs of the soul. I don’t want to overplay a body/spirit dualism here, but we must engage a theme that Jesus engages. Don’t work for physical food, but for spiritual food. He hits the same theme in Matthew’s very different gospel, which is drawn from different sources than John’s Semeia source. In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not to worry about what we’re going to eat, drink or wear, physical things, but rather to seek first the kingdom of God and God’s justice/righteousness.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Life is more than food. The body is more than clothing. Existence is more than trudging from one day to another in the marketplace, trying to earn more and more money, to acquire stuff. I meet people everyday that are looking for more than a life of buying and selling. Perhaps that’s why our companion synod relationships with brothers and sister in Christ in Peru and Africa are so attractive – why people are becoming more and more interested. They are spiritually hungry.
Back to John. “Do not work for food that perishes, but for that which shall endure for eternal life.” Look for soul food, spiritual food. Are you working for the bread of life? What does that look like? What feeds your spirit? What fills your cup to overflowing? Are you scheduling into your life things that will feed your spirit, with the bread of life?
At the ELCA Youth Gathering we focused on seven spiritual practices: Prayer, Worship, Serving, Study, Giving, Encouraging and Inviting. Could it be that these are courses in the meal of life? Time for prayer feeds the soul. Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength… The Lord is my shepherd… who restores my soul. Corporate worship restores the soul, or it can, if there is life in those bones. Study feeds the soul, as do serving and giving. Encouraging others, visiting those who are sick, being with friends, all these restore the soul, as does inviting them into a feast for the soul.
Perhaps we are called to be soulful people, leaders to care for the soul, feed the soul. How are you tending to your soul this week?