2 Samuel 11:1-15 – David and Bathsheba
2 Kings 4:42-44 – Elisha feeds the people with 20 loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain
Psalm 14 – There is no one who does good; no not one
Psalm 145:10-18 – You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature. (Ps. 145:17)
Ephesians 3:14-21 – I pray that you may have the power to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
John 6:1-21 – Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.
Jesus, Maslow, and Bread
A look at the next five weeks
Okay, if you haven’t done so yet, it’s now time to decide what to do with the bread texts. Starting July 26, 2015 we have bread texts through August 23. Yes, five – count them – five weeks in John 6:
- July 26, 2015 – John 6:1-21 – Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.
- August 2, 2015 – John 6:24-35 – I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
- August 9, 2015 – John 6:35, 41-51 – I am the bread of life, the living bread which comes down from heaven. No one comes unless the Father draws, and I will raise you up on the last day.
- August 16, 2015 – 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.
- August 23, 2015 – 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…
For those of us who are people of the lectionary, at least most of the time, this is a gauntlet. For the first call solo pastor without an arsenal filled with years of exegetical notes, this can be a dizzying mountain too high to climb.
In my weekly lectionary notes today and in the next few weeks, I’m going to take the bread text challenge, but before I go there, if you want some other options, there are plenty:
Option 1: Ignore the texts and preach on what you want. I know, you were taught in seminary that this is heresy. Well, it’s not. Luther did it from time to time. He’d do a series on the Ten Commandments and ignore the readings. While I love the discipline of the lectionary, it’s not canon law. You never vowed to follow it. There have been many lectionaries and many churches that never use them. Talk to Brad Otto over at Messiah Lutheran in Cypress, Texas.
In fact, sometimes I worry that preachers who cleave dogmatically to the lectionary don’t reflect enough on what their congregation, in this place, at this time, desperately needs to hear. I have heard some people, who super-spiritualize the lectionary, claiming that the lectionary readings magically seem to address the current situation. Horse feathers. There is nothing magic about the lectionary. The Spirit blows when and where it wills.
So stop for a moment and think about your people. Think about your church. Think about current events. Write down five sermon titles with themes that your people seem hungry or thirsty to engage. What do they need? Don’t just preach about bread. Give them bread – the bread of life. Is your congregation in a season of growth? Is your congregation in a season of conflict? Have people in your congregation experienced tragedy? Has your community experienced tragedy? Are people choking on wealth? Are they buried in poverty? Do you have a lot of young parents, singles, or seniors? What’s going to feed them spiritually? Pray about it. Make a list. You are their spiritual leader. Build a five-week series on what you prayerfully discern they need to hear.
Option 2: Another option is to ask them what they need to hear. Make no commitments, but ask them what they’d appreciate hearing addressed. Filter the results, but be responsive. Ask online. Or do it the old-fashioned way and pass out 3×5 cards in worship. “If you could hear a sermon on any topic, what would it be?” There will be repeated themes. Take the top five answers. Save the others to prime the pump throughout the year.
Option 3: Or, if you’re a lectionary junkie like me, another option is to preach on the Old Testament readings (David and Bathsheba throughout the first four weeks) or the New Testament readings (Ephesians). The David story is narrative preaching at its finest. It encompasses sin, redemption, forgiveness, and the consequences of sin. Ephesians is about the body of Christ. It preaches justification by grace through faith, and then spends the final chapters teaching people how to live holy lives. Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. Don’t get drunk with wine; get drunk with the Spirit. Put on the full armor of God. We could do worse.
For those who are going to take the bread texts challenge, I am with you. Let us go boldly into the yeasty dough of John 6. Are you ready? Okay, let’s get into the series.
Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was a U.S. psychologist, who was frustrated with Freud. He felt his field tended to treat people like a bag of symptoms. He believed that Freud gave us the sick side of psychology. He wanted to provide the healthy half. Maslow, whose parents were first-generation Russian Jewish immigrants, states these needs in secular psychological terms, not religious terms. But understanding this may help us speak the good news in terms that a secular society can understand.
Instead of studying mentally ill people, he studied exemplary people like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass. Rather than a model of sickness, he developed a theory of health.
His work led him to believe that one had to meet some basic foundational needs before one could aspire to higher things. For example, at the bottom of the pyramid are our physical needs. If one doesn’t have food, education is rather irrelevant. One will try to find food and water before one will start worrying about getting an education, finding a spouse, or even concerning oneself with higher morality. Does that make sense? One thing at a time.
The next level up is safety. If you’re living in a room where everyone is trying to kill you, you’re not going to have time to think about getting your MBA or starting a new business.
The top of the pyramid, level 5, Maslow called “self-actualization.” Don’t let the term worry you. He also called it “self-transcendence.” It’s reaching a level where one can be selfless, devoted to others and maybe even give ones life for someone else. It’s at this level where we find creativity, morality, and a desire to overcome bigotry. It’s about reaching one’s full potential. By his criteria, very few people found their way into this category. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The next five weeks Jesus talks about bread. When Jesus talks about bread he means a lot of different things. In today’s gospel he multiplies five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a large multitude of people. In today’s reading, bread is bread. Period.
But next week, Jesus says something interesting:
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…
In John’s gospel Jesus always moves from the physical to the spiritual. In John 3 Nicodemus is talking about physical birth, but Jesus is talking about spiritual rebirth. In John 4 Jesus starts talking about drawing water out of the well, then moves to talking about quenching the woman’s spiritual thirst for eternity. Later he heals a blind man, and then starts talking about spiritual blindness.
In the same way, these next few weeks Jesus moves beyond talking about physical bread to feed our physical hunger. He shifts the conversation to talk about spiritual bread to feed our spiritual hunger, because, as he says, “People cannot live by bread alone.” Jesus calls us upward in Maslow’s hierarchy. We need more than bread don’t we? We need love, belonging, community, friendship, respect, hope, joy, and self-transcendence. We are hungry to learn how to become less self-centered, more God-centered, and more other-centered.
I’m tempted to preach all five Sundays, all five sermons, all five levels of the pyramid right now, but I suspect you didn’t come prepared for a two-hour sermon. So we’re going to spread it out over the next few weeks: Jesus, Maslow, and Bread.
- July 26, 2015 – John 6:1-21 – Bread is Bread: Physical Needs
- August 2, 2015 – John 6:24-35 – Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day: Safety
- August 9, 2015 – John 6:35, 41-51 –Bread is Relationship: Love/Belonging
- August 16, 2015 – John 6:51-58 – Bread is Hope: Esteem
- August 23, 2015 – John 6:56-69 – Bread is Living Beyond Myself: Self-actualization
Two last words of introduction: first, why not serve a different kind of bread for communion each of the five weeks of this series? Perhaps you could have people in the congregation bake different kinds of bread. Or, if this is not a good option in your context, have tortillas one week, pita bread another week, Hawaiian bread the third week, and some other kinds of bread the last two weeks. I must admit, I have a personal issue with communion wafers. They seem like a freakish byproduct of a bygone theology. In their minimalism, they don’t represent the fullness of the body of Christ or even bread. As C.S. Lewis once said, “I find it infinitely easier to believe this is the Body of Christ, than to believe it is actually bread.
Second, why not use this series as an opportunity to practice sharing like the boy in today’s story? Call the local food pantry to find out what they need. Then take an in-kind offering for a couple of weeks. Then do a love offering for ELCA World Hunger, Bread for the World, Lutheran World Relief, and/or other causes. Use this time of bread to share your bread.
Bread is Bread: Physical Needs
Here’s the text for this week:
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
In your sermon you might begin with an introduction to the series, taken from the information above. Introduce Maslow and the hierarchy of needs. Then expound on the story. Finally, bring it home. What does this mean for us today? How are we going to respond?
A few weeks ago we read about a very different kind of feeding. Herod entertained a few of the rich and powerful in a party that ended up with the execution of John the Baptist. Women entertain the men for pleasure. The leftovers from Herod’s feast of death were gruesome: John’s head on a platter. Events like this are held every day in the world.
Jesus’ feast of life is the polar opposite. Jesus’ feeding is not for the few rich and powerful, but for the masses. All are welcome, rich and poor, powerful and marginalized. The meal begins with the generosity of a young boy. (For a great video introduction, consider showing this: Two kids; one sandwich: The Sharing Experiment.)
The boy begins with a simple, selfless act of generosity: He gives up his lunch. He has more than he needs, like in the video. He shares his five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Great movements of generosity often begin with a simple act of selfless kindness. If you want to think about how you are going to be generous in the future, have you considered asking a child?
The act of kindness snowballs and over 5,000 people are fed. Whether by the miracle of multiplication or the miracle of sharing, there turned out to be quite enough. When has someone’s act of generosity made a difference in your life?
What if we considered this story a microcosm of the world? We live in a hungry world. There are 870 million undernourished people in our world today, most in developing countries. An undernourished person is someone who doesn’t get enough calories to meet their basic physical needs. Many of these undernourished folks are malnourished. This means they will be so weak they will die of things for which we go to the drug store, like diarrhea.
So What? What is the Good News for us today?
There’s lots of Good News.
God cares about hungry people. The prophets cared about hungry people. Jesus cares about hungry people. There are over 2,000 passages in the Bible about the poor. If you are starving, if your children are starving, it is very hard to care about democracy. It is very hard to think about education. Jesus casts a vision for the kingdom of God where everyone has enough to eat. Everyone has access to adequate health care.
Second, there is enough food in the world today to feed the whole world. There is more than enough food in the world for every human being to lead a healthy and productive life. People in developing countries are not hungry because they are lazy or aren’t working hard. People in developing countries are some of the hardest working people in the world. Try subsistence farming some time. They are hungry because of poor wealth distribution, because of famines, because of corrupt governments, and because of war.
Jesus has an answer for the problem of hunger. It starts with sharing, like the little boy in today’s story. And that sharing goes on and on, so that unlike Herod’s corrupt dinner in which there is plenty for the few and little for the masses, instead, there is enough for everyone. This is not socialism. It is not communism. It is “enoughism.” It is not everyone getting the same. It is everyone having enough.
How will we respond to this?
Jesus invites us to be a part of his vision in which everyone can have enough. Here’s what you can do.
- Pray for those who are hungry in the world.
- If you have enough to eat, commit to give at least 10% of your income to sharing with those who do not have enough.
- Bring some canned goods next week to donate to the local pantry.
- Come to the pantry to serve with us on August ___.
- Talk with your family about a gift for ELCA World Hunger that we’ll take on August __ and __.
- Read up on hunger, locally and globally.
These are just starting points. In your prayers, God will lead to you respond according to your gifts and resources. The good news is God is inviting you to be a part of the healing of the world. God wants to use your gifts and resources to make a difference in the world.
The feeding of the 5,000 is more than just a story. It is a parable about the world. It is a parable about what God wants to do in our world and is already doing. When we eat this bread today, we become a part of what God is doing in the world. Let’s be the little boy in the story and see what God can do with our five loaves and two fish.