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.
So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Safety: Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day
Today’s gospel text is a continuation of last week’s text from the same chapter of John. Last week we began a series called Jesus, Maslow and Bread.
July 29, 2018 – John 6:1-21 – Bread is Bread: Physical Needs.
Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.
August 5, 2018 – John 6:24-35 – Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day: Safety
I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
August 12, 2018 – John 6:35, 41-51 – Bread is Relationship: Love/Belonging
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 19, 2018 – John 6:51-58 – Bread is Hope: Esteem
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 26, 2018 – John 6:56-69 – Bread is Living Beyond Myself: Self-actualization
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…
Last week I introduced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We talked about bread as bread: our physical needs. Jesus provided bread, actual bread, for people to eat.
Jesus reminds us, however, that we cannot live by bread alone. We need hope, love, belonging and much more. Maslow pointed out that we have great difficulty meeting those higher needs until the basic needs at the base of the pyramid are met. It’s hard to think about being generous, if you don’t have enough food to feed your family. It’s hard to think about getting a college degree if you don’t have a roof over your head.
When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying for enough food for ourselves, our families and the whole world, but we are also praying for much more.
Luther understands “bread” to be a metaphor for everything we need in life. In the explanation of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Give us this day our daily bread…) in his Small Catechism, Luther says,
What is meant by daily bread?
Everything that belongs to the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, property, fields, animals, money, goods, a believing spouse, believing children, believing servants, believing and faithful magistrates, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and so on.
When we pray for bread, we are praying for good weather and obedient children and politicians that aren’t nuts. Luther understands bread very broadly. Even good friends are considered bread. Good friends feed the soul.
What feeds your soul? Perhaps one of the sermons in this series could be named Soul Food. How do we point people beyond the god of money, or the god of the belly?
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.
This week we move up to the next level: safety. You can’t engage in higher thoughts if everyone in the room is trying to kill you. Maslow understood safety to be security of body, health, family, resources, safety. If one does not have clean drinking water, one is not safe. If one does not have adequate health care, one is not safe. One has to have hope – hope for the future.
We know that Jesus was concerned about these things. He spent the bulk of his earthly ministry going around healing people. He was doling out free health care.
After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus once again takes off. The crowds still find him, with his disciples, 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. He says, in verse 27:
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,
Here we have a hint about where this is all going. Jesus is calling us to look beyond just our basic needs to so much more. He’s calling us to live into the higher needs in Maslow’s hierarchy.
As I pointed out in last week’s post, Jesus makes this shift from the material to the spiritual with Nicodemus in John 3. He does it with the Woman at the Well in John 4. Just when you think Jesus is talking about water, you realize he’s talking about living water which quenches our spiritual thirst. It’s almost a bait and switch. Likewise, here, just when you think Jesus is talking about the bread in last week’s feeding text, you realize, he’s also talking about spiritual food, food that lasts to eternity, to feed our spiritual hunger. We need more than flour and water.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)
Our kids need more than food on the table and clothes on their body. They need love and safety. They need health care and hope.
What makes you feel safe? Those who have been through severe trauma, those who have fought in wars, and those who have been deeply and painfully wounded, may find it extremely difficult to feel safe, even if they actually are. How do we comfort the afflicted? How do we create spaces where people can feel physically, emotionally and spiritually safe?
Safety is a challenging concept. One can feel unsafe, but be quite safe. One can feel safe, but actually be unsafe. So there is the perception of safety to consider, but also the actuality of safety.
This is particularly difficult, because many things in our society are trying to make us feel unsafe. Entire industries are built on making us feel unsafe. Home security. The military industrial complex. The rapid expansion of private prisons. The ranting screed about the border. The news rakes in money by making you feel unsafe. Kahlil Gibran says,
What is fear of thirst, when the well is full, but a thirst that is unquenchable?
A shooting takes place on the other side of the country. It is caught on video, so it plays over and over again in our 24-hour news cycle. It invades our consciousness as if it happened in our own front yard. We get caught up in the drama, and so we feel unsafe in our own neighborhood.
Many of the things we read or watch in the news are actually quite rare. The news is, by definition, a recounting of rare things. If it happens everywhere everyday, it’s not news is it? The news wants to show us the worst. “If it bleeds, it leads,” the saying goes. Gore sells, so they serve it up. So we watch this stuff over and over and find ourselves wanting to put up walls to keep the world out. We bolt the doors and isolate ourselves. We become suspicious of our neighbors. We see enemies in the faces of our friends.
This has happened with our perception of global violence. We see a car bombing and we think violence is on the rise everywhere. The truth is, we are living in a time of historically declining violence. When we consider the Civil War, WWII, the holocaust, Vietnam, the killing fields of Cambodia, and other atrocities, then compare them to what’s going on in the world today, there’s no comparison, and yet we spend an immoral amount of money on what we call “defense.”
Our response to the border situation is similar. We fear immigrants, so we only offer 5,000 worker visas a year. This is a tiny fraction of the labor force we need for agriculture alone, let alone construction, landscaping and so on. Because of poverty in Central America, people have been coming. Most come legally. Some overstay their visas, because they are so hard to get. So now we are even worried about gardeners and housekeepers.
So, politicians get attention by creating fear that terrorists are coming across the border. If all this fuss was really about terrorism, we would be much more concerned about the northern border. Last year 117,000 overstayed their visas. Where is the outrage? Where is the call for a wall on our northern border? Perhaps are fears are more biased than we realize. We have been manipulated.
This is nothing new. Costa Ricans are deeply worried about all the poor Nicaraguans pouring over the border into Costa Rica. Syrians are coming across the border into Turkey and Jordan. The world is on the move. We are in the largest refugee crisis in the history of the world. There are over 200 million migrants. Most are just people like you and me, who have been forced from their homes by war, or who simply seek a better life. How shall we respond?
What does it mean to follow Jesus who says, “I say to you, do not worry about your life…”? Jesus invites us to pray for our daily bread, but not obsess about it. Be safe, but don’t lock yourself in a box. The Good Samaritan took a risk in helping the man on the side of the road. A ship may be safest in the harbor, but ships weren’t meant for the harbor. Life is a risky business. None of us gets out of it alive. If we cling to our lives, trying to save them, trying to achieve an unreachable illusion of safety, we will never live, never find Life.
So what? What is the Good News for us today?
Our lives are in God’s hands. Jesus invites us to trust God. God has provided. Jesus invites us to pray and give thanks for our daily bread, and to see bread as more than just food and clothing. He invites us to seek the bread that comes down from heaven, that God offers free of charge: hope, life, love. Jesus invites us to begin to see him as the Bread of Life.
How will we respond to this?
Trusting God to provide what we need from day to day, we are free to give ourselves to help others find real safety. Work on a Habitat for Humanity house so that others can experience the safety and security of a roof over our heads. Serve at a food pantry. Sponsor a refugee.
Don’t watch more than 30 or 60 minutes of television news. It’s good to know what’s going on in the world, but we don’t need to watch the same repetitive stuff over and over again, quietly traumatizing ourselves and creating an illusory sense of danger. It’s not good for the soul. Consider reading your news, which is often less alarmist and soul-destroying. Find more objective, less ideologically-driven news sources.
Take time for daily silent prayer so that you commune with the God of the universe, who transcends the ups and downs of life.
Take stock of your own safety. When did you last miss a meal, or not have a place to sleep? When was the last time you were held up at gun point? (If you were, find a counselor, pastor or good friend to help process the experience with you.)
Seek out those who truly are in an unsafe situation and serve them as Jesus did. This will fulfill Jesus’ expectation of his followers to serve, and it will also put our own often overblown sense of insecurity in perspective.
Plan to go on a servant trip or mission trip to serve those in need. Engage the people in your own city at the point of their greatest needs. There is something about being with those who are struggling that helps us put our own struggles in perspective.
Don’t worry about your life too much. Look to Jesus; seek first the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness, and the rest will take care of itself.