Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bread for the Journey

John 6:24-35

1 Kings 19:4-8

Life can do that in an instant, can’t it?  We can go from sitting on the top of the
world, to scraping the sides of the barrel as we try to crawl out of it in the
blink of an eye.  Things can go from the
best of times to the worst of times before we even know it.  The doctor walks into the room with a worried
look on her face and grim news to deliver.
A friend, a spouse, a child, or a parent who has always been there could
suddenly be gone.  The simple dreams of
children who grow up, find jobs, find spouses, and have children fly away when
things happen in a different order.
Friendships crack under pressure, relationships fracture under betrayal,
the person we thought would always be by our side suddenly isn’t and on top of
that we begin to doubt if what we thought was true ever really was. 

Or maybe the plummet from mountaintop to the lowest point on
the earth is harder to see on the outside.
Maybe the relationship we are losing isn’t that of a friend or family
member, maybe it’s our relationship with Christ.  Faith in God who is mighty, who is strong,
who has done miracles for the world and before our very eyes for others,
suddenly doesn’t seem to matter, doesn’t seem to stand up in the face of the
danger that is before us.  Faith in Jesus
who promises his yoke is easy and his burden is light, feels like a heavy
weight on our shoulders when we struggle to understand his love for us, his
call to us, his presence with us.  Faith
in the Holy Spirit that others seem to recognize as active and moving in their
lives is absent in our own. 

Maybe the faith in God that we see in other people, faith
that looks strong and unwavering, faith that sees God’s presence at every turn,
faith they can talk about, sing about, pray for hours and hours about, just
seems out of reach, mind-boggling, unreal.
Maybe it all just seems too preposterous to fake anymore.  Maybe it all seems way too important to be
entrusted to our untrustworthy hands.  Maybe
holding onto the mystery of faith seems more trouble than it’s worth, and we
just want to walk away from it all, walk day’s journey or more away, and just
lay down and sleep.

Have you ever felt like that? 
Have you ever just wanted to sleep, to stop thinking, to stop wondering,
to stop worrying about whether you’re doing all of this right, or praying often
enough or strong enough?  Have you ever
gotten tired to listening to voice coming from someone you can’t see?  Have you ever wanted to just lie down under
the broom tree and sleep to get away from everything that is plaguing you, your
worries, your grief, your brokenness, even your struggles with your faith in

I have.  And not just
once long ago after which I had this amazing youth group camp conversion experience
which solved all my faith problems forever.
I have, as a teen.  I have as a
20-something graduate student - - a 20-something SEMINARY student no less.  I have as a 30-something wife and mother of
three kids, a pastor of a church.  I
have, and I do go through times like this when like Elijah I just want to go to
sleep instead of face my fears, my doubts, my crises of faith, my empty
relationship with God.

A day’s journey away from anyone he knows, Elijah has
successfully withdrawn into the wilderness.
A lone tree dots the desert, a lone place of shade and shelter in the
stark landscape of his faith.  Satisfied
that he has withdrawn far enough, he surrenders to the sleep he craves… even if
just for a moment.

“Suddenly,” it says in 1 Kings, suddenly an angel appears,
not letting him sleep for even an instant, not letting him disengage from the
divine presence.  “Get up!” the angel
commands.  “Get up and eat!”  At his head Elijah finds a cake baked on the
hot stones of the desert, and a jar of water, not much different than the jars
he used to intensify the miracle  God
performed at the sacrifice just days before.
Elijah ate and drank, his physical needs satisfied, and lay down to
sleep again.

But again, the angel, this time also touching him, urges, “Get
up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  God’s persistence in the relationship is
relentless.  God’s desire for even this
one prophet to continue on the faith journey is so strong, even the heavenly
beings are employed to bring him back into the call.  God’s trust in Elijah’s potential as one who
will point to truth in the midst of a world that follows too easily what is
false, is so high that Elijah can’t be left to just sleep.  God’s desire to remain in relationship with
Elijah is so deep that Elijah can’t be lost to fear and loneliness, and
feelings of inadequacy.  His call, his
journey onward is a given; it’s assumed that there is more to his tale, more to
his walk with God.  That Elijah has
farther to go is not in question for the angel, for the agent of Yahweh, so
strengthening Elijah for what comes next is her purpose, reminding Elijah of
the persistence of God’s grace and providence her mission.

Elijah feeds on the cakes provided.  Elijah eats what is given to him by God.  It’s some pretty impressive cake because apparently
it is enough to sustain him for the forty days and forty nights ahead has he
continues his journey, his destination finally clear to him, to the mount of
God at Horeb.

Cakes that strengthen him
for forty days…

I want some of that.  I
want some of that sustenance, some of that proof, some of that taste of God’s
grace, God’s promise, God’s presence.  When
I am lying listlessly in the deserts of my faith, a cake baked on the hot
stones that will fill me for as long as I can imagine sounds absolutely perfect,
so perfect in fact that nothing else will do.

But have you tried to eat such rich and heavy food on an
empty stomach?  Have you ever indulged
too much when you’re coming out of a time of fasting, either forced or by
choice?  Have you ever experienced the
discomfort, the dissatisfaction that comes when your eyes have been too big for
your stomach?  How about when your
spiritual eyes have been too big for your spiritual stomach?

Or the problem I more commonly face is wanting all or
nothing.  Sometimes the cakes that fill
for forty days aren’t just lying there when I wake up.  For me, anyway, they are RARELY sitting there
waiting for me to feast, be filled, then continue on my journey.  Rarely, OK never, have I been able to move
from the lowest desert of spiritual loneliness to the tip of the mountain in
the presence of God on just one serving of cake.  And sometimes that frustrates me so much that
I just want to give in.   Where can I
find this cake that will sustain me for FORTY DAYS?!?!?!  And when I can’t, with exhaustion and defeat,
I ask “If I can’t have it all back at once, if my emptiness can’t be filled in
an instant why should I even try to fill it at all?”

But once as I sat under the broom tree in the desert, a
friend, an angel of Yahweh sent to point out the food in front of me, reminded
me of something different.  We don’t have
to worry about the days.  We don’t have
to worry about how long the cake will last, how long the food will sustain us,
how long it will reinvigorate our bodies and spirit, how long it will
strengthen us for the journey.  We don’t
have to wait for the biggest cake of faith on which to feed, because the Bread
of Life is with us all the time.  Our bread
is provided not forty days at a time, but daily, our daily bread is set before
us.  “May don’t worry about how many
days,” my friend wrote to me once.  “Can
you be fed by the bread of life at all?”

Like manna in the wilderness that rained down from heaven for
the Hebrews to gather as they left Egypt and made their way toward the Promised
Land, the bread of life is available in perfect serving sizes for us to eat and
be filled every day.  The bread of life
doesn’t need to be stockpiled or rationed; it doesn’t need to be shoveled hand
over fist into our famished bodies in order to last for forty days, forty
nights, for as long as we can imagine, for eternity, because the bread of life
will never leave us.  The bread of life
is God’s gift the endures forever, that can fill our bodies and spirits, that
gives life to the world.

The goal is not to consume it once and for all.  The goal is not to feast on it in one
sitting, in one stage of our life, in one moment of baptism or confirmation or
conversion so that it will last forever.
The bread of life is what we chew when we devour the Word of God with
the people of God, like in the Story small groups that are forming for the
fall.  The bread of life feeds our faith,
again and again, not just when we are children, but when we come back to the
Scriptures with new eyes, new experiences, new challenges in our lives.  The bread of life, eaten little by little,
day by day, gives us strength to live again, to trust again, to believe again

The bread of life is what we feed our children when we talk
with them about the lessons they learn in Sunday School, when we read Scripture
together as families, wondering aloud about what it means, not being fearful of
not having all the answers.  The bread of
life is what we ingest when we gather as the body for worship, for reading and
hearing the word, for celebrating with simple gifts of water, bread, and juice,
for praying and hearing the good news of God’s grace.  The bread of life is what break and share
with the world when we speak words of peace, when we touch others with
compassion, when we work with love for justice for all.

The bread of life is meant to be eaten and enjoyed day after day,
sitting at the table in companionship with God, giving energy for our walk, giving
strength for our life.  The bread of life
is a meal for the road.  The bread of
life is bread for the journey.  “Get up
and eat.”

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