Friday, 3 August 2012

The true bread of heaven

Peter Lockhart

I wonder if I were to ask the question what the most pressing or concerning issue that you have is, What might your answer be? Personal health? Security and safety? Your happiness? The welfare of your family members? Whatever our chief concerns may be, aware of them or not, these concerns very much determine our actions and choices.

In the reading that we heard from John's gospel when the crowd comes to find Jesus what is revealed by Jesus challenge is that the crowd has followed him because they were having their needs met - it was as if through Jesus God was on tap to meet their needs.

Now it is not that I believe that the meeting of people's personal needs is not important but what was occurring in and through Jesus’ life was bigger than a full stomach.

I remember a theologian from the Theological School of South India preaching during my years in college. He spoke about types of Christians in India. One group he referred to as bowl of rice Christians. Give them a bowl of rice and they will become Christian.

The question he rightly asked of us in our context when people have everything that the need why would you bother becoming a Christian. It raises all sorts of questions as to how we engage in sharing the good news - we should not automatically buy into the marketing theory that we create a perceived need then offer something to fill that hole.

Having said this, the reading also challenges us by sheer weight of numbers. At least the crowd followed Jesus to find out more, and it was not a small crowd. Jesus presence generated great interest.

When we gather on a Sunday we believe that Christ is present with us and part of what we are doing is celebrating that presence.

The great Swedish theologian Karl Barth once said something along the lines that when Christ is preached he walks among his people. It is a reassuring reminder of Christ's presence with the community of faith as we gather. But if Jesus is present the question is - where are the crowds?

Maybe the message we bear is too hard and obscure when people's bellies are already full. Maybe the remnant that remain here have seen beyond the notion of a God who is simply on tap for our own needs and wants. And maybe we are being called to rediscover our place in sharing the story that Jesus is still here.

In the reading from Paul's letter to the Ephesians Paul encouraged the people to grow to their maturity in Christ. As we grapple with the questions of our place in the wider community around us I believe this is an important aspect of what we are being asked to - to think again about what is at the centre of our faith, to deepen that commitment, our understanding and our discipleship. To grow up into Christ who is our head.

Let’s do that today by thinking a little more about Jesus words to the crowd. When the crowd who had come expressing their hunger spoke to Jesus they asked Jesus what works they had to do to receive the bread of eternal life. Jesus response was not to ask them to earn their relationship with God but receive it as a gracious.

He reminded them of God's generosity to the people of the exile as they followed Moses through the desert and then spoke of himself in a very odd way. He began to speak of himself as a metaphor. "I am the bread of life".

We are so accustomed to hearing these words so sometimes that strangeness of Jesus words elude us. People just don't speak that way, even back then.

It would be like me saying, "I am the tree of life, the true tree which gives oxygen to your lives."

Jesus was using a metaphor to make a claim about himself; the life of the world generally and the life of us as individuals. Bread as the source of life for the people’s sustenance, Christ as the source of life for the whole world!

In the midst of the question about fully bellies, healing and other personal needs being met Jesus points the people to something more fundamental, the hope that can be found in God through him.

For me this is what the line on the Lord’s Prayer is so important "give us this day our daily bread". In the Egyptian Coptic Church this line of the prayer is translated something like, “give us this day the bread of eternity”.

In other words give us Jesus.

Of course the meaning of this prayer is layered as the prayer is seeking God's providence for us. Give us this day our daily bread should be understand literally as well. But it is more than asking God to give us the time to get to Brumby’s on the way home from church. The “us” of which it speaks I believe is all humanity. In this it becomes a prayer of intercession and for justice in a world where some have plenty whilst many go hungry.

God is concerned about our physical well being yet as a source of resilience and hope in life praying for our daily bread as Jesus takes us beyond filling our bellies into securing our lives in Christ’s life.

I believe growing up into Christ, deepening our connection to this reality is going to be vital for us in years which lie ahead.

Once we move beyond the immediacy of our current personal concerns and priorities it is poignant to think about the challenges we face collectively. It is quite possible we are standing on the precipice of massive global changes in civilization.

During the week I read an article by a former Hedge Fund manager Raoul Pal entitled “The End Game". His article Indicated that by 2013 we will be entering another global melt down. It will be a meltdown far worse than the GFC in 2007, a collapse which will set us back decades, and maybe even centuries.

Whilst we should always take the prophecies of the so called dooms-day-sayers with a level of scepticism for my mind there are too many stories being told of what is occurring to our planet and our around the world which are ringing alarm bells.

The instability of the economic systems in which we are embedded sits alongside issues of the scarcity of resources – especially food, current political unrest, changes in climate, rising sea levels, toxins in the oceans and the list can go on.

Whilst we live in our cocooned lives here in one of the per capita wealthier nations on earth it could be easy for us to miss what is already happening, yet cocooned or not I suspect in the decades to come we too will feel more personally the changes that already occurring.

As people bound to the life of Christ the question we face is how do we respond to the issues we face? Not simply our desire for bread, or whatever we think our chief concerns are, but to the bigger issues as well? What is the message that we proclaim and what will give us resilience in our faithfulness?

Jesus did feed the people, he healed them, he restored community but Jesus pointed beyond that to God’s grace and love which was revealed in him.

God offers bread for the world, so God offers life. In the midst of the personal and global issues we might face we can find hope in the life-giving promise of Jesus presence with us. We can celebrate and honour God’s gift by how each us lives and by sharing our hope with others.

The good news shared by Jesus with the crowd was not that there were works for them to do but that that God was offering life, bread for the world, and we can find hope in this as well.

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