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August 5, 2018

“The Bread that Keeps Giving”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

John 6.24-35

Joshua 1.1-9

August 5, 2018

            Many family stories surround around food. I know some of the best tales Rob’s family tells are either told at a meal or are about sitting down to eat good food. Something interesting, maybe even magical or divine, happens when we gather around the table to eat.

            Though, we don’t always gather around a table, and that says something about family dynamics, as well. My parents divorced when I was four and I lived with both parents but my dad was the one who usually took me to school. Every day he took me to a gas station just outside of the daycare center and let me pick out a brownie. For breakfast. He would argue that it had milk and eggs – all those healthy things you need for a balanced breakfast – and I never disagreed. When his friend was working, he would slip in a second brownie for free.

            This is a bit of a silly story because most parents would never let their kids eat that much sugar for breakfast. Yet, I will always remember how special it was – not because of the sugary treat, but because on the car ride to buy breakfast we had a contest to see who could guess what the temperature was that day. This was before the temperature was conveniently part of the car’s dashboard, and we would go past an electronic sign that gave the time and temp. We always laughed at how close or far away our guesses were from the truth, and we’d talk and laugh the whole way. The brownie was literally and figuratively the icing on top of good conversation.

The stories of our food are less about the food themselves and more about the truth that is within our human experience. We use this physical necessity to describe the realities and struggles and joys of our lives. In our faith communion is a meal in which we gather together and tell stories – the story of our faith and how our God came to be with us. We remember the meal of Jesus and the disciples – a meal that ended with his incarceration and death, ultimately ending in his resurrection. We remember that God fed the Israelites in the wilderness and provided for them when they were hungry and thirsty. When we gather we create new memories but also go back to those previous memories – which may be sad or may be happy. Victoria Lynn Garvey writes that “Memory goes a long way toward making us who we are.”[1] What do your memories about family say about your identity?

Stories in the Bible about food and memory tie together our identity, shaping us and our faith stories. One of those stories is found in the Joshua passage today. This is a major transition in the lives of the Israelites. They escaped the aggressive hold of the Egyptians with help of Moses and followed his lead through the wilderness for forty years. Moses was their direct connection with God and it took time for them to fully trust him, and therefore trust God. They were an anxious people – not unlike our world today – and were worried about food and water and necessities. Perhaps those worries were even rooted in a general angst about their future and who they were and who God was to them.

Now, Moses is dead and Joshua has been chosen by God to lead them into the land of their future – a land of milk and honey – a land that will be prosperous and offers them hope. But no pressure, Joshua! In this passage he is identified as God’s servant, implying that Joshua has this great relationship with God, as well as a duty to fulfill.[2] This is a huge responsibility. I imagine that Joshua was anxious, as well – maybe even a little unsure if he was fully equipped for this job.

When we are called to a task we sometimes have reservations. We can list the reasons that we think we are unqualified for the job – yet we often forget that we were called – someone saw potential in us and believes we can do it. This doesn’t mean we won’t mess up, but that we have what it takes to do what we need to – even if it doesn’t look like what we imagine.

This scripture passage is an encouragement text to Joshua – and to all who are called to difficult tasks. God reminds Joshua that God was with Moses. God was with the people – therefore, God is with Joshua every step of the way. He is called to remember the gifts God has given in the past, for God will continue to be gracious. His courage is to be taken in the memory of those before him and the actions of God. Victoria Lynn Garvey, again, says, “(Memory) may even, with a little imagination, point us to our futures.”[3] Joshua is informed of his identity as a leader and belonging to these great people through his memory of how Moses led them with God’s help. In that memory he also finds courage for his future, and the future of the Israelites.

The passage in the Gospel of John uses food and memory to create an identity for the people and for how God relates to them. Jesus had just finished his first 5K, also known as feeding the five thousand. He has gone off to be by himself like a good little introvert, but the people are anxious to know where he has gone. They follow him and find him because they are hungry again. Like teenagers, they are bottomless pits – they have burned off the fish and bread Jesus gave them and ran out of pizza rolls in the freezer.

Jesus recognizes this situation for what it is and identifies the problem. “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do 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.” The people go on to ask all sorts of questions, diverting from this statement. They redirect. In this passage the crowd reminds me of that niece or nephew who reticently goes to see an aunt or uncle. They haven’t visited in a long time, but they need to ask for $20 or borrow a kitchen utensil, or something along those lines, and they feel obligated to make small talk. The crowd is coming to ask for food, but in when Jesus calls them out on it, they change the subject as if to say, “No, no – we’re not here for more bread. I mean, if you have more bread, I’ll take it, but really we want to know about these signs and things.” Yet, like that good aunt or uncle – Jesus knows that they think they want the bread – but really what they are searching for is something deeper – something more substantial.

Jesus tells them about how Moses talked to God when the Israelites were wandering and God provided manna. The people had complained, not trusting in God, and Moses intervened on behalf of the people. A key sentence Jesus says is: “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.” First, Jesus clarifies that Moses was not the one to give the manna, but God. Their trust should not be in humans but in the Divine. Second, Jesus changes the tense of this so that “it was not Moses who gave you the bread….but it is God who gives you the bread.”[4] God’s generosity is not in the past tense, but the present.

God is here, now, giving us bread to nourish us. When we are asking all the wrong questions, Jesus is pointing us in the right direction, gently guiding us. When we are starving for the bread and juice, Jesus is there, offering it with both hands open wide. When we are unsure who we are, Jesus is there to remind us. When we are sure that we are not equipped for the job, God is there, telling us to have courage.

Have courage. Be confident. Know you are called by God, and that you will be nourished by God. Amen.

 

[1] Victoria Lynn Garvey, “Lectionary” in Christian Century (Vol. 135, No. 15, July 18, 2018) p. 20.

[2] Gordon McConville, “Joshua” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 160.

[3] Victoria Lynn Garvey, 20.

[4] Rene Kieffer, “John” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 972.