Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Stale Bread - a sermon

Back when I was a kid, we had to read a story in school -- I’ve tried to find it but no luck. The gist of the story was that a boy wanted to buy a soda, and was going to pay for it by returning bottles for deposits (or something like that). As he went along, he discovered that he was a bottle short and couldn’t afford the soda. But he also knew the old store owner would just tell him to put the bottles in back and would never count.

So he went, dropped off the bottles, and collected the soda he’d been tasting all the way there. On his way home, the soda tasted flat, sour, unpleasant. All because it was guilt ridden.

This is not all that different from the story of David and Bathsheba which we’ve been reading the past few weeks. David gets Bathsheba, but now he’s faced with the prophet Nathaniel and forced to acknowledge that HE is the one who has done wrong. He is faced with his own guilt, and the fruit of his sin is bitter indeed.

Not that guilt is the only way to make the fruits of our labor so bad -- or to use another metaphore, to make our daily bread go stale.

There’s another book in the Old Testament called Ecclesiastes, and in it, the author essentially says that everything is meaningless. “Vanity of vanities,” he writes. “All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil? There is nothing new under the sun.” For him, life is empty, meaningless, dry, stale. And this supposedly from the king -- from a guy who has everything.

But then, when did having everything ever bring us meaning or joy or purpose. I’ll admit, having enough food in our bellies and having sufficient shelter from the elements is a good thing, but beyond that, what’s the point?

Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking that having stuff will give us meaning, will be enough to make life all right. We work hard and finally burn ourselves out. We invented vacation to take care of that (and I’m all for vacation!), but even that doesn’t suffice.

Jesus found the crowd he had fed to be in that frame of mind. They were thrilled with him because he had filled their bellies. They wanted to make him king because he could produce food out of nowhere. This was impressive.

It was like Moses who gave the people manna in the wilderness. THAT was impressive. And let’s face it, if someone said to us, “I’ll give you guaranteed endless and sufficient food forever,” we’d sit up and take notice.

But Jesus says this food -- even manna -- is just stale bread. Or at least, it will turn stale because it is, ultimately, just stuff. It’s temporary, fleeting, dust.

The bread we crave will go stale before we can ever fully appreciate it. Because like David, like the author of Ecclesiastes, like the boy in that story, like the crowd in the gospel the bread we crave is material bread. It gives no meaning, no purpose, no life.

But Jesus, unlike Ecclesiastes, which finally just ends with a resigned note to do one’s duty, gives life. He says, “I am the bread of heaven. Come to me and you will never hunger again. You will never thirst again because what I give will never go stale.”

What Jesus gives is honest and loving and eternal -- it is nothing short of God’s abiding love. He says that whoever eats the bread he offers will live forever -- not merely exist or survive but LIVE. His bread never loses its taste, remains forever fresh.

To take in the bread of heaven is to become part of Christ’s body, to enter into the divine. As mere humas, we have to do so with tiny little bites because we can’t handle God’s fullness. But we’re invited to take part in that eternal bread. Whether any of us does or not is up to each of us individually. Bon appetit. Amen.