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John 6: 35-40 | The staff of life

“THE STAFF OF LIFE”

JOHN 6:35-40

AUGUST 2, 2015

 

I’D LIKE YOU TO THINK BACK FOR A MOMENT (YOU MAY CLOSE YOUR EYES IF IT HELPS) AND THINK FOR A MOMENT ABOUT THE MOST DELICIOUS BREADS YOU’VE EVER EATEN…

 

GOT ‘EM? WHAT WERE THEY?

 

PERHAPS YOUR MOTHER’S HOMEMADE BUTTER-CRUST BREAD, WHICH TOOK HOURS TO RISE, COVERED WITH A TEA TOWEL AND TEMPTINGLY JUST OUT OF REACH UNTIL IT WAS TIME TO BAKE, AND THEN FOR WHAT SEEMED LIKE AN ETERNITY TO COOL ENOUGH TO EAT A PIECE?

 

OR YOUR FATHER’S SATURDAY MORNING BISCUITS, SO LARGE, THAT YOUR FAMILY NICKNAMED THEM “CAT HEAD BISCUITS” BECAUSE THEY WERE THE SIZE OF LARGE CAT’S HEAD?

 

SAN FRANCISCO SOURDOUGH? A NEW YORK BAGEL WITH A SCHMEAR?

 

JEWISH RYE, SLICED FRESH IN THAT REALLY COOL BREAD SLICER THAT SLICED AN ENTIRE LOAF ALL AT ONCE AT YOUR FAVORITE DELI (NO FAIR PICTURING IT PILED HIGH WITH PASTRAMI AND SWISS!)?

 

A SMALL ARTISAN LOAF OF ITALIAN BREAD AT YOUR FAVORITE ITALIAN RESTAURANT, COMPLETE WITH A SAUCER OF FINE OLIVE OIL AND SHAVED PARMESAN?

 

TOASTED CUBAN BREAD WITH BUTTER IN THE MORNING?

 

HERE’S ONE THAT’LL TAKE YOU BACK – REMEMBER HOW WONDERFUL THE ROLLS WERE IN YOUR SCHOOL’S CAFETERIA, AND HOW, IF YOU WERE LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE A CLASS CLOSE TO THE CAFETERIA EARLY IN THE MORNING, YOU COULD SMELL THEM BAKING?

 

DURING MY LAST TWO YEARS OF COLLEGE I SHARED A LARGE APARTMENT WITH THREE OTHER GUYS. AS PART OF OUR ROOMMATE AGREEMENT I OFFERED TO COOK MEALS, IF THEY’D CLEAN THE KITCHEN AND BATHROOMS.

 

WHEN ONE OF MY ROOMMATES, ROBERT RUTHERFORD FROM ONEONTA, AL WHO GREW UP ON A FARM SHOWED UP FOR OUR FIRST YEAR TOGETHER IN THAT APARTMENT, HIS MOTHER TOOK ME ASIDE AND ASKED ABOUT THESE SO-CALLED COOKING ARRANGEMENTS.

 

SHE WAS WORRIED ABOUT HER “LITTLE BOY” COLLEGE AGE SON.

“I SUPPOSE YOU MAKE HAMBURGERS, AND HOTDOGS, AND SPAGHETTI, AND STUFF LIKE THAT,” SHE HALF-ASKED, HALF-ACCUSED.

 

“NO, I CAN DO A LOT MORE THAN THAT,” I SAID.

 

WHEN HER SON WENT HOME, BACK TO THEIR FARM THAT FIRST CHRISTMAS AND TOLD HER THAT HE HAD NOT HAD THE SAME MEAL TWICE IN ROUGHLY FOUR MONTHS…

 

THE NEXT TIME SHE SAW ME SHE APOLOGIZED SAYING, “HE DOESN’T EVEN GET THAT AT HOME!”

 

BUT WHAT WAS BETTER THAN HER APOLOGY WAS THE FACT THAT SHE AND HER SON CAME BACK TO SCHOOL THAT NEXT SEMESTER WITH A CHEST FREEZER FULL OF HOMEGROWN VEGETABLES – BLACK-EYED PEAS, COLLARD GREENS, FIELD PEAS, CORN, AND OKRA, JUST TO NAME A FEW. PERHAPS SHE WAS STILL TESTING ME.

 

I MADE IT ALL WITH THE EXCEPTION OF TWO THINGS. ROBERT TAUGHT ME HOW TO FRY OKRA; AND HE ALWAYS MADE THE CORNBREAD!

 

IRON SKILLET – GREASED WITH CRISCO – PLACED IN A HOT OVEN WHILE HE MADE THE BATTER – THEN POURING IN THE BATTER TO A HOT SIZZLE, AND BAKING IT TO A GOLDEN BROWN – DEFINITELY ON MY FAVORITES LIST!

 

YEARS LATER, AFTER WE HAD BOTH GRADUATED, HE AN ELECTRICAL ENGINEER WITH ALABAMA POWER, BUT BACK LIVING ON A PIECE OF HIS FAMILY’S FARMLAND…

 

AND I IN MINISTRY IN CHATTANOOGA, TN IT JUST SO HAPPENED THAT SOME OF HIS FAMILY’S COUSINS, ALSO RUTHERFORD’s, WERE PART OF MY CONGREGATION;

 

I’LL NEVER FORGET THE SUNDAY THEY CAME TO CHURCH AND TOLD ME THAT ROBERT HAD BEEN KILLED WHILE BUSH-HOGGING HIS PROPERTY, LEAVING BEHIND A YOUNG WIFE AND TWO-SMALL CHILDREN.

 

AFTER JESUS FED THE 5000 WITH TWO FISH AND FIVE SMALL LOAVES OF BREAD THE PEOPLE STUCK TO HIM LIKE GLUE. THEY SWARMED AROUND HIM, AWAITING HIS NEXT MIRACLE, HOPEFULLY SOMETHING INVOLVING FOOD.

 

HE HAD FED THEIR BELLIES, TRUE ENOUGH, AND PERHAPS THAT’S ALL SOME OF THEM WERE LOOKING FOR, BUT THERE WAS SOMETHING ELSE GOING ON AS WELL.

 

JESUS’ MIRACLE REMINDED THE PEOPLE OF ANOTHER MIRACLE, FROM LONG AGO, ONE WHICH WAS TOLD AND RETOLD OVER THE CENTURIES, OF HOW WHEN THEIR ANCESTORS HAD WANDERED IN THE WILDERNESS ON THEIR WAY TO THE PROMISE LAND, MOSES HAD GIVEN THE PEOPLE BREAD.

 

“GIVE US BREAD AS MOSES GAVE THE ISRAELITES BREAD,” THE PEOPLE BEGGED JESUS FOLLOWING HIS MIRACULOUS FEEDING OF THE 5000.

 

AS GENTLY AS HE COULD, JESUS CORRECTED THE PEOPLE. “IT WAS NOT MOSES WHO GAVE THEM BREAD, BUT GOD WHO GAVE IT…

 

AND GOD WHO GIVES THE TRUE BREAD FROM HEAVEN, THE BREAD THAT GIVES LIFE TO THE WORLD.”

 

“GIVE US THIS BREAD ALWAYS,” THEY SAID; AND THAT’S WHEN JESUS LET THEM KNOW THEY WERE LOOKING AT IT.

 

“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE. WHOEVER COMES TO ME WILL NEVER BE HUNGRY, AND WHOEVER BELIEVES IN ME WILL NEVER BE THIRSTY.”

 

WRITING ON THE SUBJECT OF BREAD, AUTHOR FREDERICK BUECHNER FIRST QUOTES JESUS’ WORDS, THEN CONTINUES:

 

“MAN DOES NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT HE ALSO DOES NOT LIVE LONG WITHOUT IT. TO EAT IS TO ACKNOWLEDGE OUR DEPENDENCE – BOTH ON FOOD AND ON EACH OTHER.

 

IT ALSO REMINDS US OF OTHER KINDS OF EMPTINESS THAT NOT EVEN THE BLUE PLATE SPECIAL CAN TOUCH.”

 

THE PEOPLE WANTED JESUS TO GIVE THEM MIRACLE BREAD TO EAT, BUT WHAT HE OFFERED THEM WAS A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIMSELF.

 

HE FED THEIR BELLIES, TRUE ENOUGH, BUT HE UNDERSTOOD THAT THERE WAS OTHER KINDS OF EMPTINESS THAT MERE BREAD, NOT EVEN THE MOST DELICIOUS BREADS WE’VE EVER EATEN, CAN TOUCH.

 

LIKE THE KIND OF EMPTINESS YOU FEEL WHEN YOU FIND OUT ONE OF YOUR COLLEGE ROOMMATES IS DEAD, LEAVING BEHIND A YOUNG WIFE AND TWO SMALL CHILDREN.

 

THE KIND OF EMPTINESS YOU FEEL WHEN YOUR FATHER ISN’T THERE ONE SATURDAY MORNING TO BAKE HIS FAMOUS CAT-HEAD BISCUITS.

 

THE EMPTINESS ONE FEELS WHEN SOMEONE PULLS THE RUG OF SECURITY OUT FROM UNDER THEM, LEAVING THEM TUMBLING AND OFF BALANCE FOR YEARS.

THE EMPTINESS OF FEELING ALL ALONE; OF NOT BEING APPRECIATED; OF HAVING YOUR GOOD-NATURED OUTLOOK ON LIFE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF;

 

OF NOT BEING ACCEPTED OR CARED ABOUT FOR WHATEVER REASONS PEOPLE SEEM TO HARBOR AGAINST YOU.

 

THE EMPTINESS OF LOVING SOMEONE SO MUCH THAT YOU BELIEVE IT ALONE WILL CHANGE THEIR BAD BEHAVIOR, ONLY IT DOESN’T; AND YOU WALK AWAY FEELING GUILTY THAT EVERYTHING YOU DID WAS NOT ENOUGH, AND NEVER WOULD BE; EVEN THOUGH YOU KNOW YOU SHOULDN’T FEEL THAT WAY.

 

THEN THERE’S THE EMPTINESS AND UNCERTAINTY OF WHAT LIES AHEAD, IN THIS LIFE AND IN THE LIFE TO COME.

 

“THIS IS THE WILL OF MY FATHER,” JESUS SAYS, “THAT ALL WHO SEE THE SON OF MAN AND BELIEVE IN HIM MAY HAVE ETERNAL LIFE; AND I WILL RAISE THEM UP ON THE LAST DAY.”

 

SO LET’S AT LEAST, CHECK THAT ONE OFF OUR LIST OF WORRIES AND EMPTINESS-ES.

 

HERE’S WHAT I’M GUESSING – THOSE FAVORITE BREADS YOU REMEMBERED EARLIER AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SERMON…?

 

I’M GUESSING THEY WERE YOUR FAVORITES AS MUCH FOR WHO MADE THEM, OR WITH WHOM YOU ATE THEM, AS THE TASTE OF THE BREADS THEMSELVES.

 

I’M GUESSING THAT IT WAS THE LOVE YOU FELT FOR THE PERSON, SOMEHOW ALL ROLLED UP TOGETHER IN THE DOUGH THEY MADE AS A SHOW OF THEIR LOVE FOR YOU.

 

YOUR MOTHER… YOUR FATHER…

 

YOUR FAMILY’S VISIT TO YOUR FAVORITE FAMILY RUN DELI…

 

YOUR MORNING ROUTINE OF CUBAN COFFEE AND TOASTED BREAD WITH THE REGULARS…

 

THAT EXCITED ELECTRICITY OF YOUR HAND BRUSHING AGAINST THE HAND OF YOUR FUTURE SPOUSE’S AS YOU BOTH REACH TO DREDGE YOUR ITALIAN BREAD THROUGH THE OLIVE OIL AT THE SAME MOMENT…

 

EVEN A SMALL CHILD’S AFFECTION FOR THE LUNCH LADIES PULLING THOSE MILE-HIGH ROLLS APART FROM ONE ANOTHER, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU WOUND UP WITH ONE OF THE BIGGEST ONES!

 

“TO EAT IS TO ACKNOWLEDGE OUR DEPENDENCE BOTH ON FOOD AND ON EACH OTHER.”

 

IT IS ONE OF THE WAYS WE FILL THE EMPTINESS-ES IN OUR BELLIES, AND OF OUR LIVES.

 

JESUS WAS RIGHT TO REALIZE THAT WE DO NOT “LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT ALSO BY EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD;”

 

BUT ALSO BECAUSE OF THE RELATIONSHIPS WE SHARE WITH OTHERS.

 

THE PEOPLE CAME BEGGING JESUS FOR BREAD, AND WHAT HE GAVE THEM WAS HIMSELF; A RELATIONSHIP; AND THAT’S A FILLING (AND A FEELING) LIKE NO OTHER.

 

BREAD HAS LONG BEEN CALLED THE STAFF OF LIFE – SOME HAVE SUGGESTED IT IS A BIBLICAL REFERENCE, AND IT MAY WELL BE, BECAUSE THERE ARE A NUMBER OF PASSAGES WHICH SPEAK OF THE STAFF, AND THE STAY, OF BREAD.

 

OTHERS BELIEVE THAT BREAD AS THE STAFF OF LIFE COMES FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE, AND THAT COULD BE EQUALLY TRUE, FOR WHAT WE KNOW IS THAT BREAD IS A BASIC FOOD FOR ALL PEOPLE.

 

IT IS A FOOD OF EVERY PEOPLE, EVERY NATION, EVERY CULTURE, AND FOR ALL TIME. IT IS BASIC; IT IS ESSENTIAL; IT IS THE ESSENCE OF LIFE ITSELF.

 

IT IS NOT ONLY THE STAFF OF LIFE, IT IS VERY MUCH THE STUFF OF LIFE;

 

IT IS MADE FROM WHATEVER THE MOST COMMON AND READILY AVAILABLE GRAINS, SEEDS, AND INGREDIENTS ARE IN A CULTURE.

 

BREAD COMES IN EVERY VARIETY, SHAPE, COLOR, AND FORM, MUCH LIKE THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE IT.

 

IT IS A BOND BETWEEN FAMILIES AND PEOPLES, AND A BOND BETWEEN ALL OF HUMANITY. IT IS THE STAFF, AND STUFF, AND BASIS, FOR ALL OF LIFE.

 

PERHAPS, KNOWING THIS IS WHAT MADE JESUS CALL HIMSELF “THE BREAD OF LIFE” AND WHY HE FED BELLIES AND SOULS ALIKE…

 

AND WHY WE TRY TO DO THE SAME FOR EACH OTHER.

 

MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE NONE OF US LIKES FEELING EMPTY INSIDE.

 

EVERY YEAR AFTER PEOPLE’S GARDENS CAME IN, AND THEY HAD EATEN ALL THE ZUCCHINI THEY COULD POSSIBLY STAND, AND THEIR GARDENS WERE STILL PRODUCING MORE – MY DESK AT CHURCH WOULD BEGIN TO PILE UP WITH LOAVES OF ZUCCHINI BREAD!

 

AT HOME, THERE WERE ALREADY A COUPLE OF LOAVES IN THE FREEZER, BESIDES THE HALF-EATEN LOAF ON THE COUNTER.

 

“JUST FIND SOMEONE TO GIVE IT TO,” PEOPLE WOULD SAY, “IF YOU’VE ALREADY GOT ENOUGH.”

 

ONLY THING WAS – THEY AND EVERYONE ELSE WITH ZUCCHINI IN THEIR GARDEN HAD ALREADY GIVEN EVERYONE WE KNEW A LOAF AS WELL.

 

THE SAME THING USED TO HAPPEN IN ANOTHER CHURCH WE SERVED WHEN A SMALL GROUP OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH STARTED ONE OF THOSE FRIENDSHIP BREADS – YOU KNOW THE KIND WHERE ONE PERSON SHARES THE STARTER WITH ANOTHER;

 

THEN YOU HAVE TO FEED THE STARTER FOR A WHILE – THEN EVERY COUPLE OF WEEKS YOU HAVE TO BAKE LIKE SEVEN LOAVES OF BREAD – AND THEN THE PROCESS STARTS ALL OVER AGAIN, LEST YOU KILL THE STARTER THAT HAS BEEN PASSED DOWN SOMETIMES FOR GENERATIONS – AND FROM FAMILY TO FAMILY;

 

SORT OF LIKE CHAIN-LETTER BAKING – NO ONE WANTS TO BE THE ONE WHO KILLS OFF THE STARTER!

 

ANYWAY, ONCE AGAIN, MY DESK WOULD PILE UP, THE FREEZER WAS FULL, AND PEOPLE WOULD SAY, “JUST GIVE IT AWAY IF YOU CAN’T USE IT;” ONLY THEY’D ALREADY GIVEN SOME TO EVERYONE WE KNEW…

 

IT WAS THE RESULT OF ABUNDANCE, BUT IT WAS ALSO INTENDED AS A SIGN OF LOVE AND THE RELATIONSHIPS WE SHARED.

 

WOULDN’T IT BE NICE IF ALL OF LIFE WAS THIS WAY?

 

OUR GIVING TO EACH OTHER, OUT OF OUR ABUNDANCE, FEEDING BELLIES AND SOULS BOTH, WITH ENOUGH LEFT OVER THAT WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO GO OUT AND FIND PEOPLE WITH WHOM TO SHARE IT ALL!

 

“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE. WHOEVER COMES TO ME WILL NEVER HUNGER, AND WHOEVER BELIEVES IN ME WILL NEVER BE THIRSTY.”

 

PERHAPS THAT’S THE “STARTER” JESUS LEFT US WITH, FIGURING WE’D KEEP PASSING IT ON FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION, FAMILY TO FAMILY, PEOPLE TO PEOPLE, AND NATION TO NATION. SO LET’S KEEP ON BAKING!

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Pastor Daniel writes and posts a weekly newsletter that keeps members and friends of the congregation up-to-date. His earlier newsletters are also online, so if you missed something, check those past editions.

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(305) 294-1223

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