False Idols and Real Bread 19th Sunday, 8-9-15

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, Eucharist, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Rev. Martha on August 7, 2015

HT 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 8-9-15, 1Kings 19: 4-8, Ps 34, Ephesians 4: 30-5: 2, John 6: 41-51

It hardly seems fair to read the short passage about Elijah without a quick re-cap of why the prophet was in such sad condition. As kids, we acted out this story; it was a favorite. The name of Queen Jezebel stands for deceit and danger. She worshiped the idol Baal and killed God’s prophets. To save God’s people, who were worshiping Baal and forgetting God, Elijah finally confronted Jezebel’s husband, King Ahab, in a dramatic showdown between Elijah and 450 of Baal’s prophets. (We used dollhouse figures and dominos for the prophets.)  

The showdown was to decisively prove that the Lord God is real, active and alive, while Baal was only an idol made by human hands. The sacrifice offered to Baal remained untouched, but fire rained down and consumed the sacrifice to God, along with the altar, the stones, the water poured over the sacrifice, and even the dust around the altar. Elijah then killed Baal’s prophets. When Jezebel heard this, she swore that in 1 day, Elijah would be dead. 

So we find Elijah exhausted, desperately afraid for his life, worn out from the struggle of standing alone and being faithful to God in a hostile environment. He has a kind of breakdown from the stress. An angel is sent to nurture him; Elijah is fed and allowed to rest. He was to journey to the Mountain at Horeb aka Mt. Sinai, where God had met Moses with thunder, earthquakes and fire, where God gave the 10 commandants and the covenant. The angel saw to it that Elijah was strengthened for the trip. Remember: God was not in wind, earthquake, or fire for Elijah, but in a still, small voice, exactly right for a weary prophet. God told Elijah to anoint a new king, and he would have the support of 7,000 men. Elijah was no longer fearful or alone.  

The theme is the same as when the Israelites were hungry and discouraged after leaving Egypt- in both cases, bread was sent to nourish them on the journey, a tangible sign of God’s love, care, and presence in their lives. God’s love is indeed real, active and alive, in our lives now as it was then.  

That sets the stage for salvation history to be fulfilled in the ultimate way, in Jesus. In our Gospel, Jesus is being berated by some of the crowd. John uses the label “the Jews” for those who claim to know God, yet refuse to accept Jesus for who he is. Their claims are as worthless as Baal. They remind us of the Israelites’ complaints against God.   These men ridiculed Jesus and called him a fake. “How could Jesus”, they ask, “Come down from heaven, when he is the son of Mary and Joseph?” “This is untrue,” they say, “He’s making this all up, trying to make himself better than he is, causing trouble; he is an embarrassment.”  

No wonder St. Paul warns us in the 2nd reading to not grieve the Holy Spirit with bitterness, anger, shouting, and reviling. When we whine, find fault, and deny the power of God, we blind others and ourselves to miracles happening around us. We prevent others and ourselves from receiving the nourishing bread and love that God has for us.  

Jesus tells the people that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws them. No way does this mean that God picks and chooses only some to come to faith! Jesus explains, “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me, and whoever believes has eternal life.” In fact, in last week’s reading Jesus told the people, “I will not reject anyone who comes to me…this is the will of God, that I should not lose any he gave me, but that I should raise (them) on the last day.” That seems pretty clear.  

Again, Jesus emphasizes his purpose in coming. “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is not the bread distributor, not the driver of the bread truck. Jesus, in the flesh, fully human/fully divine, has come to give himself. The lesson is not about the stomach, but about believing in God and being given eternal life. 

For us, I think that we get so tied up in concern over self-worth, following rules, and our individual efforts, that we get confused. It’s hard to think that God wouldn’t have a better screening system for eternal life other than “belief”. Surely there will be background checks, resumes, references, interviews, won’t there? Did we work really hard, have good manners, do volunteer work, go to church even when we were on vacation? Hmmm….

I’m not at all suggesting that living in a positive way in our society is worthless, of course not. But if Jesus is the Bread of Life, the Living Bread, and his purpose of coming to earth was for us, then, it changes the whole way we approach what really matters, even how we think about Jesus and that mystery we call “indwelling of the Spirit”. Think of Jesus as the air we must have to breath. Leave the air; we die. Think of Jesus as the one absolute, the primary relationship from which all other relationships flow. Think if JesusBread is our food, and we become what we eat, then we become JesusPeople.  

Instead of just me struggling to think of other ways to express this, I’m going to ask you to do something slightly outrageous. Please, send me an email this week,  with 3 different ways you express this idea of Jesus as the living bread in your life. I’ll forward some of your ideas to Bill for next week’s bulletin so we can share new ways to express what living bread means to us. Thanks!

Get to the Point

Posted in christian, Christianity, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, religion, Resurrection, scripture, Spirit by Rev. Martha on July 24, 2015

17th Sunday Ordinary Time, 7-26-15, 2 Kings 4: 42-44, Ps 145, Eph 4: 1-6, John 6: 1-15


Most of us have heard this Gospel many times, and learned that it is a kind of shadow, a figure of the Eucharist that comes later in the Gospel. And we have an even earlier shadow or figure of this back in 2nd Kings, with Elisha. We started today with the prophet Elisha, having “20 barley loaves made from the first fruits” to fed 100 men. “Bread” was typically round like small pita bread; the ground grain was mixed with water and baked. 3 “loaves” was a normal meal for one person.  

Scholars think this gathering of 100 was a gathering for the prophets of God of the time. It was in the spring, possibly around Passover. Barley is the grain of the poor, the first grain to ripen in the spring, just in time for those who have exhausted their winter food supplies. Out of that 1st ripe barley of the new crop, (the first harvest of the season was called “first fruits”) loaves were made and given to the priests. At God’s direction, Elisha had the 20 loaves distributed, and the miracle was that everyone ate their fill, with bread left over.

 There are often key words that help us move beyond the story line and find the deeper message. For example, our Gospel says: “The Jewish feast of the Passover was near.” It sits there, seeming a little off topic, a little odd, but the writer did that to catch your eye, or your ear, and make you ask, “So what?” 

Well, here’s what. Passover is in the spring, usually just before Easter. Only in spring was there green grass where the people could recline to eat as in our Gospel.   Remember that Jesus and the apostles celebrated a Passover meal on what we call Good Thursday. After the meal, Jesus went to the garden to pray and Judas betrayed him. Jews still celebrate Passover every year with reading the Exodus story, wine, unleavened bread, and the unblemished lamb– all that is Passover. Passover and Crucifixion, the necessary preludes to the Resurrection, all are at the heart of our faith. 

The entire 6th chapter of John has a Passover theme. In fact, John the Baptist proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” in John 1:29. Jesus goes to Jerusalem in chapter 2, for Passover, and that is when the cleansing of the Temple occurs. Our lectionary spends 5 weeks on this chapter of John, working carefully though what is called “The Discourse on the Bread of Life” talking about Moses and miracles, food and faith, and body and blood. This is “heady” stuff that some theologians spend years on, writing books on, trying to understand the details and fullness of it. 

I enjoy all that detail, but for today, I think it is more important to ask, “What is John trying to do here?” and “How does this impact my life?”   I recently read an article by Fr. Dennis Hamm, a Jesuit, and I would like to share some of his ideas with you. Fr. Hamm says that the point of this Gospel is not to just tell us how some people were fed one day nearly 2000 years ago; and that this chapter from John was not meant to be an exact recording of the event. That frees us from worrying about the other 5 similar but slightly different versions of this story in the other Gospels. Many of us grew up thinking it was a word-for-word report, but it’s really more like an icon suggests Fr. Hamm.  An icon is an artistic work, drawn or painted – or in this case written – for the purpose of encouraging meditation and prayer, a way to open us to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. To fulfill its purpose, this reading must connect us to the past, ring true in our lives and worship today, and lead us toward the future with hope. It is to lead us to the living and present Jesus, alive and available to us, who travels with us on a journey to freedom and gives us spiritual food as we go. 

Talking about Elisha and Passover make it clear how this reading is solidly based in the Jewish salvation story. The intersection of Scripture and Tradition is a great place to start a journey. But as Christians, we have not only a continuation, but also an explosive salvation story, for Passover links us to the resurrection of our Lord. John’s point is that, yes, Elisha was a prophet, but Jesus exceeds Elisha in every way, in numbers, in power, in teaching, in divinity, in rising from the dead. Our living Lord exceeds Moses in every way. Jesus eternally leads all mankind, not just one group, and has love instead of law; he is our manna, his mountain is heaven, and his destination is the kingdom of God, not a country. 

The danger, of course, is to draw the wrong conclusion. If our vision of Jesus is just a magician who will fix what is wrong in our lives and fill our stomachs, there’s a problem. If we want to cozy up to the political power of the moment, we have not only missed the point, but we’ll be disappointed. Reducing Jesus to an earthly king is so distorted and divisive that Jesus fled from those who would try to twist his message to increase their own status and control. In the darkest periods of church history, people have tried that, always with disastrous results. 

The purpose of this multiplication of loaves and fish is to show and tell us who Jesus was and is now, to keep us active followers of Jesus, and to feed our souls while keeping us hungry for more teaching, learning and prayer. Without this ongoing relationship with a real Jesus, our stomachs will never be satisfied, much less our souls. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the way to fullness of life