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Monday, June 8, 2020

the bread of lifeNumbers 11

A Prayer for the Discontented

The Hebrew people have escaped slavery and tyranny.  They have followed Moses out of bondage and moved toward freedom and promise.  When the journey becomes too long and too arduous they grumble and complain.  They who had been hopeful and even joyful at the prospect of change and newness are now disgruntled, unhappy and even resentful.  They complain to Moses who does what all faithful do . . . he takes his problem to God where all solutions lie.

We see a reprise of this story later in the New Testament.  As the kingdom work begins to build, Jesus assembles seventy-two disciples to go out into the world when the harvest is plenty but the workers few.  (Luke 10)  Still later when the fledgling Church begins to form, the disciples add to their ranks in order that they accomplish the work they see before them because it would not be right to neglect the ministry of the word of God. (Acts 6)  The work becomes arduous, even difficult, and so the apostles ask for help.

Jesus tells us that we are to knock at the door we wish might open to us.  He reminds us that we are to seek so that we might find.  (Luke 9 and Matthew 7)  We are never left alone to deal with our stumbling blocks and in fact these obstacles become doorways and windows onto our best potential as creatures of God.  They are reminders that God is always present, always abiding.  These “problems” in our lives are actually openings to a deeper relationship with God.

As we journey through life we often find ourselves needing more than manna; we discover that the taste of the daily quail has somehow soured and rather than sustain us these birds have now become the root of our discontentment.  We are tempted to ask for more than manna and quail and we do not see that this further complicates our problems.  We do not see that we must ask God to show us solutions to our problems that lead us to grow and mature in Christ.  So, rather than carry our burdens on our own, let us tell God that some of our load is too much to carry, and when we do we will find that from the depths of his descent into darkness Jesus returns to free us from all that enslaves us.  Jesus arrives to carry us forward.  Jesus abides with us always, just as has been promised, to bring us to our best selves. 

When find that we have begun to settle into our discontentment as a kind of familiar unhappiness, let us ask ourselves these questions.  What do we seek more than the manna we receive daily?  Are we willing to open ourselves so that our too-heavy load might actually be an answer to a prayer that is shared in God’s light?  Are we willing to give up the habit of our discontentment for the promise of freedom offered by God?

And let us pray . . .

Kind and loving God, you sustain us through all turmoil even though we may not see you.

Just and merciful God, you transform our suffering even though we may fail to call on you.

Patient and wonderful God, you allow us to grumble and complain even when we need to celebrate with you.

Loving and generous God, show us how our discontentment may lead us back to you.  Amen.


Image from: http://www.newbeginningscctampa.org/Bread_of_Life.html

Adapted from a reflection written on April 23, 2011.

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Saturday, June 6, 2020

John 6 Bread of LifeDeuteronomy 10:12-22

God’s Work

Circumcise your hearts and be no longer stiff-necked.

This is a verse we can never hear too often.  In Chapters 4 through 11 of this book, Moses preaches to his people about the Law of the covenant which God shares with them.  In this way, the book is another form of communication with God – and Moses here is motivating obedience, encouraging reform.  (Mays 195)  “Because God elected this tiny, enslaved people, they should now keep his law.  Election requires internal circumcision, the removal of any obstacle to willing obedience.  God’s greatness is reflected in concern for the marginal people in society, a concern characteristic of the law that will follow”.  (Mays 200)

This is a heavy challenge for us in that we must be willing to remove anything from our lives which separates us from God.  These obstacles may be people, places, habits, or attitudes which inhibit us from seeing ourselves clearly.  What we often forget is that we are here to have our rough edges smoothed, our wrinkles ironed out, and our branches pruned and disciplined.  And no matter how often we avoid learning a lesson, God will continue to send us new lesson plans through which to experience the freedom he wishes for each of us . . . he loves us this much.  We might try to pick and choose the messages we want to hear.  We might think that we can pick and choose among the many seminars God has prepared for us.  Yet in the end, we will find that the very people, places, habits and attitudes we value might be our obstacles.  And these obstacles must be dealt with.  How do we know what to avoid in life and what to take on?  How do we know what is God’s work and what is the work we have decided for ourselves is best, perhaps against God’s recommendation?

We hear that answer in today’s Gospel message from John 6: Jesus answered them and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent”.  Jesus’ questioners ask for a sign that they might believe, saying that God sent manna to the Hebrews in the desert to sustain them in their time of distress and to show them that Moses was their shepherd.  Jesus says to these doubters, “I am the bread of life; whoever believes in me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst”. 

The crowd murmurs that they do not believe that this Jesus, the son of the carpenter Joseph whom they knew, can be the bread of heaven – the stuff that sustains us eternally.  And so the questioners go away, thinking that rejection of Jesus is a solid decision.  Jesus questions the twelve who follow him, asking why they, too, do not leave.  They reply, Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

When we become confused by life, when we are tired out from overcoming the obstacles, when we become anxious about the future, worry about the past and forget the present, we are doing our own work rather than God’s.  When we become consumed by plans for ourselves rather than following through with the life that best suits God’s plan, we deceive ourselves.

We have been called.  We have work to attend to.  We can invent our own agenda, we might design our own schedule and routine.  Or . . . we can perform the work lying, waiting in our hands.  This is God’s work and there is no safer place to be, no firmer ground to stand on, no toil more rewarding.  So let us remove the obstacles before us and roll up our sleeves. For there is God’s work to be done!


Image from: http://covingtonfumc.com/templates/System/details.asp?id=29885&PID=798500

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 195 and 200. Print.

First written on August 2, 2009 and posted today as a Favorite.

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Friday, June 5, 2020

Luke 24

Resurrection, Comprehension, Blessing

We know these stories at the end of Luke’s Gospel – we hear them so often during Eastertide, a part of the Liturgical Cycle which is so full of promise and love.  We have spent time with the little sections of this chapter before but today we are looking at parts of this chapter as they neatly fall together in a three act play: the wonderful story of Christ’s resurrection, followed by the little one-act play of Christ and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, concluded by Christ’s appearance, blessing and departure.  The central section is the interplay between the resurrected Jesus, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple . . . and this is the first time that I notice something.  How many times have I heard this story and sat through sermons?  Yet this thought comes home to me today: We find Jesus through Scripture and Eucharist.  Of course we do.  Yet we often forget when we are troubled or anxious or harassed that this is where we find serenity.  Without our asking, without our caring, without our acknowledging, without our thanking, without our understanding or comprehending, we receive this wondrous saving gift-of-self which Jesus makes to us . . . constantly and always.  We may touch, hear, see and feel Christ whenever we like, whenever we need, whenever we wish . . . it is up to us.

In am struck that Jesus notices the deep sadness of these Emmaus disciples and asks them why they are sad . . . even though he knows.  He asks them to express their grief and sorrow.  Which they do.  And then he does not sermonize but rather he opens scripture to them.  They respond and ask him to abide with them for they feel comfort from what he has said.  And just when these disciples break bread with him, receive him through the Eucharist in the mini-drama on their way to Emmaus, this is when they discern the Christ.  And this is also the point where he immediately vanishes . . . as if his radiance (once they recognize it) transfers to them through a mystical process.  And so we see a new and consuming fire set alight in these suddenly appointed apostles of The Way.  Their immediate and permanent understanding of the purpose of their lives has changed them irreparably.  They are transformed.  They are altered.  They are blessed.  They know and now understand their vocation.  And without hesitation they return to the little band of Christ-followers in Jerusalem to rejoice and celebrate.

Resurrection, Comprehension, Blessing.  In three simple acts we engage with Jesus who comes back to the world to show us that the impossible is possible.  Cleopas and his companion do the same.  They return to Jerusalem to tell the good news that Christ is risen.  And it is what we must do.  We must return to the places of our distress to witness with our own story of suffering and conversion.  Through Luke, Jesus says: behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat; but I have prayed for you . . .

And so we pray in thanksgiving:

Generous God, you not only give us the gift of life, you protect and guide us each day.  May we remain willing and open servants to your word, to your voice.  May we serve as your hands, your feet, your lips.  

Compassionate Jesus, we are ever mindful of our own denial of you, and we rejoice in the knowledge that you pray for us always.  May we abide by our covenant promise to you.

Loving Spirit, we are set afire by the presence of Jesus in our lives, we want to turn and return to you.  We enter into this vocation knowing that we rest and remain in your loving arms forever. 

Amen.


Image from: http://corbertgauthier.net/

Adapted from a reflection written on February 22, 2008.

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John 6:41-42: Recognizing Jesus

Tuesday, April 26, 2016bread of life

Jesus has walked on the surface of the water to save those who love him from wilds winds and high seas. His followers were terrified and so he brings the boat immediately to the point on the shore where they had been aiming – despite the fact that the fishermen had rowed three or four miles from the coast. Just so are we terrified when tossed by life. Just so are we brought to our goal. Just so are we loved by Christ.

Jesus pauses to dialog with the enormous crowd that follows him – despite the fact that they do not believe him. Just so do we seek Jesus. Just so do we find him. Just so we doubt the very love that has rescued us.

Today we see how those who have struggled to follow and those who have argued still do not understand the beautiful gift Jesus hands them, the gift of bread that feeds eternally, the gift of bread from heaven. Just so do they take Jesus literally. Just so do they doubt the miracle before them. Just do we look past the evidence of healing and love that stands before us. Just so . . .

At this, because Jesus said, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven,” the Jews started arguing over him: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph? Don’t we know his father? Don’t we know his mother? How can he now say, ‘I came down out of heaven’ and expect anyone to believe him?”

We have watched Jesus walking on water toward us. Do we still doubt?

We have raced after Jesus, doing all we can to capture this essence of peace and serenity. Do we still persist?

We have found Jesus in the most unsuspecting places – with the homeless, with the poor, among the refugees, the abandoned and alone. Do we still fail to recognize God among us?

Enter the words Bread of Life into the blog search bar and reflect on our own doubt and persistence, understanding and peace.

Tomorrow, bickering.

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John 6:25-58: Finding Jesus

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Last Supper Jesus breaks the bread.

We wonder what it would be like to have a conversation with Jesus the man. We imagine what we might ask and what he might answer. Today we have the opportunity to explore just such a dialog when we look at the words of those who were intent on finding Jesus.

We can use the scripture link to read the people’s dialog with Jesus; and we can reflect on our own responses. Jesus’ words are taken from THE MESSAGE translation of the Bible. We follow the links to read the peoples’ words, and then we insert our own . . .

They were seeking Jesus and caught up with him to ask questions.

Jesus said: Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food . . . Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.

They said (verse 28) . . . and we say . . . 

Jesus said: Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.

They waffled (verses 30-31) . . . and we doubt . . .

Jesus said: The real significance of that Scripture [of Moses feeding the people in the desert with manna] is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.

They jumped at that (verse 34) . . . and we exclaim . . . 

Jesus said: I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. 

They started arguing (verses 41-42) . . . and we also argue . . . 

Jesus said: Don’t bicker among yourselves over me. You’re not in charge here.

They started fighting among themselves (verse 52) . . . and we dispute . . . 

Then Jesus said . . . We discover how well we have found Jesus when we read verses 53-58 for his’ final words to those who question him, his words to us today.

Tomorrow, more complaint.

 

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John 6:52-71: Some Left Over – Part Xbread-and-wine

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In so many ways, and on most of our days, we ask God as Jesus’ disciples do in today’s Noontime: This [bread of life discussion] is hard; who can accept it?

Jesus says to his disciples as he says to us: Does this shock you? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

And we may question as Jesus’ followers always do: Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Jesus knows that we do not understand the full impact of his words and he also knows that he will be betrayed by us in some way great or small. And so Jesus says: Did I not choose you? Yet is not one of you a devil?

Jesus refers here to Judas and he might also be referring to one of us; yet so great is Christ’s heart, so magnanimous is the Creator and so transforming is the Spirit that God’s unbounded love can heal each of us when we return to Christ with our foibles and faults fully visible in our hands as offering to our loving God.

God says: No matter how egregious or small the error, no matter how heinous or petty the action, no matter how deceitful or damaging the word, my love is great enough to redeem you. My heart is full enough to heal you. My wish to have you with me in all space for all time is greater than any wrong you may have done. Turn to me, for in my eternal living there is always enough love left over.

Compare these verses in various versions of the Bible using the scripture, and listen for God’s words of eternal promise and everlasting life.

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John 6:36-51: Some Left Over – Part IX

Tabgha Church Mosaic: The Miracle of the Multiplication of Fish and Loaves

Tabgha Church Mosaic: The Miracle of the Multiplication of Fish and Loaves

Monday, August 10, 2015

It is inevitable, we know, that when light begins to call the faithful together darkness arrives, and so once Jesus announces his offering of eternal bread, the complaining begins.

Murmur not among yourselves: Jesus says to the grumblers and to those who saw him grow up in the carpenter’s family. They ask: Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? And Jesus replies: Whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.

As this story unrolls to reveal God’s enormous love, where do we stand? Do we number among the grumblers to look past the risen Christ who stands before us, offering us the Eucharist as God’s eternal sustenance for an eternal life? Or do we follow this healer. Do we scatter the bread he breaks open? Do we tend to Christ’s sheep? Do we gather up all that is left over to share with those who have yet to arrive?

We look for answers to these questions as we compare varying versions of these verses. And we look for bread that will live forever, the bread that Christ gives for the life of the world.

To read about the restored mosaic in the ancient church at Tabgha commemorating the miracle of multiplication, click on the image above, or visit: http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=10&Issue=3&ArticleID=1 

Tomorrow, words of eternal life.

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John 6:16-35: Some Left Over – Part VIIIloaves-fish

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel contains what is called the Bread of Life Discourse in which Jesus amplifies the miracle his followers have just witnessed, the multiplication of loaves and fish. Bracketed by this miracle and discussion of Jesus as eternal bread is a well-known story: Jesus walks across the stormy waters to rescue his friends from their swamped boat, saying, “It is I. Do not be afraid”. Now the disciples have ears that are ready to hear the love story Jesus wants to impart. The miracle of fish and loaves will expand at the last Passover meal Jesus will share with them to encompass the world in the Creator’s enormous embrace of love. The bread and wine that Jesus will part with them will become Christ’s body and blood. The multiplication of loaves, the breaking of bread and the offering of wine will be experienced in a momentary reality that becomes an eternal embrace of love. The miracles they have experienced – and those they will continue to experience – are more than mere metaphor. They are an act of love.

We search for the Living Christ just as the people do in verses 22-24), and when we ask: “When did you get here?”  Jesus tells us: You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life.

Explore verses 22 through 35 and compare various versions to discover what Jesus’ words mean to us on this day in this time. When and where do we find eternal sustenance? How and why do we seek eternal bread? With whom do we share our own stories of encounters with the resurrected Christ? And what changes can we imagine in our little lives that will lead us to unity in Christ’s eternal life?

Tomorrow, murmuring.

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