Words for the Week

As I usually do, here are my words from behind the pulpit, delivered at Dover-Foxcrost (ME) United Methodist Church Sunday.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

I  may have mentioned, I have a weekly Monday ritual. I spend time praying for my family, friends and faith partners and share with them some nugget of encouragement for the week. Sometimes it’s a sentence. Sometimes a paragraph. Sometimes a story.  I’ve discovered each one had a special meaning to some one at some time. The message just resonated with them at just the time they needed it most. I never know who until after the fact.

And sometimes, that special meaning is meant for me.

A few weeks ago was an example. I was feeling somewhat deflated, unappreciated and overwhelmed. I was tempted to forego my weekly ritual and just broadcast a pithy one liner. But my sense of {spiritual} duty wouldn’t allow that.

I came across a story, one that has been around for awhile. I’m pretty sure I had heard it before, yet I had never heard it. It was the preamble to my prayers. And as I look back, it relates to today’ Gospel text … in a sort of a roundabout way.

It went like this …

A woman baked bread for members of her family and an extra one for any hungry passerby. She kept the extra bread on the window sill, for whosoever would take it away.

And, every day, as the woman placed the bread on the window sill, she offered a prayer for her son who had gone to a distant place to seek his fortune. For many months, she had no news of him. She prayed for his safe return.

Every day, a hunchback came and took away the bread. Instead of expressing gratitude, he muttered the following words as he went his way: “The evil you do remains with you; the good you do comes back to you!”

This went on, day after day. Every day, the hunchback came, picked up the bread and uttered the words: “The evil you do remains with you; the good you do comes back to you!”

The woman started to feel irritated. “Not a word of gratitude,” she said to herself. “Everyday this hunchback utters this jingle! What does he mean?”

One day, out of desperation, she decided to do away with the hunchback. “I shall get rid of this hunchback,” she said. And what did she do? She added poison to the bread she prepared for him! As she was about to place it on the window sill, her hands trembled. “What is this I am doing?” she said.

Immediately, she threw the bread into the fire, prepared another one and kept it on the window sill.

As usual, the hunchback came, picked up the bread and muttered the words: “The evil you do remains with you; the good you do comes back to you!” The hunchback proceeded on his way, blissfully unaware of the war raging in the mind of the woman.

That evening, there was a knock on the door. As she opened it, she was surprised to find her son standing in the doorway. He had grown thin and lean. His garments were tattered and torn. He was hungry and weak. As he saw his mother, he said, “Mom, it’s a miracle I’m here. While I was but a mile away, I was so hungry I collapsed. I would have died, but just then an old hunchback passed by. I begged of him for a small part of his food, and he was kind enough to give me a whole bread. As he gave it to me, he said, ‘This is what I eat everyday; today, I shall give it to you, for your need is greater than mine!’”

As the mother heard those words, her face turned pale. She leaned against the door for support. She remembered the poisoned bread she had made that morning. Had she not burnt it in the fire, it would have been eaten by her own son, and he would have lost his life!

It was then she realized the significance of the words: “The evil you do remains with you; the good you do comes back to you!”

 

Okay, so how do we connect the story with today’s Word (John 6:24-35)? We have a couple of common themes — bread, a feeling of being not appreciated, a message. So, let’s give it a try.

We rely so much on bread for our daily sustenance. Give us this day, our daily bread…

To bring the parable and today’s lesson into focus, let’s set the scene. John tells us the crowd of 5,000 had just been fed and Jesus attempted to get away from the crowd. He crossed the sea from Capernaum, but the crowd went looking for Him.

I can see Jesus extending His hands and saying, “What? Wait a minute? Didn’t I do enough for you? Can’t I get some rest?” Or, as He started to feel irritated, mutter, “Not a word of gratitude!”

Instead, what does Jesus do? As He does so often in the Johannine gospel, He redirects the questions from the crowd, I suppose He is hoping against hope the crowd will understand His message. Clearly, they don’t. He tells them they were looking for Him “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” and then admonishes them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…”

They have no idea what Jesus is talking about. They were responding to full bellies … and still empty minds. They – we – think about their/our next meal, not eternity. The bread which endures is this relationship which has been made possible by the incarnation of the Son, in fact, the Son Himself, whom the Father gave for the world.

But they ask, “What sign are You going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe You? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

Again, I can see Jesus shaking His head. He wants to yell out, “I’M THE WORK! I’M THE SIGN!”

Of course, Jesus patiently tries to point out the discrepancies and plant the seeds in His followers. They are focused on what they could or should or must do, rather than on what God is doing right in front of them.

How often do we, as preachers and congregations and denominations, forget the gospel is the declaration of what God does, and instead act as though all of reality centers on, and is determined by, what we are doing? The “work of God” is belief, which is made possible only by giving the Son. Faith is always the gracious and surprising accomplishment of God.

Jesus tries to turn the point of that story to the activity of the Father here and now. The true giver in the desert was not Moses, He says, but the Father; the true bread was not the manna, but is the bread of God in the person of Jesus. To have properly heard Jesus’ words should have prompted faith, not a fixation on bread.

So He tries one last time. “I am the bread of life” … bread beyond bread, a gift from God which not only came to the world through Jesus, but is in fact Jesus Himself.

As Craig Satterlee commented, Jesus is the bread that fulfills all our hunger and thirst. Jesus frees us to follow Him not to achieve self-satisfaction, not to get anything that is in it for us, not even to attain or maintain peace of mind. Jesus frees us to embrace God’s redeeming will to restore the cosmos to what God created and humanity to what God intends. Such faith does not mean separating the spiritual out of the social. It means putting God rather than us at the center of both. When we do, we can and will expect more.

There is a lesson here for us. We, too, suffer from spiritual myopia. Wonderful things happen in our presence every day, but we fail to see them or simply take them for granted.

Martin Luther observed, “God’s wonderful works, which happen daily, are lightly esteemed, not because they are of no import but because they happen so constantly and without interruption. Man is used to the miracle that God rules the world and upholds all creation, and because things daily run their appointed course, it seems insignificant, and no man thinks it worth his while to meditate upon it and to regard it as God’s wonderful work, and yet it is a greater wonder than that Christ fed five thousand men with five loaves and made wine from water.”

God feeds billions daily, but we take notice only when we miss a meal — or when the feeding takes place under dramatic circumstances. We, too, say, “Give us a sign, Jesus. Do something spectacular, so we can believe in You.”

We, too, have a choice when it comes to Jesus. We can reject Him. We can go to Him with an open mind and allow Him to fill it. We can accept Him strictly on faith.

C.S. Lewis, who was initially an atheist, then a theist and ultimately one of the greatest Christian apologists of the 20th century, went through all three stages and came to the following conclusion in The Case for Christianity. “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d either be a lunatic — on the level with a man who says he’s a poached egg — or else he’d be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”

We, too, have to decide who Jesus is … a lunatic … the devil of hell … Son of God. But we also have to look at own state of heart and recognize our motivation. Are we looking at Jesus for what He does for us or for how He changes us? Is He a means to the filling our “stomachs” or to fill our lives with the very presence of God? Too often we fail to have eyes to see and ears to hear the God who is present in our lives, through either the sacraments or the events of everyday life. Believing is doing.

Many Christians, as John Wesley said, have just enough religion to be miserable. They are like this crowd, missing God’s gift of life in His Son. They are not experiencing abiding life. We, like this crowd, need God’s help to understand who Jesus is and what He offers us. He makes this promise not privately to an individual, but openly to a crowd. What is required of us is we come to Him and believe. Our part is relying on God’s grace.

We all have a role in building up God’s kingdom. Some are called as apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, some writers … and some bakers and humanitarians.

“The evil you do remains with you; the good you do comes back to you!”

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Paying it forward is what keeps the world turning. Do your part.

 

 

 

 

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About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
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