Benediction Online

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Bread of Life, or Starbucks?

I wonder. If Jesus is the bread of life, is there such a thing as the bread of death? Bread which is poisoned in such a way that it fails to nourish, in fact it actively destroys those who eat it. I rather think there is.

My mind immediately goes to addiction; to substances and situations which lead people into addictions where they become so attached to a mood-altering substance or situation that they keep going back for more even though it is ruining the rest of their lives. Some of us have faced our addictions and recovered, others still struggle with major or minor addictions.

In fact we have been called an addictive society because we have become so attached to things which make us feel good that we can’t easily do without them. We like good food, good wine, fine things, new things, music, more music… we’re not willing to wait… we want our movies streamed and our television on demand. We are caught up in consumerism and it is killing us. Actually it’s not just killing us it’s killing the planet and the animals and people who live on her.

Changing our lifestyle demands a huge shift. It will require us to be content with less, to be willing to wait, to let go of our addictions.

Yesterday I cleaned two Starbucks coffee mugs out of my car. And I realized that I am addicted to coffee. Not to the caffeine but to the smell and taste and feel of it. It makes me feel good when I buy a cup of coffee. I like coming out of the store with that paper cup in my hand.  But how many trees have been destroyed to support my paper cup habit? How much habitat for birds and critters has been destroyed to grow a cash crop to support my coffee habit? What good could be done if I donated the $700 or more dollars I spend a year to a charity which supports sustainable agriculture in the sub-Saharan region where food is scarce and people die of starvation every day while I am enjoying my Starbucks?

These are big questions. And a bigger one is am I, having realized all this, willing to give up my Starbucks habit? Or can I, at the very least, remember to take my reusable cup with me when I go?
I honestly don’t know.

In the New Testament lesson the writer to the Ephesians says, “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Rather than stealing from the rest of the people who live on this planet by using too many resources, it is time for us to live more and more simply, so that we have something to share with the needy. In my feel good Starbucks coffee moment I am using resources unnecessarily so I am stealing from those who have next to nothing. Stealing from those who live on less each day than the $2.00 I spend on a quick drink.

The only way that we rich folk are going to be willing and able to make the changes we have to make if there is to be any quality of life for our grandchildren and our neighbors’ grandchildren is if we fill ourselves with something else. Something that sustains and brings life. Something that makes the changes to less consumption and less over-indulgence seem less threatening because it is providing what we need to live fully and joyfully.

Jesus said to the people, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
That’s what’s going to sustain us. It’s not regular bread that Jesus is talking about, not even manna which came from the sky like dew. The people who ate that died like everyone else. This bread is going to sustain us so that we live eternally.

Which is confusing when we take it at face value, because of course the people hearing Jesus that day died. The disciples all died. But we can’t take any of what Jesus is saying here as literal. The Judeans got it wrong when they started talking about Jesus’ family because they were listening at the personality level when Jesus is speaking of truths which are way beyond that.

Eternal life is not something that we get when we die as a reward for having been good girls and boys in this life. Eternal life is the gift of God which comes as we participate in Christ, a participation which is symbolized by eating the bread of Jesus. By taking Jesus into ourselves and being transformed into him.

John’s gospel does not include an account of the last supper. This extended conversation about the bread of life is the Johannine discussion of the eucharist, but if we just think about eating the bread of life in terms of this one ritual then we are missing the point just as much as the Judeans. When we eat the bread during the eucharist we are symbolically participating in the body of Christ. But a symbol always points to a deeper truth.

Eating Jesus means becoming like him. And that doesn’t happen by magic. We get to work with the Holy Spirit in the transformation of our own hearts and minds. It’s right there in the reading from Ephesians:
  •  speak the truth
  •  don’t let the sun go down on your anger,
  •   give up stealing;
  • have something to share with the needy.
  •  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,
  •  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,
  •  be kind to one another,
  •  forgive, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
  •   Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

That is what it means to participate in the Body of Christ. It isn’t easy. But we have help. A lot of help.

Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” He’s talking about us. We have been drawn by the great God, we shall also be taught by God. The Holy Spirit is active in our lives, and desires nothing more but to help each one of us discover what it really means to eat the bread which is Jesus and in so doing to find that life beyond life, that deep sustenance which connects us beyond our personalities to the unseen realities beyond.

It is there, in the unconditional love of God, that we find our hearts’ true desire. It is there, in our participation with the Godhead in the heavenly realms that we receive the grace and the strength to be Jesus in today’s world.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come. Amen.


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