Today, I’m in New Mexico, in rare air, one and a half miles higher than my garden on Vashon Island. This morning I preached at United Church of Angel Fire.
Our text is from John’s Gospel. Our topic is bread and hunger. I’m a bread lover, so that part is easy. Give me a loaf of fresh baked French. There’s nothing like buying that daily loaf from our local baker. I always like to say, “Give us our daily bread.” And he always wonders if I’ve forgotten to take my medication.
Hunger. Not only for food, but for connection and affirmation and anything to overcome fear or uncertainty. Much of our energy is given to being satiated.
So, let’s start with good news. The psalmist assures us the Lord “fills the hungry with good things.” And Jesus was clear, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled” (Luke’s Gospel). In John, Jesus says simply, “I am the bread of life.”
“Okay,” grumbled many listening to Jesus, “we don’t get it.”
“Our ancestors ate the manna, bread from heaven, in the wilderness,” they said.
And Jesus responds: “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The crowd asks, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus tells them.
“We still don’t get it,” they said.
Bread that gives life to this world. Now that’s something I want. I am hungry for hope, replenishment, healing, renewal, hugs, kindness, connection, meaning and wonder. However. We are susceptible to consuming that which leaves us feeling empty… distraction, a need for attention, social media likes, need to impress, need to be perfect, need to outrun our inadequacies… or the need for the correct theology.
In the church of my childhood, we used this passage as an entitlement. Because we were right, and Jesus played only for our team. And if you were not on our team, that bread of life wasn’t available to you. There were haves and have nots.
Of course, we missed the point.
Jesus never asked for allegiance. He offered the gift freely. “Are you hungry?” he said, “I’ve got that covered.”
Here’s the deal; regardless of the motivation or reason or condition of your hunger, there is always a place for you at God’s table.
Do you know Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables? After being granted parole the convict Jean Valjean struggles to find work. He is filthy and ragged, rejected and forsaken by society but above all, hungry. But to his surprise he is graciously welcomed by an elderly bishop. The bishop gently invites him to dinner, and treats him as an honored guest. Jean Valjean is overcome by the grace of the bishop:
“Monsieur…you are goodness itself. You don’t despise me. You take me into your home. You light candles for me. Even though I didn’t hide from you where I’ve been or the fact that I’m a poor cursed man.”
The bishop was sitting next to him and he gently touched his hand. “You didn’t have to tell me who you were. This is not my house; it’s the house of Jesus Christ. That door does not ask who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has any pain. You are suffering, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And don’t thank me, don’t tell me I’m taking you into my home. No one is at home here except the man who is in need of a refuge. I’m telling you, who are passing through, you are more at home here than I am myself. Everything here is at your disposal. What do I need to know your name for? Besides, before you told me your name, you had one I knew.”
(Jean Valjean) opened his eyes in amazement.
“True? You knew what I was called?”
“Yes,” replied the bishop. “You are called my brother.”
You matter. You belong. But grace is overwhelming and messy. I like Richard Rohr’s take in Immortal Diamond: “The goodness of God fills all the gaps of the universe, without discrimination or preference. God is the gratuity of absolutely everything… What else would God do? Basically, grace is God’s first name, and probably last too. Grace is what God does to keep all things he has made in love and alive—forever. Grace is God’s official job description. Grace is not something God gives. Grace is who God is.”
And yet… there’s something in me that still doesn’t believe that Grace is enough.
I told the group about my grandmother—Southern Baptist born and bred—who didn’t cotton to folks in her church who played the judgmental-eternal-damnation-card just to feel good about themselves, or for the sake of proving a point. She understood that in her church’s “theology,” there were many kinds of people “on the outside.” (Truth be told, in her church, “most” people were “on the outside.”) But my grandmother lived by an overriding imperative: “Anybody is welcome at my dinner table, no questions asked, no matter what.”
In the latter years of her life, in the back yard of her home in northern Florida, my grandmother had a porch swing. She liked to sit, and swing, and hum old church hymns, like Rock of Ages Cleft for Me. I can still see her there, wearing a white scarf over her head, a concession to chemotherapy’s unrelenting march. When I visited her, as a young adult, she would always ask me to sit with her on the swing, for a spell. She would pat my leg and call me “darlin’.”
As long as my grandmother lived—and in spite of her pain–there was always a place for me on the swing. If I were asked to explain Grace, I would paint the picture of my grandmother’s swing. There, I never had to deliberate or explain or worry regardless of the weight I carried. The swing–my grandmother’s presence–existed without conditions. And I am here today, because of that swing.
The good news? The sufficiency of that grace—bread of life—allows me to reclaim my soul for the purpose of loving and feeding a hungry world. Welcome to the table.
This is the one year anniversary of the Charlottesville March. An event that underscored hate and bigotry, an absence of the bread of life. So yes, I want that bread of life. But I want to be a distributor of that bread, a spiller of the light. Let us be on the lookout for anyone left out. Anyone not invited to the table.
This is one beautiful neck of the woods. Angel Fire is just east of Taos. Tucked away in the Sangre de Cristos mountains. A landscape of pine and aspen. A mile and a half above Vashon, when I hit a golf ball, it goes farther. That makes me happy.
The United Church of Angel Fire is a community of people that believes in feeding the community, literally. It’s an honor to spend a few days with them.
Quote for your week…
As long as the most important thing in your life is to keep finding your way, you’re going to live in mortal terror of losing it. Once you’re willing to be lost, though, you’ll be home free. Robert Capon
Note: Victor Hugo, Julie Rose’s 2008 translation for The Modern Library
POEMS AND PRAYERS
If I had a mantra
it would be
“Don’t lose hope” or
“Hang onto wonder”.
I need that right now
so I should stitch myself
a shirt full of possibilities,
full of dreams,
full of happily ever afters.
I’d wear it everyday,
till it was threadbare.
Then when Winter comes
I should knit a sweater
with yarns spun
from that hope
I so dearly need.
4 August 2018
please give me the strength,
the willingness to try,
the staying power
– or whatever it takes
and whatever I need –
to make it through the challenges
I’ll meet today
and in the weeks ahead…