First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine
Rev. Kent Allen
February 17, 2019
Scripture: John 6:26-71; Hebrews 8:8-12
I had the opportunity this week to read the college application essay of a grandchild of some First Parish members. In the essay this young man talks about the impact of his many journeys to his grandparents’ farmhouse, a place where there is no internet, the TV only gets four stations, the heat comes from a woodstove and the activities are board games and books to read and chores to accomplish. There is the companionship of family and there are really good things to eat, and the smell of fresh baked items in the air. One of the college acceptance letters that this young man received actually referred to this writing piece with the comment, “you certainly learned much at your grandparent’s farm house.” A thin place. This certainly could have been a peace candle reflection. I’ve been thinking a lot about the words in this morning’s scripture that speak of Jesus as the bread of life — not merely as they relate to the celebration of communion, but in a broader sense. What is it that feeds our souls? What is it that sustains us when the going gets tough, when we are challenged, or when we are stuck? Where does our foundation lie? As I read the essay of this young man, what I realized was that in many ways it was a spiritual piece, a declaration of how this experience had been and continues, a description of finding God, of feeling God’s presence, of being sustained and nurtured. It is a tale of experiencing living bread. Kate spoke a few weeks ago in church about the power that comes in the telling of our stories. As the stories are told and listened to, while suspending judgement, we are moved to tears. We recognize that before us is a fellow traveler along the way, whose experience might be vastly different from our own, but whose sharing of humanity knits us together. The gospels are less an historical description of Jesus life and more a sharing of the people that Jesus met along the way. We have a window into their stories. Who doesn’t know about the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan? In the gospels, we get a glimpse into people’s lives and get a sense of God’s love and care for them through Jesus. In a podcast I listened to this week there was a great line: “Jesus was not interested in spouting creeds or punishing crimes or having contempt. Rather he was all about kindness and compassion and about working toward justice, a justice that was not limited to a precious few. What he offered was living bread for the soul.” This is a time of reflection as we are in the midst of a great transition - as a church yes, but also as a world. As we have dreamed about the next chapter in the church, it has occurred to us that we have accomplished a great deal. Our weakness though has been that we have not always been good at reflecting and then telling the story of where we have been. What happens when we do so is that we touch upon how God has been in our midst. There is such power in the telling of story.
But it’s not just important to have that reflection as a community. It’s also a very important thing to do for ourselves.
Our daughter has been searching for new work for the last couple of months. She is both capable and driven, I would say that even if she weren’t my daughter. The lure of a management position overseeing other social workers was tempting her. But in her process of discernment, she asked the question, “In what position will I feel nourished so that I can nourish others? Where would I receive the most satisfaction deep within?” The question is there for all of us to ask, and yet we hesitate to answer it because our culture can lure us sometimes into thinking that perhaps our priorities should be different. Where do we find living bread? Where do we find nourishment for our souls? We can spend so much time and energy trying to be “successful” in a worldly sort of way and we might end up doing that very well. But it is empty if it doesn’t fulfill us. And it will be empty if it doesn’t leave space for a whole lot of love. There is no goal worth pursuing if there is no room for that. Jesus was telling his disciples that this bread could be found in him, that he would be that reminder of the importance of love, that he be a reminder of what matters most, that he came into the world so that others would know of God’s enduring love. He, in fact, embodied it. The place where some struggle with this passage, at least this was certainly true in Bible study, is found in verse 53 and beyond. The words read, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, there is no life in you”. We can’t ask Jesus if he meant this literally or not. But if it is any consolation, folks have been debating this for centuries. In our tradition, as these words relate to the celebration of communion, we believe he meant it symbolically. He meant that we take in internally the message he brought and that we open up our hearts to receive God’s Spirit in our lives. In other traditions, communion is seen as actually living out what he suggests here, that in the celebration of the mass, the bread and the wine are actually transformed into Jesus’ body and blood. But the goal is the same. For us to live our lives in such a way that we follow the teaching that Jesus brought. And the promise is that when we do, we will find that our souls are fed, with bread that gives us life. Sometimes we need to go to our own personal farmhouses, whatever that might be, and spend time with those folks who connect us with what’s important and who remind us of God’s love.
Sometimes it helps us to actually sit down and write, maybe even write our own personal story. Sometimes we need to listen to our own story, so that we can live into faithfulness and so we can receive that life-giving bread.
I wanted to see what Mary Oliver might have said about bread, so I googled that and what popped up was this poem that I hadn’t remembered. Perhaps she makes the point in a different way. It’s entitled, Everything.
“I want to make poems that say right out, plainly, what I mean, that don’t go looking for the laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves.
I want to keep close and often use words like heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish the question mark and her bold sister the dash.
I want to write with quiet hands. I want to write while crossing the fields that are fresh with daisies and everlasting and the ordinary grass.
I want to make poems while thinking of the bread of heaven and the cup of astonishment.
Let them be songs in which nothing is neglected, not a hope, not a promise.
I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable.
I want them to honor the heart of faith, and the light of the world: The gladness that says, without any words, everything.”
Jesus came to be the bread of life, showing us, inviting us into a life of depth, a life of fulfillment, a life of love. Sometimes we need to go back to our farmhouses with those who are like grandparents to remember. Sometimes we need to tell our stories to remind ourselves, and without our intention, others are reminded as well. The bread of life.