Homily for August 5, 2018
Give us this day our daily bread.
What exactly does this mean when you pray it? Does it help you to trust in the abundance of God, to know you’ll have what you need today? Do you hope for bread that’s readily available and there in abundance, or can you return to an empty pantry each morning and trust that the bread that was there yesterday will be there today as well?
The gospel story from John this morning takes place in the afterglow of the feeding of the five thousand. After this day of teaching and miracle, some went looking for Jesus…because they were still hungry.
When they found him across the sea, he said “you are looking for me because you ate your fill.” But the loaves of bread are not the point. The miracle is not the point. All that is food that perishes…instead, set your hearts on something eternal. On something that feeds not just your body but your spirit as well.
It’s as if the minute they discovered him, the moment they stepped out of their boats, Jesus wanted to make sure they knew the difference between being full, and being fulfilled. In the fourth century St. John Chrysostom paraphrased Jesus as saying, “It is not the miracles of the loaves that has struck you with wonder, but the being filled.” [i]
All the same, isn’t being full a basic need that we all have, and isn’t the promise of daily bread talking just a little bit about that? When Jesus looked out onto the hillside and saw thousands of people gathered to hear him and be with him, he didn’t ask them to ignore the stomach rumbling. He didn’t ask them to cast hunger out of their minds, nor did he chastise them for letting earthly things (such as, lunch) distract them from heavenly things.
What mattered was that they were with there, with him.
They already had the bread of life in front of them, but if they were going to stay for the day, they would need to eat. So Jesus fed them. He fed them because he cared for them, and so that they would stay with him. He fed them because nothing is impossible with God.
But remember, he told them, there is a great difference between being full and being fulfilled. I suppose that if this story were written today we might be warned to stay away from “empty calories,” from consuming the things that delight us for the moment, but which give us little in the way of nutrition and keep us from seeing much beyond the next meal.
The bread of the world will fill us, but it never lasts. You know this: the funny thing about eating is that you have to do it all over again, a few hours later! Having just returned from vacation with my children, where we adventured through the monuments and museums of Washington DC, I know very well the capacity of the small child to burn through calories and hit a point where: the bread of lunch has perished, and if we don’t lay hands on some loaves or fishes or maybe even just a granola bar, things are going to get dicey fast.
Even spiritually, we can be full without being fulfilled. Our world tempts us with a promise of perpetual fullness. Where every moment is spoken for, and marketed to. Where every meal is can be supersized. Where our pain and our inner woundedness are buried under layers of consumption and business.
Jesus offers something different. He gives them a loving admonition: Don’t confuse the miracle with the message. Even religion can fall into the trap of full-ness without fulfillment, if it’s all about putting on a great show rather than being a place where our lives are changed by the presence of the living God.
We can’t simply live our faith looking for the next big thing, as only another miracle can sustain us. We need those moments, of course, when we see the miraculous, when the beauty and limitlessness of God is laid bare before us; we need that to break open our hearts and our imaginations. We go through times so dark that only the light of God can guide us back to wholeness, and yes…sometimes it takes a miracle. We know the anguish of emptiness, and so we naturally hunger to be filled.
Yet so often we move to fill those places of emptiness so fast that we miss what they might be teaching us, or where they might be leading us. So often we fill-up to forget, to banish that feeling of hunger for as long as possible, because so often the pain of emptiness can be unbearable.
What I hunger for is not the next meal, but a more wholehearted connection to God. And that’s the funny thing about hunger…it is more likely to point to God than the feeling of being full is. This hunger for God, our hunger to love and to be loved, the hunger for meaning, the hunger to live with integrity and to be treated with dignity, all these desires actually form us in the image of God.
If we stay full all the time, if we live for the next meal or the next escape or the next big thing, we inevitably banish those little moments of yearning that would lead us towards God.
Give us this day our daily bread. The dailiness of this bread seems to imply that we always have enough, but maybe not enough to get overfilled. Perhaps daily bread also means that we actually treasure this holy hunger for God, and delight in the fact that it’s a promise renewed, each and every day.
Perhaps the greatest act of faith is looking at an empty pantry at the beginning of each day, and seeing the emptiness itself as sacramental and holy. Looking in, we see not what we will go without, but what will fill it through the course of a day, or a week, or a lifetime. Each day we begin with hopeful expectation.
What did the disciples say when they learned about this? They had tasted the loaves and the fishes, and they liked it just fine, but this bread that fed their souls? That drew them straight to the heart of God? That would not just fill them, but fulfill them, and make them whole?
“Lord,” they said, “Give us this bread always.”
The Rev. Bernard J. Owens, August 5, 2018, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Greensboro, North Carolina. Year B, Proper 13.
[i] Christopher Marx, John 6:24-35, Feasting on the Word, Year B Volume 3, p. 310