This is the Interim

a newsletter article

With great celebrations and sad farewells we’ve said good-bye to Senior Pastor Tim Hansen and Lisa. Yet it’s not truly an ending, for three reasons.

First, we acknowledged in the synod’s sending service “Your influence on our faith and faithfulness will not leave us after your departure.” This is always true to some degree of the ripples we create in each other’s lives; even a brief encounter can have long-lasting impact. Certainly we can say that we’ve been changed forever by Tim’s service as a pastor here, by the developments and directions of his ministry, by the important “kairos” moments he’d shared in our lives and the Word of God he brought into those situations. That connection doesn’t just disappear or fade away; it is not ending.

Second, we believe and trust “The End” has not yet come. There’s a saying that “all ministry is interim ministry.” The point is that pastors serve a congregation for a while, but then the congregation continues on. In another way, it’s not just for pastors. All our life is in the “interim.” We live in the “now and not yet.” Jesus has risen, we proclaim, and that good news is already reshaping our whole lives. And yet we don’t have the culmination of our resurrection and the fullness of God’s kingdom. We still exist in times of sadness and separation and disappointment and sin. We still look forward to the never-ending ending, when tears will be wiped away and death will be no more.

Most apparently then, life plain and simple continues on. St. Stephen’s carries on. We strive forward, still and ever accompanied by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Even in busy days of summer that have us distracted and pulled to relaxing vacations or hectic schedules. It persists through routines and even through chaos when we feel that the ground under our feet is lost. Amid these gaps, while we wait for the future, we continue. This is the interim.

So a few notes entering this new feeling of interim:

  • Your Ministry Board is dedicated and diligent, working hard to ensure the best directions and to keep you informed. Their strategy for the Transition Team will serve us well.
  • I’m excited that Kathy Gerking will be our Interim Senior Pastor. Her gifts will be good leadership and caring guidance as we navigate the way ahead together. It sounds like you can look forward to meeting her later this month.
  • For you: Quite a number of you have expressed care and concern for me. Thank you for that compassion. My pastor letters aren’t normally so full of connect-the-dots lists, but as you’re wondering how to be helpful, here are some suggestions and requests:
    • Please come to worship. Being community together is most important as we proceed.
    • Thank you for stepping up to help out. Striving to drum up excitement and to fill vacancies is a bad drain on your staff. Motivate yourself to help in worship by leading prayers or making coffee for fellowship. Get into a Sunday School classroom or the nursery. Help in the office. Weed a garden. Join a Ministry Team.
    • That also is an invitation to read, to pay attention, to stay up-to-date. I know that’s been harder when the postal service has let us down, but there are many ways we try to connect with you. The better you engage, the less we have to repeat.
    • There’s also the financial invitation. We’re striving to be as wise and thrifty as possible in staff, facilities, and ministry expenses. But this is not only about whittling things down. Good ministry—for you, this community, and the world—takes funding, and we’re short right now.

Please do what you can to support our congregation in time, talents, and treasure, as we say. It will make the interim go smoothly and the welcome of another pastor better.

With that weightiness, how about a benediction—a good word—of God’s blessing. Hebrews 13:20-21 is used in the departures of graveside committals and the inaugurations of ordinations and installations, so perhaps it serves for the time of interim:

May the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do God’s will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in God’s sight; through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen

Standard

Bloodsuckers!

sermon on John6:51-58; Proverbs9:1-6

Leeches. Vultures. Vampire blood-suckers. Parasites. Whatever image or term you might use, it doesn’t seem particularly complimentary, this suggestion from Jesus. You can’t help but picture cannibalism as he tells us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. If you’re squeamish, I’ll invite you now to gird up your loins, because this is not for the faint of heart.

This has long been problematic for Christians. Persecutions under Roman society in the first several centuries of the church often found accusation in these strange words and behaviors. Christians met in graveyards, the catacombs, still gathering together with and surrounded by those who had been killed for their faith. In those gatherings they ate bread they said contained flesh and drank wine they termed blood. And all of this they oddly called a “love feast,” an agapé meal. Lest you think you’ve gotten far from that, you need only look down the hall to Agapé Place. And if you were to claim that all the worship-y fuss is only over a morsel of soggy bread, that first of all sounds foolish and second of all shames the martyrs who were willing to die for the sake of what they saw embodied in the celebrations of this table.

But amid that shaming and our own downplaying of beliefs, we shouldn’t lose track of the offense. It wasn’t just in later years, with a nonviolent communalism that conversely threatened empires. Right from the get-go, these words from Jesus were outrageous.

A first note on the translation of these verses is that it says the Jews were having a “dispute” about what Jesus was saying. That’s soft-pedaling it big time. This is a word for all-out ruckus, for fisticuffs, a brawl. That’s the degree of upset at stake here.

To understand that, let’s talk about blood, with an interesting little Bible study. Back in Genesis 9, when Noah came out of the ark, was the first that God told people they could eat meat. (The garden of Eden was strictly a vegetarian paradise.) God then said people had authority to eat animals, but absolutely with no blood
.
Blood is particularly holy; as the force of life it’s also a mark of the creator. In sacrifices blood was drained from the animal and poured over the altar, a sign that the animal’s life belonged to God and that our own lives belong to God, the sacrifice signifying giving our lives back to God.

All that went with reiterated warnings, such as this from Leviticus 17: “If anyone…eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the
altar….Therefore I have said to [my people]: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall any alien who resides among you eat blood.”

It was such an important prohibition that it persisted for the church. In the book of Acts, as the mission was expanding and non-Jews were joining the church, there was lots of debate and the first churchwide council to determine standards for these pagan converts. It was gradually decided they didn’t need to be circumcised, which had been the predominant physical characteristic of the people of God, but they did maintain the rule against consuming blood (Acts 15).

This was so vital in Bible times that among the worst name-calling condemnations was to say that somebody was “drunk on blood.” This carries into our own time when we refer to somebody as as lowlife “bloodsucker,” or as “bloodthirsty,” a term that brings to mind pirates or terrorists or barbarians lurking to attack helpless innocents. As Arlo Guthrie sang sarcastically against war, “I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead, burnt bodies. I wanna kill, Kill, KILL!”

So as Jesus tells us to drink his blood, we could see why it would start a fracas among the Jewish crowd. It’s about the most offensive suggestion he could make, filthy and absolutely counter to the central commandments of God, the opposite of how to be in good relationship with God.

If you’re not sensing that offense yet, then here’s this: another bit of our translation that talks about eating flesh isn’t the typical word for eating like when you have brunch. Certainly we’re not talking about silverware and table linens. This is more like the distinction of our word “feed,” for a feedtrough, a feedbag, a feeding frenzy. Indeed, this is a word for beasts, for wild animals, for vultures and jackals that gather to tear apart flesh, for sharks picking up the scent of blood in the water.

Now I still don’t know how offended you’re finding yourself. We may not be picking fights and starting brawls here over what Jesus is saying. After all, we’re Lutherans. Last week I couldn’t even get you to talk. But lest you get ulcers from being all riled up on the inside, we could ask if this is really what Jesus thinks of you: Does he call you bloodthirsty beasts, no better than bloodsuckers like lampreys or mosquitoes, as awful as vampires or pirates, with all the reckless starving frenzy of a Sharknado? We think of Jesus as our host generally in terms of hospitality, but parasites also attach to a host. Is Jesus welcoming you as a plague of parasites? Or is he just being provocative to push your buttons?

Maybe the best place to focus our attention is to realize what Jesus is saying about God. Jesus is saying that God is not the bloodthirsty criminal, not the one who’s out for blood, seeking revenge or to equal some score of ancient bloodguilt. It’s not God whose appetite needs to be appeased by gnawing the bones of victims.
And that means that when Jesus gives his life, he isn’t giving it to satisfy God. It’s not because God demands a death. It’s not that Jesus’ death is a substitution paying for your death. Rather, Jesus is giving his life for you, to satisfy you, to quench your thirst and to put you at peace.

In other terms, maybe it affects how you look at this table and think of this meal. I almost never call this an altar, because altars are where sacrifices happen at the hands of a priest, where a death is given for another’s life. Instead here we have deacons, the ancient word for waiters, who make sure all are fed. We most often think of agapé feasts as being about love and community and sharing and the original church potluck that left nobody out.

But this today reminds us of sacrifice and the blood of the covenant, of God’s faithfulness and your sins. The blood of Christ is shed for you.

But here it isn’t just a death that gives you life. It is life that gives you life. Where in other circumstances life is poured out to fill another—Dracula sucks away life or a goat is given as a stand-in—instead with Jesus the one who gives his blood does not stay dead. Again, God is not interested in death. Jesus is resurrected. Though you killed him, he rises so that he can continue giving of his life, at this altar table today and for you always. As the book of Hebrews (ch10) reminds us, this isn’t a sacrifice that needs to be repeated. In Jesus the cycle of death is ended. No other deaths are desired, much less required, by God. God is in the market for spreading life. So even when you gather here and gnaw at flesh and drink of blood, it is for converting you, so that you also become an ambassador of reconciliation, an agent of life.

Further, if you are what you eat, this means you are Jesus. As you eat this meal you and Jesus are becoming one, united, in communion. Jesus gives himself, as he says in this passage, for relationship, so that he may abide in you and you in him, so that you will live because of him, that you will have life in you and will live forever, just as he does.

Perhaps one other thought on these implications. The Proverbs reading said that God’s wisdom is a feast, where you are invited in to celebrate and be nourished for life. Later in that same chapter is an interesting contrast, describing a dinner of foolishness (v13-18). Instead of offering bread and wine, foolishness suggests stolen food and water. Instead of community, it is isolating. Versus a meal for life, it leads to death.

So if the meal we share when we gather here—where Jesus gives his life for you, where you are a guest who is filled with blessing and life and wisdom—if this becomes a model for the rest of our lives and also particularly for the rest of our tables, we could reflect on where we are still subject to the foolishness of deadly selfishness, where our demands still beg for blood: When do our meals nourish community and life, and when is our food junk? What of our food is stolen from those who have labored to produce it, when those who work our fields or serve in our restaurants are paid starvation wages? When California drought is worsened by watering crops, what are we stealing from the life of creation? When our dietary preferences are predicated on corporate feedlots and inhumane treatment of animals, what does that continue to say about our bloodthirst and Jesus’ life in us?

After all, he didn’t give himself just to be relegated to a soggy bite once a week, but to inhabit your existence and to bring you into the grace, love, and mercy of his life, giving himself so that you may know you live in God. That’s what his life is for.

Hymn: Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands (ELW #370)

Standard

Word and Sacrament

sermon on John6:35,41-51; 1Kings19:4-8
This week, as four-year-old Henry Brezinski and I biked past each other, he said he wanted to come up on the stage and dip a pancake in the syrup. Maybe this sounds strange to you, but I realized he was talking about communion.

Young Henry’s reflection about this bread that looks like a pancake seems far from this reading with Jesus generating complaints by proclaiming, “the bread that I will give for the world is my flesh.” It begs that we slow down and approach this more cautiously.

This is a strange Bible reading. This stuff about eating flesh is just Jesus trying to point you to faith in God. Yet it’s a hard nut to crack, so we’re going to peel off the shell to examine the basic kernel. It gets at the same message Jesus shares, but maybe as spiritual milk instead of having to gnaw at the gristle.

To start, here are two terms: Word and Sacrament. In our understanding, this is how God gives you faith, how God communicates with you, how you know God’s will and receive God’s own self. I should probably say more often how important this is. It is essentially why I’m here: I was ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and you called me here and pay me to be your pastor so that you can receive Word and Sacrament, so that you’ve got a constant source of this connection to God. It means that even if you don’t like me or if you’ve done something truly awful or you have to be at the hospital ghastly early, you can still insist that I remind you of God’s forgiving grace and abundant life.

That’s also why it’s utterly vital that you should be here for worship. We don’t gather just to sing or chat together. This is our central gathering of Word and Sacrament. This is the fountain of it, the buffet’s feedtrough, the celebration just oozing gloriously with it. Nothing else can fully replace what we accomplish—or, better, what we receive—here in an hour. This is why it is also so disheartening that the past three weeks have had the lowest attendance of any non-blizzard Sundays in my time here. That hurts. It’s painful for me; it hurts us.

Aside from that, for my job and our identity as church, everything else is measured by or should be connected to Word and Sacrament—from shut-in visits to confirmation instruction, social gatherings to committee meetings. If this is what brings God to us, this is what we’re most supposed to be about.

So what is Word and Sacrament? What do we mean by it and how is God using it in your life?

First, the Word. This is God’s voice to you. In our understanding, God speaks in two ways: in Law and in Gospel. The law is how God wants you to live. Chances are, you hear that loud and clear enough that you feel guilty for not living up to it. The gospel, then, shouts over the top of that deafening voice with even more important good news: God forgives you, loves you unconditionally, sets you free from your bondage, breathes into you new life. The Word fills you with Jesus.

This voice of God speaking the Word we connect to Bible readings. But you should also be listening for God’s voice in each sermon. It’s in the declaration of forgiveness that starts the service. We sing it to each other in hymns. And it happens in “mutual conversation and consolation,” as Luther termed it, as we listen and reassure and forgive each other, which is one of the possible ways this happens outside of worship.

That’s a fast intro. Before we move on to Sacraments, let’s pause and see if there are any brief questions on Word…

Next, Sacraments. Sacrament, first of all, is a word that means “sacred thing” or “holy stuff.” The point of sacraments is an intensification of the Word. Instead of a blanket statement like, “Well God loves everybody,” sacraments give absolute confidence that God is talking to you. In this, we have two sacraments, fitting three criteria:
1: It needs stuff, an earthly element
2: It has the promise with it, it is embodying God’s good news
3: Jesus told us to do it

So let’s try out a couple of near misses:
Offering is not a sacrament. It has a physical sign, in your envelope or the offering plate. Jesus told us to give away our money. But it doesn’t have good news; it’s more of the law and what you’re supposed to do than what God is doing for you.
Again, being anointed with oil for healing is not a sacrament. It has a physical sign. It’s good news, a reminder that God strives for wellbeing and works healing in your life and relationships. But Jesus didn’t tell us to do it.

Once more: forgiveness or sharing the peace is not a sacrament. Jesus told us to do it and it shares his good news, but there’s no tangible thing along with it.

So what are our sacraments? Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
First they have stuff, the earthly sign. In baptism, that’s water. In communion, it’s bread and wine. (As a side note: these things are holy only because they go with the Word. Otherwise the water is just tap water and it could be a puddle or scummy lake water or from the toilet. The wine comes in a cheap ol’ grocery store jugs. And our breadbakers are sinners, just like the rest of us.)

Second, Jesus told us to do it. At the Supper, we repeat the story of Jesus instituting this meal, telling us, “Do this for the remembrance of me.” For baptism, it’s the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Third, these are good news. In communion, you are ingesting the embodiment of forgiveness. In baptism, you are washed clean as God’s beloved child. So the water carries the holy promise directly and solely to Annika Ellen in her baptism this morning. As you swallow the promise in bread and wine, you may know it is for the forgiveness of your sins. It comes to find you exactly where you need it. As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you have the assurance of Jesus’ forgiving presence with you, of his death and resurrection for your sake.

That maybe addresses a question of who or what the sacraments are for. They are for you. Yet maybe we could also see that if it’s for forgiveness, then nobody should be excluded. This isn’t dependent on how well you understand it or how good you’ve been or how much a part of things you feel like you are. Jesus is offering himself for you. Although we excommunicate ourselves when we avoid the meal or don’t come to worship, it’s tough to imagine that Jesus would kick anybody out of communion.

That also raises a point that we may choose for children to be older before they receive communion, hoping that they understand it a bit more. But that’s our rule and not from Jesus. Again, he promises to be here for you no matter what.

So Henry asked about pancakes and syrup. He realizes this meal is special, and it is for him, even if he doesn’t understand everything that’s happening. But do any of us? That’s the point that got us started, that Jesus said the one who “eats the bread that comes down from heaven will not die.” Do we have any idea how to explain that? I don’t. But we trust it, we keep receiving it, we hope in it, we use it because it’s from God and for us.

That parallels baptism. We baptize infants. Annika will have no recollection of this day, but that doesn’t change God’s promise for her in those waters. The point will be that it’s there as a resource for her, a bedrock for her faith for every moment and situation to come. It’s for when she gets sick with an ear infection or when she says her first word or when she frustrates her parents or when she graduates from college or when she robs her 27th bank or when she has her own baby or when she’s in hospice.  She’ll have the resource of baptism to trust that no moment is separated from God’s blessing, that she’s always held in God’s embrace, that the Spirit of Jesus is constantly working for life.

Before we turn toward that baptism, any quick questions on sacraments?

Hymn: Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters (ELW #445)

some great interjected questions:
–How do you think Jesus was received with the hard language of “eat my flesh?” (He was often provocative and pushed against us. By the end, the 5000 who enjoyed eating bread were gone and only the disciples left. He asked them if they wanted to leave, and they said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” So we also get provoked and pushed against at church. If we’re only here for cake and snacks, we’d not like to be challenged in how we live. But if we realize we need this good news for our life…)
–We give Sunday School kids good news, but shouldn’t adults hear more law on how we need to act differently and reform our behavior? (Too often Sunday School is law and telling kids what they need to do to be like Jesus. They need more gospel. Also, we don’t control how the Holy Spirit uses law and gospel. If I say, I forgive you, you may hear it as relief or else an accusation that you did something wrong. If I say you are loved, you might rebel against that and say your aren’t loveable. If I say that you should stop oppressing your neighbors, that could be law if you were the abuser or it could be gospel, that God is on the side of ending oppression.)
–Sometimes I don’t understand this right away, but God reveals the message to me later. (Yes, there’s a lot of mystery on this, on how we hear it differently and it doesn’t have the same impact on all of us. And there’s a trajectory there, that somedays I’m just a lousy preacher and you’ll need to hear the next week.)
–What about re-baptism? (We don’t rebaptize. Once is enough. A verse in Ephesians talks about One Lord and One Baptism. Plus, this is God’s work. If we try to say, oh but I’m in a new denomination or I sinned since then or the pastor was a jerk or the water wasn’t the right temperature, if we claim the baptism wasn’t valid or good enough, that undermines God’s promise that you are already forgiven and nothing will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.)

Standard

Craving Whatzits

sermon on John 6:24-35 Exodus 16:2-4,9-15; Psalm 78:23-29

Fun Nick fact: I’m a big fan of The Little Mermaid. When my sister used to watch it, I’d be singing along with Ariel: “I’ve got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty / I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore / You want thingamabobs? I’ve got twenty! / But who cares? No big deal / I want more.”

In the movie the little mermaid has a collection of items that humans use on land. She doesn’t really know what these things are, so she has names like snarfblatt or dinglehopper, whozits and whatzits. In spite of being oblivious, she still obsesses over and craves them so much she wishes she could be a human instead of a mermaid, though we know that this desire will make her a fish out of water, so to speak.

Well, that’s the mixed up mess we have today, too. People who don’t even really understand what they’re after, still wishing and yearning, begging and complaining for something else.

In Exodus, the crazy people of God are griping that they want to be back in slavery, thinking at least in Egypt they sat by fleshpots and ate bread. They don’t remember that they groaned in suffering and that just a month and a half before, to rescue them God had sent plagues and Passover and a pillar of cloud and fire and parted the Red Sea and “Pharaoh’s army got drownded.” It would seem memorable, but somehow they forgot and can’t hear over their grumbling bellies.

So they murmur and complain against their leaders and against God. And God sends them bread, or something sort of like bread. They aren’t too sure what it is or what to call it; our word “manna” is actually the Hebrew word for “whatzit.” So each morning, they would go out to gather this bready whatzit, sort of like fine flakey frost, or like gum resin it says in another spot (Numbers11:7).

Actually in that spot, it says that even though God was sending them daily bread, still the people were grousing that they wanted grouse, or actually quail. They wanted some meat, so God rained fowl down on them. (It’s tough to be a carnivore, eh?)

At any rate, this has to be about the biggest miracle in the Bible, aside from resurrection and creation itself. See, this whatzit scattered on the ground each morning sustained them for 40 years. The ration was about a gallon per person each day. That’s quite a bit of sustenance. But they kept on complaining, even wishing to be dead instead of receiving this miracle from God, claiming it was better back under Pharaoh’s heavy yoke because at least then they had fish and cucumbers and melons and leeks and garlic.

That sense of abundance brings us to the Promised Land, a land “flowing with milk and honey,” as it’s described, growing with fruit trees and vineyards. If nothing else, after the tedium of manna, they had variety. So you’d think that was the good life, that after being in slavery for hundreds of years and then a whole generation dying out while they wandered the wilderness that—at last—this would be the fulfillment of their hopes.

But just as their ancestors wished to be back in slavery, in our Gospel reading the people wish they could be back in the wilderness. “Hey Jesus,” they say, “Moses used to give out bread every day. How come we can’t just eat that whatzit manna like they used to?” They plead to go back to exactly what their ancestors wanted to get away from, just as their ancestors wanted to go back to what got away from.

Now, we could say that people are stubborn whiners or just kind of dumb or never satisfied. We could blame wandering eyes and jealous hearts, that the grass always seems greener and hindsight…yadda-yadda. Yet we, too, keep wishing that a new job or different house or shnazzier hairdo or the latest health regimen will change things. So another part of this isn’t just satisfaction but that we claim to know better as our own authorities, declaring what’s best for us and what we want.

We’re so adept at it that we even try answering other people’s problems. In this peculiar reversal, instead of begging for our own desires, we can turn it into a lecturing accusation against others, if not out loud all too often thinking we know better. To the woman facing abuse, we say, Why does she keep going back? To the man and his addiction to alcohol, we ask, Why doesn’t he just stop? To the one who’s lacking a job, we accuse, Why don’t they get off their lazy butts? To the one with an unwanted pregnancy, it’s, Why did they have sex in the first place? To the one in trouble with the law, Why didn’t he just behave himself? To the one with bad grades and a bleak future, Why doesn’t she try harder? To the one who can’t afford rent, Why do they waste their money on other things? To the critical, why can’t they find some compassion? We feel like we can assess all these fates, which then goes on to treat the people in these situations as if they had neither sense in their heads nor hopes in their hearts.

This week, a woman named Cheryl came in in tears. Her energy assistance was cut off because she got funding help from a church. She had no power to run fans to cool her grandchildren living with her or her CPAP machine or the refrigerator with her diabetes medicine. She’s trying to balance where money goes—to a broken car so she can get to her caregiver job or to the electrical bill. What’s our answer for Cheryl? Try harder? Buck up? Work more? Get smarter? Don’t worry about the grandkids? Find better assistance programs? Win the lottery? Vote differently? Change society so that this issue isn’t there in the first place? Pray?

We try to name these solutions, wanting answers, to be authorities on meeting desires and having everything go right. We grumble and yearn and pursue all our own whatzits. It leaves us gasping like fish out of water.

It would be plenty easy to declare here in church you’re choosing the wrong things, that if you’re after grand acclaim or a fancier car or easier life or more relaxation, then you’re selfish and doing it wrong, that Jesus called those the “food that perishes,” and instead you need to focus on God to satisfy your desires. One of our Boundary Waters devotions used this passage to pronounce that instead of trying to fill our spiritual hunger with worldly things we “need to feed on [God’s] word each day” (Pedersen, 180).

I’m sure not going to say that’s a poor idea compared to wishing for more stuff or trying to solve the world’s problems from the comfort of your own self-justifications.
But neither is that what Jesus is about. You don’t need a new lecturing accusation that you should be more godly. Rather, we’re just plain not very godly people. God was working the biggest miracle in sending daily bread, and the people of Exodus complained. Jesus was standing in the midst of the people, feeding their need, and they asked for more of exactly the wrong thing. It isn’t that we need more. It isn’t that we’re to refine our wishlist or our sense of directions. We’re just broken enough that we don’t know what to ask, don’t know what is good.

But here’s the turning point. Here’s Jesus. He’s not about directions or spiritual satisfaction. He’s not a waiter for placing all of your prayerful orders for another round. His method isn’t to believe just-right and firmly-enough so you’ll get all the best stuff. His authority is as the author of life.

In Jesus, God is for you, wants what’s best for you, even striving to satisfy the whiners and complainers, all the selfish, the do-gooders and those looking down their noses, the hungry and the grossly overfed, the greedy and the needy, those who don’t know their right hand from their left, who wander around looking for every new whatzit, for all of us ridiculous and incredulous fish out of water.

The proclamation is not, “I could be your bread of life” or “I should be” or “it would be best if I were.” Jesus declares flat-out, “I am the bread of life.” Your creation and existence, your sustenance, your ongoing life is never outside of his care, never neglected or overlooked or mishandled. Before you can even think to ask, to pray, to beg, to complain, he is giving you himself for your daily bread. Your life is in his keeping, from this time forth and forevermore.

This is a hard proclamation, because we want to make it into a program, an explanation, another lecture that can form an accusation, either against our doubting selves or the hungry hordes. We’d actually prefer to keep looking instead of settling in trust. Jesus says that we’ll never be hungry. So why do we need to have a Food Pantry, or write letters to our elected officials with Bread for the World? What does this have to do with Cheryl’s electric bill or your brokenness? We want special words to ask for pretty-please, or bonus points for being insistent, or re-evaluation of our needs. Or we demand signs and proofs. Or we go on to ignore Jesus since he doesn’t work like a spiritual vending machine for our appetites and hasn’t fixed our wishlist of the world’s problems.

And yet, there he is, abiding in that promise that spreads out through each moment of your life and across our world like the sticky dew just waiting outside of Exodus tents, the promise: “I am the bread of God that gives life to the world.” He’s for you, and that’s plenty.

Hymn: By Your Hand You Feed Your People (ELW #469)

Standard