Rev. Dr. Michael Raburn gave this homily for our Community Prayers service today, Wed. Oct. 12, 2016.
There’s a lot of talk about food in today’s readings (Deut. 26.1-11, Ps. 100, Phil. 4.4-9, John 6.25-35). Jesus and the crowd talk about the bread and fish meal he had recently provided for them. Moses talks about milk, honey, fruits and crops – first fruits to be precise. The crowd talking to Jesus remembered their ancient story – their ancestors had eaten manna – kernels that fell like the dew each morning and were baked into cakes – for 40 years. They attributed that miracle to Moses, just as they attributed the fish biscuits to Jesus. But Jesus points out that neither he nor Moses gave them food, Yahweh, the God Jesus calls Father, had provided both. After the 40 years, Yahweh had also provided an ongoing provision of food – the crops of abundance the Promised Land produced were as much a gift from Yahweh as the manna had been. And as Moses explained to them, they were to give out of this abundance – off the top, the first fruits, the cream, the cherry off the sundae, the best part of what they had been given – to those like us, those in need. Our readings didn’t cover, and Jesus’ crowd didn’t mention, but Israel failed miserably to actually do this. They did not celebrate their bounty by sharing it with others, they hoarded it and turned the Promised Land into another Egypt, more oppression, toil, and affliction. Their failure to do justice with their blessings is what sent them into captivity. Because oppressors don’t get their way forever. As the Psalm says, when those sheep get out of line, the Lord will reign them back in.
In the meantime, we find ourselves living in another Egypt. Another land of oppression, toil, and affliction. The idea of first fruits seems a bit laughable to those of us who eat leftovers, who cut away the most rotten parts of an apple and salt the rest, who rush donations into the freezer so they’ll last a bit longer, who sort through assorted bags of random stuff, and receive dirty shoes, clothes, blankets, and sometimes underwear.
But we also find ourselves in another Promised Land. Just this week, this week after so many of us lost so much in the madness of the hurricane, we have friends who have truly shared first fruits with us. We ate fresh from the oven pizza yesterday. We just enjoyed Pit BBQ that was given to us the same day it was prepared. We’re wearing new shoes, wrapping in new blankets, sleeping in new tents. We have friends who are sharing the cherries off their sundaes with us and for that we are deeply grateful. And not just this week, this is the nature of our community, we will have what we need. The Lord will provide. The community will provide. This is why we can say with the Psalm, that, “the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” We are ongoing recipients of that love supreme. That is what this bread signifies. This is the bread of life because the community who shares this bread also shares its first fruits. We take this bread in solidarity with all those who understand that their lives are gifts the same as ours, that what they have are gifts to be shared, not the product of toil to be hoarded. This is why we can, ‘let our gentleness be known to everyone.’ This is why we don’t have ‘to worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving can let our requests be made known to God.’ This is why, ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.’ Because we have friends who share with us and we share with each other and enjoy together the bread of life and the shoes of life and the sleeping bags of life.
Paul said, “The Lord is near.” He is indeed near in this bread and in this cup and in all this community receives and shares. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” That can be hard to understand. I’m going to take communion with you here in a few minutes, and I’m sure I will still want supper later. So that’s not where the magic lies, that can’t be what Jesus meant. Instead, he meant that all those who gather around his table trust that in giving and receiving first fruits, in sharing all with gentleness, peace, and steadfast love, our lives become the bread that sustains each other. We won’t be hungry tomorrow because the manna will fall again, the community will provide again, we will have what we need again. We can trust that to be true.