Proper 13: How Fresh is Your Bread?

Jesus is the bread of life. If this is the case – why do we insist on eating mouldy, stale bread. Or why do we always eat the same bread? Jesus has so much more on offer for us!

From Malcolm Guite’s WordPress

Fingest Group Service
August 1st 2021

Exodus 16:2-4; 9-15
John 6:24-35

The next time you are in a grocery store I would suggest you take a slow walk down the bread aisle. Marvel at the sheer variety of bread that is available. The shapes, sizes, thin, medium or thick cut, white, whole wheat, rye, seeds, nuts, grains, no gluten, low sugar. Danish, French, Italian.

  • Bread is big business! It has been eaten for thousands of years and it remains a staple of most diets around the world. According to the Flour Advisory Board Approximately 12 million loaves are bought everyday in the UK. Spending 3.6 billion on bakery items. 
  • 99% of households buy bread
  • 44% of men eat bread twice a day – only 25% of women do.
  • White bread accounts for 76% of all bread sold in the UK even though about 200 different types of bread are made here

Bread is relatively easy to get, it is generally good for us with lots of vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre.  It provides energy, it is affordable for most people to buy and there is a huge selection.

I assume that you are all thinking about bread; if I asked each of you about the bread you are thinking about, we would get many different answers.

So what do we think about when Jesus says: ‘I am the bread of life’?

The crowd that was following Jesus that day had different ideas about who Jesus was. This was mostly the crowd of 5000 that were fed the day before with the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. They are back today for more!

Jesus knows that this is the reason they are back to see him. Although it appears that bread and fish are not on the menu today. To be fair it is hard to see clearly when we are hungry. The crowd clearly saw the sign yesterday; the loaves and fishes multiplied. Yet they missed what this signified; the Kingdom of God, Jesus the bread of life. This is what Jesus offered them that day and still to us every day.

Jesus then tells the crowd ‘do not work for the food that spoils, perishes but the food that lasts for eternal life which the Son of Man will give you.’ The bread we buy in the shop will spoil eventually. Everything in this life; bread, people, situations and circumstances will perish one day too.

Although Covid has changed the priorities and given a new perspective on life and death for many people; many of us still work for the food that perishes. We then wonder why life doesn’t get better or God doesn’t do what it is we want him to do too. 

This was the case of the God’s people in Exodus. They had been led out of their slavery in Egypt by Moses. They now find themselves in the wilderness and life is hard. They are complaining about the lack of food, claiming that they sat around in Egypt eating meat by the pot full and endless bread. No mention of the hardship and brutality they lived under. Memories can be short sometimes! 

God, in his great mercy and proving that He did not lead them into the wilderness to starve to death, started sending the quail and manna from heaven each morning and evening. Enough food for the day. Just that day. 

The Israelites would collect it and eat it but they would be hungry again. The same thing would happen the next day…and the next. God fed them so they would know that he is the Lord their God. 

Jesus is saying the same thing to the crowd who returned again for more bread. Throughout chapter 6, Jesus is pushing those listening and being fed. Day 1 was about physical feeding, Day 2 is about spiritual feeding. 

Most of us here can satisfy our physical hunger quite easily. Abundance of bread in the shops, money in hand. Yet many of us are spiritually hungry;  this is a hunger much harder to satisfy. We can’t do it ourselves, there is no shop selling ‘spiritual food’ for us to buy that will fill us up. 

Some people are eating yesterday’s mouldy, stale bread. It’s green and fuzzy and gross. This bread has been stored up and saved. Maybe they have been eating it for so long that they do not know any difference. This is what is in front of them and maybe they never think to look for anything else. This is not the bread that Jesus is offering. Maybe it never occurs to them that fresh bread is available? Jesus offers us fresh, living bread every day. 

Maybe others are only eating white bread. Only ever eat white bread. White bread is boring. 76% of all the bread sold in the UK is white yet 200 other kinds are made. The white bread eaters like what they like but they are missing out. God has so much more on offer for us, if only we would wake up. Work for the things that really matter. It takes courage to do this but Jesus promises that those who come to him will never be hungry or thirsty. 

Where do we find the real, the true bread? 

With thanks to a close friend and brilliant Priest: ‘At the Last Supper the night before he died, he held bread in his hands and said to his friends, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). We are going to hear these words shortly at the consecration. Ever since then Christians have been celebrating the breaking of the bread. We come together to share a meal and be fed with the bread and wine that is Jesus. 

This is indeed the meaning of the Eucharist: Jesus Christ is here on earth again in the Eucharist, just as he was two thousand years ago. He is not just present in our memory. He is not just spiritually present. He is here on earth, body and blood, soul and divinity.’

Our hunger will only be satisfied by Jesus in the Eucharist. I think we all know this – but good to be reminded. We bring to him what little we have; he will bless it and multiply it. It will be more than enough! We can trade the mouldy bread for fresh, the white bread for a variety. 

When we are physically full we function better; we just do. It is why schools have breakfast clubs for kids.  We know that with a good breakfast, kids do better in lessons. It is the same for us, when we have had our bread from heaven. We do better – we can be humble, gentle, patient, more loving, more unified. The bread that will never leave us hungry or thirty. The bread that offers us eternal life.

Cucumbers & Grapes: The Confusing Fairness of God

For the Sisters of Burnham Abbey

Sunday September 20th, 2020 – Trinity 15

Exodus 16:2-15, Philippians 1:21-end, Matthew 20:1-16

I want to start with this rather amusing story I found this week:

A few years ago, Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal, two zoologists at Emory University, decided to study the evolution of fairness. They wanted to explore where our distaste for unfairness comes from. Is it a cultural add-on, or is it hardwired?

To study this question, Brosnan and de Waal designed an experiment using capuchin monkeys. Pairs of monkeys were placed in adjacent cages where they could see each other and trained to take turns giving small granite rocks to their human handler. Each time a monkey relinquished a rock, she would receive a piece of cucumber as a reward.

Capuchins love cucumbers, so both monkeys found this arrangement satisfactory, and handed over their rocks with enthusiasm. But then, the handler changed things up. After a few fair and even exchanges, the handler rewarded the first monkey with a chunk of cucumber as usual but gave the second monkey a grape — the equivalent of fine wine or caviar in the monkey world.

Seeing that the game had changed for the better, the first monkey perked up, and very eagerly handed over another rock, expecting, of course, to receive a grape, too. But no — the handler gave her another piece of cucumber. To make things worse, the handler then gave the second monkey another grape for free!

The results — which you can look up on YouTube — were striking. The first monkey just about lost her mind. Not only did she refuse to eat the cucumber; she hurled it at the handler’s face. She then proceeded to bang against the bars of the cage, throw her remaining rocks in every direction, and make furious gestures at her grape-eating companion.

The experiment has since been repeated using other primates, and the results have been astonishingly similar. Scientists have also studied the development of fairness in human babies and found that infants as young as nine months old will react quite strongly and negatively to perceived unfairness. Clearly, as Brosnan and De Waal concluded after their experiment, fairness is a concept that is deeply rooted in the human psyche.

We have a couple of examples of how deeply rooted fairness is in the readings this morning.

The newly freed Israelites seem to have rather short memories as they rail against Moses, Aaron and God for the perceived unfairness of their new situation in the wilderness. According to them, God has led them into the wilderness to let them starve to death. Of course, he did! God, in his infinite mercy and goodness, feeds the Israelites consistently and daily, morning and night. He did this not only to meet their physical needs but also the need for them to know that he is the Lord their God.

We know that the world is an unfair place, people are treated unfairly at every turn and have been since the beginning. I also think that there are varying degrees of unfairness and we need to keep perspective on the truly unjust and unfair issues facing our world. It is not all cucumbers and grapes!

I also couldn’t help but wonder if St Matthew heard the parable of the landowner and hired labourers and what he made of it? He had been a Jewish tax collector! I suspect that Matthew, in his role as a tax collector, had a skewed view of fairness. His job would have been a good one, secure and well-paid; good for him. Yet his fellow Jews in Capernaum would have seen him as a collaborator with the Romans, in the category with prostitutes and other sinners. Matthew would have paid the heavy price of isolation from his fellow Jew – he was a traitor in their eyes. Yet Matthew had become a genuine follower of Jesus, a convinced Jewish Christian. He, like Peter, Andrew, James and John, did not hesitate to follow Jesus when called.

Jesus seems to be speaking to these disciples, warning them that fame and fortune were not going to be reward for following him. Being close to Jesus was not going to make them the favoured few for all time. Maybe Matthew and the others needed an attitude adjustment? Peter and the others could be the workers that were there at the start of the day, Matthew sometime later? Like the monkeys and us, their sense of fairness was based on being good and doing the right things with the expectation of reward. This is what Jesus is warning against.

Along with the warning, there is also a reminder of the grace and generosity of God. We cannot store these things up or bargain with them, like the monkeys with the rocks to exchange them for cucumbers when we think we need it.

Tom Wright: ‘The point of the story is that what people get from having served God and his kingdom is not, actually, a ‘wage’ at all. It’s not, strictly, a reward for work done. God doesn’t make contracts with us, as if we could bargain or negotiate for a better deal. He makes covenants, in which he promises us everything and asks of us everything in return. When he keeps his promises, he is not rewarding us for our effort, but doing what comes naturally to his overflowing generous nature.’

I know I need the reminder today of the covenant of God and that he will keep his promises. While the world isn’t as fair as it should be, and I am not always fair to others as I should be – God is infinitely fair even though we don’t understand how sometimes.

I need to renew the promise that St Paul admonishes us to do ‘live a life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’ We can take inspiration from Matthew as he left his tax booth to follow and live the life worthy of the call.