24 Aug The Ultimate Soul Food
The Ultimate Soul Food
John 6:25-35, 47-51
August 19, 2018
Calvary Presbyterian Church
There is an old Kudzu cartoon that shows a preacher reading the Lord’s Prayer from the pulpit: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily low-fat, low cholesterol, salt-free, gluten-free bread…” In the last frame the preacher is saying to himself, “I hate these modern translations.”
Bread. For millennia, it has been an essential staple of humankind’s existence, a fundamental component of our dietary survival. That is still true, though with a few more health-conscious winkles than our ancestors knew. Every culture has its own special take on bread—naan in India, tortillas in Mexico, challah in Israel, arepas in Venezuela, and bublik in Poland. Then, of course, there is the fried variety of bread—French beignets, German berliners, Turkish tulumbas and of course, good old-fashioned American donuts and Ghanaian bofrots that grace our coffee hour tables more Sundays than not. Our bodies need nourishment to stay healthy, to stay functioning, and to maintain life. Bread, in one form or another, is often a part of that physical nourishment and water is another essential part of that nourishment.
What is true for our bodies is also true for our souls. Perhaps that is why, of all the images and metaphors Jesus uses to speak of himself, his mission, and his sacrifice, the two most universally accessible and meaningful still remain bread and water. Today, as it was 2000 years ago, Jesus as the Bread of Life and as Living Water suggests to our hungry, thirsty bodies and souls that in the bread and water Jesus provides is the basic sustenance necessary for life.
Bread and water. Far from being prison fare, this is the universal “soul food” for people of faith. It is the only diet that can feed our starving spirits and fill our empty insides because it alone is “the food that endures for eternal life.” (John 6:27)
This food is both easy and hard to get. The Samaritan woman at the well, who is tired of drawing water every day almost didn’t get it. The crowds who follow Jesus to the other side of the Sea of Tiberias in order to get more free food have trouble understanding how different the sustaining elements that Jesus offers are from ordinary bread and water. After the crowd compares Jesus’ gift of bread with Moses’ manna in the wilderness, Jesus does two things. He corrects their faulty memory—it was God, not Moses, who provided the manna. And, he distinguishes God’s “true bread from heaven” from anything that might hold butter and jam.
This “true bread from heaven” is Jesus himself, and he meets hungering humans where we think we are empty—in our stomachs—and then points us to where our real emptiness lies—in our souls.
One thing that makes bread such a good medium and metaphor to convey the image of soul-sustaining nourishment is the life-giving process it goes through to become a fragrant loaf. Except for a few unleavened varieties, what makes bread is yeast. Yeast is a tiny one-celled organism that grows and metabolizes its own food with great speed. When added to dough, yeast organisms go to work, slightly fermenting and releasing gases so that the dough begins to rise.
This natural process is common in a lot of foods—yeast organisms often get into and ferment things we didn’t plan on. Have you ever taken a big swig of orange juice, only to spit it out in disgust because the taste had been altered? The OJ had gone “hard”, as we say in the South, and that is caused by yeast. Yeast is common; it’s found everywhere which is why part of the challenge of Jewish Passover preparations is to rid the entire house of yeast so that completely unleavened bread, the matzo, can be made. Part of the pre-festival celebration involves a ritual in which the house is searched with a feather, to find and sweep away even a grain of yeast that could contaminate the matzo.
Jesus, the Bread of Life, is energized in each one of us by divine yeast, by the Spirit of the living God, who sent Christ to be among us, to be for us, to be in us. To fully appropriate the Bread of Life, we need to keep our lives and our spirits “yeasty”—vital and ever growing. What can we do to create yeast in our souls? Try using “y-e-a-s-t” as an acronym for your spirit attitude.
“Y” stands for “yes.” Are you saying “yes” to God’s Spirit, “yes” to the nourishing possibilities the Bread of Life is offering you? When my children were little, I received a piece of advice that was not only profound parenting advice, it has proven to be helpful to me in many areas of life ever since. The advice was, “say ‘yes’ as often as you can, to as many things as you can.” Too often our default answer to things is “no.” “Mom, can you play a game with me?” “No, I’m busy making dinner.” “Mom, can I have a friend over? Can we go to the park? Can we stop for an ice cream cone?” With children, the requests, the needs, the questions can feel never ending at times, so we get in the habit of saying “no” even though if we just thought about it a minute or made a slight adjustment in our plans, we could easily say “yes.” And that habit with our children becomes a habit in the rest of our lives. We’re tired. We’re busy. We had another idea about how we were going to spend our afternoon or that $20, so we say “no” when that opportunity knocks unexpectedly. But, that opportunity might be God’s invitation to us, God offering us something to feed our souls. Let’s see if we can’t be more open, more willing to say, “yes”, more willing to claim the “seven first words of a Christian”—“I can do all things through Christ.”
The “E” in yeast stands for “energize.” For years I kept a jar in my refrigerator that was a sourdough starter. In bread-baking terms, a “starter” is a combination of yeast cultures, water and flour. At least once a week, I had to remove some of the starter which I usually put in the bread machine to make a loaf of sourdough bread. But, even if I didn’t have time to make a loaf of bread that week, the key was to remove a cup of the starter, stir the starter with more flour and water. In pioneer days, women treasured their starter and nurtured it along for years, sometimes passing it down from mother to daughter to granddaughter. That’s a picture of perpetual energy. Tended and fed regularly, it will provide sustaining nourishment for years which is exactly what the Bread of Life does for our souls. With regular tending, he, too, will feed us perpetually.
“A” stands for “access.” In order to be continually fed by the Bread of Life, we must keep in constant touch with the source of life’s true energy supply. Living out of the stored power of God’s Spirit enables us to be fed by Christ’s gift any time we need it. We can access this always available energy in a number of ways.
For some people, direct intercessory prayer brings us the closest to God’s Spirit and God’s love for us. For other people, music opens the soul and resonates most deeply with the Spirit. For still others, creating or contemplating works of art form within us the prayers that enable us to reach out and grab the gift of life. For still others, serving is how they best access God’s power and love. What matters is not what your point of access is; it’s that you find your own unique way of accessing the energy of Jesus, the Bread of Life, so that you will never go hungry.
“Search” is the “S” part of the acronym. It turns out that the crowds following Jesus in John 6 weren’t really seeking Jesus at all; they were simply looking for a free lunch. Jesus’ words to them, his corrections and counsel, were intended to make the hungering crowd search themselves for their true motives, to get honest about what their own egos and selfish desires have cooked up. And we need to do the same. Are we fans of Jesus, hanging around for the show, looking out only for what’s in it for us? Or, are we followers, seeking Jesus himself, longing to walk with Jesus just because he’s Jesus, because he is the one who can truly, eternally fill us and satisfy us?
The final letter, “T”, stands for “trust.” If we are filling up on the Bread of Life, we will trust in the Spirit’s presence and power to be at work in our lives. It is trust that allows us, even compels, us to do things, say things, and live in ways that to the outside observer make no sense at all. It is trust that allows us to stand firm in the storm, to be at peace when the news from the doctor is awful, to have hope in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations. When our souls are resting in trust, we know that no matter where we go, no matter what difficulties we encounter, a constant food supply is always on hand, always guaranteed.
Only Jesus can satisfy our hungry hearts. Only Jesus has the Words of Eternal Life. Only Jesus feeds us with himself, the Bread of Life, which is, ultimately, all our souls really need. Thanks be to God. Amen.