So how do you answer the question? Today’s Preaching Question from the study page … “Are You the Bread Winner?” Nah … don’t bother answering … I already know the answer. Because in one way or another, we all want to be the bread winners. The ones who provide … the ones who create security through our providence … the ones who bless others by our labors …….. The ones who are in control … the ones who orchestrate life … the ones at the center of our worlds. Yes, we all like to have some measure of control over our lives, don’t we? And as often as not, the ability to provide for yourself … to be a “bread winner” … leads to a fair amount of control.
Now admittedly, we have partners in our desire to be control freaks. We have plenty of cooperation from the world in which we live … because here at the start of the 21st century …. You can control the type of news you want to listen to. You can choose the neighborhoods you want to live in. You can stream what you want to watch right to your phone or TV, and can block what you don’t want to see. We control how the world sees our lives through what we choose to post on our FB pages. We control the productivity of crops and livestock through genetic engineering. We control life and death itself through the death penalty, physician assisted suicide and through abortion. Yes, we have more control over our lives than at any other period in human history. And where has all this control gotten us? You could make the argument that life has never been more volatile … more unpredictable … more fractured than it is in these early years of the third millennium. You could make the argument that what we think of as control over our lives, is nothing more than an illusion. That the chaos we experience is of our own making. Why is that?
Your guess is probably as good as mine … but at this moment in time, I’m reading a suggested answer that may be as good as any. It is from one of the books on my summer reading list. The words were written by Dr. Norman Doidge, who has provided the forward to Jordan Peterson’s bestselling book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos. In Dr. Doidge’s forward, he offers these words:
Rules there will be – but please, not too many. We are ambivalent about rules, even when we know they are good for us. If we are spirited souls, if we have character, rules seem restrictive, an affront to our sense of agency and our pride in working out our own lives. Why should we be judged according to another’s rules? And judged we are. After all, God didn’t give Moses “The Ten Suggestions,” he gave Commandments; and if I’m a free agent, my first reaction to a command might just be that nobody, not even God, tells me what to do, even if it’s good for me. But the story of the golden calf also reminds us that without rules we quickly become slaves to our passions – and there is nothing freeing about that.
What Doidge gets at … and Peterson, too, if the little bit I have read so far is a foretaste of what else is to come in his book … is that the belief that we can control our lives without reference to a higher set of values or a higher power at work in the world, is a false belief at best and a destructive one at worst. A realistic look at the state of our world might offer some modicum of support for this theory. Peterson evidently makes the case in his book for twelve “rules” that have been tried and tested as true for centuries … maybe even for millennia. The Christian faith would claim that those rules in one way or another, have found their way to us through the revelation of God … mediated first through the people of Israel and later through the life of Jesus Christ. And what these rules … or values … or commandments … remind us of is that when we do what we want to do … the Bible calls that “sin” by the way … yes, when we do what we want to do, what we actually bring about is destruction and brokenness to our decisions and to our lives. If Jesus were interviewed on one of our local evening news programs, he might call what we have chosen digest … “food that perishes” … the image from our Gospel Lesson today. For no matter how you describe it … and whether you like it or not … the answer may be as simple as that … and as difficult as that. Our world, and we who live in it, stuff ourselves with food that perishes, instead of food that is the “bread of life.”
That is where our conversation about communion becomes important. Because ironically … we Christians who should all know better … we who have been raised around this table from which communion is served … we sometimes miss the boat, too. We sometimes think we are the bread winners here too, as we gather around the altar. We believe that if we bring the right spirit … if we adopt a reverent posture … if we pray and reflect in the right way … if we believe the words … then God will visit us with grace of life. We somehow think that our faith is in control of our experience at the table. When in fact, God comes to us whether we like it or not … whether we are well-prepared for it or not … and dare we say, whether we deserve it or not. What we experience here is a meal of pure grace … given to you as a sign of the great love your God has for you.
Come to think of it, we may not be all that different from the first century followers of Jesus. In our lesson from John the crowds searched for Jesus … we do that, too. The crowds tracked him down because they were hungry – Jesus says so himself – “you are looking for me because you ate your fill of the loaves.” … we are hungry, too. Jesus teaches them again, as he has done before, to not seek food that perishes, but food that endures for eternal life … we have been taught over and over by Jesus, also, haven’t we, because we also struggle to seek the right spiritual food for our lives. And then comes the question that betrays their misunderstanding … their ignorance … their blindness – “What must we do?” We ask that same question all … the … time … “what must we do?” What must we do to deserve this? … what must we do to earn this? … what must we do to be the bread winner in this relationship?
And God’s answer is always the same. “Believe in him whom God has sent.” It is the same message that God has always spoken to us. “Believe in the one I sent to you … believe in Jesus, the bread of life.” That is why we come to this table. We come to meet Jesus in bread and wine … we come to sing our thanksgiving with him through the Spirit … we come to rejoice in this great gift with the communion of saints. We cannot celebrate this meal often enough, because it is the one crystal clear place where we can meet Jesus week in and week out. I can get sidetracked in my prayers to Jesus … I can forget that I am seeing Jesus in my neighbor when I am angry … I can misunderstand what Jesus speaks to me in the words of the Bible. But here, there is no mistaking the Lord who has redeemed me … and you … and who feeds us together as God’s children.
The late Henri Nouwen, Roman Catholic priest, spiritualist and writer pictured it this way in his book With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life.
Eucharist is recognition. It is the full realization that the one who takes, blesses, breaks, and gives, is the One who, from the beginning of time, has desired to enter into communion with us. Communion is what God wants and what we want. It is the deepest cry of God’s and our heart, because we are created with a heart that can be satisfied only by the one who made it. God created in our heart a yearning for communion that no one but God can, and wants to fulfill. God knows this. We seldom do. We keep looking somewhere else for that experience of belonging. We look at the splendor of nature, the excitement of history, and the attractiveness of people, but that simple breaking of bread, so ordinary and unspectacular, seems such an unlikely place to find the communion for which we yearn. Still, if we have mourned our losses, listened to him on the road, and invited him into our innermost being, we will know that the communion we have been waiting to receive is the same communion he has been waiting to give.
May you recognize Jesus often at this rail and at others that you visit. May your deepest wants be filled with God’s deepest grace. And may your yearning for Jesus end, because he enters you through this meal of life. Oh … and in answer to our opening preaching question … “No … you are not the bread winner. There has always been just One bread winner.” Amen.