Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Bread and Signs

May 24, 2017

Recently I read John 6, which is a really long chapter- 71 verses. There are many, many things to think about. The chapter begins with Jesus feeding the five thousand. Then the disciples cross the rough sea and Jesus walks out on the water to them and they reach the other side.

Then something interesting happened. The crowds (the people Jesus fed the day before) were confused. They saw the disciples leave in a boat, but not Jesus. The crowd, realizing that both Jesus and the disciples are gone, travel to the “other side” to look for Jesus. They find Jesus and ask,

“Rabbi, when did you come here?” (v25) Jesus replies “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them,”This is the work of God, that you believe in him, whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness: as it is written,’He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

John 6:25-31  NRSV

The chapter goes on for 40 more verses. But I found this part interesting and perhaps a little too personal.  The crowds are looking for Jesus because he fed them the day before. We can’t fault people for being hungry and eating the food offered to them. The problem was that they, and I, sometimes think food is just food. We eat food every day, usually several times a day. We forget to see the sign that the food is.

I’m looking for “heavenly”, head turning, traffic stopping miracles. That’s not what I get. Jesus gives me signs and wonders. For example the wonder of food.

We see the bread, we see the wine (John 2:1-11). We are glad to eat and drink. We may even be thankful. But we miss the sign.

John’s gospel gives us signs, rather than miracles. I think that is to help us keep a clearer picture of what is going on. The sign points us to who Jesus is. The sign tells us important things about Jesus, about what matters to him.

The abundance of wine, the abundance of food. These are not things we should take for granted. But I know I do and when I do I fail to see the sign.

Too often I follow Jesus for what he can do, rather than for who he is. From the trivial- praying for a parking spot, to the serious- prayers for peace or healing. It is so easy to be like the crowd and follow Jesus for what he does. It is easy to be distracted by what he does and forget who he is- the bread of heaven.

The crowd goes on to make a second mistake. They ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”  Forgetting it is all gift.

Then they, and we, demand divine party tricks, something spectacular to prove that God is God. Forgetting that it is all gift. The gift of life in the kingdom. Life now in Christ. Gift, right before our eyes.

The crowd asked, “What sign are you going to give us…?”  We might ask “What have you done for me lately, Jesus?” We follow as those ancient crowds did- hungry, looking for someone to feed us. Someone to heal us. And Jesus, patiently and with steadfast love feeds us and heals us. Hoping, I suppose, that we can someday follow for better reasons. Simply because Jesus is worth following because of who he is, not what he does.



We do not travel alone

April 23, 2017

 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.

Genesis 12:1-5a  NRSV

I have an unfortunate tendency to think the call of Abraham only involved Abraham. Periodically the text reminds me that Sarah traveled with him. Less frequently the text reminds me that Lot  and many others also went with Abraham.  But mostly I focus on Abraham.

For modern Americans to focus solely on Abraham is easy to do. Our typical way of thinking and understanding the world concentrates and celebrates the individual. We love stories about the lone person who perseveres, triumphs, saves, or overcomes. We admire and revere the “One”. Many of us secretly want to be the “One”. Or perhaps, we are waiting for the “One” to save us, protect us, love us.

But if we read Abraham’s story carefully, we discover that Abraham doesn’t travel alone. His call affects others. And others participate in his call. And of course others benefit from his calling.

In the ancient world successes and failures, joys and sorrows were communal events. How an individual’s actions affect their family and community were important considerations. The stories in the Bible remind us that our lives are not our own. Our lives and actions affect the lives of people we know and people we don’t know.

From Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper”, to Moses’ demand  “let my people go”, to the prophets’ insistence that we care for the widow and orphan and stranger, to Jesus’s teaching about caring for the “least of these”- over and over again we are told we must be concerned about the larger community.

That means that my faith cannot be simply or only about my relationship with God. My relationship with God compels me to be concerned about others, in my home, in my city, in my country and around the world.

The way our modern world functions means that my concern is often called “political”. I don’t apologize for that.  It has to be. Reading the Bible seriously means I must take the well being of others seriously and consider their needs before I consider my own. When I vote, I think about which candidate will be best for the poor and excluded, for the food insecure, the sick, the homeless, the children, the aged.  When a millage comes up, I vote for what I think best benefits the entire community, not just me, and not just what keeps my taxes low.  When I march for a just immigration policy, it is not because my immigration status is a risk or is even questioned by anyone. I march because the Gospel compels me to work for a society that care about and for immigrants and refugees.

We are, as children of Abraham, called to be a blessing for others- for all the families of the earth. To be sure, this makes my life more difficult. There are a lot of people I need to think about, people I don’t know, people I will likely never know. As I try to learn and understand all these different people, who live in different places and in different circumstances, I learn wonderful things and terrible things. My heart sings and breaks. So much joy and yet so much suffering. It can be overwhelming. It is overwhelming.

Fortunately, God has created a world where I don’t have to do it all and you don’t either. We help each other. We help people we know and they help us. We help people we don’t know and they help us.  And the Spirit is in the middle of all of it- opening our eyes to see, our ear to hear, our heart to love. Nudging us to a bigger, deeper, richer life.

We do not travel alone, Thanks be to God.

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