Saturday, 1 August 2009

Ordinary 18 Yr B: 'It's raining bread'

SERMON 02/08/09: ‘It’s raining bread’ 
 Ex. 16: 1-15; John 6: 24-35

‘If only we had died at the Lord’s hand in Egypt…’

Mutterings, murmurings…
In the early morning, the mutterings and murmurings are loudest. 
The complaints can be heard clearly, voices raised angrily… 
 words thrown upwards to an empty blue sky that sits detached 
from all our pain and fear and tiredness.
The mutterings and murmurs continue as we break camp and begin our wanderings once more in this harsh, hard, heartless wilderness.

‘If only we had stayed in Egypt…’
As the heat of the sun begins to bite into our very being, 
the mutters and murmurs are subdued… withering away in the blazing heat 
that burns and bakes and blisters our hopes… and sears our souls.
The heat beats us into a silent, angry submission and we walk… 
 we keep walking, in this wilderness where only rock and stone 
and dirt survive and thrive in abundance.
All of this is a barren, empty wasteland. 
 It is a merciless, oppressive place: hideous and horrible… 
a blasted landscape where hopes and dreams crumble into despair and nothingness. 
A habitation of horror.

‘If only we had stayed in Egypt…’
As evening approaches, and we set up camp again, 
the mutters and murmurs rise once more as the temperature 
begins to fall and the sun dances away, laughing at us - 
leaving us to the tender mercies of the night. But in the darkness, 
there is little comfort on the bed of rocky ground… sleep is hard - literally. 
As the murmurs fade into the shadows of the night, other sounds are heard: 
the weary crying of an elderly man… 
the sound of empty bellies growling… 
the soft pad of wild animals, prowling, and howling – 
it’s not just our bellies that are empty. 
In the distance, the frightened wails of a small child and a mother’s tired 
‘hush’, ‘hush’ of comfort.

‘If only we had died at the Lord’s hand in Egypt - 
if only we had stayed there and not listened to this 
strange, stammering man and his brother -
If only we had stayed in Egypt, by the banks of the cool, refreshing Nile…’
We had bread there… food aplenty. 
No hunger or worry of hunger. 
We knew there would be food on the table when we 
came home from our labours.
Our homes… our homes… 
now left behind… the softness of our beds gone… 
all of our life… gone, gone… 
all gone away.
Replaced with this walk into the void, this nothingness, this wilderness. 
The hard, empty, terrifying place which is … our freedom? 
Or our death?
And so we murmur – we mutter and we murmur. 
I don’t think we mean to complain… but… we do – 
our murmurs are borne from our fear: 
did we leave Egypt to die here in this forsaken place?
Forsaken… and yet… not forsaken either. 
Here in the wilderness, strange things happen – 
mysterious and unexplained, 
and, in the midst of crying out our complaints to God… 
odd miracles – life-giving miracles. 
When we thirst – water. 
And when we hunger… bread – a strange bread we call ‘what is it?’ – manna…. And meat – quails – hundreds of quails descend… migrating somewhere 
and stopping here in the desert… and not going to their final destination, 
but ending their journey in our bellies.
And when we feel forsaken…? 
The strange, looming cloud… it’s always there… 
reminding us that God is with us on this journey… 
The God who has called us out of Egypt, from all we’ve known, 
who asks us to trust, and who guides us – to somewhere we don’t know 
The God who rains bread down upon us to sustain us on the way. 
And… perhaps, it’s enough…

The wilderness is a terrifying place: 
the Israelites knew that from first-hand experience; 
having escaped from the hardships of slavery in Egypt, 
they found themselves longing to return to what they knew. 
They were on a journey into the unknown – 
a journey beyond the margins of their maps – 
which took them beyond everything they’d ever known or imagined… 
dependant upon the mercy of a mysterious God, who journeyed with them.
Jesus, too, knew the wilderness: 
he spent 40 days and nights there wrestling temptation… 
the temptation for power – absolute power, which, as we all know, corrupts absolutely; 
the temptation to go against God’s natural order of things… 
testing gravity by jumping from great heights; 
the temptation to turn the very wilderness stones into bread: 
bread that satisfies the belly, but not the soul…

Our gospel reading picks up the aftermath of Jesus’s feeding of the 5 000 
and then that strange, inexplicable story of the walking on the water – 
 which we heard about from Jim last week. 
The crowds have once again found Jesus, clamouring for bread, 
clamouring for miracles: their
wandering in search of Jesus echoing the wanderings of the Israelites 
in the wilderness so many generations earlier. 
Both groups, in a sense, lost souls wandering in the wilderness.
And Jesus looks at the crowd, crying out for bread… 
and talks of bread of another kind: 
bread that won’t perish – that won’t go mouldy and maggoty like the manna –
bread that lasts forever. 
He tells them to seek this bread, the bread of heaven that truly sustains.
Bread and wilderness. 
What are we to make of these readings? 
We, too, can experience the wilderness: 
it might not be as obvious as actually being in a scorching, stony desert… 
There are times when we, too, can know the terror and temptation 
of the wilderness – 
our interior deserts of pain, of loss, of sadness, of anxiety… 
that empty place which can magnify our doubts and fears 
a hundred, thousand times…
The wilderness is that place – are those times - 
when we thirst and hunger … and can feel so forsaken. 
It can be a dry, desolate place where our thoughts, our words, 
our cries echo around the empty, stony canyons of our souls. 
The place where we are stretched beyond our comfort zone 
and challenged by our inner temptations to cling to the past… 
to hold onto past regrets, to anger, to despair… 
to re-imagine past hurts into something resembling the rosy-hued view 
of the Israelites in the wilderness when thinking of Egypt… 
in this instance, denial is truly a river in Egypt!
But the good news is… 
in the midst of the wilderness of our fears, our regrets, our sadness… 
we are not forsaken… we are not alone… 
the ever-faithful God journeys with us in both our joyful places 
and in our dark places; 
God hears our cries – even before we’ve uttered them;
In the wilderness, Moses states of the manna: 
‘this is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.’
In Capernaum, Jesus states: I am the bread of life. 
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, 
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’
We are journeying with the God who called the Israelites out of Egypt, 
and we journey with Jesus who asks us to follow him…
The journeying God journeys with us, as we travel from all we’ve known, 
and move beyond the limits of the maps we’ve clung onto for so long… 
We journey with the ever-faithful God who asks us to trust, 
and who guides us - to somewhere we don't know; 
we journey with the God who rains down bread upon us, 
to sustain us on the way.
And perhaps it's enough,
You know, it's more than enough:
it's the Bread of Heaven. Amen.


Kathryn said...

One fine sermon! Thank you - maybe it will provide the kick-start I need...

Songbird said...

Amen! I particularly appreciate your words about wilderness.

Mary Beth said...

love this, Nik! I will be introducing you to the RevGals tomorrow - just FYI!

Mompriest said...

Welcome to the RevGals ring!