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Posts Tagged ‘bread of life’

I am 2It wasn’t the first time Jesus made “I am” statements. In fact, this is the 5th time he is recorded as saying “I am. . . .” The others (all somewhat cryptic and yet captivating as metaphors):

  1. I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
  2. I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
  3. I am the Gate (John 10:9)
  4. I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
  5. I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26)
  6. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:16)
  7. I am the Vine (John 15:5)

But are they all metaphor? Instead, I can’t help but wonder if Jesus wasn’t using the simplest transformationof language to communicate the most complicated piece of information: his true identity. In all but one of these phrases, there is way-finding or sustenance. But in the 5th phrase, there is something else: transformation! In essence, he is telling us that without the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Holy Spirit, we are dead. Jesus is life. Jesus gives life where there is death.

walking deadI’m not just talking about heaven and the after-life. I’m talking about now. Most humans are just “walking dead” (amusing that a television show of this title is so popular). And as long as people are dead, it’s hard to imagine life, true life. It happens in the most extraordJesusinary and paradoxical way. Instead of hanging on, we are to let go. Instead of hoarding, we are to give away. Instead of certainty, we are to walk by faith. Instead of wealth, we are encouraged to embrace poverty.

Authentic Christianity, and by that I mean true Jesus followership, is mind-blowing.

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Original photo by Eddie Adams

Original photo by Eddie Adams

I love dictionaries. They are wonderful tools for discovery and now that they are online, I have a place to hang out any time of day or night. Where else could I discover that “compassion” was, at one time (1580-90), a verb: “compassionate.” I’m still trying to figure out how to use this archaic word in a sentence. And although the word as a verb never caught on, the meaning lingers.

Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. [Luke 6:36, CEB]

The definition says, “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” This has been a deep error on my part for I have always thought of compassion as a feeling, a kind of empathy, sorrow and commiseration. But I have not allowed myself to take on the second part, the doing, the actual work that should be coming out of the feeling.

Rev. Everett Swanson, who started Compassion, Intl. back in the 1950’s, understood both sides of this word from the very beginning and his organization has grown into a multi-million dollar operation offering people all over the world the opportunity to play out a type of doing by financially supporting a child in a developing country. But, are we giving out of a strong desire to alleviate suffering or a kind of guilt and peer pressure?

And so it sometimes goes with giving to the church or tithing or donating to another “good cause.” Our motives are sketchy. I know mine have been to say the least. But I also know that the need is greater than any of us manage alone, for the Lord himself said, “The poor will always be with you . . . ” [Mark 14:7, NIV]. And for this reason, we must choose where we give our monies, our time, and our energy and work together.

I think it’s time to look into my heart for true compassion, for those whom am I honestly feel sorrow and possibly, even distress on their behalf. Have I been playing at this important ingredient of my faith? In some ways, I have followed along with the compassion others feel, slipping along the edges, but I am not convinced that I am “all in.”

For instance, the DNA of our church is much driven by our pastor’s authentic compassion for people who are “far away from God” (for whatever reason, be it bad choices, addictions, or malaise). And the church is becoming the hands and feet on his mission for humanity, loving them, helping them, engaging them for good: we are compassionating them.

It is so much easier to generate a feeling of compassion for people and animals we see in desperate circumstances, in news reports or commercials (how many of us change the channel when the ASPCA ads come on?). It’s simply too painful to watch.

painBut really, aren’t their people whose hearts are equally damaged but hidden within the norms of society? They are in pain too. In some cases, it takes not only a compassionate heart but a discerning one to recognize the lost or wandering soul.

Lord, guide me and sensitize me to the needs of others, not just their daily bread, but their need for the Bread of Life.

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farmerMy pastor loves alliteration, metaphor, and rhyme. And so, it came as no surprise a couple of Sundays ago when he referred to himself as the “Dude with the Food,” another way of saying he was the one who had the job to distribute nourishment, the “word of God” and the “bread of life.” Another food-based role for the pastor appears in the parable of the seeds (Matthew 13:1-9).

Such large crowds gathered around him [Jesus] that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed . . . [Matthew 13:2-3, NIV]

This is a familiar parable to most people about the seeds that fell on the path, or landed in rocky places or in shallow places, as well as seeds that grew but among thorns, and finally, the seeds that landed in good soil where they did what they were supposed to do: flourish.

So much has been written about the seeds and many times we have been asked to compare ourselves and our understanding of the message to one of these groups of scattered seeds. But today, I am interested in the farmer.

You see, in my mind, it is the farmer’s intention, from the beginning, to throw and plant the seeds in good soil. After all, the farmer’s goal is to reap a plentiful harvest. It is not intentional that seeds go astray. They will. They do. The farmer may spend a lot of time in soil preparation, but inevitably, circumstances and the weather may alter his best intentions. If the wind comes up or a storm, the seeds will scatter, even those that may have landed in the best of places. Seeds are challenged. Seeds are damaged.

But the key understanding for me is that the farmer is not responsible for the outcome. The farmer can plan, prepare, plant, and even encourage, but ultimately, it’s between the seed and nature (or God, in this case) to actually break down and transform into something else, like a plant. The farmer envisions the best results, but things don’t always work out that way. The farmer can pray for rain and pray for sunshine; the farmer can take out weeds, but sometimes, there are nasty critters that destroy the roots anyway. The farmer is only one while the seeds are many.

We need to stop blaming these farmers for the losses.

farmhandsSometimes, I hear people talking about their farmers who are not good administrators. I guess that means those seeds are unhappy with the size of the fields, the design of the rows, the farmhands that the farmer hired to help deliver the message. Or others say the farmer spends too much time on the fields around the house and not enough time visiting the fields on the other side of the hill, or the special little garden just for organic seeds or sickly seeds. And still others criticize the farmer for not spending enough time planning the farm, or laying hands on the seeds, or purifying the water and so on.

I’m beating this metaphor to death, I ‘m sure.

You wanna help the farmer? Be a farmhand.

 

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As usual, I have been putting the cart before the horse. I’ve been waiting for the “outpouring” to descend before stepping out. I’ve been hoping for an umbrella before it starts to rain. But that’s not how it works. Call comes to us with the tools or resources at hand. Nothing more, at first.

I Timothy 1:14
The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Many times, when I feel a kind of God-nudge, I start overworking the left side of my brain: I analyze the demands, inventory my current storehouse of resources, and assess my chances for success. I don’t want to fail; I want to know all of my options and I want to see if there is a back door. And to make matters worse, my old enemy likes to whisper test me with all kinds of questions like “are you sure it’s God speaking to you?”

Let’s say, I finally do step up and say, “yes” to the call. Intellectually, I get it: if God puts a call on my life to serve a people, then God will provide what I need to accomplish it. Even Paul, one of the strongest and undoubtedly, most stubborn Christ followers, acknowledged it was God who gave him the strength and faith he needed to persevere. (I don’t believe he could have predicted how difficult his journey for Christ was about to become.) Although Paul was well equipped with law, history, and heritage, his new life as an apostle for Christ needed many other gifts and outpourings, some miraculous and many seemingly insignificant.

  1. God gives gifts, blessings, and tools to accomplish His work but they may not be the same ones I think I should have. I may think I need lots of money to make something happen but God may decide to give bushels of corn instead. I may think I need a week to do the work at hand while God plans to bend time so that all is accomplished in a day. I may think I need a team of a hundred to complete the task but God may only provide twelve.
  2. God gives mercy to whom God wants to give mercy. By its nature, mercy comes into play when a person is undeserving of it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be mercy. This is true for me as much as it is true for others.

When God extends mercy to me, or to anyone, there is a critical moment of decision. With the sin is covered, the mistake righted, or the obstacle removed, I am still at a crossroads. I can either move forward into a new direction that has been opened up or I can turn back. On the surface, it makes no sense to turn back once mercy has been poured out–unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens all the time. Before grace and mercy appeared, my situation was familiar, horrible even, but familiar. Like the Israelites who complained to Moses about their trials and hunger in the desert and despite the abundance of miracles (mercy and grace), they still wanted to go back to Egypt [Numbers 1:4-6]. Am I any different? Not so much.

Or, in the story of Jesus and the woman who was caught in adultery. Grace and mercy were extended to her in abundance, so much so that her captors fled. And yet, she was cautioned to sin no more, to follow the new and unfamiliar way. [John 8:10-11]

Yes, God will give an abundant outpouring of grace, faith, love, and mercy at unique junctures in our lives. Sometimes, it’s at a point outside of ourselves, a saving grace that gives us a second chance. This first type often manifests in that initial discovery process: there is a God and there is a Christ who died sacrificially for me.

But all the other outpourings come in response to my navigation skills on the path God has laid out for me. The outpourings don’t come before I encounter the challenges on the way. Outpourings don’t come early so I can freeze-dry them and then use them at will. Like the manna in the desert that was only good for a single day, God’s outpouring comes as needed.

I remember a Walk to Emmaus Retreat weekend I attended some years ago and the Spiritual Director for that weekend was leading the group in communion. Unlike most communions where one is handed a small round, white cardboard sliver or a miniature saltine cracker, she held up an entire loaf of freshly made bread. She said, “Christ gave up His body to torture and destruction for the sake of all humans. So, we are invited to take as much as is needed because from Christ, there will always be enough.” And from the cup, she said, “Drink deeply, for this well would never run dry.” The Body and the Blood, the first abundant offerings.

In our small community, there is a small group of people who are planting a new church called Restore Church that will launch September 11, 2011. My husband and I have been asked to become a part of this adventure. There will be many challenges and many needs and in my mind, it’s understood, anyone who enters into this ministry now is making a covenant for the long haul because every hand and heart will be needed. Each person must come as is, say “yes” to God’s call, and then step out in faith. The outpouring is available, just ahead: grace, faith, love, and mercy. In Christ, it will be enough.

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Paul is certainly confident as a prototype for believers: become like me, follow me, imitate me. Paul was a zealot before he met Christ and he was certainly one afterward. I could no more imitate him than I can imitate Christ. Ah, there’s the difference. . .

Galatians 4:12
I plead with you, brothers, become like me, . . .
I Corinthians 4:16
Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
I Corinthians 11:1
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Philippians 3:17
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

To follow Paul is an outside/in method while following Christ is an inside/out endeavor.

Despite the freedoms Paul articulates as a follower of Jesus, having been a Pharisee for many years, he still had a very law-based mentality and world view. He was an administrator, an organizer. He could see how things would work out best. He loved his churches and he loved his people, but he did get frustrated. He was impatient. He continually aimed for perfection (Christ) and condemned himself often (not in a bad way, just as a confession) for missing the mark. He knew he was less than perfect and only Christ within made up the difference. Nonetheless, it was Paul who set up the churches with structure. He was an academic. He laid out the reasons for everything he said. He was a man of logic and reason. I’d say a good portion of our modern day churches have evolved out of the teachings and interpretations of Paul.

But when Jesus calls us to “follow him,” I think he is drawing us to the Kingdom. It is Jesus who consistently lays out the paradoxes of internal following. Everything is the opposite of what we would think: turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, going the extra mile, meekness is victor, weakness is strength and so on.

For Jesus it is not really “become LIKE me,” it’s become ME.

This is much more mysterious. When Jesus taught about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood,” a lot of disciples fled. This entire teaching on Jesus being the “bread of life” terrified most of his followers. [John 6:41-66] They fled because they understood, not because it was beyond them. Every time Jesus spoke bluntly about his intentions, there was an uproar.

With Jesus, what seems impossible is possible; what is lost can be found; what dies can be raised up.

In the face of these kinds of truths, do the outer trappings really matter: Robes or no robes, dunking or sprinkling, wine or grape juice, men or women, buildings or no buildings, and so on.

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” [John 14:20]

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John 6:41
At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

The Jews of that time understood this image and didn’t like it because Jesus referred to himself metaphorically as manna [Exodus 16]. While the Jews wandered in the desert, manna appeared each morning with the dew and was only enough for that one day (except on Friday when enough was collected and lasted 2 days over the Sabbath). The message is a simple one for us then: we are to eat the Bread of Heaven daily. We are to participate and partake of Him daily.

In Matthew 6:34, Jesus is recorded as saying “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Each day is different and each day has different challenges.

It makes me want to return to a more Catholic tradition of communion each day. I can see the power of that imagery. I can feel the power of that act.

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