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It's Not About Bread

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Introduction

Bread.
If you’re like me, you are already remembering times when you smelled freshly baked bread from the oven, or the satisfaction of kneading dough.
In fact, it’s a reminder of the beautiful land we live in. Here in Sicily, you cannot go to a small town without finding a few Panicerrie.
In my mind, few things demonstrate God’s providence for us quite like bread. Did you know that bread can be made minimally with flour, water, and salt? The reason is flour and water in the right conditions breed yeast and bacteria that coexist with each other wonderfully. The bacteria help protect the yeast and add a sour flavor, the yeast help feed the bacteria. Add to that kneading and salt which naturally build gluten strands that give bread its characteristic sponginess, and you have a sourdough - the primary way Sicilians make bread and indeed everyone did until relatively recently. As long as it is fed regularly, a sourdough culture can last indefinitely.
In our country, bread is generally made differently. Sourdough is amazing, but it is inconsistent. It doesn’t store well, and every culture is different. Some cultures are more active than others. So late in the 19th century, scientists were able to separate the yeast from the bacteria - which is more stable, can be kept dry - and is devoid of flavor. When we hear that Jesus is the bread of life, how many of us think Wonder Bread?
In today’s readings, we have a great opportunity to see three (and a half) different perspectives on the same event - the feeding of Israel during the Exodus.
The word “bread” appears 11x times. So that’s what this is all about, right? Well, no. Just like sourdough itself is complex and takes on the culture (literally and figuratively) of the environment it grows in, this story really is about us and God.

The Exodus (Exodus 16:1-4, 9-15)

Our first view is an eyewitness account of the event - courtesy of Moses. He recounts that the “whole congregation of the people of Israel” grumbled because they were hungry. And God, because He’s awesome, decided to give them manna and quail, right?
Well yes, but is this really what this passage is about?
Sometimes in reading these stories, it is really easy to get caught up in things like place names we don’t know and miss critical details. In fact, verse one of this passage isn’t in the lectionary reading - I added it. But take a look at the last part there - “on the 15th day of the second month after they had departed the land of Egypt.”
This story happened about 6 weeks after leaving Egypt. You remember the story, right? The Egyptians enslaved the Jews, so much that they cried out to God, and He sent Moses to rescue them. 10 plagues, the Passover, Moses by the power of the Holy Spirit parting the Red Sea, destroying Pharaoh’s Army. THAT departing from the land of Egypt.
With that added bit of information, the story becomes clearer. Even though God was doing amazing things right in front of these people, their hearts were still far away from Him. In just six weeks, they were accusing God of wanting to kill them, and reminiscing about the “good old days” when they just sat by the meat pots, eating bread to the full - nice revision of reality.
And even from God’s perspective, it wasn’t about the food. What we don’t read in this passage was that the people were dying of hunger. God could have said the ancient Hebrew equivalent of “suck it up buttercup and drive on.” But He didn’t. He used this as a message not only to this generation, but future ones about His qualities and what He requires of us:
In v4 we see that God requires us to walk in His ways. The lectionary skips the details, but here He requires of them two things: for five days of the week they are to gather only what they need for that day; and on the sixth day they gather double so they do not work on the Sabbath. Needless to say, they were not so good at following directions and what was left over bred worms and stank.
In v13 and 14 we see God’s answer to their prayer. Where the people were grumbling, God was gracious. He did not merely provide for their needs, but went way beyond - quail covering the camp, and bread as extensive as the dew on the ground. All this every day.
And in v14-15 we also see another aspect of God. He answers prayer in unexpected ways. In this case, God could have easily produced bags of flour to make bread. Instead, the Jews didn’t know what He provided - Moses had to tell them it was bread. And strange but true - the word manna actually comes from the what is it? in v15.
In short, Moses recounted a story of Israel misrepresenting God, making it about food when it was really about their ingratitude and stubbornness. Despite that God showed who He is. Exceedingly generous and gracious. And we see more of that in the next passage.

Psalm 78:23-29

In our second stop, we move forward five or six hundred years to the time of David. This Psalm was written by Asaph, and he states his reason for writing it right at the beginning:
English Standard Version (Psalm 78)
78 A MASKIL OF ASAPH
1  Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2  I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3  things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
4  We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD,
and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
Asaph intended this Psalm to teach young people about God, specifically His glory and His wonders. It was written during a high point of Israel’s history - David’s reign, the king who was the standard of every one that followed him.
In just three verses, Asaph, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives us even more important details - manna wasn’t just bread - it was the bread of the angels. That it came down from heaven drives the point home - it’s not about the bread.

John 6:22-59

The lectionary saves the best for last - the Gospel account of Jesus as the Bread of Life is the fulfillment of the previous two.
This passage takes place after Jesus fed the 5000 with 5x barley loaves and 2x fish that was in the lectionary readings last week. After seeing this miracle, the people were seeking to make Him king, so he withdrew to the mountains. However the disciples had already left by boat, and Jesus walked on water to join them.
What’s the point? The beginning of our passage draws very strong parallels to the Exodus account. In both, the people saw God performs miracles - the Exodus in the former, the way the food was created in the latter (they also figured out Jesus miraculously crossed the sea). In both, the physical need was provided for, but in both cases, that wasn’t the point.
But Jesus went — indeed goes — well beyond.
Like Asaph said, the real food, the one that matters is what comes from heaven. The work that really matters is God’s, and it comes through faith in Jesus.
And like their fathers before them, they responded in disbelief. Take a look at verses 30 and 31. As if the miracles He already performed weren’t enough, the people were asking for another one — “Out fathers ate manna… As it is written ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
If this wasn’t so bad, it would almost be funny. But it speaks to their hearts. Do you know who wrote that? That’s the other half a recount of the the Exodus account. Nehemiah wrote it in 9:14-15:
English Standard Version (Chapter 9)
14 and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. 15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.
It’s a half because the people misquoted Nehemiah in a pretty bad way - they credited Moses, a man with what God did. And Jesus calls him on it. And then, Jesus makes the most profound statement. God is the one who gives us eternal life through Jesus. It’s not about bread, it’s about Jesus. Jesus is the bread of life.

Conclusion

So what do we do then? How does this apply to us?
Well, the first thing, is it’s really easy to miss the point. We might take a look at the people of Israel and wonder how they could see so many miracles, and just 6 weeks later complain about food, but it’s really not so different about 21st Century Christians.
How many of us tend emphasize our secular vocation as more important than our life in the Christ through His Church? I bet most of us struggle with that. I do. And when it comes to feeling spiritually empty, that is what we would expect with a lack of spiritual food. Moses said it best: (Deut 8:3 )
English Standard Version (Chapter 8)
3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
How do we get better?
Well, first remember the people - they accused God of wanting to kill them. Why did they feel this way? Because they didn’t know God.
How we see God often is what we imagine of Him. God is so much more than that. Do we see Him as a judge? We might feel that He punishes us for the smallest thing. Do we see Him as loving? We might feel that He we can do anything, because God loves us anyway. But neither of these are right.
From scripture we know that God is love; that He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us; that He is holy, and expects us to be. How do we get to know who God is, and what does He expect from us?
There just is no substitute for reading the Word and prayer. Not by attending church on Sunday. We who preach can only begin to touch upon God. So I encourage you to start a reading plan today, especially if you haven’t read the entire Bible.
Second, seek out God’s work for you. I read recently a question - “Can you be a Christian and not go to church?” It’s an interesting question, but it misses the point. Why are we saved? To eat bon bons? No, we are saved to do good. It’s a bit of a corny analogy, but remember sourdough - the bacteria add flavor and help feed and protect the yeast. We use the gifts God gives us to reach out to the world, and thus glorify God.
It is the will of God that you use your spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. I Corinthians 12 is a great passage to read on this. Your gift may not be preaching, but you are needed.
Finally, take peace in the fact that God has it covered. Whatever it is. Keep in mind that even though it was never about bread, God still provided bread. You are never alone in your situation.
And may the grace and the peace of the Bread of Life, Jesus, be with us all. Amen.
Let us pray:
Oh Lord our God,
We praise You for speaking to us through Your word. Help us to know you more, and to do your work in the world.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen.
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