Martin Luther sometimes addressed his congregation with vivid metaphors, intending to encourage their faith. Being proper and refined Episcopalians, I rephrase one of his challenges: “People, I wish I could get you to go for God like my dog goes for his food.” I doubt that evoked widespread reform in devotional practices, but you get the point. I once told a congregation that if they cared for God just half as much as they care for their building, the church’s membership would double. That fell flat, too.
We have to be careful with how we say what we see. Sometimes we feel like saying, “You just don’t get it, do you?” I wonder if Jesus thought that of his detractors and opponents, or even his friends and disciples sometimes. When Jesus says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” he threw a curveball that got the self-righteous and self-appointed guardians of God swinging and missing as his words went by. “You think you’re bread from heaven? Son, you’re local. We know where you came from. We know your momma and daddy.” Here’s where Jesus could have said: “You just don’t get it, do you?” You say that when you’ve had it – ready to walk away. But Jesus isn’t.
These good religious people know they are right and are certain Jesus is wrong. Imagine how they bristle and murmur in their hearts and to each other, when he tells them they won’t understand until the Father lets them in. And for good measure, Jesus says, “Only the one sent from God has seen the Father,” implying, “And that wouldn’t be you.”
You do know Wonder Bread, right? You’ve eaten it. And you are familiar with manna – but never eaten it, right? “Manna” means, “what is it?” The wilderness wandering Jews looked at the ground, saw a white substance and said, “Manna,” meaning, “What is it?” That’s the original Wonder Bread. Sorry – I couldn’t pass that one by. They eat it, but they die, even if it’s from heaven. God sends another bread: “I am the bread of life.” Feed on living bread and you live forever. So if you are attracted to Jesus, it’s not because you are intelligent or have good sense, though that may be true. God is at work in you. When you see more than bread or wine when you receive God’s gifts at this table, you know you participate in eternal life – that’s God’s work. Trusting you are that loved and cared for – that’s God’s work in you, for everyone.
Notice, Jesus isn’t arguing with his opposition, forcing them to “get it,” or shaming them. He states who he is – and how we know. First we wager our lives with his. We put ourselves continually in God’s presence in worship, prayer, scripture study, serving others – because we’ve tasted the bread of heaven he is. And then we point others to him, to join us, to share the bread of life. It’s not some spiritual, ethereal, other-worldly idea. God comes to be with us, in us, and as us. God gets muddy, dusty, sweaty, earthy, bleeds and dies with us. Christianity is incarnational before it is ever spiritual. The Father’s love is the magnet drawing us to Jesus. We taste enough God in Jesus never again to hunger. We taste eternal love, and nothing tastes the same again. We know who meets our greatest hunger. As Sr. Joan Chittister says, “We love God back with our whole lives or forever live a living death.” Jesus brings us all to life.
Sometimes I feel like throwing up my hands and saying, “You just don’t get it, do you?” I just think it – and then think better. I wish more parents would more consistently bring their children to church. I wish our attendance was better, our membership was growing more, our choir would be full, and we’d be touching and changing more lives. I want everyone to know God’s love for them, love God, and love each other. But I wonder if I get it. Some days I feel ineffective. We are handing out living bread here, for crying out loud, and people won’t come and get it. But then I think of Jesus. He didn’t walk away, throw up his hands, and say, “You just don’t get it, do you?” He calls us to fill up lives, not pews. Jesus just keeps on loving us, and people like us and unlike us, and all creation. “Here, have some bread. All are welcome.” So maybe what we need to learn from God – is how much we are loved, and to love others to new life. That’s living bread.
Years ago our sexton and I are on the church roof. I moaned and complained about how nothing gets done around here – and the chair of the building committee is plain useless. That sexton, Detroy Purefoy, looks up at me and quietly says, “Rev, you know – none of us ain’t no lilies.” Through that little man, I’m telling you to this very day, the clouds part again, the light of God shines into my darkness, and my heart softens. So pay attention with great humility and peace in your soul. You just never know how God’s going to offer you your next serving of living bread. And one day, all of us will get it, won’t we.