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the living bread

If God asked you what should I give you, what would you ask for? What is it you need the most? What is it you desire the most? Money? Love? House? Happiness? Fame? Power? Have you heard of the phrase “Money is the root of all evil?” or perhaps “Greed is the root of all evil?” or how about “Ignorance is the root of all evil?” The general sense that money or greed, even greed of good things, is the root of all evil is understood to be based on a biblical teaching: Particularly as it is stated “10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6:10). But why do we want money? It buys us access to other things we want. Would you agree? Socrates was of another opinion. He thought ignorance amounted to evil because he believed that no one would knowingly do wrong. With this background in mind, it is interesting to look at King Solomon’s answer when asked by God what he would want God to give him. 

We are told that King “Solomon loved the LORD and walked in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places” (1 Kings 3:3). Just like his father King David, Solomon loved the LORD. And even better than King David perhaps, he followed the statutes of his father, who followed the commandments of God, except when he didn’t. But King Solomon wasn’t perfect. He sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. But when he went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, one of the principle high place, the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said to Solomon, “Ask what I should give you” (1 Kings 3:5). First Solomon expresses thanksgiving for showing great and steadfast love to his father David. Solomon states that his father David walked before God “in faithfulness, in righteousness, and uprightness of heart toward [God]” and God gave him a son, (Solomon himself) who now sits on his throne today. He speaks humbly of himself saying, “O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in” (1 Kings 3:7). 

Then and only then, after thanksgiving and speaking humbly of himself, Solomon asks for “an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). He asks for wisdom to govern and discernment between good and evil. You might remember that in King David’s remarkable life was sin of adultery and murder in order to have Bathsheba as his wife. Asking for discernment between good and evil, and wisdom in governing, King Solomon sets out to avoid the way in which his father David was tempted and sinned against God, committing adultery with (or rather raping) Bathesheba, and murdering Uriah in order to have her as his wife. 

King Solomon is granted his wish and God gives him “understanding to discern what is right,…indeed I will give you a wise and discerning mind” (1 Kings 3:11-12). But as you know, King Solomon was also granted “both riches and honor all [his] life,” God says if Solomon would “walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life” (1 Kings 3:13-14). 

So what do we do with King Solomon’s request? In today’s Ephesians passage also runs the theme of wisdom. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15) to live as wise is to live “making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). As Solomon was told, living wisely consisted of following God’s will, in Ephesians also, we are told, “So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (1 Ephesians 5:17). Not everyone is going to be asked by God, what shall I give you in your dreams. But we can learn from Solomon’s encounter with God and from the teachings that Apostle Paul gives to Ephesians that to live wisely is to live with an understanding of what the will of the Lord is. Paul is ever so practical and he unpacks how to live as wise people. “Do not get drunk with wine,…but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20). I am glad to be here this morning worshipping with you. I don’t often break out into a song, singing melodies of praise and thanksgiving, at least not one that sounds much musically pleasant! But together this morning, we are singing, we are praising, and singing and making melodies in our hearts. As we give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

But lately, at times, it isn’t easy to have a thankful heart. In the heat wave, we get hot, sweat, and might get dehydrated, feel weak, and get headaches. And in the pandemic, even with vaccination, we live with caution and uncertainties of our own health, and of our loved ones. If you live with younger ones who cannot themselves get vaccinated or elderly or those who have vulnerable conditions to covid-19, and the Delta Variant, you would try to be vigilant about washing hands, wearing masks, and being more aware of how to keep your loved ones healthy and living. In difficult times like these, where does our help come from?

God we love is a God who gave Solomon wisdom and riches and honor all his life. And he is also the God of Psalm 111, the God who we give thanks to with our whole heart, for “Great are the works of the LORD” (Psalm 111:2). The Psalmist praises God for “the LORD is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.” (Psalms 111:4-5). He remembers the covenant he has made. 

He sent redemption to his people;

He has commanded his covenant forever.

Holy and awesome is his name.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

All those who practice it have a good understanding. 

His praise endures forever. (Psalm 111:9-10)

What is wisdom that we should fear God and have a good understanding? As we saw in Ephesians it is to know the will of God. And as we saw in 1 Kings, it is the wisdom to govern, and to discern between good and evil. The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, and those who fear God, God provides food for them. How are these passages and truths related? 

How has God provided food for us, for those who fear God? God provided manna to the Israelites, the food from the heavens. And we also know God provided food to Elijah when he was recovering from a spiritual war with King Jazebel’s false prophets. How do we get fed by God? One way we know is when we partake of communion! And today’s Gospel reading talks about Jesus as the living Bread. The ultimate wisdom we need for our lives, I would argue is found in Gospel of John passage:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). 

That Jesus is the bread of life that sustains us is beginning of the wisdom we need today in our lives. Part of me, when I hear that Jesus if the living bread, feels I know what that means. But on a deeper level, I needed to meditate on this. Let’s go back to Solomon. He was a king. He had riches and honor already. He was a “law-abiding” King, so to speak. He obeyed the statutes of his father King David. What more did Solomon need? He didn’t need anything the world could give. And the Psalmist tells us the Lord is gracious and merciful and God provides food for those who fear him. What food do we need from God and why do we need it? The food we need, the bread of life that Jesus is for us, is not only provision of physical material food. Sometimes we need actual food to satisfy our hunger. But we have a deeper longing. Deeper hunger. The way we were created, we were created by God, in the image of God, and the creation longs for God. I know no other writing that captures this best than St. Augustine’s statement in his confessions, 

“Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee” (St. Augustine, Confessions Chapter 1). 

God has made us to seek God and our hearts are restless until we find God. 

So here we have it. While I kept thinking about the truth, the meaning, and significance of Jesus being the bread of life is to me, and to each of us, I realized that it means so much to us: it could mean the difference between living in peace or living in despair and misery. I realized that it is not enough to know that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Come again? Isn’t that what having faith is? Knowing that Jesus is our Lord and Savior? No. We need to know, the kind of knowing that involves not knowing about God, but knowing what God’s will is. Not only knowing that Jesus is the Lord and Savior, but also knowing Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior, involves finding rest in God when our hearts are restless. How can our restless hearts find rest in God? How can the statement that I am the bread of living bread be food for us, physical, emotional, or spiritual? Knowing that brings peace to our soul involves eating by tasting and consuming, it involves living into, and it involves sharing. I love watermelon. I know it tastes good. I didn’t learn this from another person telling me water melon tastes good. I didn’t read from a book. I don’t just know it in my head. I know it in my taste buds and in my body. Similarly, knowing Jesus as living bread involves not only hearing and understanding what that might mean theoretically, conceptually and theologically. But it involves tasting that the LORD is good. It Involves living in the grace and mercy of God, experiencing the goodness in our lives as having been provided by God. When we have bread, we can accumulate it and we might feel rich. But we will go hungry unless we take the bread and consume it, tasting it and swallowing it so that it becomes embodied, becomes a part of our body as sustenance. Until we take in Jesus as the one whose love demonstrates the sacrificing love of God, and experience the richness of salvation that brings by coming to God and turning over our burdens to God and trusting that God will take up our burdens, we will not find rest in God. 

How do we do as Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:56)? We do this symbolically when we do holy communion. We take of bread and the wine that reminds us of how much God loves us. But also in our daily lives, we can eat the flesh and drink of the blood by spiritual feeding, through prayer, reading of scripture, perhaps journaling reflections and confessing longings of our hearts. We gain Jesus as Lord and Savior by taking him into our souls, our hearts, and our bodies the reality of his love for us. 

Spiritual food we need takes daily effort. This is why we have the concept of a spiritual discipline. We need to establish a right relationship with Jesus, just like we need a right relationship with food. Many of us might have a difficult relationship to food. I have had a difficult relationship with food personally. In my thirties, I gained weight and at my highest weight was over 200 pounds, which given my height is not a healthy weight. I had an unhealthy relationship to food. I would eat too much and I would eat unhealthy things, or sometimes I wouldn’t eat regularly. All that to say, to get healthy, it required effort, daily effort to go grocery shopping, to prepare healthy food, and to plan what I was going to eat, and to keep to the goal of eating healthy. During the pandemic, I lost about 50 pounds going from 185 to 135. (See post on how I lost 50 lbs during covid lockdown.) But eating healthy requires on going continued effort. I gained some of the weight back. And when I reflect on this experience of gaining and losing weight, I realize food sustains me and can keep me healthy with eating mindfully and consistent intention to eat healthy. Likewise, Jesus is the bread of life, but for Jesus as bread of life to sustain us, we need to encounter Jesus daily, and not find sources of food elsewhere, consuming unhealthy food, but seek and find Jesus who is the bread of life. 

Furthermore, just like bread stored up does no one any good, Jesus stored away doesn’t help anyone either. The truth and reality of Jesus enters us and into the lives of others, when we share of ourselves, our stories about God’s working in our lives. When our stories are told, and our feelings and experiences are shared, if/when our words touch the wounds of others, then the bread of life provides sustenance, nourishing us, and giving us life. As we conclude, I want us to hear these words of Jesus, “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55). 

            As St. Augustine prayed, Let us pray these words:

“I will seek thee, O Lord, and call upon thee. I call upon thee, O Lord, in my faith which thou hast given me, which thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of thy Son, and through the ministry of thy preacher” (St. Augustine, Confessions chapter 1). 

Amen.

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