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Bread of Life in a Broken World

John 6: 30-35

Maybe it seems like a strange place to begin, but reflecting on the gospel, where Jesus declares that he is the Bread of Life has led me to reflect on hunger…hunger on many levels… Questions arise like:  What is it that we find ourselves hungering for…in our own lives, in our relationships,  what is is that we hunger for, for our world?  How do these hungers play out in our spiritual journey? 

Spiritual directors encourage us to begin our prayer relationship, with where we experience desire, yearning, hunger….And to trust that this is where  God desires to meet us. Indeed it  is often the place where God is desiring life THROUGH us.   It’s a place of vulnerability, for some hard to enter;  I know that over and over again, when I dig beneath the surface of my life to connect with the places of hunger, and then  pray from those places, I’ve experienced deep spiritual encounter.   It has often felt as if the bread of life has been broken open for me. The spiritual connection, the insight, the wisdom, the support I needed has so often come;   the “bread of life” broken open for you Have you ever experienced that? 

 But it means being willing to enter and to stay a while in the “hungry” place, a place many of us try avoid ….The culture supports us to fill our emptiness with things, getting more stuff;   or frenetic addictive doing, or watching mindless television.  There is always something right at hand to fill the emptiness.  Many cannot even drive without texting or twittering (whatever the heck that is). It’s become an addiction that even law enforcement is having to deal with. 

So being still,  noticing hunger, noticing deep desire is not a spiritual discipline valued by the culture.

The gospel of John was written to small communities who had a lot of reason to be hungry…for a better world, for meaning, for justice.  Both John and the letter to the Ephesians, are written after the Jewish war when Rome had crushed Jerusalem and laid waste Judea. Many had been killed. Many fled as refugees.  The middle east, then, as now, was  living with devastation.  The newly minted Christian communities were struggling to figure out what it meant to follow Jesus in these unsettling times. They were tiny and the world felt pretty overwhelming!  There was a lot of reason to be hungry.

Last week you read the story of the feeding of the multitude; Hungry and tired after a day in the country with Jesus, there is grumbling and it isn’t all from the belly.  A young child breaks open his bag lunch and offered to Jesus five loaves and two fish. Jesus takes it, gives thanks, breaks it and shares it  and suddenly there was enough, and more than enough for all.   In a world of scarcity…abundance.  Jesus did not stay with the despair and hopelessness of the disciples who said they could never manage to feed everyone.  He enacted abundance.  A miracle?….maybe….More likely a miracle of breaking though the scarcity myth that made people horde what they had, and refuse to share it with others.   The message the writer wants his readers to hear is that with Jesus there is possibility, From small offerings there is abundance; enough and more than enough.

But as we see even in the question the crowd puts to Jesus the next day, they are looking for more than food.  They latch onto the ancient story of God sustaining their ancestors  in the wilderness when they were escaping slavery in Egypt and were searching for a new home.  God sends the frightened wanderers  manna at dawn each day which sustained them as long as they took no more than they needed. God had really been there for them on the journey. 

Those who approach Jesus in this scripture passage  were hungry for that kind of relationship with God, They were hungry for a sense that God cared about them as God had cared about their ancestors, cared about the journey they were on. They were hungry for the sense that God was leading them even when they felt lost.  They were hungry for some tangible experience of God that would feed the deep hungers of their lives.  

In Jesus’ words  “ I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall never be hungry, and whoever believes in me shall never be thirsty.”   the writer conveys a message, that in Jesus and in the Jesus community, in the Jesus way there is hope, in Jesus,  in the Jesus community, in the Jesus way there is relationship with God, In Jesus there is a way of  life and what sustains life.  God provides what is essential to life. There is bread and love enough to share.  And that message was no easier to believe in those days than it is now. To be able to receive it, they had  to see with different eyes and different hearts.

But there is another whole dimension to hunger that cannot be ignored, and that is physical hunger of millions on the planet. This month, Ban Ki Moon (no relative) Secretary general of the United Nations issued a report on the Millenium Goals which set 8 tangible goals to improve health and safety in the developing world.   He has reported that there has been a lot of progress, in some cases goals being met ½ way at the ½ way point. You won’t hear much about that as it is a reasonably good news story, and we are addicted to bad news.   Of course he encourages the world not to give up now, but to continue to work in concrete ways to make a difference in the world.  But he is announcing possibility in a world that has often given up in despair.   I hear that in the story of the bread of life today as well.
When we profess to follow Jesus, the Bread of Life…how does that become real in how we live and in the choices we make?    How can we be part of breaking the bread of life for  those who have little?  I know through both of our congregations we are involved in many outreach and justice ministries. But I’d like to share with you parts of an article that suggests that perhaps there is something more we can do….And that is change our mind-set that is set to scarcity, in much the same way Jesus changed the mindset of people in his day.

Frances Moore-Lappé’ in a 2oo3 article in The Ecologist, suggests our system is rooted in a Scarcity Myth, She suggests that there is enough and more than enough to feed all the world’s hungry, but that the mindset of scarcity in our system is what is, in fact, manufacturing hunger.  She says:
“The dominant mindset tells us we’re in a perpetual battle to overcome scarcity. Without capitalism’s relentless drive, we’d probably all be going hungry by now. In reality, however, it is this mindset that is propelling us to create the very scarcity we say we so fear. …

Today, while hunger stunts the lives of hundreds of millions, between a third and a half of all the world’s grain goes to feed livestock.” {And one could add, these days the diversion of corn and  other grains into bio-fuel for cars, one of the factors in the current food crisis. Our demand for meat and cars are creating scarcity. How we use our land and distribute what it produces manufactures hunger

 “In many ways, scarcity-creation has sped up. During WWII US government posters advised: “Eat fish, they feed themselves.” Now, four pounds of “junk fish” like sardines (long a staple food of the poor) are turned into feed to produce just one pound of salmon. The latter is then priced out of the reach of the poor. Similarly, bottom-scraping dragnets used in shrimp harvesting capture (and largely destroy) ten pounds of sea life for every pound that goes to nourish humans. Typically, nearly a quarter of the total global marine harvest is thrown back dead or dying. This, in a world where over-fishing has led to declining catches of virtually every type of commercially sold fish.  (And perhaps many of you read the article in this week’s paper about our own St. Lawrence Basin)

Every species but ours has figured out how to feed itself and its offspring without destroying its life support. So, what’s up with us? How could it be that we’ve created a system that destroys more than it creates? …”

But Lappé also points out an alternate mindset arising. She tells the story of a visit she and her daughter made to Brazil’s fourth largest city – Belo Horizonte.   “In 1993, its government had declared food a right of citizenship. This shift of thinking triggered dozens of innovations that have begun to end hunger in the city. Little patches of city-owned land were made available at low rent to local organic farmers as long as they would keep prices within the reach of poor, inner-city dwellers. The city redirected the thirteen cents provided by the federal government for each school child’s lunch away from the purchase of corporate processed foods to buying local organic food instead. The result is enhanced children’s nutritional intake…

With this new food-as-a-right-of-citizenship perspective, people began to perceive abundance where they had never seen it before: manioc leaves and eggshells previously tossed out as waste were processed into a nutritious additive for bread for school kids. All of these efforts consume, we were told, only one percent of the municipal budget”.(Like Jesus taking scarcity and creating abundance, refusing to give in to fear and hopelessness)

“At the end of our stay in Belo Horizonte, we met Adriana Aranha, whose job in city government is to coordinate all these efforts. “When you began,” I asked her, “did you realize how much difference your efforts might make? Did you know how out of step you were with the neo-liberal approach that says government can do no good and the market can do no harm?”…”I knew we were out of step,” Aranha said. “We had so much hunger in the world, but what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy to end it.”

Lappe wondered, “Why was Aranha able to say “it’s easy”? I realize now that she is right if – only if – we can see with new eyes and free ourselves from the choking momentum of the inherited mental map. Then we can suddenly see new, more life-serving forms emerging. These breakthroughs may be hard to detect. They are about ordinary people trusting their deepest values as well as their common sense. In the process new mental maps emerge in which human beings are more than narrow consumers and democracy is more than a matter of pre-paid elections.” 1

Jesus said. I am the bread of life,
God, give us a vision of the world
as your love would make it:
a world where the weak are protected
 and none go hungry or poor;
a world where refugees are
 welcomed warmly into new communities;
a world where different races, nations, and cultures
 live in understanding and mutual respect;
a world where peace is built with justice
 and justice guided by love;
a world where the beauty and integrity
 of creation is honoured and protected;
and give us the inspiration and courage
to share in the task of building it,
through Jesus the Christ  the bread of Life

1.  “The Scarcity Myth:”By Frances Moore-Lappé first appeared in the MARCH 2003 issue of The Ecologist, Volume 23, No. 2. Used by permission.

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