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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The lessons for Sunday, August 2, 2009:

First Reading: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 2 Samuel 11:26--12:13a

Psalm: Psalm 78:23-29

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 51:1-12

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16

Gospel: John 6:24-35

Welcome to bread month! Over the next four weeks, the Gospel lessons will return again and again to this common New Testament symbol. We will be offered many opportunities to think about the meaning of this symbol.

I often tell my literature students that they can tell when something in a story might be a symbol because it shows up again and again, taking on an unusual significance. Our lectionary creators want to make sure we understand the importance of bread in the ministry of Jesus.

You might say that you already know. You take communion every week. You've heard that story of the loaves and fishes multiplying. Maybe you even pay attention to the bread that you buy each week as you choose the most nourishing loaves. Maybe you savor some bread and wine with your cheese on any given week-end, and you contemplate the life-giving properties of your snack. Despite all the recent attacks against carbs, most of us know that some variation of grain has kept most of human civilization alive more reliably than any other foodstuff.

The Gospel this week, however, reminds us that there is much more to life than sustaining our all-too-human bodies. We hunger and thirst and we crave anything which might guarantee that we'll never hunger or thirst again. Jesus reminds us that it's natural for humans to want bread, but he tells us that we sacrifice so much if we stop with physical bread. Jesus reminds us of our larger purpose, which is communion with God.

In verse 27, Jesus says, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you." I suspect that many of us are like me, laboring so hard for our daily bread that we don't have much time for spiritual food. When we're feeling overstretched and burdened by our calendars, it's easy to want to sacrifice some of our tasks. We might find ourselves saying, "It's summer. If I don't go to church, people will assume I've gone on vacation. No one will miss me. I can get my grocery shopping done and be that much further ahead." We might say, "I don't have time to pray! I have all this ironing to do!!!" We might grumble, "Who can read the Bible in such a dirty house? I'll just run the vacuum, and then I'll settle down for some Scripture reading."

In the language of economics, we need to pay ourselves first. In Oprah's language, we need to practice self-care. In the language of nutrition, we need to nourish ourselves.

We can't possibly do the work that God calls us to do if we're starving for spiritual bread. It's hard to do the work that our bosses pay us to do when we're so spiritually malnourished. How hard can it be to remember to pray? I'd suggest that we use meal time as a trigger (say grace, say thank you, check in with God while you gulp down your sandwich)--but so many of us seem to be forgoing meals these days.

Somehow, create some connections so that you can develop spiritual habits to go with your other habits. Pray while you're brushing your teeth. Listen to the Bible (via CD, tape, or download) as you drive to work. Have some spiritual sustenance delivered to your e-mail inbox every day. When you call your mom, check in with God when you hang up the phone. When you update your Facebook status, remember that God wants some facetime with you too.

We are created for so much more than our earthly eyes can see, so much more than our cramped brains can comprehend. Spiritual habits and disciplines start to crack open our vistas so that we can enlarge our possibilities.

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