Lectionary Reflection for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
August 2, 2015
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” John 6:27
Did you know that an estimated 70 BILLION pounds of food is going to waste each year in the United States? In fact, an estimated 25 — 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the US will never be consumed, ending up rotting in landfills and producing excess methane gas. That food could go a long way toward addressing the needs of the nearly 49 million people in America who experience food insecurity.* Hungry people and perishing food do not make for a pleasing combination or happy picture, especially in light of this week’s gospel lesson (John 6:24-35). We’re in week two of the five week Lectionary Year B “bread cycle” where we feast on the image of Jesus as the bread of life, as food that does not perish.
But we’re human, right? We want signs and reassurance even when we’ve witnessed God in action. Oh, and of course, we want everything now–right now. The crowd has seen Jesus feed the masses, and they want to make sure they’re on the automatic refill plan. In short, they miss the point. In seeking the obvious and temporal they miss the real and eternal that’s quite literally right in front of their faces.
Today, some two millennia later, we take this Jesus on faith. We meet him when we gather for worship, in the waters of baptism, in the word proclaimed, and in the bit of bread and sip of wine that constitutes his meal. In doing so, we encounter the bread of life, gift of God, and source of lasting satisfaction. Right there in front of our eyes, yet deeply hidden in divine mystery, we are fed, strengthened, and equipped to engage that which is perishable in our daily discipleship walk. We are fed by Jesus so that we no longer hunger for the perishable things of this world, so that we are not consumed by our insatiable, fallen desire for more and better, so that we do not greedily grab more than our share of these perishable resources.
So what does this have to do with massive tonnages of food waste and hungry people? Dear friends it has everything to do with our sisters and brothers in need, with our abuse and neglect of the world’s finite and perishable resources, and with our lack of focus on the true living bread of heaven that permeates every atom and molecule of creation.
It seems to me that the tension between the food that perishes (and is so often wasted) and the God who is imperishable and who sets an abundance before us is very much an issue of stewardship and faithful discipleship. When we keep our eyes and full focus on feasting on the bread of life, we are much better able to tend to the food that perishes in a way that is loving to our neighbors and therefore pleasing to God.
We have work to do when a hungry homeless man is sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for trying to steal a loaf of bread from a church kitchen in this land of plenty. How are we being faithful stewards when all around us food is perishing in rubbish bins and landfills and our sisters and brothers go hungry? Jesus says there is plenty for all at his table, and all are welcome there. Maybe if we really take his message to heart we won’t have to worry about food waste in this land of plenty, and there will indeed be plenty for all.
Invite a noisy offering led by the children to collect funds for a local food bank or feeding program.
Make Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters a part of today’s worship and invite congregants to craft a simple letter during an extended offertory.
Consider a dual bread and water focus in your worship. Talk about water shortages and the need for clean, accessible water and about food waste and food insecurity. Divide the congregation into two teams–team bread and team water. Challenge the two teams to a “fun-raising” effort to collect an offering for a water ministry and a food ministry for the remainder of John’s Year B Gospel Bread Cycle.
Invite a representative from a local hunger advocacy group or ministry to give a temple talk or short presentation about food waste, food insecurity, and how congregants can advocate for better stewardship of food resources.
If your church kitchen is within “smelling distance” of the worship space, put a couple of loaves of bread in to bake during worship so that congregants can smell the aroma. Offer warm bread and butter to congregants as they leave worship with a note reminding them to focus on the bread of life and feed the hungry as they have been fed by Christ.
Nothing says hospitality and welcome like a freshly baked loaf of bread, muffins, or rolls. Host a bread baking event. Make loaves of bread, muffins, or rolls. Bag them nicely, and distribute the homemade baked goods to your local homeless shelter or food pantry with notes of encouragement and simple illustrated prayers.
Assemble the ingredients for bread baking: flour, yeast, salt, and water. Bring a loaf of the finished bread. You can use a communion bread recipe if you like. Here’s a good one. Give each child a copy of the recipe and a hunk of bread. Ask this question: What does this bread that you can smell, eat, touch, and enjoy have to do with Jesus? Jesus calls himself the “Bread of Life.” Let them puzzle with it a bit. Older children may mention communion. If so that is a good way to lead in to the concept of how we encounter Jesus in the water of baptism. You can liken the yeast to teaching and learning, the salt to the flavoring of faith, and the flour to the growing disciple that each one of us is in the process of becoming. Yes, we do need bread and water to live, but we need Jesus and his love to really, really live. Finish with a simple prayer.
Photos: US Department of Agriculture (Creative Commons), Wellford Tiller (Fotolia), and Amy Gaertner (Creative Commons)