Monday, August 13, 2018

Bread of Life & Risk of Loss

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

I have been re-reading Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Travelled.  Published in 1978, it is a classic work on healthy living.  Let me read for you a passage from the chapter where he makes the case genuine love involves a willingness to risk loss:

If you move toward another human being, there is always the risk that that person will move away from you, leaving you more painfully alone than you were before.  Love anything that lives – a person, a pet, a plant – and it will die.  Trust anybody and you may be hurt; depend on anyone and that one may let you down.  The price of [loving] is pain.  If someone is determined not to risk pain, then such a person must do without many things: having children, getting married, [intimacy], the hope of ambition, friendship – all that makes life alive, meaningful, and significant.  Move out or grow in any dimension and pain as well as joy will be your reward.  But the only alternative is not to live fully or not to be alive at all.

“The price of loving is pain.”  How true does this ring with your experience?  It sure rings true with mine.  Some pains and disappointments are minor and easily dismissed or forgiven.  Others are more significant and require mature work to overcome, while some experiences are completely devastating.  The price of loving and living is pain.  You can resist this truth or you can resent it if you want, but its reality will not go away. 

Today’s first reading is riddled with hurt and loss.  King David’s son Absalom revolts against him.  David must flee for his life.  Can you imagine the hurt of having your own child overthrow you?  Once David and those loyal to him regroup, he launches a military offensive to take back the throne.  He instructs his commanders to deal gently with Absalom when they capture him.  David is unimaginably merciful in the face of betrayal.  Still, his orders are not executed and Absalom is needlessly killed.  The father of the rebellious son is crushed.  Absalom gets what he deserves, but not what the king desires.  “Love anything that lives – a person, a pet, a plant – and it will die.  Trust anybody and you may be hurt; depend on anyone and that one may let you down.” 

When we face of such an experience we face a choice.  Either we can give in to fear and try to wall off ourselves from all suffering or we can seek the courage to live and love to the fullest knowing there are times we will be blessed and times we will be broken.  Jesus beckons us down this second path. 

Today’s gospel reading continues to develop the implications of the miraculous feeding of 5,000 people.  This particular portion harkens back to the manna given by God to the Israelites as they wandered forty years in the wilderness.  The people in the wilderness complain to God because they are hungry.  God provides them with a flaky substance in the morning dew.  The people have no idea what it is and call it “manna” – a Hebrew word meaning “what is it?”  Today’s reading has parallels.  First, people are complaining.  This time they object to Jesus saying “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  Next, while they think they know who Jesus is – the son of Joseph – in reality they do not understand the true nature of Jesus’ bread.  He truly is “what is this?”  Finally, whereas the wilderness manna sustained physical life, Jesus’ bread gives life in all its fullness.  His body broken for us becomes the food we need to sustain us as we seek life and risk loss.

Jesus is the one we can move toward with confidence he will not pull away.  He is the one we can trust with the assurance he will not hurt us.  He is the one on whom we can depend and know we will not be let down.  This is the bread that gives us the courage to love and risk loss because we know we have a sure place to turn for healing, comfort, and mercy.

Scott Peck begins The Road Less Traveled with a three-word sentence, the only sentence in the opening paragraph: “Life is difficult.”  Far from being pessimistic and depressing, it affirms something we all know but perhaps do not want to acknowledge.  Peck states only by accepting this great truth can we hope to transcend it.  Here is a second truth I would add to it: Grace happens!  And it happens all the time.  While life is difficult and full of challenges, so too is it rich and beautiful.  There is so much so rewarding in life that engagement is more than worth the risk involved.  Pain and hurt happen.  So too do joy and happiness, friendship and fun, inspiration and creativity.  Jesus the bread of heaven symbolizes all the grace and goodness we receive in this life.  It points to the reality God nourishes and nurtures us in our journey.  Jesus is the one who sustains us as we wander through the wilderness of life. 

And this bread gives us a hope and foretaste of life to come when the last word of the sentence “Life is difficult” will be dropped and recast as “Life is.”  Years ago Ann Lander’s published a column titled “The best is yet to come.”  I want to read it for you:

A woman was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given three months to live.  She asked her pastor to come to her home to discuss her final wishes.  She told him which songs she wanted sung at her funeral, and what scriptures to read, and which outfit she wanted to be buried in.

Then she said, “One more thing.  I want to be buried with a fork in my hand.”

The pastor was surprised.  The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and pot-luck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’  It was my favorite time, because I knew something better was coming, like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie – something wonderful.  So, I want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and wonder, ‘What’s with the fork?’  Then, I want you to tell them, ‘Keep your fork, because the best is yet to come.’”

The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he bid the woman goodbye.  He realized that she had a better grasp of heaven than he did, and knew something better was coming.

At the funeral, when people asked him why she was holding a fork, the pastor told them of the conversation he’d had with the woman before she died.  He said he could not stop thinking about the fork, and knew they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it, either.  He was right.

Keep your fork.  The best is yet to come.

We are painfully aware many in our parish are suffering today.  Over the years I have served as your rector I have come to notice how our pastoral pains seem to come in bunches.  The risk of loss and the confronting truth that life is difficult hits our faith community with the force of a tsunami.  The remarkable thing is it does not seem to tax or test our compassion.  Just the opposite occurs.  We marshal our energy and resources and respond.  And what we offer is used by the bread of life to do remarkable things.

Last Sunday, of her own initiating, Sandi Rekkedal, provided cards for us to write notes to some of our parishioners who are going through a hard time.  I was privileged to deliver packets to Connie and Cindy.  From their reactions I felt as if I was handing them the bread life.  God’s grace worked through your goodness in the midst of life’s difficulties and reminded me the risk of loving is absolutely without question the way of the Kingdom of God.  The best is yet to come.