Proper 13 / Year B
Can you imagine going out to your yard every morning for forty years and picking up manna to eat? Can you imagine having only it to dine on for all those years? “What’s for dinner tonight, honey?” “Manna!” “Baked? Fried? Poached? Sautéed? Breaded? Grilled? Stir fried? “Over easy?” “No. Fresh, like I picked it up off the grass.” I’d have tired of this diet long before the Israelites did. And I’m also positive I’d have failed to see God’s blessing in it after only a few weeks. On one hand, this was their only food for forty years. Yuck! On the other, God looked after their daily need for 14,610 straight days. Wow! I know what it would have been like for me. At first, it would have been a miracle. After time, it would become a blessing. From there it would morph into an expectation, and then give way to routine. Eventually it would become nothing but drudgery. What begins as feeding on the bread of angels becomes just another item on a dull to-do list.
Last Sunday we heard the story of how Jesus fed 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and two fish. The people who participate in the meal are so deeply satisfied they chase Jesus all around the Sea of Galilee so as not to miss the next meal. Of all the impressive elements of the story, perhaps the most intriguing is how the disciples fill twelve baskets with the leftovers. You don’t need to be a physics major to deduce there is more food at the end than is present at the beginning. And every one of those crumbs and morsels and bits of fish not eaten represents a blessing missed. They represent the grace present that goes unrecognized. And, like them, we have a lot of unrecognized grace present in our lives.
Paul Sohn is a blogger who describes himself as a Korean-Canadian/American leadership junkie, purpose weaver, and catalyst. He begins one post by quoting William Arthur Ward who said, “God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say ‘thank you?’”
Sohn writes this:
One of the words that has been stripped of its meaning is the word ‘blessing.’… In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I challenged myself, asking “What areas have I been really blessed?” An article I recently read inspired me to count my blessings. In fact, it suggested that I come up with 100 things I’m thankful for.
At the outset, I considered this a piece of cake. A no brainer. But, as I have spent the last few days counting all my blessings, I realized how thankless and entitled I’ve become. Coming up with things to be thankful for was at times an arduous, time-consuming process. It was a sobering moment. The overall result from this exercise was a renewed sense of appreciation for big things, but also small things that bring color in life.
Sohn shares his list of thanksgivings on his blog, often with an explanation after each item for how or why it is a blessing. His list includes such varied things as parents, girlfriend, salvation, purpose, adversity, Portland Leadership Foundation, books, the Bible, great customer service, GPS, and today. His exercise strikes me as a way to pick up the leftover fragments. It seems like a mindful way to remember the daily blessing of manna always present, but often overlooked.
I think it is worth remembering Jesus says “I am the Bread of Life”, not “I am the Golden Coral of life.” As Anne Lamont notes, “Small is how blessings, healing, progress, and increase occur.” Yes, God offers us a buffet, a banquet, and a feast, but most often blessing and grace come to us in a single serving, or perhaps as a sip or a taste. And a sip and a taste is at the heart of what we come here for this morning.
David Lose, a Lutheran pastor and seminary professor, writes about a conversation he once had with a psychiatrist who told him “the goal of all counseling is for a person to love him or herself because if you aren’t going to love yourself, who will, and if you don’t start now, then when?” Lose responded, “Doctor, have you ever encountered a single person who has the ability to love himself without first experiencing love from another person?” “No,” the doctor said quietly, “No, not really.”
The taste of bread and the sip of wine we will receive in a few moments are the sure and certain signs God gives to let us know we are loved and forgiven. They are such “common” things, but receiving them must never become a common experience. It must never become like going out to pick up manna. It must always ignite in us the desire and the ability to seek and search for all the other fragments of blessing in our life. And, as we sense we are blessed and as we feel we are fed, we must never think this is an end unto itself. It is only just a beginning. As we are filled, we find a hunger growing within to ensure every person in our life, in our church, in our community, and it our world shares in the blessings we have found. God fills us with the Bread of Life one taste and one sip at a time so that we can feed others.