Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 15, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
The first slice is the best. Warm, right out of the oven, the crust cracks as the knife’s serrations bite into the firm exterior. Then a curl of steam and yeast escape from within as the knife makes its way downward through the loaf. Inside is the soft, chewy matrix of proteins and starches that combine in wonderful dance we call bread.
Bread gets a bad rap nowadays. It’s a culinary villain much in the way that saturated fats were a few decades ago. Not only are people going gluten-free for health reasons, but it’s also kind of trendy. Gluten’s become a boogey man that every headache, dizzy spell, cramp, bloat, foggy thought, and childhood misbehavior gets blamed on. Not feeling well today? Someone must have glutened me. Kids out of control? Where’d they get the gluten?
I think it’s time for a bread apology. Not that we’re sorry for bread, but we need an apology in the sense that we need a defense of bread. Maybe if I gave my sermons titles, this one would be called “In defense of bread” (incidentally, I don’t title my sermons because often times when I’ve finished my sermon, it’s something totally different than the title that’s already printed in the bulletin).
Bread is a good gift from God, and that includes everything in bread—wheat, rye, or barley; water and salt; and gluten. It’s the protein that holds bread together. Bread is such an essential part of human life that it takes center stage in the Lord’s Prayer. Give us this day our daily bread. Our Lord could have used any number of things to summarize the needs of the body, but He chose bread. Because bread is a gift from God.
In an article in The New Yorker last fall, “Against the Grain,” Michael Specter asks if you should go gluten-free. It’s a lengthy article that examines the question from a number of different angles. First, we have to distinguish between celiac disease and what’s come to be known as “non-celiac gluten sensitivity.” Celiac disease is an actual allergy to the protein gluten, with abnormal body chemistry that can be quite harmful. This is something that is found in 1% or less of the population. Gluten sensitivity, on the other hand, is defined only by a broad set of poorly-defined symptoms.
But the problem that Specter identifies is not so much what bread’s made of, but how it’s made today. Today bread is made with two goals in mind: getting it from flour to loaf as quickly as possible; and getting it to last as long as possible on the shelf. We don’t want to wait, and we want to make sure we have enough for tomorrow. Sound suspiciously like the grumbling of Israel in the wilderness, doesn’t it?
To briefly sum up the rest of Specter’s article, the symptoms of gluten sensitivity are likely attributed first, to the fact that dough is not allowed time to ferment; second, that extra gluten is added to compensate for not allowing it to form naturally; and third, that preservatives are added to extend shelf life. His solution is not to go gluten free but to eat bread that’s made with flour, yeast, salt, and water, or better yet, make it yourself. You can read the article yourself if you’re interested in more; it’s available on the internet.
Bread is God’s good gift. And He remains faithful to His promise to provide it. That’s why Jesus showed His concern for the people on the mountain side. Then lifting up His eyes and seeing that the great crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where could we buy bread so that these people might eat?” (v 5). Jesus is concerned for the body, for physical needs, because we are not spirits trapped inside of a fleshly prison who need to be freed. God created us to be embodied creatures. Body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, reason and all my senses. And when these bodies get hungry, it concerns Jesus.
In the wilderness, God sent manna—bread from heaven—to His people Israel. But here on the mountainside, Jesus begins with what is already there. Five barley loaves, as well as a couple of cured fish. The loaves were made in the natural way—barley, water, yeast, salt (and gluten). Five loaves and two fish sound like an awful lot for one little boy; did he bring extra to share? Regardless, Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to the people. In this miraculous way, Jesus gives daily bread to support the body, and answers the prayer that He gives: Give us this day our daily bread.
Even though there were twelve baskets full of leftovers after everyone had eaten their fill, this was still bread that perishes. The people were amazed by what He did and wanted to make Him a king because of His bread. Then, when the people saw the sign He did, they said, “This One is truly the Prophet who is coming into the world.” Then Jesus, knowing that they were about to come and seize Him in order to make Him a king, departed again into the mountain by Himself (vv 14-15). But these people missed the point of the sign.
The next day the crowds sought Him out again. But Jesus responds, Amen, amen, I am saying to you, you’re not seeking Me because you saw a sign, but because you ate of the bread and were satisfied. Don’t work for food that perishes, but for food that remains for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for this the Father marked the Son (Jn 6:26-27).
Then He goes on to say something extremely significant, the central point the entire chapter. The entire book, really. Then they said to Him, “What should we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, to believe in that One He sent” (Jn 6:28-29). The entire sign of the bread is a sign for faith. It’s a sign of where to put your trust. It’s a sign that goes along with the petition, Give us this day our daily bread. It’s the Father who gives good gifts, and where should you look for those gifts? To the One whom He has sent.
The crowds wanted daily bread by force, they wanted to just appear out of heaven for the taking. Not much has changed today. Only we don’t look for a miracle, we just look to industry. We want daily bread on our schedule, conveniently provided, sliced and bagged, and it better last for a good, long time without getting moldy. But this is not the work of God, because it’s not faith. Give us this day our daily bread.
Faith is waiting on God to provide daily bread. Not that it will fall out of the sky like it did for the Israelites in the desert—see what kind of faith that gave to them: “We don’t have anything to eat, and we hate this bread you gave us to eat.” No, faith is a lot more like making bread the old way. Faith waits. Faith delights in a time of scarcity because of the anticipation of the delights to come. Modern bakers force bread dough to do in a short time what it’s always done on its own on its own time. Or, rather, God’s time. Faith doesn’t force God into doing what He promises to do before He has promised to do it. Faith waits on God.
Faith is trust the God is consistent and that He will do tomorrow what He promises today. Since the beginning of time, when water, flour, yeast, and salt were brought together, they always made bread. Good, hearty, healthy, nutritious bread. God will continue to provide that bread as we need it. Give us this day our daily bread. Not, “Give us this day our weekly bread,” or, “monthly bread.”
Faith doesn’t store up what God promises to give tomorrow. He gives you daily bread for yourself and some for you to help your neighbor. If you store up your neighbor’s share (in case God doesn’t provide for you tomorrow), then don’t be surprised if God doesn’t actually provide for you tomorrow (you’ve already taken care of that yourself).
Faith. Too often we limit faith to spiritual matters alone, as if our spirits were the only thing God was worried about. But our daily bread is a matter of faith, as well. For we are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them. But the Father gives daily bread also by grace. It is a gift. Our work is not to try to force what God promises. Our work is to receive them with faith. Our work is to use those gifts for the good of our neighbors.
That is, after all, how God provides you with daily bread. It doesn’t fall from the sky, but it comes to you by way of the vocations of others. The farmer, the miller, the baker, the grocer, all provide you with daily bread. Or perhaps you’ll be the baker, and take some time to make some good, old fashioned, naturally fermented, crusty, chewy warm bread—don’t forget the butter. And share some with a neighbor. This is a work that’s pleasing to God: to trust in Him to provide—for you, and through you.
God Gives Us this Day Our Daily Bread
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard