The Unexpected Gift Of Peace                                                                                                                                  June 14th, 2015

 

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.”

 

Well – That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it! Never hungry!  Never thirsty!  That ranks right up there with Jesus’ promise, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”[1][1] But there is a difference – isn’t there. The big  difference is that we have been weary and have felt the weight of heavy burdens but most of us can’t remember the last time that we were hungry or thirsty. When my wife Maggie asks, “Are you hungry?” she isn’t asking if I am suffering from hunger.  What she is really asking is if I am hungry enough to eat.  Being willing to eat is a far cry from being really hungry.

 

I read several stories about being hungry this week. At least what we in our western culture refer to as being hungry  The problem with most of those stories, is that they were hungry only by North American standards.  In reality, there are people all over the world who go to bed hungry every night.  There are children whose bellies are distended by malnutrition. And friends – that’s real hunger! 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.”

 

The people to whom he was talking  knew what it meant to be hungry. They knew what it meant to be thirsty. Some of them raised sheep in land too marginal to farm. They knew how it felt to depend on a water hole             and then to find that it had gone dry. They knew what it was like to hunger and thirst. So 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.”

 

Jesus had just fed five thousand people with a few loaves and fishes. The people knew or at least suspected that he enjoyed a kind of Godly power. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he would use that power to feed them — to give them food and water in abundance — to make their lives easier? Well – Jesus sometimes does that. Jesus sometimes helps us to prosper materially. You probably know the story of the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. In my last congregation was a recovering alcoholic who told me “In my home, Jesus turned beer into furniture!” meaning, of course, that he could now support his family because Jesus had helped him to quit drinking.

 

But here’s the thing which is often not understood about Jesus’ words or perhaps not understood as well as they should be. When Jesus said that those who come to him will never hunger or thirst, he was talking about something even more important than physical bread and water. He was talking about that which nourishes the soul as well as the body.

And so, at one level, bread is bread. At another level – a higher level, bread is the word of God, Jesus as the Logos is the bread of God. Jesus is God’s gift of sustenance for humanity, bread that is more than bread.

 

God’s word is a boundless love for us. It cannot be manipulated or bargained with. It cannot be earned  or lost. The bread of life broken for all becomes the bread that, in faith, satisfies all hunger. God’s word in our lives knits us together with God and with creation.

 

And friends – here’s the really Good News. We need only to respond to the invitation

to “come” and “believe.” And, here’s the thing. In order to respond, we give up control of the outcome. The invitation to come and believe is an invitation to enter into an unfolding relationship of trust with God. It is to be fully committed. We will see with different eyes, understand with a different heart. When we say “yes” to come and believe, we move in faith to experience God’s grace.

 

Now – You and I – we need food for the soul. Not many of us can remember the last time

that we were really hungry or thirsty, but all of us remember the last time that our hearts cried out in pain. There are people here today whose hearts are crying out in pain.

 

Those of us who work in ministry or on prayer support groups get a glimpse of that when we receive prayer requests. We hear requests for people in need — for people with serious illnesses — for families of those who have died. Whenever I get prayer requests, I am happy to be able to pray for those needs, but I also always think about needs not often mentioned — people afraid of losing their jobs — or people searching for a sense of purpose — or lonely people.

 

I suspect that there is a good deal of pain in this congregation that never gets translated into prayer requests — pain too private to reveal in public — the hunger and thirst of our souls. When Jesus promises relief from hunger and thirst, I believe that he is addressing that hunger and thirst of our souls as well as the hunger and thirst of our stomachs.

He is offering to help us with our deepest needs with our most personal hurts. He is offering to show us a new direction in life — and to give us strength to pursue it.

That doesn’t mean that Jesus is promising us a bed of roses. It will help keep things in perspective if we will remember Jesus’ cross and his challenge to us to take up our cross.

 

Jesus never intended to give us lives free from trouble. He came to dwell among us, full of grace and truth. To do so, he endured hunger and thirst and blistering heat and cold rainy nights. He endured adults who tried to trap him with trick questions and throw him off a cliff. Ultimately, he endured the cross. Jesus didn’t intend to transform our world into a heavenly paradise by magic                     SHAZAMM.

 

Instead, he planned to experience all the problems that we experience — but to rise above those problems — to transform them — to make Easter out of Good Friday. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t intend to hand us paradise on a platter –           SHAZAMM

 

Instead, he asks us – to carry him into our world – to carry him in our hearts – to give the people around us a glimpse of Jesus through our lives. He asks us to love them as he loves them and to trust him that he will use our small contributions in great ways.

 

They say that God works in mysterious ways, and that is true. They are also wonderful ways — but we have to have our eyes open to see them.

 

I read somewhere about a Dr. Lauren Artress, a psychotherapist and Anglican priest.

Inspired by the sacred labyrinth embedded in the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France, Dr. Artress replicated that design in canvas as a floor tapestry. Some of you may have walked that labyrinth – I have. Her labyrinth, more than 500 yards (450 meters) in length, invites visitors to walk and meditate.

 

One woman, struggling in crisis with a drug-addicted son, recalled her experience. She said:

 

“I removed my shoes and hesitated, feeling self-conscious as I walked through the first section…. As I approached the center I realized that I had entered the labyrinth with some expectations, and they didn’t seem to be happening. I wanted answers to my problems. I wanted some sign that everything would be okay with my family. I wanted guidance as to how to handle my son….  I began to feel desperate, almost in tears….

 

As I came to the center of the labyrinth I realized that I would not get the solutions to my problems today. I did, however, feel a sense of peace…, and I felt the presence of love.

Someone commented, “The grace of God is like that — not a map, but the unexpected gift of peace in the midst of the maze.

 

Remember this – carry this thought with you as you go out today. That’s what Jesus has come to give us. He did not come to excuse us from the maze, but he did come to give us “the unexpected gift of peace” as we make our way through it.

 

Today, I know that many of you are struggling with problems great and small        – problems of health – worries about loved ones – relationship problems – and a host of others too numerous to mention.   And so, I invite you to make Christ – The Bread of Life your companion as you make your way through the maze.

 

Consume him and ask him to

- guide you and to strengthen you

- to make you wise for the journey

- to help you lest you stumble and fall

- to lead you through the darkness

into the sunlight beyond

- to give you patience while you wait

for the sunlight to be unveiled.

 

My prayer for you today is that you will partake of the Bread of Life and receive “the unexpected gift of peace in the midst of the maze.”