Sermons That Work

It Seems It Is About Bread…, Lent 4 (C) – 2007

March 18, 2007

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life for the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him.”

In the end, it seems it is about bread. Which is only right, since in the beginning it was also about bread. Not just any bread, of course, but “true bread,” which comes down from heaven. If we could just get our hands on the right bread, Christ will live in us, and we will live in Christ. And one notes that as we pray, we acknowledge that this bread is bread that is given. We ask God to give us this bread, just as Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Those who live in Christ are those who depend on bread that is given daily.

In the Bible this is an echo of an earlier time when our ancestors in the wilderness did, in fact, depend on bread that was given daily: They called it manna, which in Hebrew roughly translates as “what-is-it.”

As our first text notes, however, once out of the wilderness and into the land of Canaan, the people no longer depended upon daily bread, and instead we are told “they ate the produce of the land.”

For the benefit of anyone who missed this, the text goes to great pains to repeat this assertion: “The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.”

Now this might be seen as good news – good news that the people are now capable of being self-sufficient, taking their fill from the produce of the land. But we might note that the text makes a peculiar assertion that could easily be overlooked: the manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land. There is a suggested cause-and-effect here: self-sufficiency interrupts the bread supply.

Were we to read further into the Joshua saga, we would discover that self-sufficiency begets dangerous and dysfunctional behavior. For once the people no longer depend upon bread that is given, once they take from the produce of the land, once they wean themselves from a dependence on the grace of God, new problems set in – in particular the problems of covetousness and greed.

This is something God had warned them about back in manna season. One of the ten commandments, the tenth, and the only one repeated twice in the Exodus text is Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet.” But once the new-found freedom of self-sufficiency had set in, covetousness was not far behind.

Indeed, after success at crumbling the walls of Jericho, things begin to go awry, all because of one person’s covetousness. The Lord had decreed that all the silver and gold and vessels of bronze and iron were to be deposited in the treasury of the Lord to benefit the entire community. Just as manna season provided enough for everyone, no one had too much. If you saved it and hoarded it, it went sour. The treasury of the Lord was meant to work for the benefit of the whole of God’s community.

Sure enough, come the next battle in chapter seven, things go poorly. A special prosecutor is appointed to find out why, and the way the special prosecutor worked in those days was to throw some dice. The special prosecutor determined that there had been some serious transgression against the Lord, and that the sin was in a particular tribe. Then rolling the dice again, it was determined that it was in a particular family in the tribe, and another roll of the dice revealed it was one man, Achan, who had held back some of the things that belonged in the treasury of the Lord. Achan had taken from the community goods, set aside his own little 401(k) or whatever, and this had caused the people to lose the next battle. One man’s sin caused the entire community to fail.

Because of Achan’s covetousness and greed, the life of the community was imperiled. What the Bible appears to be saying is that covetousness and greed kill. Withholding anything from that which belongs in the Lord’s treasury brings misery to God’s gathered community. Giving up dependence on bread that is given daily has its consequences.

Luke and Acts go to great pains to recreate manna season in the life of the early Christian community. What else are we to make of Acts, chapter four, verses 32-37, where we learn that “No one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own but they had everything in common. … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.”

Which brings us to: What does it mean to live in Christ? It has something to do with a return to manna season. We might note in passing that among the principal characters in the story of the “Prodigal Son,” the servants provide an example of what it means to live in Christ. We might note with particular interest that at the father’s command, the servants evidently have free access to all the best in the father’s household: the best ring, the best clothes, the best food. And these servants are to administer all these “best” things according to the father’s wishes.

Now we might readily identify ourselves with the father, or the younger son, or even with the seemingly justified anger and self-righteousness of the older son — but the servants truly get at what it means to live in Christ. The servants are stewards of all the best in the household and are trusted to do with those things what the Father wants done.

Isn’t that who we are? Have we not been entrusted with all the best God has created – the earth and all that is therein? Look around and see the abundance and richness God has entrusted to our care. As servants in God’s household, we are stewards of all creation. Covetousness and greed, withholding anything that belongs to the whole community of God, leads to seriously bad consequences. Not much exegesis is needed to verify this.

Saint Paul says that being in Christ means that in addition to bread that is given daily, God gives us something else: a ministry of reconciliation. One suspects that these two things are related – a willingness to accept bread that is given daily and reconciling the brokenness of the world, a brokenness largely born of extravagant living, covetousness, and greed.

We are ambassadors for Christ, says Paul. God makes his appeal to the world through us. We are those people who pray for daily bread. May we also pray for the courage to be reconciled to God so that we might accept the ministry he so desires to give to us: the ministry of reconciliation. Our willingness to accept bread that is given daily has consequences for the whole world and everyone and everything therein.

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Christopher Sikkema


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