Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; John 6: 24-35
Last week, we read the story of Jesus turning five little loaves of bread and two small fish into enough food for thousands. The hungry folks ate it up. Today, they have gone looking for Jesus because they are hungry again.
But Jesus wants nothing to do with giving them more food. He accuses them of misunderstanding his message. Well, wouldn’t we, too? ‘We’re hungry, you fed us, please do it again, Jesus!’
So, he tries to explain. ‘The manna the ancient Israelites received was not from Moses but from God. This is the true bread from heaven, which gives life to the world.’ The crowd says, ‘We want more of that kind of bread.’
This passage is full of double-entendres, words that have two or more meanings. Bread of heaven, bread of life, signs. This is typical John story-telling. People say one thing, Jesus says something that sounds the same, but means something quite different. Jesus has given the people real bread, and asks them to think of him as the real bread. If they believe in him, they don’t need anything else. I am sure the folks were still confused.
The word ‘sign’ is John’s way of saying miracle with a powerful message added. There are seven signs in John’s Gospel: water into wine; feeding thousands; healing several people; giving sight to the blind man; raising Lazarus from death. Jesus’ signs include a message of abundance, the reminder that God’s love is for all people, and the stunning revelation that God has power over illness, blindness, and even death.
It’s tempting to think that these signs occurred during Jesus’ time only. Certainly, these specific events happened while Jesus walked the earth. But I believe God sends us signs all the time, and we can see them if we are looking for them. They are signs of God’s presence!
I saw signs of God’s presence frequently during my time in Nebraska last week. I attended a retreat for Lutheran Franciscans. We are a motley crew of pastors and lay people, men and women, introverts and extroverts, with a wide variety of gifts and interests. What unites us is our passion for justice for all people, the joy of praying several times a day, and the practice of holding lightly to the things in our lives.
… So, some stories about my week. I traveled on Monday, going through Charlotte to Omaha. When I got to Omaha, I sought out a person I hadn’t yet met, whom I had offered to drive to the retreat center. Once we found each other, we went together to the car rental counter. I had reserved the least expensive subcompact car. The woman at the reservation counter asked about how many people would be in the car. I said, just the two of us for now, but maybe more on the way back. When we went to pick up the car, we saw that I had received a free upgrade to a nice sedan.
… One of my favorite activities of the retreat is peer spiritual direction. In order to be the people God created us to be, we take time for spiritual care, examining our lives by asking the question: ‘what is the state of your soul today?’ In groups of four, we take turns listening to each other, commenting on things we notice, celebrating the joys and encouraging the tough parts of our journey. While we don’t always want to hear what others say, it is always helpful to learn more about ourselves.
… One morning, I sat with Sally, who always had an oxygen concentrator with her. We talked about health challenges. She has an auto-immune disease. I will eventually need a knee replacement, my lungs have some limits, and the sprained ankle and bruised knee from a fall on Sunday were limiting my activities. Sally said, ‘I am glad to discover I am not alone in my limitations.’
… On the way home, the ride from Omaha to Dallas was smooth; so was the ride from Dallas to Tampa. We arrived almost 15 minutes early. But, there was a plane still at our gate, so we had to wait. In the meantime, storms rolled in. Winds from 50-60 miles an hour and skies-opening water were fascinating to experience in an airplane on the tarmac. Water streamed in a river across the pavement in a flood that would knock gate crews off their feet.
We sat there for over an hour and a half until the lightning ended and it was safe for the crew to be outside. In the meantime inside the plane, strangers became friends. Without the noise of the engines, we could hear each other talk. Might as well learn more about each other: my seatmate lived in Carrollwood and worked all over the country with electronic systems. While no long-lasting relationships happened, we were, for a short time, a community.
… These events seem ordinary, people meeting and talking together in a variety of settings. Yet, I believe God was in them. God helps us communicate with each other. God is always prompting us to hear what is happening in each other’s souls. God prompted the conversation about the size of the car which led the agent to surprise us with an upgrade. God helped Sally and me to talk about our health challenges so Sally would realize she is not alone in her suffering. And while the wind and rain are expressions of the world God created, it was the Spirit which helped us shed our tendency to keep to ourselves and become community.
Here, then, are my grateful moments: for the agent who gave me an upgraded rental; for those who listened to me and heard the depth of my soul; for the conversation with Sally and the opportunity to encourage her in her chronic illness; and for the community that made the wait in the airplane less stressful.
Where have you seen the Spirit this week? What signs of God’s presence have you noticed? Signs of God’s presence are always there if we take time to look for them. These signs are pieces of the Bread of Life Jesus promised us. Take and eat and enjoy.