Just as it is the nature of bread to feed the belly, it is God’s nature to seek us out time and time again to feed and nurture all of our hungry places. God reached out to the prophet Elijah, fresh off the success of casting aside false prophets, yet finding himself so unhappy as to wish for God to take away his life. God fed Elijah’s body and spirit, finding him in his wilderness and renewing him.
We hear, “I am the bread of life,” and we know that Jesus, God-made-flesh, has offered himself as a blessing to feed us, and the world, in all our wilderness places. (John 6:35)
We hear “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life,” and we remember that it is only God’s saving grace through Jesus that makes belief in God, belief in Christ, belief in the Holy Spirit possible for any human being, us included. (John 6:47, 48) So we give thanks that God loves us so dearly as to make belief in this loving grace possible, thereby also making the receiving of God’s grace possible.
We are in the midst of five weeks of the scriptures reminding us that God desires to share with us a Feast of grace. And this Feast is intended not just for us, not just for those of us sitting here at Redeemer on Sunday morning, but for the people out in New Paltz, the Hudson Valley, and the whole world. The Church at its best is always remembering that God’s grace for us and belief in us creates a mission that transcends the walls of any building and sends us to see that God is already present and waiting with this Feast, everywhere in the world.
These five weeks of hearing portions of the Bread of Life passages are an opportunity to see that our frenzied and often worried selves and this frenzied, and often worried, world are actually securely lodged in the care of a profoundly loving and compassionate God.
We do not have to run after this God for God is running for and with this world. God is here at Redeemer, present with us in all of our joys and worries and God is present in Charlottesville, NC as people gather to proclaim that hate will not triumph. God is present in Haiti where folks are still getting power back a year after Hurricane Maria and God is present in the arid steppes of Africa where too little rain has fallen and tribes are fighting for water. God is present amidst wars with tanks and guns and God is present amidst tariff impositions and potential and real trade wars.
We do not have to prove this God to ourselves and others, for God through Christ and the Holy Spirit is working to reveal God’s self to all people of all times. We do not have to worry about whether we are believing “enough” or in the “right” ways to be saved, for in a profoundly mysterious and yet seeking-to-be-revealed-to-us way God in Christ planted and is planting the power within us and this world to believe. How and when this happens is up to God, not us. This is amazingly freeing for instead of having to build ourselves up in belief, we can know that God is present and believing within us. God is present and believing when we feel it and God is present when we do not feel it. God is present when we feel confident and faithful and God is present in our doubts and questions.
What’s maybe equally amazing is that we, who are feasting on this Word of Life, this Bread from Heaven, will find time and again that the Word wants to spill over from us to the world, and from the world over into us.
So it was that Redeemer, New Paltz found ourselves with the new and generative idea of starting a called Redeemer, was too big to hold unto ourselves, and besides God desires to be given away, not held.
So starting four years ago, we planned a week of stories, art projects, songs and drumming, obstacle courses and team building exercises, time for running and time for exploring the struggle of sitting quietly and reflecting on the profound gifts of God that seek to be revealed to us in any given moment.
And because God’s promises of love and resurrection are inclusive, not exclusive; because God’s Church is bigger than any building or one community, it made sense that we did not plan this week alone. We talked to people in the wider community of New Paltz and discovered that some of them, too, had found within themselves a longing to build such a week for children to explore and discover joy and beauty, community and the stuff of eternity. That’s how the Holy Spirit works, we know. When we get clearer and clearer about being Christ’s Church with mission we find that God’s word spills over from us and then as we go out in the world to share this Feast with others we discover that God’s Feast has already been bubbling up within them. And listening and learning from God in the world we find that the faith and belief that God is planting in us has grown.
And what’s truly amazing about this work of sharing belief, of sharing the Feast, is that it has room to be spoken about in many ways. We as Christians talk about God and Christ and the resurrection. Others may speak of teaching their children to be good people and appreciate beauty and honor community and earth. On Friday we invited families of children who had attended Art, Hands, and Heart to come for an open house. They heard about the stories each day of the week had been built upon, the theme of Peace, and they heard songs and saw the candles the kids had made to be given to women who need a second chance in life. They saw the silhouettes the children made to consider the beauty God plants in them and this world, and they heard the songs of peace and love the children had been learning. And they thanked us as a church for holding that kind of space for their children and for them.
And the language we used may have been different, but the Feast from the Word was present. Maybe God’s Church on earth can grow and enter hearts who have never thought of attending church before if God can help us as Christians deeply listen and build bridges to help us all see that we are speaking of the same things with different words. Art, hands, and Heart was born to reach out to church kids and to kids who might otherwise never come to a church. Three years later we can humbly give thanks to God that it has done just that.
This is resurrection work, when children shine with light and their families also. This is resurrection work when one of the instructors says that this week is like no other week in her whole year, and that it resets her perspective on life and the world for the better. This is the resurrection work of the Bread of Life, Jesus feeding the people.
And this resurrection work did not happen because our belief was so strong. Not because we had it all figured out. But because, as Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” Just as it is the nature of bread to feed the belly, it is God’s nature to seek us out time and time again to feed and nurture all of our hungry places. And to feed us in such a way that the Word spills out from us into the whole world, where we discover God waiting as well. Amen.