The Rev. Frank Logue
King of Peace Episcopal Church
March 30, 2003
The Story of Bread1
Five barley loaves and two wincey little
fish—this is all it takes for Jesus to create food enough for thousands of
people to eat their fill. Just five barley loaves and two little dried fish.
You get the feeling that there is no mathematical formula was involved. It’s
not that Jesus can feed 5,000 with five barley loaves and would need a sixth
loaf to feed an extra thousand. Jesus can provide all they need from
whatever is on hand.
The fish probably helped round out the meal that day, but today’s Gospel is
essentially a story about bread. Bread is an important sign in scripture for
what we need to live. So that when Jesus says we are to pray, “Give us this
day our daily bread,” the answer to that prayer is that we have the
essential needs for life for that day.
The Bible loves bread stories, for the story of bread is God’s own story. In
scripture you find two big stories of bread that compete with each other.
There is the bread of slavery and the bread of freedom.
Here’s the story of the bread of slavery found in the first book of the
Bible, Genesis: There once was a boy named Joseph, whose father, Jacob,
loved more than all his other sons. He gave his beloved boy Jacob a coat of
many colors as a sign of his love. The other brothers were jealous. They
thought of killing Joseph. Only slightly cooler heads prevailed as they sold
Joseph into slavery then coated Jacob’s special coat with the blood of a
slaughtered animal. They took the coat back to their father as a sign that
beasts had killed Joseph. The father Jacob was heartbroken and allowed no
one to console him.
Once in Egypt, everything Joseph did prospered so that though a slave, he
was given more and more responsibility. Joseph rose in status until he was
running the household of Potiphar, an officer of the Pharaoh. Joseph was
falsely accused of a crime and cast into prison. There he interpreted the
dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and cup bearer. Each of his interpretations proved
true. The cup bearer remembered this and when Pharaoh was plagued by dreams
no one could interpret, this cup bearer mentioned Joseph’s God-given gift
for interpreting dreams to his boss.
Joseph told the Pharaoh that his dreams predicted seven good years for
agriculture followed by seven years of famine. Further he offered that if
Pharaoh would set a discerning person in charge of collecting food during
the good years, there would be plenty of food when the famine hit. Pharaoh
loved the plan and put Joseph over the massive, nation-wide program of
saving grain to make bread in the years of famine.
When the famine hit, Joseph and all Egypt were ready for it. Joseph’s father
and brothers were unprepared and the brothers soon came to Egypt looking for
food. Joseph eventually told them who he was and had his whole family
brought to Egypt to live. This is the story of the movie, “Joseph: The King
of Dreams.” However, it is only the set up for the story of the bread of
slavery. For Joseph did not give away the grain stored up for time of
famine. Joseph sold the grain when the famine hit.
First the people paid for the grain, but soon they ran out of money. Next he
made them exchange their plows and oxen for bread. After taking away their
means of livelihood, Joseph next made them exchange their land for the
bread. Once this was completed and the people were still hungry, Joseph made
them exchange their lives for bread. Joseph made them all sell themselves
into slavery in order to get bread to eat. From one end of Egypt to another,
the land became Pharaoh’s and then he came to own the people too.
This is the bread of slavery. The story would be unbelievable if it had not
repeated itself again and again in history. One recent example came when
coal was found in the mountains of West Virginia. The people traded away
their livelihoods to the coal companies and in time came to have nothing to
show for their work. People lost their means of livelihood, their land and
their lives as corporations gobbled up the coal-rich countryside. In the
end, as one song puts it, they sold their souls to the company store.
Just after the bread of slavery, the second Book of the Bible introduces the
story of the bread of freedom. Four hundred long years, the Hebrew people
were slaves in Egypt. Then God called to Moses from the burning bush and
told him to go to Pharaoh to demand that he set the slaves free. Moses story
goes through a number of twists and turns, but in the end, Pharaoh sends
Moses and the Hebrews packing. Not only were they free, but they were
weighed down with the silver, gold and clothing from the Egyptians.
Of course, they had not gotten too far before Pharaoh changed his mind and
came chasing after the former slaves. In the special effects miracle of all
time, the Hebrews walked through the sea on dry land and then the water
closed in over Pharaoh and his army. The People of God were free indeed. Of
course, they were also in a barren wasteland. It wasn’t long before their
stomachs were grumbling. Soon after the people were grumbling to go back to
Egypt where at least they could eat their fill. They preferred the bread of
slavery as it seemed they would otherwise have no bread at all.
Instead, God gave the people Manna, Bread from Heaven. Manna is the daily
bread of all time, the bread of freedom. The Hebrews spent 40 years in the
uninhabitable wastes of the Sinai Peninsula fed by Manna.
Manna is the exact opposite of Pharaoh’s bread of slavery. Pharaoh came to
own the land and then the people because he had stored up bread. But Manna
could not be stored.
You go out to gather Manna and the one who gathers much ends up with an omer
of bread while the one who gathers little gets an omer of bread. Everyone
gets just what they need for their labor and no more. Furthermore, if you try to save Manna for the next day, it breeds
worms and goes foul. Manna is only good for the day in which you receive it.
Then you have to trust God to provide bread for the next day. God
used Manna to teach the Hebrews that they could count on God to provide all
their needs if they would but trust and obey.
So now we have the two overarching stories of bread—the bread of slavery and
the bread of freedom. The bread of slavery is the bread of the market
economy. In our market economy, we assume that there are scarce supplies. No
matter how much we produce, there will never be enough. You might become a
millionaire only to find that a million dollars is not as much as it used to be and you can never
afford as nice a lifestyle as your neighbors.
A friend of mine who lives in
a very nice gated community on an island outside Savannah told me that when
he and his wife visit with neighbors they often come home and say, “Did you
notice that they had more stuff than us?” The reply is, “Yes, and their
stuff is nicer.” The bread of slavery is the bread that is never enough. You
can never arrive because you always need more and to get it, you will have
to trade your livelihood and your very life.
The bread of freedom is God’s bread. This is the bread of grace that works
under the assumption of abundance. No matter how much you have it is more
than enough. This is the bread that Jesus gave to a crowd that day as they
lounged around on the grass wondering what this teacher and miracle worker
was up to. The little boy only had five barley loaves and two fish. Barley
loaves, by the way, were poor man’s food. The nicer stuff was wheat bread.
The poor boy with five barley loaves and two little fish turned out to have
wealth enough in his lunch sack to provide more food than could be bought
with six months wages.
This meal was Jesus’ gift. There was no charge. There were no strings
attached. Eat the barley and fish that day and walk away owing no one
anything. But what was really taking place was an enacted sermon. Rather
than telling the people that God can provide all your needs, Jesus showed
them. Jesus could have said, “I am the source of life.” Maybe they would
have listened, maybe they wouldn’t. Instead Jesus took a little bit of food
and created more than enough, showing that he is the source of life in a way
no sermon could.
What is the story of the bread you eat? Who do you count on to provide for
your needs? If you counted on Gilman or Durango to provide all your needs,
you might have been eating the bread of slavery. If you count on the Navy or
any other employer, you could end up going hungry. In the end, any bread
other than the daily bread God provides can become the bread of slavery. The
path to freedom is trusting that whatever you have is enough because God
knows what you need and your Lord won’t let you go hungry.
I don’t want to overly spiritualize this sermon. If you read about the boy
with the barley loaves and dried fish and come away with the lesson that God
will provide for all your spiritual needs, then you have missed the point.
For the story of bread is God’s story. Whether you make God a part of how
you get the essential needs for life or not is up to you. What the two
stories of bread teach is that we can work the way of the rest of the world
and then we’ll always be working from the assumption of scarcity. But if we
trust God to provide for our needs we will always have more than enough.
The time this lesson really hit home for me was when my wife, Victoria and I
started to tithe. At the time, God wasn’t getting much off our 10%. Heaven
would have done a lot better the previous year as we had been working making
pretty decent money. But in the meantime, Griffin was born, we had both been
working 50 hours a week or more for companies that really wanted our whole
lives. We quit, and went to work doing writing and photography freelance.
That’s a nice way of saying we never knew where our next meal was coming
Every time we got a check, we took ten percent off the top and in some way
shape or form gave it to God. This included offerings to churches and to
other charities. It was a checkbook without a net. We never knew when we
would get paid, though we were pretty sure when the bills would arrive. I
argued with God a lot in those days. My chief complaint was daily bread. I
hated daily bread. Daily bread gave me heartburn and kept me up at night.
The way daily bread works is that you always
have enough to pay that day’s bills, but you are never sure if there will be
enough to make the payments due the next day. I asked God for annual bread, monthly bread, or if it
wasn’t too much trouble, a bit of weekly bread. God never really provided
any of those things. But God did always come through with the daily bread.
What we had was more than enough. It taught me to appreciate the way the
Hebrews grumbled during those 40 years in the wilderness. Daily bread is
life without a net and it is easy to grumble. But it’s grace too. Daily
bread is Manna, bread from heaven, God’s gift that shows that it really will
all turn out all right. We might not have all we could desire or all we
want, but we have all we need. God has provided bread enough.
Jesus once took bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to his disciples. Then
he said the oddest thing—“This is my body.” The story of bread is the very
story of Jesus’ life. The story that began with the people enslaved for want
of Pharaoh’s bread ends with Jesus emptying himself to offer up his very
life to become the Bread of Life. Jesus came to break the power of the bread
of slavery and give you the bread of freedom.
The deeper reality in the story of bread
is that Jesus was and is the source of life. God can’t fulfill all your
desires or supply all your wants, but God can and will provide all you need
according to his riches in glory, if you will just trust God with the very
stuff of you life.
1This sermon relies heavily on the Rev. Douglas
Meeks who presented several talks on God's economy for the Diocese of
Georgia's Priest Conference.