Lent in the Ordinary: Bread

The Sunday Sermon:  February 21, 2021 – First Sunday in Lent

Scripture:  Exodus 16:4-7a

Lent in the Ordinary:  Bread

And so we begin … again.  Lent 2021.  This time last we year we had no idea how our Lenten journey would end – socially distanced due to a strange new virus we have since come to know all too well.  Almost a year later, we are still apart, relying more deeply than over on the grace of God to provide for us. 

This year for this season we are using a devotional book published last year entitled Lent in Plain Sight to better understand our dependence and to more fully accept that need for “God”.  We’ll need to expand our understanding of “God”, itself – “God” Godself, to do this.  The author of our book, Jill Duffield, explains in her introduction that “God works through (and so, is found in) the ordinary.  Ordinary people, everyday objects, things we bump up against moment by moment.  She chose ten such every day, ordinary objects for us to explore this year.  She, we, actually began four days ago on Ash Wednesday when Lent began.  We cancelled our drive-in service for that evening due, not to the virus, but the weather.  I hope that you had a chance to read my weekly letter and to understand more about the ordinary ashes, or as Duffield says in “the first ordinary object”, dust.

We will explore nine more objects on Sunday mornings this season and on a few special days of Holy Week.  Beginning this morning we seek an encounter with God in bread, cross, coins, shoes, oil, coats, towels, thorns, and finally on Easter morning, stones.

The questions we ask of ourselves this year are:  Do we have the eyes to see God’s near presence?  Do we have the ears to hear the word of the Lord spoken in and through the ordinary?  Will we open ourselves to the holy not only in heaven but also on earth and right in front of us?  Can everyday objects remind us to stay awake and pay attention?

Pray with me …

So, after the dust of Ash Wednesday has settled, we find ourselves together this morning on the first Sunday of Lent, seeking to answer our questions and discover our God in … bread.  The bread we need, the bread we receive, the bread we consume, and the bread we don’t even notice.  Our bible is full of actual bread and bread imagery.  I turn to the Old Testament book of Exodus, however, and the Israleites wilderness journey for reasons that should be obvious. Listen now, for the Word of God. 

Read Exodus 16:4-7a.  The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Here’s where begin our discoveries:  What the children of Israel encounter in this morning’s reading is what we have been encountering all year this past year and what we will be explioring more deeply this season as we make our way slowly and steadily to the cross and beyond:  Our dependence on God and our inability to accept it, let alone understand it.

In this passage, the people have been out of Egypt and wandering in the wilderness for about a month and half.  They are hungry.  They’re frightened.  They’re angry.  They’re complaining.  Both of the preaching commentaries I turn to most regularly noted that “preaching this text may require pastoral restraint in comparing the Israelites complaining to congregational complaining.”  But even as I smiled at that caution, I pretty immediately thought, “My congregation, this congregation, has not complained once about the exile we’ve been in for the past year, when complaining has been happening in every other corner of our lives.  That’s not to say we haven’t been disappointed or sad.  That’s not to say we haven’t complained in the past or won’t again in the future, but it is to say that a lack of faith, in the form of complaint, has not been our response to this exile and so will not be the message shared this morning.  That’s why I began at verse four, not including verse two that notes the “the whole congregation’s complaining.”  And that’s way I stopped before the end of verse seven that notes, again, the complaining.  It is to the bread, the “bread from heaven” as chapter sixteen is sub-titled, that we turn our focus.

The most intriguing thing about this divine provision is how it will happen, and how it does happen, “every day” with just enough for the day.  In our reading, on the sixth day there will be twice as much so no gathering will be done on the Sabbath, but enough bread will be supplied.  The people will be given bread, sufficient for the day.  The daily bread that Jesus will instruct his followers to pray for.  Nothing more, but nothing less.

Let us consider now our own “daily bread.”  That which is intended to sustain us for the day.  What does it consist of?  Think beyond literal bread.  (The Israelites got Quail at night, too!)  What have you decided meets your daily requirements?  How much in excess is what you “have” as opposed to what you “need”?  And who else is required to provide you your “bread”?  Because, of course, even a basic food like bread is a product of plowers, planters, tenders, harvesters, processors, bakers, packagers, marketers, buyers, and preparers!

As this first full week of Lent begins consider the many other ways in which “bread” is shared in our scriptures:  In our Lord’s prayer, as mentioned earlier; at the Communion table in First Corinthians; as breadcrumbs that fall from the table in the Gospel of Mark; as Christ himself, the bread of life, in the Gospel of John; as abounding loaves that feed us all in all four Gospels. 

Bread is our “lent in plain sight” this week.  Notice it everywhere and ask yourself where you have gotten complacent and comfortable enough in your life to forget that everyday “bread from heaven” is worth rejoicing over every single day.  How and when have you forgotten that everything, absolutely everything, from dresses and suits, to job offers and promotions, from a day at the beach and even a day shoveling out your driveway is, in fact, bread from heaven?  A gift, a blessing, something worth celebrating, full of others who have helped it to happen.

Take time this week to consider who prepares and provides your daily bread and give thanks for them, most of whom you’ll never know.  Think back to some of the most memorable meals you have had and identify what made them so.  Turn outward when you’re ready and consider all those you have been responsible for feeding.  Where are they now?  Still at your table or providing for others now, because you provided for them?

This is where we begin:  understanding our dependence on the provisions of  God, accepting them, giving thanks, and giving back.  Let us pray …

Lord, give us this day our daily bread and keep us mindful of those who need to be fed.  As we eat and drink, serve or are served, help us to be thankful for giving and receiving.  We remember with gratitude all of those who nourish us with food, care and support.  May the daily bread we receive enable us to nurture others in your name. Amen.

And amen.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor

Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / February 21, 2021