No bread on the shelves? Look to the birds!
I keep looking out the window at the wrens, robins, chickadees, and blue birds. Darting about everywhere; they are busy this morning. These little creatures have no idea about the crisis going on across the globe. Their lives consist of finding seeds and scraps to feed themselves or make nests as the spring air moves in. They look frantic in a way, but they aren’t. Humans look frantic too, and I think we are.
With the chaos of COVID-19, I made a food run like everyone else; but I may be the only one who put birdseed on their list. In one sense, I feel responsible to care for the ones who have found sanctuary in our back yard. In another, I WANT them around during these unsettling times; they take my mind off of the worldwide surge of panic. The robins and wrens continue piping around the yard, doing what they always do. The downy woodpecker makes his hourly visit to the suet cake. There’s nothing unpredictable with them. It calms me, if God cares for them, he cares for me: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” In their own uncertain times, the disciples asked Jesus about prayer. They had watched him slip away to pray alone, or raise his hands toward heaven in prayer asking for God’s blessing and power to fall over his ministry, or call on God for healing power. In response, Jesus shared a short prayer with them. Numerous books have been written on it, loads of sermons have been preached on it, we recite it at funerals, retreats, AA meetings, and when we aren’t sure what else to do. Each line contains layers of wisdom, but one line came to my mind this morning and has circled through on repeat… “Give us this day our daily bread…” Bread is a basic staple in our homes. When weather gets bad, or a virus takes over the planet, the bread shelf is emptied out. We horde bread when we are afraid. “There is nothing new under the sun,” as the author of Ecclesiastes says; this panic goes way back to when the Israelites felt out of control. After being rescued from the abuse of Pharaoh, God made a way through the pandemonium and they began a 40-year flight through the wilderness. Over and over again they needed reminding of God’s provision. As he cares for the birds, he would care for them. Their fears, like ours, were real. Hunger pains caused them anxiety and doubt, “…you brought us out here to starve us to death!” So God told Moses, “I am going to rain down bread from heaven…” He cared about their suffering. He cared about their fears. He saw them. The point here is, God is always moving us in the direction of trust. He is trustworthy and wants us to know it deep in our bones, to rest in this soul-anchoring truth. In light of that, he doesn’t want us to stockpile in a panic. Trust, he knows, will cure us of frantic fear. “The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day,” no more than what they needed. Every morning the bread appeared like dew and like the birds, the people gathered enough for their family. The next day, God gave them a fresh delivery. Some ignored the warning, and in their doubt, hoarded. They awoke to the sight and smell of maggots. Another interesting note: the day before Sabbath, so they could rest, God instructed them to take two days worth of bread. Another act of trust. So here we are today in an uncharted wilderness. We are scared, feeling fragile, and desperate for practical wisdom during the COVID-19 crisis. We wonder if there will be bread let alone tests, vaccines, medical care, and help. I guess that’s why I woke up with this one line… “Give us this day our daily bread.” I wonder if someone is looking out for me the same way I am caring for the birds in my yard. The Gospel of Luke gives a detailed account of the birth of Jesus. In response to Caesar’s announcement for everyone to return to their home town to be registered. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, so Jesus was born there. Translated, Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” Make no mistake, God was intentional. The world was hungry for a Savior. The times were troubled. Jesus arrived in the middle of the reign of a power-hungry, unpredictable king. God brought bread. The theme of bread continues in John 6 when Jesus was with his accusers who were looking to trap him again. Bluntly, he made a connection between himself and the bread from heaven in the Exodus wandering. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” Jesus continued, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” The Jews knew the story of their forefathers in the wilderness; they heard of bread falling from the sky. They knew it came from God. When Jesus spoke of himself as the “bread of life,” and “bread coming down from heaven,” he was claiming himself as the answer for the hungry, lost, scared, sinful souls. Our bodies are of secondary concern, our souls are first. Where there is no hope, he is hope. Where there is fear, he is peace. Where there is sickness and death, he is the hope beyond this life. One of the most consistent commands throughout all of Scripture is “Do not be afraid.” It seems dismissive to say this to people in a global crisis, doesn’t it? It seems dismissive to say this to people who even before the coronavirus, have lived in daily crisis. People’s fear drew them to Jesus. Thousands were following him around, curious about his teaching on the strange topic eternal life. These crowds had empty stomachs and troubled souls, just like us. Bread didn’t fall out of the sky. Instead, the disciples brought a small amount of food to Jesus. Looking to heaven, he lifted it to God. Piece by piece it multiplied. This bread was delivered directly to the hungry by the hands of the disciples. Back and forth they went getting bread from Jesus and taking it to people as they sat in groups waiting and grateful. Plenty was left over. They ate until they were full. His rescue doesn’t always come by means of removing us from our circumstances, or healing us from disease. That reality is as hard for me as it is for you. There must be broader hope; there must be a greater supply; there must be a peace that passes human understanding. Here, in our present world-crisis, we must seek the daily bread of Christ. He will give us just what we need each day. And when we ask each day, we will pay attention and see the ways in which he comes to us. We bring our little bit to him, and he will multiply it. One day at a time. Look to the birds if you have trouble seeing him. Go out back, sit on your porch, turn off the news and listen to their many songs; it will take your blood pressure down.