When Doug and I pastored together in Los Angeles, he would always drive to church early Sunday mornings to do set-up and worship-team rehearsal. I would follow later on foot, kids in tow: first, pushing a double stroller with two young kiddos inside, and eventually pushing two kids in a stroller WITH another baby in the carrier. Our church met in an elementary school a half-mile from our house, and unlike Seattle, the sun was always good and hot for our Sunday morning commute. If you have ever seen pictures of people doing pilgrimages to a cathedral where they make their final approach on their knees in penitence…well, I sometimes felt like that by the time I would arrive to worship!
One particular Sunday, as I was maneuvering the double stroller along the first block of our walk, I noticed a small crusty bread roll (what we would have called a “bolillo”) on the sidewalk. I was accustomed to steering through various obstacles on our walks, and I turned the stroller slightly to avoid smooshing it. It was fine-looking bread! I wondered why it had been tossed aside. After walking another couple of blocks and changing sides of the street to avoid the barking German Shepherds that always scared Mercy, I saw another loaf of bread cast aside under a tree beside the sidewalk. This one was a different shape and size: larger, more “white bread”, but also perfectly intact. At the time I thought to myself: that’s weird, more perfectly good bread on the sidewalk.
As I neared Mack Elementary where our worship service was soon to begin, I came to the most challenging stretch of our commute. The sidewalks, broken by tree roots pushing out from beneath the ground, formed tent-like pitches that exceeded the capacity of the double stroller. For the final blocks of our walk, I would be forced to steer the stroller into the street where I would remain until I arrived at the elementary school.
As I huffed and puffed getting the stroller off the sidewalk and onto the road, I saw something on the side of the road resting between parked cars. As we got closer, I realized that it was a long, perfectly shaped baguette, lying on the pavement. “Mommy, look! BREAD!” shouted Mercy, peering over the edge of her stroller seat.
As someone who frequently walked the streets of my neighborhood, and regularly took note of the many different things seen (and avoided!) on our sidewalks and roads, I can’t say that I had ever had any such repeat encounters with random loaves of bread. Something in my spirit stirred that morning, and I received those “bread sightings” as a sign from the Lord. I thought to myself how many times bread is mentioned in Scripture: manna sent from heaven to daily feed the Israelites in their journey to the Promised Land; Elijah fed miraculous loaves by a widow whose ingredients multiplied according to the need; Jesus, in his hunger, being tempted by Satan to turn stones to bread; a small boy offering loaves to Jesus whose touch and word caused them to feed thousands; Jesus offering broken bread to his disciples, saying: “Take and eat; this is my body”; and Jesus seeking to explain his identity to his disciples, saying: “I am the bread of life.”
That Sunday morning in Los Angeles, I received a reminder and a challenge from the Lord in the form of those scattered loaves. I was reminded that God is generous in making himself available: he does not discriminate, he is not stingy with his revelation, and like a sower’s seed he is happy for his Word to go out regardless of how and where it will be received. As a preacher, I was reminded that we are all called to sow, regardless of the outcome.
“As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
That Sunday morning I was also challenged by this realization: the bread of life, Jesus himself, is present and available and gifted to each one of us not because we deserve it but because of the extravagant love of our heavenly father. And like manna, Jesus is always enough for whatever challenges and hardships we might face each day. “Give us this day our daily bread” is our prayer for sustenance, both physical and spiritual, and it is indeed a prayer we must pray daily. It is not God who withholds himself from us: rather it is our sight, our time and habits, our desires that must constantly be redirected toward the bread of life. Jesus assures us: “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” As we are reminded in Deuteronomy:
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”