Bread of Heaven

bread and flowers on wood table
Photo by Niklas Kosel on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

The 2020 film Kiss the Ground, narrated by Woody Harrelson, portrays “regenerative farming,” a relatively new practice in the U.S. and around the world, restoring spent land and sequestering carbon in the soil.

In one scene, a North Dakota rancher who, broke and desperate, turned several years before from government subsidies for “conventional” farming to regenerative practices, points out the stark differences between his own now lush, green, and profitable land and that of the adjacent acreage, which has been turned into a dustbowl through chemicals and industrial machinery. The film, available on Netflix, offers hope for both feeding humans and solving the climate crisis.

Though we ourselves are relatively inexperienced in our own microscale farming in Indiana, we have personally witnessed some of the biological realities that this film and many soil scientists teach. Infertile clay mud is being enriched by fertile humus, more supportive of the vegetables and trees we are planting. Earthworms are turning up in every shovelful of soil. We feed ourselves well every month of the year. We even enjoy bounties nature offers without our effort—wild blackberries and persimmons; redbuds, dogwoods, and wildflowers blooming where we stopped mowing; bluebirds perched on tomato stakes, stalking insect pests; spring rains germinating forgotten fall seeds. In words from Psalm 85 (July 11): “Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.” Or from Psalm 145 (July 25): “You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.”

Two complementary themes characterize the Scripture readings for July and August this year: abundance and resistance. Anchored by the Gospel of John’s version of the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes, which inaugurates Jesus’ “I am the bread of life” speech, several passages describe God as creation’s generous nourisher: the giver of manna in the wilderness, the shepherd guiding a flock to pasture; the feeder of sparrows, prophets, and nations; the inspirer of similar generosity among creation’s members. Psalm 123 (July 4) offers a hinge between this theme of merciful abundance and the other theme, that of resistance, when worshipers say, “Have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.” Other readings go on to critique social inequalities and violence erupting from the powerful—rulers both foreign and homegrown who, for greed and power, abuse their offices and destroy their neighbors. This behavior is aberrant in the economy and ecology of God’s creation. It defies God’s reign and cannot stand, and prophets looking to divinely given freedom resist it.

The struggle throughout Scripture, and throughout human history, is the need for exodus from Egypt: recognizing, resisting, and escaping slavery to human powers in order to seek God’s reign, the principles built into creation that freely provide and freely nurture.

July 4, 2021
  • Psalm 123 depicts worshipers responding in humility toward God, the source of mercy when the powerful scorn them.
  • Mark 6:1-13 describes the missionary journey on which Jesus sends his disciples, traveling light and depending on hospitality along the way.
July 11, 2021
  • Amos 7:7-15 critiques royal corruption: a country prophet condemning social inequalities is ironically banished from speaking truth in God’s temple, which is claimed as the king’s own.
  • Psalm 85:8-13 describes God’s glory dwelling where “faithfulness will spring up from the ground … and our land will yield its increase.”
  • Mark 6:14-29, like other passages from this month, offers commentary on corrupt power. Here John the Baptist dies for speaking against an unlawful royal marriage.
July 18, 2021
  • Jeremiah 23:1-6 condemns leaders (“shepherds”) who destroy the “sheep.” In contrast, God will raise up a king bringing justice and safety to the land.
  • Psalm 23 describes God as a shepherd who cares tenderly for each animal, and a host who feeds and protects his flock.
  • Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 describes Jesus’ compassion for people lacking leaders, offering healing and teaching to all.
July 25, 2021
  • 2 Kings 4:42-44 demonstrates God’s provision for the hungry.
  • Psalm 145:10-18 describes divine care for humans and animals alike, whose needs are satisfied by God’s open hand.
  • John 6:1-21 inaugurates five weeks of readings from John 6, all concerned with food and its provider. The multiplication of loaves and fish echoes the daily miracle of God’s provision of food from the earth.
August 1, 2021
  • Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 demonstrates abundant food in the wilderness as a daily gift from God.
  • Psalm 78:23-29 (alt.) describes manna as “grain of heaven” and “bread of angels.”
  • John 6:24-35 describes bread from God as that which gives life to the world.
August 8, 2021
  • 1 Kings 19:4-8 relates Elijah’s being fed by God in the wilderness.
  • Psalm 34:1-8 describes God’s goodness as spoken, heard, felt, seen, and even tasted.
  • John 6:35, 41-51 continues the theme of Jesus as the manna, emphasizing that what is of earthly origin is also a heavenly gift.
August 15, 2021
  • Proverbs 9:1-6 portrays Wisdom offering wise council as choice food and wine.
  • Psalm 34:9-14 suggests that God-seekers will lack nothing they need, including food.
  • John 6:51-58 shows Jesus once again calling himself the living bread.
August 22, 2021
  • Psalm 84 celebrates the temple’s hospitality even to young sparrows.
  • John 6:56-69 portrays Jesus concluding the speech about being the living bread.
August 29, 2021
  • Song of Solomon 2:8-13 describes the wonders of spring gardens.
  • James 1:17-27 instructs disciples to attend to the poor in this world, while at the same time keeping aloof from worldly temptations.
  • Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 explains that it is not contact with earthly things, but deeds of greed and selfishness that ruin a person.

Patricia Tull’s bimonthly Working Preacher column, “The Great Community,” focuses on ecological themes for preaching.