These days my Friday mornings are pretty much the same. I start the laundry. I get bread rising. And I clean spoiled food out of the refrigerator. Because food — or at least most any food you would want to eat — perishes.
But, of course, it is not only the food we eat Jesus speaks of today. He is speaking of all those things we come to rely on — no, more than that — those things for which we tend to spend our life’s energy striving.
Indeed, it came to mind again today, a drive I took with a friend many years ago. She was fighting a rare and virulent cancer then: one which would take her life within mere months. We were mostly quiet as we traveled that morning when suddenly she broke our shared silence and she said, “I only wish…” and she paused to catch her breath. I found myself holding my own breath as I waited for what she would say next. “I only wish I hadn’t worried so much about money.” And yes, I remember well the day her four children emptied out her house and divided up her precious things, particularly the growing pile which would make its way to the city dump. I remember cringing just a bit as I walked through her kitchen to see all this play out.
Oh yes, I have found myself thinking a lot about this food that perishes in these last couple of weeks for the congregation I serve has undertaken the work of replacing our old stained glass window covers. The old ones were installed probably forty years ago. They did their job well in terms of protecting these precious, beautiful windows. In that length of time, however, as they aged, they also yellowed. And so in these last years their beauty has been masked on the outside and on the inside, too, because the light which still came through was dimmed.
Some generous gifts, large and small, has made this work possible. Even so, $58,000 is a lot of money. So yes, I shake my head to think of it, knowing that amount of money could feed a whole lot of hungry people for a very long time. (And while that, too, would certainly be ‘food that perishes,’ still it could save lives.) These new covers, though, should last long beyond the lifetimes of many of us who gather in this place today. In fact, we are told they are guaranteed to be able to withstand bullets, although it’s a little hard to imagine who would want to shoot a bullet through our windows. And yet, of course, one never knows. But even at that? These will one day need to be replaced as well.
As I said, I shake my head a bit at the cost, but even with that, I do find myself taking the long way around the building just to watch the progress and to admire the beauty of those windows which are completed. And at least once a day I climb the stairs with someone up into our worship space to marvel at the light and color which now shines through. Is this also ‘food that perishes?’ Of course it is. And yet, I am aware that healthy congregations are also good stewards of what has been given them to tend. And when it comes to stained glass windows, one could certainly make a case that as they were once a means for catechesis for those new to the faith, they may still be attractive to those seeking a church home. And that surely promises to be ‘life-saving’ as well.
So how are we to think now about the ‘food that endures for eternal life’ as opposed to that which ‘perishes?’ For, in fact, we can’t live NOW without this food which takes up most of our resources as we pursue it, can we?
And yet, I don’t want to get to the end of my life and carry the wrenching regret that my friend did when she realized that her energy had been wasted on things that did not matter. And I don’t want to get to the end of our shared ministry, wherever it is I may be called to serve, and realize that we worried more about surface beauty — about the building — than about those who are brought to faith in it and through it.
I don’t know this for sure,of course, but perhaps as you and I seek to follow in the way of Jesus, part of our discipleship path must mean, at the very least, asking ourselves hard and important questions earlier rather than later. I mean, again, I don’t know how it is that we live without the ‘food that perishes.’ Jesus knew that, too, of course — just look back to him feeding the crowd of 5,000 last Sunday. Even so, I also know that if that is all there is for us? We are already perishing in terms of what matters most of all.
- What do you think Jesus is getting at when he contrasts the food that perishes with that which endures for eternal life? What examples would you give of each? What experiences would you bring to this important conversation?
- How are you and I called to ‘balance’ our need for the ‘food that perishes’ with our greater need for that which ‘endures for eternal life?’ What does this look like for you in the day to day of your life? In the life of your congregation?