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Surviving Boot Camp

July 30, 2018

I am the bread of life. He who come to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

Those who have survived boot camp in the military do not wish to repeat that experience. They inevitably recount the trials they endured during that difficult period of their lives—the blistered feet, the forced marches, the bland food, the barked orders, the never-ending fatigue, the sore muscles, the oh dark thirty wake-up calls, etc. But boot camps abound today outside of the military—and people flock to them. They pay good money to go to boot camps or to send their kids to them. Why? Because boot camps toughen people up—they get them into shape. They teach discipline and obedience and create bonds between the participants. This week’s Scripture texts give us hope to face the boot camps in our lives.[1]

The 40 years that the Israelites spent in the desert was boot camp for the generation who left Egypt and for the new generation who grew up in the desert before they entered the promised land. The old generation was a whiny generation; they constantly complained: “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16: 3).

The new generation was born in the desert and accustomed to the harsh environment. They were tougher. They learned to obey and to lean on God and on each other. They learned to trust God day-by-day. They learned to live day-to-day—to take only enough manna for one day, and to eat the quail the Lord sent each evening: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God’” (Exodus 16: 12).

In the gospel lesson, Jesus compares himself to the manna that God sent to the Israelites every day: “Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert . . . Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world . . . I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6: 31-35).

The right kind of stress can bring people together—it can bond the participants of the stressful situation together. Shared difficulties and challenges forge strong bonds. Such circumstances give rise to a camaraderie that results in unity of purpose—to survive the immediate challenges of the situation. Those who have been through boot camp, law school, the Great Depression—those who have trained hard on a team together—forge strong bonds. People of different backgrounds with different talents, personalities, strengths and weaknesses come together to help each other to achieve a common goal. They are unified in purpose.

That is what Paul was talking about when he wrote, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4: 3-5). There is one overriding faith that brings us all together in the church—our faith in Christ Jesus, crucified. It is what holds us together in a bond that has been unbroken over centuries of challenges. Despite our differences, Christians of many nations and denominations are one in Christ and can rejoice with David: “The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145: 13b-14).

Jesus is the bread of life. God is our sustenance. He will provide for your daily needs, as he provided for the daily needs of the Israelites in the wilderness.  If you depend on him, he can help you bring your church, your family, your work group, or your team together when you face common challenges.  In interacting with your brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter the denomination, remember that you were called to one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.  It is the God who will see you through the boot camps of your life. Look to the bread of life and you will never hunger or thirst.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:22-35.


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