Bread on the Waters

A sermon I gave at a beachside service this summer as we prepared to receive holy communion. 

“Cast your bread upon the waters and you will get it back in a few days. Divide your means seven ways, or even eight, for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2)

The traditional interpretation is this peculiar wisdom text is: invest generously and you’ll see a good return eventually. Do not be stingy and closed-handed, but rather be extravagantly open-handed toward a chaotic, uncertain world because God will provide.

A deeper spiritual reading of this text, however, will play with these three theologically loaded words: Waters, Bread and Seven. Pondering these three words and the mysterious ways God has revealed Himself in the Hebrew Scriptures gives the Bible-saturated imagination much to work with.

What if God practiced what he preached? Ecclesiastes 11 above evokes the scene of a vast and valuable shipment of grain/bread setting sail across the Mediterranean, hopefully to return with a large profit for investors after a few days.

The Creator God also invested Himself deeply in the venture of making the Heavens and the earth. He didn’t remain far off like a detached money lender. He got His hands dirty in the “start up business” of creating the cosmos. He threw His heart and divine imprint on the humans he cast onto the dry land he created out of the chaotic waters of Genesis 1.

We are in danger of losing this “sacramental view” of reality in today’s secular world,  blind as we often are to all the intricate ways God continues to cast Himself into all the nooks and crannies of Creation. I like how William Haley puts it:

“The western world is afflicted by the disease of compartmentalization in which the realm of God and the realm of the every day real are too often separated. The primeval Celts knew no such dichotomy. For them every atom was suffused with the presence of God. Each drop of rain, each blade of grass…Each chip of stone, everything from the minute to the grand was theophany.”

Standing at the beach this morning, singing hymns with the wind  and waves and seagulls as accompaniment, we give thanks for God’s extravagant investment in the human creation project—a project so quickly marred by human sin and rebellion. But God wasn’t done casting bread upon the waters.


The kids threw pieces of bread in the water during the children’s sermon with a soggy return.

“In the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4), Bread and Water  appear in God’s sending of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”  He was fresh Manna from Heaven who taught us to pray for our “daily bread” to sustain us for the journey. And he didn’t stop at bread. Jesus also said, “I will give you living water. Welling up inside you and never thirst again” (John 4). Jesus the Savior was the Bread of Heaven, cast upon the stormy waters of our own sin-soaked lives, in order to keep us from drowning. 

What about us? Those rescued out of our dead-end alleys and given a fresh start are now invited to join God in making the word become flesh again in and through our own lives. We are to break ourselves open in sacrifical service to others. We are to become a conduit through which God’s love and grace flow downward toward others. Father Richard Rohr says it so beautifully,

“Love flows unstoppably downward around every obstacle, like water. Love and water seek not the higher ground but always the lowest possible ground.”

What a beautiful picture of the gospel and our own call to embody the same good news.

The Bread of Heaven didn’t remain on the Heavenly throne—whole and untouched by our earthly sorrows. Following His own moves in the Upper Room, Christ was chosen, blessed, broken and given away for the putting back together of others. Furthermore, isn’t it interesting that our Christian initiation rite is to dunk someone in the water as an expression of being dunked into God’s all surpassing love and grace? And the gift that sustains us is the bread of the Eucharist.

Who needs Good news today? Who needs to be made whole again? Come receive the broken bread and as the waves wash up on the shore in the background, remember your baptism.  In Holy Communion, we’re reminded that the love of Christ could not remain high above our valley-laden lives, our muck and miry potholes. God continues to send the rain of divine mercy upon the righteous and unrighteous alike, flowing like water down into our dry and barren hearts and deepest darkest valleys, not to flood us with judgment, but to bring us safely through the waters, like Noah’s family, out into a new brand new beginning. Are you drowning today in…

  • Doubt?
  • Failures?
  • Fear?
  • Weariness?
  • Guilt?
  • Sorrow?
  • Despair?
  • Distractions?

Do you need an ark of mercy to carry you through these high waters and dark storm? Just as nothing can live without water, so no life can flourish without presence of God’s sustaining love. The message is not just “Cast your bread upon the waters, and find it multiplied and more than enough.” It’s even better than that. The gospel invites us to cast our very lives into the waters of baptism, and find ourselves born again into a new and everlasting life that floods and fires, moths and rust, can never touch! 

So, come to the Table. Come to the Waters. Thanks be to God.

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