Sermon, August 12, 2012: St. Timothy’s in Fairfield CT
1 Kings 19:4-8
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
John 6:35, 41-51
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
SHARING THE FEAST
In the name of God, Creator, Savior and Inspiration. Amen.
This summer, for five Sundays in a row–July 29 through August 26–we are being fed with stories of Jesus as the Bread of Life—chapter 6 of John’s gospel. I sympathize with one commentator who irreverently wrote, “It’s hard to know how to slice this loaf in appetizing ways five weeks in a row.”
Last Sunday we talked about Jesus as the bread of life which deeply nourishes–unlike some of the other dietary choices we sometimes make. Sara Lee’s oxymoronic Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White Bread featured largely in that discussion.
In the spiritual sense, we all need–and we all want–the “good life.” To welcome God into our lives, to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in creating lives that are meaningful and satisfying– that’s what we hope to do—that’s what we intend to do–but while we’re still thinking about it–life just happens. As someone once said, “NOT choosing is a choice, too.” By not making thoughtful choices we can sail down routes we never meant to travel—and miss the ones we might have chosen. For Christians, Jesus is the North Star. And in a way, that’s what every one of these five Sundays is all about.
Jesus refers to himself as the bread given by God “for the life of the world” several times. Bread for anyone who is hungry and thirsty. God in Jesus fed the five thousand. The four thousand. The rabbi’s daughter. He shared meals with all manner of people. He never told folks that their stomachs didn’t matter. In fact, he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton because he didn’t.
He did, however, tell people that although their physical appetites were not unimportant, neither were they the most important things. He cautioned his listeners not to confuse loaves of bread with the heavenly bread that comes from God. The loaves are important today. The heavenly bread is important forever.
It’s worth repeating the true story about the children in England during WWII who had been orphaned during the bombing blitzes. Some of them were starving before they were rescued and put in refugee camps. But even in the camps where they were fed and cared for, the traumatized children were unable to sleep—until someone thought of giving them a piece of bread to hold. Finally they could sleep, knowing they had eaten that day, and they would be able to eat again tomorrow.*
Like those children, we hold on to the bread which gives us life: Jesus. We might call that Step Number One. Receiving nourishment.
Step Number Two moves us from being recipients of the bread, to being the sharers of the bread. Once we have found the bread, we are meant to share it with others. We move from individual thinking to communal thinking.
It’s easy to envision fuller life for ourselves and our friends and families and local, or even regional or national communities. It’s much more challenging to envision fuller life for the world. So many complexities, so many diversities…. And yet, “I am the bread of life, come down to give life to the world.”
In essence we are talking about two big and intimidating church words: “evangelism” and “outreach.” Both of these are about sharing the bread. Both can happen in ways large and small.
Evangelism is one of those things Episcopalians don’t feel completely comfortable about. They imagine it involves proselytizing about their faith on street corner to all and sundry. Which is the reason evangelism got a bad rap in the first place–because too many people have used it as a bully pulpit and an excuse to impose their own views about faith on other people—whether those people were interested or not.
We’re a little wiser now; we know that if we live admirably—or to use Jesus’ word, if we live “fully”—we won’t have to make speeches to people. If they are hungry they will want to know how to find the bread that we’re eating. And then we’ll have our chance to share the nourishment with them.
Outreach, on the other hand, is both easy–because there is such great need in this world—and daunting—because there is such great need in this world. There are so many hungry people, so many people with no place to live, so many children without proper shoes or warm clothes for the winter. It takes ongoing mindfulness and discernment for each of us to know how we can help when the need is so overwhelming.
I mentioned the refugee children in England during WWII. Carolyn Bohler writes of modern-day refugees: 5-year-old children in Mexico, who drawn pictures showing “crying clouds with sad faces,” and stick-figured dismembered children. She adds, truly, “That is not life for our world.”
And yet: “I am the bread of life, I come to bring life to the world.”
This seems to be a Sunday of stories about children, so I have one final one, under the rubric “Step Two: Sharing the Bread with the World.”
This story is about 5-year-old Anthony, the “adopted grandson” who lives across the street from some friends of ours.
One Friday night Anthony was feeling a little lonely. His older sister was out at some event, and his twin sister was at a party with her ballet class. Our friend Kathy, his adopted grandmother (also known as “Nina”) did what she could to cheer him up.
So when Kathy asked Anthony what he’d like for dinner, and he replied “Roast beef and mashed potatoes,” she felt badly that time prevented her being able to meet his request. She replied: “Well, Anthony,” she said, “I can’t cook it that fast, and you’re hungry now. But we could have pizza. Or I would even take you to MacDonald’s.”
Anthony could hardly believe his good fortune, and off they went in the car to MacDonald’s. He ordered—of course—a Happy Meal. 6 nuggets; not 4. Then, he asked Kathy if he could get something to take home for his twin, too; and she said “yes,” touched that, even at his age, he was willing to share.
When the cashier gave them their total, Anthony declared, “I’m paying tonight, Nina.” And he pulled two dimes out of his pocket and laid them on the counter. The cashier was obviously amused and obviously touched. So was Kathy. But all she said was, “Thank you, Anthony,” and surreptitiously paid the rest of the bill.
Which is the thing about Step Number Two: sharing the bread. You think you’re doing the giving, and you find out that you’re also doing the receiving. That’s the way it works in God’s economy.
Therefore: let us share the feast!
*See Sleeping with Bread, by the Linns