Sermon at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 2 August 2015
The Scripture Texts for Proper 13, Year B, Track 2 are:
Exodus 16:2-4,9-15 | Psalm 78:23-29 | Ephesians 4:1-16 | John 6:24-35
Jesus has a way of attracting the crowds, doesn’t he?
It’s true that if you offer food, people will usually come, and those who have a specialty tend to gain loyal followers. Jesus always seems to get his hands on some bread. We don’t have accounts of him making it (I’m sure there’s a Martha or Mary on hand for that), but Jesus will take the bread, give thanks for it, and share it with those around him–whether it’s five or five thousand people.
We can imagine breaking off our portion of the loaf, dipping it in the oil, enjoying the company of others. There is such contentment in being fed, being comfortably full. There’s no doubt that Jesus fed his people.
But the contentment of being full wanes as hunger rolls around again. After their digestive lull in which they seemingly miss Jesus walking on water, the crowd of five thousand wakes up to presumably realize that they are hungry again and that their meal ticket has moved on.
With a nagging and growing hunger, they pursue Jesus, the one who not only healed people but fed them. When they catch up with Jesus, he confronts their hunger head on. They don’t really want to talk about a prophet or rabbi; they want some more food.
When Jesus offers the true bread from heaven, that’s what the people want–the good stuff that endures for eternity and gives life to the world.
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
I wonder if they could comprehend what they were receiving.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “Believe in me and never be hungry, never be thirsty.”
Really, Jesus? Just believe and hunger goes away?
Do you want to be the one to explain that to one in five children in the U.S. who suffers from food insecurity, children who don’t know where their next meal is coming from? It’s no wonder the people started to ask for another sign, because it’s crazy talk to ignore the needs of our bodies. We have to be physically nourished to do any kind of work, and we have to work to provide nourishment to our families.
We spend a lot of effort just trying to survive.
But you know, the crowd is listening to Jesus.
In his presence, they attend to his words and hear his promises to give life, to do the will of God, and never to drive away those who come to him or to lose those given to him. He promises eternal life and resurrection. (This is primarily in the verses we skip between this week and next in the lectionary.)
We’re listening hard, just as they must have been in Capernaum.
Our bodies are not eternal. Jesus knows that. Jesus lived in the flesh, in the confines of the physical body. We all are bound to the temporal world and live and die as mortals. Jesus knew and knows our hunger in the physical body. Jesus knows hunger, knows pain as we know it, though on a scale that we cannot fathom.
Jesus knows hunger as we know it, and maybe he saw it as one of the few ways we can understand true desire, true longing.
If you have ever felt within you a fullness of life that swells your heart and threatens to overwhelm you with joy because you feel Love, then chances are you have been in the presence of Christ. There is a fullness and wholeness that come from being in this presence that envelops us with a peacefulness that does pass all understanding, and words fall short.
Stillness. True contentment. Things of the world tend to fall away. Remember hunger? Aren’t you hungry? Oh, yes. But there’s plenty of food, enough for everyone. So content are we feeding on the presence of Christ, the bread of heaven, that we eat a bit and pass it around. There is an abundance, which is enough for everyone.
When we operate from this place of abundance, we are in the good days, quite aware of Jesus in our lives. “Give us this day our daily bread,” we pray. We do the work of believing, as Jesus said, so that we can be fed with enough to live in this precarious balance between the temporal and spiritual. We come close to loving God, neighbor, and self, living in right relationship with each other.
But we are of this world, and our awareness shifts in any given moment, our focus easily distracted. It’s natural to get hungry and need to eat. It’s wonderful to be full, take a nap and go into what I call digestive auto-pilot. What isn’t in our best interest is to be separated from God. Separation sets us up for bad days.
We can get separated by lack of belief sparked by tragedy or apathy. We can get in our own way. As soon as we put ourselves first, focus on what we want, think we are in control or can judge others, we lose focus on the presence of Christ that is still, as always, right before us. Unless we sustain our belief in the one whom God has sent, we will hunger, we will thirst. There are many ways to suffer. We can be so hungry that a snack pack looks like a feast and so empty that we can eat and eat and never get full, the void being so great.
We need to be reminded sometimes that our heart and soul has known the fullness of Christ and was created in God’s image. Having known the peace of God, we want to return to it, we long for it. We ask for ourselves and for others, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
It’s already been given. It’s up to us to see it, and we don’t have to look far or try to imagine anything. It’s here and now. We can expect to see Jesus, if we first believe he is here. Those of you at Women’s Institute heard Bishop Stephen Charlston say that in matters of Spirit, we are more accurate to say “believing is seeing.” It is up to us to do the work to find the bread of life in our midst. It is our responsibility to do the work of believing.
I know that wherever I could have gone after seminary, I would be able to find Christ, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now. In this place, the hard work of believing is being done, and that belief radiates from our very being.
As I get to know you better, you’ll teach me the ways you sustain your faith, how I can work with you to strengthen our belief. I look forward to what we’ll learn and share together in the upcoming Faith Journey class, to which all are welcome. Already, in this place, I see life being shared. With gratitude and generosity, our abundance is shared with those who come searching. Look at the eyes of those who are working and of those who are searching, and we cannot help but see that Jesus is here.
Any and all of you who were here Thursday night in body or spirit know the power of this community, the significance of coming together to be fed. Hope and healing were on the menu that night. Nearly two hundred were fed.
There’s plenty more to feed, and there’s more than enough to go around.
Jesus is still feeding his people.