Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 18 B)
Sunday, August 1, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
Watch Here (TLC Worship Service 08/01/2021)
In the name of Jesus, the bread of life. Amen.
Years ago, when I was a senior in college, instead of going on spring break to Florida or some other party destination, I visited seminaries. I visited four seminaries in a week-long trip to the East Coast. As I visited each seminary, I looked for signs that the seminary would be a good fit.
The seminary that emerged as the favorite was the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (now United Lutheran Seminary). One of the signs that it could be a good fit, was that one of the professors I spoke with in my visit had grown up in Iowa. His wife, who happened to be on campus that day and joined us for the visit, also was from my home state of Iowa and had a family member in the nursing home where I happened to be working as a housekeeper. The seminary was also in the process of completing a new residence hall and my incoming class would be the first one to live in the new building. These were signs that made me feel that LTSP might be a good place for me.
Today we award college scholarships to members of the congregation. I imagine you who are receiving awards today also visited colleges and universities looking for signs that the institution you are attending was right for you …the right price, the right location, the right course offerings, the right opportunity. You made your decisions based on the signs that it was right for you.
Before a big decision, this is what humans do, we look for signs that the decision we are about to make is the right one.
In today’s Gospel reading, the crowds asked Jesus for a sign [John 6:24-35].
The crowds were considering whether or not to invest in this new teacher that was taking Galilee by storm. They didn’t want to waste their time or their emotional energy on some false prophet who over-promised and under-delivered. “What sign will you give us,” they asked Jesus, “so that we may see it and believe you.”
Apparently, the crowds didn’t consider the miracle of two fish and five loaves the sign they were looking for. Today’s reading flows right out of that story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with just that small offering of two fish and five loaves. For whatever reason, that sign was not enough.
“What work are you performing?” they asked Jesus. “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” If this new teacher, Jesus, was as important as the giant in the faith, Moses, then he would provide a similar sign. They weren’t looking for a one-time miracle, they were looking for something ongoing like manna in the wilderness, a sign they could see and receive day after day.
So in response to their request, Jesus did two things.
First – he corrected the crowd. He corrected the crowd by pointing out that it was not Moses who gave the people manna to eat. Rather, the manna came from God – it came from heaven. Yes, Moses was a giant of the faith, but he had not given them manna, God had given the people manna in the wilderness.
This weekend it was my turn to write the “Keep the Faith” column for the Worcester Telegram. If you don’t get the Telegram, the article will also appear as the lead article in the August Trinity News congregational newsletter. In the article I reference the fact that for five consecutive weeks the Revised Common Lectionary of assigned scripture readings gives us readings from the 6th Chapter of John.
These five consecutive Sunday gospel readings are referred to as “bread of life” readings, and to be honest, preachers sometimes dread this stretch of readings. The dread doesn’t come from the fact that the image of Jesus as bread of life is uncomfortable or untrue, but from the challenge of coming up with something to say when the main point is the same for five weeks in a row.
But as I suggested in my article, maybe we need hear these “Bread of life” readings Sunday after Sunday because of our human tendency to look for bread in all the wrong places. The crowd thought that Moses had given the people bread. How true it is that we look for bread, not from God, but from people. From authors and artists and entertainers and athletes and politicians – like the people of old we believe we get our bread from these people. We feast on all kinds of bread: the bread of success, status, achievements, accumulation, experience.
Admittedly, much of this bread is not necessarily bad – some of it can be good and important, just like people who give us real nourishment and sustenance. But, all of this earthly bread is temporary and fleeting. It may feed us in the moment, but it always leads us wanting more.
“For the bread of God,” said Jesus, “is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to all the world.” This is the message we need to hear week after week.This is the message of life, offered to us as correction, when we go off eating bread in all the wrong places.
Second, in their desire for a sign, Jesus pointed to himself.
Jesus responded to the people that he, himself, was the sign from heaven. Jesus was the manna, the bread of life, God was sending to the people. The recurring sign, the sign that would arrive fresh every day like manna, the sign of God’s enduring love – is Jesus Christ. The sign of God’s love for the world, nourishment for hungry human hearts, was then, and remains now, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As disciples, we are invited today to make Jesus Christ our true and living bread – bread that feeds us – bread that is the sign of God’s love for us.
But a question … how? How is Jesus bread for us today? What does it mean that Jesus is the bread of life? How is this a sign for us today of God’s love for us?
“Do not work for the food that perishes,” Jesus taught the crowds, recorded in today’s gospel, “Work for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” John 6:27. John’s gospel gives us the image of both Jesus as bread of life, AND Jesus as servant kneeling before his disciples and washing their feet. Jesus who taught the crowd that he was bread of life sent from heaven, also taught the crowds that the greatest commandment was to love one another as Jesus has first loved us.
Could it be that the metaphor of Jesus as the bread of life, becomes literal, when disciples live in the love of Jesus Christ and love and serve one another? Could it be that food that perishes is the work of our sin that turns us in on ourselves, while the food the endures for eternal life – is our work of love and service turned outward for our neighbor? And could it be that the ongoing sign of God’s love for the world, is revealed in communities of love and service?
On the first Sunday of each month, and again today, we collect and bless donations of food for the Carty Cupboard Food Pantry. We bless this food, here in the liturgy, as an extension of the Eucharist. Having received the real presence of Jesus in bread and cup, we are sent forth to be the body of Christ, living bread, for the world.
Imagine the process: in the presence of Jesus Christ, a few wafers and drops of wine in Communion are transformed into a shopping cart full of food! The shopping cart is filled by you, by you living in Christ, who are living with compassion and love and generosity. That transformation doesn’t just happen with food, but in all the ways people of faith go forth living in love.
The Apostle Paul in our reading from Ephesians, sets forth the description of what it looks like when disciples live in Jesus Christ [Ephesians 4:1-16]. Written 2,000 years ago to the church in Ephesus, Paul’s reading today is the recipe by which Christ becomes bread for the world in us. Jesus becomes bread in us, when we live as a people of: humility, gentleness, and patience … bearing with one another in love …making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, growing up together as one body.
Council President Dave Horn suggested that this portion of scripture be the foundation upon which new Council member be sworn into office. Think of the real bread for the world’s need such a community would offer – think of the powerful sign of God’s love for the world such a community would be! A community alive in the teachings of Ephesians is a community where real food is offered to address the world’s hunger: hungry stomachs are fed, cold bodies are clothed, lonely hearts are befriended, sick bodies are cared for, and imprisoned bodies are visited.
How is Jesus bread for us today? Jesus becomes real bread for the world as disciples live in the love, compassion, and service of Jesus Christ. When sinners, in faith, receive the forgiveness of God and live in compassion for the world and one another.
The Good News today, is that in Jesus Christ God gives us a sign of God’s love for us.
If you ever wonder if you are loved by God, if you ever wonder whether or not you have a place in God’s kingdom … if you question whether God’s is concerned about what is going on in your life … And in your wondering and questioning you would like a sign of God’s love for you … the sacraments are set before you as a sign of God’s love.
Feel the water of the font on your finger and on your forehead as your trace the sign of the cross traced there in your baptism …taste the bread as it sits on your tongue and as you chew it in your mouth … here are signs of God’s love for you!
Here are signs that you, yes you, are a vital member of the kingdom of God. Here are signs that God is using you, and your passions, and talents, and questions, and identity, and gifts and shortcomings, as bread for the world when you present them in faith. Alive in Christ, knowing your place in God’s kingdom, may you go forth as bread for the world.
Thanks be to God.