Bread of Life – Narrative Lectionary, Feb. 16th, 2014, John 6.35-59

If you build it, they will come.   That’s what they used to say, and I guess that’s what they thought and are hoping for Sochi, you know with the Olympics.  You could also   say if you feed ‘me, they will come.

 Of course, there’s nothing new about this.  This is not a modern reality.   Jesus had crowds following him.   Hungry people.  People hungry for healing, hungry for justice, hungry for meaning, hungry for hope, and hungry for bread. And Jesus fed them.  He met them where they were: at a well, on a mountain, where they worshiped, where they partied.  He gave them what they were looking. But even more.  He gave them even more than they bargained for.

That reminds me of something that happened to me years ago.  It was when Pr. Phetsamone, Inthaly and I traveled to Thailand and Laos.  I was with a couple of other people in the group, in Bangkok, we had been walking around and we saw that familiar sign, you know the Golden Arches of McDonalds.  Hungry for some American food, we thought we’d give it a try.  Oh there was the usual Mcdonalds food on the menu, but there were other foods as well, including a McChicken sandwhich, made with a chicken patty sandwhiched between two rice buns.  As many of us know rice is the staple in Asian diet, not  bread.  So I ordered and ate my chicken between two buns made of compressed rice, not wheat bread.

Now that’s not too far of a stretch.  It’s actually quite tame compared to where Jesus goes in our reading from John’s gospel.  This reading is the first of seven times that Jesus will say, “ego eimi”, not Lego my ego, but ego eimi “I am”. 

This first time, what does Jesus say he is?

 Bread.  Bread.  The stuff, at least in many places in the world, the stuff of life.  Bread.  In it’s many and various varieties it is the most basic food.  As we saw, I brought a bunch of different breads, but there are so many more.  Let’s try and list them together:

1.     Raised white bread

2.     Rye

3.     Wheat

4.     Sourdough

5.     Tortilla

6.     Banana bread

7.     Pumpkin bread

8.     Short breads

9.     Hawaiian

10.  Challah

11.  French

12.  Italian

13.  Baguette

14.  Bagel

15.  Naan

16.  Pita

17.  Lavash

18.  Vollkornbrot

19.  Buns

20.  Donuts

21.  Pancakes

 

Oh man, anybody else hungry?

It makes perfect sense that Jesus would say I am the bread of life.  It is so basic, so essential, everyone can relate to being hungry, of wanting, of the real physical reactions to our hunger.  When we are hungry, and I mean really hungry that need is so real, so all-consuming.

 It is no wonder then that the church has been in the business of feeding people.  And we are no different. We will eat.  We will eat together.  Later this morning at after worship fellowship, then downstairs in our fellowship hall, we will serve another staple, not bread but PHO, then later this week at Community night.  Do you see, have you picked up a pattern, in addition of course to food, you heard fellowship 2x and community once.  They both mean the same thing.  Togetherness.  But you know in my list, I overlooked something, something that what will happen in just a few minutes up here.  Communion/community.  It’s the same thing.  Being brought together to be fed or being fed to be brought together.

 Now Jesus didn’t just give bread to the people one time.  He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it with the people over and over again. And if Jesus would have just stuck with that simple recipe, well it might have been a bit easier.  But as we heard Jesus, he takes it perhaps a step too far.  Not only does he say he is the bread of life, but then he says his flesh is to be eaten as well.  In fact it’s not just eaten, but chewed on.

 Really Jesus, couldn’t we have stuck with the nice bread image?  We all pretty much can relate to that, but no,now you have us eating flesh, soon we’ll be drinking blood, and anyone in their right mind will run away screaming from us bunch of pseudo/potential zombies and vampires.

 Laugh, but that’s what it sounds like if you take Jesus at his word, literally.  And in this instance we kinda do.  Now here’s a bit of denominational difference,and identity talk.  We believe when we have communion, Jesus’ body is present and we are taking it in.  We are consuming it/him.  Yes it is still bread, but it’s also his presence. Now we don’t know, can’t exactly explain how this is all happening.  It’s one of those belief thingies, you know leap of faith thingies.

 And I really think that’s important, because if we spend time trying to figure it out, we’re going to miss the main dish, main point.  That is communion, the bringing together.  God in Christ is giving himself so utterly and so completely to us, not just in some intellectual exercise, not just to make us feel good, not just to fill our tummies, but to ease our hunger for forgiveness, for strength, for acceptance and hope. And for his life to be in, with, and through us.

 Every so often I like to share with you some words of Martin Luther, the German monk and reformer of the church, who our brand of church is named after.  Today I would like to share some words from a sermon he preached almost 500 years ago about communion.

        Now this is the fruit, that even as we have eaten and drunk the body and blood of Christ the Lord, we in turn permit ourselves to be eaten and drunk, and say the same words to our neighbor, Take, eat and drink; and this by no means in jest, but in all seriousness, meaning to offer yourself with all your life, even as Christ did with all that he had, in the sacramental words. As if to say, Here am I myself, given for you, and this treasure do I give to you; what I have you shall   have; when you are in want, then will I also be in want; here, take my  righteousness, life, and salvation, that neither sin, nor death, nor hell, nor any sorrow may overcome you; as long as I am righteous and alive, so long shall  you also be righteous and alive.

  These are the words he speaks to us; these we must take, and repeat them to our neighbor, not by the mouth alone, but by our actions, saying, Behold, my dear brother, I have received my Lord; he is mine, and I have more than enough and great abundance. Now you take what I have, it shall be yours, and I place it at your disposal. Is it necessary for me to die for you, I will even do that. The goal placed before us in the Lord’s Supper is that the attainment of such  conduct toward our neighbor may appear in us.

 Communion, community, fellowship, it is all one, just as all those different types of bread are bread, just as we all need a staple, a food, we all need to be fed.  Jesus feeds us, with his body and with the body of our neighbor. There is no communion by yourself.  It is never just about you and Jesus.  We don’t have a personal relationship with a savior.  We are all saved together. We are not just about dough, but about do.   This is the eternal life that we have right now, to be filled not just with calories and carbs but with compassion and care–to not just live to eat, but to eat to live.  Being brought together to be fed and being fed to be brought together. Yes, if we are fed, if we feed we will come.  Amen.

Bread, cabbage, kale, cheddar–a recipe for disaster

Last week if you were blessed to be here, we were talking at least for some time about our daily bread. Well today we’re still talking about bread, bread also known as dough, chips, cabbage, kale, green, or maybe cheddar, benjamins, loot, moola. Money.
Money, the problem with having too much of it, or greed wanting, having, hoarding, desiring it is deposited in all our assigned readings for this morning. But I’m going to start this morning by looking at the passage from Luke, which begins with a question about inheritance, about most likely a younger brother hoping to have Jesus take his side and tell his older brother to share more of the inheritance than the law says he has to. The law of God in the Hebrew bible, the Old Testament in Deuteronomy and other places provided somewhat for younger siblings, by declaring that the oldest son could only have one half, and the rest were to share what was left over. Now that probably wasn’t all that much, but hey at least it was something.
Jesus, however doesn’t want to even go there. He’s not here to be a small claims or family court judge. Instead he tells a parable, a story about a farmer who is very successful. He’s so successful that he runs out of space to store all his good stuff.
And I’m going to stop right here because looking at both of these parts of Luke’s gospel, and looking (and well knowing so many of us) it just seems that this passage really doesn’t relate to most of us. I mean, let’s be honest, of all the problems in the bible, of all the problems in life–having too much stuff, an inheritance to fight over, having too much money well at least for many of us, that at least is not one of our problems. So we might be tempted to let out a sigh of relief, or be tempted to quit listening. Or others may have thought that a sermon on the list of despicable behaviors from the second reading, you know–fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire,), anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Now those are problems that are everywhere. You don’t have to be rich to own all that stuff–the Rich and poor, and the in between, well– we all got a fair share of all those things.
I’m sure that in lots of pulpits around this country and around the world there are sermons upon sermons, hand raising, and finger waving about these evils running rampant. And I too might be tempted, and some of us would be happy to hear preaching against fornications, against our sexualized society, prostitution, sex trafficking or the slander (meaning lies) we hear and read about from so many politicians, powerful corporations, and the paparazzi we call the press. But remember and before you get too comfortable, remember anger and wrath, they’re in the list too. And I’m pretty sure none of us has escaped the grips of that emotion. Everyone, with perhaps a very very few of us have something’s that make our blood just boil–things that make us if not froth at the mouth, at least spout off or post to face book a few choice words.
Money and greed on the other hand well that’s a whole different story. I can tell you as I perused, read the ELCA pastor group, now this is a whole other thing. You see money, the love of it, money the need of it, the wealth of it, it actually hits home, and for some of us way too close to home.
And if you may be tempted to think that this is something new, you know a problem of our affluent society, a problem that we are particularly experiencing because of the huge gap that is widening in our country between the rich and the poor, well you are partly right.
But here’s what another preacher preached about greed. And I am going to share just a bit of his words and before I begin. He’s using covet, covetousness to talk about greed: and he says:
For plainly the world, particularly in our day, is completely submerged in the vice of covetousness. It is impossible to enumerate the subtle arts it can invent, and the good and beautiful things it knows how to pass off whereunder it masks itself as a thing not to be considered sinful, but rather extremely virtuous and indicative of uprightness. And so idolatry ever does. While before God it is the worst abomination, before the world its appearance and reputation are superior. So far from being recognized as sin, it is considered supreme holiness and divine worship. …It is evident the vice is gaining ground. With its false appearance and ostentation, and its world-wide prevalence, it is commonly accepted as legal. Without censure or restraint, men are engrossed in coveting and accumulating to the utmost. Those having position and power think they have the right to acquire by violence as much as they can, daily making assessments and imposts, and new oppressions and impositions upon the poor. And the common rabble seek gain by raising prices, by extortion, fraud, and so on. Yet all desire not to be charged with wrong-doing; they would not they should be called unchristian on account of their conduct. … If you will not desist from the vice of covetousness, then know you are not a Christian.

A quick guess out there, who might have preached those words? Yes, Luther, Martin Luther in a sermon on the passage from Colossian. And what he is saying in a more modern world is that greed is truly the root of all evil, but what makes it worse, greed the acquiring of wealth, trying to get ahead, the very making of money, and the ways we go about it, well our world, our culture, back then and today just assume it’s normal. We, if not worship rich, those who have made it, we too want a piece of the pie, we want to be movin on up an apartment in the sky, or we want at least enough to make our problems disappear. And this quest to make money, money, money, to make profits–is so evil, is so nefarious because it masks itself, it makes us think that its’ normal, that it’s the only way to live. It’s the only way to meet our needs, and that is idolatry.
You see we all have holes in our lives, they don’t need to be empty pockets, wallets, and bank accounts if we’re lucky enough even to have them. We all have fears and insecurities, so we work, work, work like the writer of Ecclesiastes talks about, we hope to prepare and to take care of ourselves. All we are thinking about is ourselves.
That was the problem with the guy in Jesus’ story. He thought his bigger barn filled with food and good stuff would bring him happiness, would take care of him. He didn’t think about others. He didn’t think about their need, and he didn’t think about his need for them.
Remember If we call ourselves Christians, if want others to call ourselves Christians, it means follow Jesus. And Jesus is the one who fed the hungry, Jesus is the one who overturned the tables of the temples market place, Jesus is the one who reminded his people again and again to listen to the good news of the prophets Isaiah, and Micah, and to do more than even the laws of Moses which set up systems to care for the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger who in the Old Testament is the immigrant.
We will never have enough money to fix our problems, we will never have enough money to keep us safe, we will never have enough money. Because money isn’t the answer. Instead it is God, and what God gives us, forgiveness to heal our broken hearts, to mend our broken relations. It is God who gives us one another and allows us to live for and with one another, to truly care for one another. It is God who gives our life meaning and frees us from all empty things, who frees us from all things vain. Amen.