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
6. Banana bread
7. Pumpkin bread
8. Short breads
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.