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.

“Missed it by that much”

I’m back from a break (stressed out & vacation).
Here’s is my sermon offering for you. Of course, remember this is an oral event not a dissertation.

As the famous Maxwell Smart would say, “I missed it by this much.” As most of you are probably aware, my family and I were on vacation and we spent several days in Washington DC touring the monuments and museums. While at the Smithsonian I had hoped to see a few things—the original Kermit the Frog, Dorothy’s Ruby shoes, Archie Bunker’s chair, Amelia Erhardt’s plane and Julia Child’s kitchen. Well, I missed Julia’s kitchen by one week. You see it was off exhibit, closed for renovations and re-opened this past Wednesday the 15th, in honor of what would have been this famous TV personality and chef’s 100th birthday. To honor Julia Childs, one of the radio programs on our Public Radio channel 89.7 WUWM aired a remembrance which included someone mentioning the time that Chef Child cooked tongue.
Well, I didn’t really watch Julia that much, and I never tried her recipes, and this may make some of you cringe, but I did eat tongue as a child, and in the car with my two boys hearing that on the radio brought back a flood of memories.
Meals and food have a way of doing that, of impacting our emotions and memories. Food isn’t just a way for our bodies to get energy as in calories and nutrients. If you were fortunate to be here last week and listening to Pastor Phetsamone’s sermon about food and communion, you heard about the wonderful power of this meal to evoke warm feelings of being loved of being truly home.
And if you were paying any attention today, as I read John’s words of Jesus, you can probably guess that’s not what’s happening in our Gospel for today. Not in the least, well, that’s unless you are some kind of zombie or cannibal monster, because Jesus isn’t talking about nice or dainty dining. No he’s talking about chewing on his flesh, his body, his blood.
Now if you just went “Yuck, that’s gross” in your head. You’re not the only one. In fact, the early early church, the first followers of Jesus were sometimes accused of cannibalism, because as they sat down together on the first day of the week, the first day after the Sabbath, to worship, to sing songs, to pray, and to have their meal together, in the midst of all that they said—Jesus said this is my body, this is my blood –take eat, drink, given and shed for you.
It is no surprise that many of our sisters and brothers in the faith take what Jesus says to us, take what we’ve been doing as a church week after week for thousands of years and say well it’s not really body, it’s not really blood—we’re really remembering what Jesus did for us. Kind of like you know a birthday celebration.
Well, if you’ve ever wondered what’s really at the heart of us being Lutheran, it isn’t the color of our skin or our hymnal, it’s not the songs we sing, or the dishes we serve at a potluck—it isn’t being German or Nowegian at all. No it’s our belief, it’s our holding on to, this mystery (because we also can’t exactly explain) how Jesus is really right here with us now, as he said he would be, giving us life, forgiveness, grace—all the stuff we need right now.
Jesus says to us, you know life—I mean true life, the one of discipleship of following me—a life of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of forgiving, of radically welcoming the least, the lost, the lonely, of admitting our fallenness, our sin, of forgiving ourselves and others—that eternal life stuff in the here and now, that’s tough (real tough) it’s as we say damn near impossible, so I’m giving you my all, my life, my body, my blood –giving it to you each time you gather together. That’s what makes it special, not the frequency or infrequency—because Lord knows and as good Lutherans we know we’re not good—that is, well, because more often do miss it by that much, we miss the mark, we sin; we are part of sinful world and systems that can be out of our control. We are broken so badly we can’t always fix ourselves; we can’t just pick ourselves up—communion isn’t something we earn or deserve. It’s something we need. So we need this, we desperately and definitely need this. Holy Communion is Jesus saying over and over again—taste and see the goodness of the Lord, hold onto, take into yourself consume this love, forgiveness. Jesus offers us again and again, and today is no different his love and life for us–his body and blood –his life for us, given for you. Amen.

Good Eats

Bread of Life, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

It is said, we Lutherans will talk and share all about having a good time at a restaurant much more than we’ll talk about God or Jesus. In other words, we’d rather talk about food than faith. Well since that’s oftentimes the case, let me tell you. It was for an anniversary or some other special occasions. Brad and I made our reservation at a fine restaurant. We get dressed up, get there, are seated at the table, handed our menu, and then the server asks if we would like to start with a glass of wine. I said, “No thank you”. Well, let me tell you the meal went downhill from there. The server asked again if I wanted wine at least 2 or 3 more times. I believe I was pregnant at that time, but I didn’t feel like I needed to justify or defend my decision. Anyway, then when it came time to order, well my choices were let’s say not to the server’s standards. It was probably something like I wanted blue cheese dressing on my salad, and then an entrée with a cheese or crème sauce, and he promptly suggested I order something else—that that was too much cheese. Well, the food was excellent, but the meal was ruined.
We all know, there’s more to a meal than just filling our stomachs and consuming calories. We are hungry for more than just tasty treats. We sit down whether it’s around a table, in a both, or even on the floor like Jesus most likely did with his disciples. We need to feed more than just our bodies. Sometimes we’re hungry for a nice conversation, or maybe we just want some peace and quiet, maybe we’re hungry for family.
This is one of the strengths of Community Night. It’s not just a meal program. It’s not just to feed people. We are trying to build a community St. Paul’s, our neighbors. No matter how much money we have, we are all hungry. The same is true in today’s story from the Luke’s gospel. Now first of all when I read the gospel, if it felt to you like we started somewhere in the middle of something, you’re right. So far in the Easter Sundays we’ve heard from Mark, last week from John, and now from Luke. This story is part of all the events of that first Easter day. Jesus isn’t at the tomb, but he does show up and walk with 2 of the disciples (who don’t recognize him). They walk and talk all the way to the town of Emmaus, they then sit down, he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and whalaa they’re eyes are open and they know it’s him—it’s Jesus. He disappears, and these two run all the way back to Jerusalem to the rest of the disciples and are telling them about seeing Jesus, about walking with him, talking with him, about the bread, when Jesus appears and that brings us to the “Peace be with you” he greets his disciples with this morning.
The point is, Jesus is resurrected. He’s not a ghost. He’s got a body, but see it’s all brand new. It’s something so new, this resurrection thing, is so new we’ve never ever seen it before. The wounds are still there, but they don’t slow him down. In this story, Jesus eats some left-over cooked fish. Now it wasn’t that he was hungry from that long walk to Emmaus, and his return to Jerusalem. He’s eating because the disciples were hungry; they were hungering for something to make sense. They needed that meal to calm their fears, their confusion, to give them purpose and direction. That meal, even though it’s just a bite fish was more about the experience of love and forgiveness of Jesus than about the food.
So another memorable meal I’ve had was at a tiny restaurant in Rome. My husband and I were travelling, and we were using one of this guy Rick Steves’ guidebooks. And we were hungry we’d been running around Rome sightseeing all day, and in this guidebook Rick suggests a particular little restaurant. Well luckily we find it, through the door with our guidebook open in our hands. With that the owner, manager, server I don’t know, I don’t speak Italian, and his English wasn’t great—he greets us, grabs the book, closes it, gives it back to us and maneuvers us to a little table. There are people all around us. We are not handed a menu, but quickly brought something to drink, and then offered plate after plate of food. We looked around us watched in wonder as each table was served, it seemed not all the same things, it was like the people of the restaurant somehow knew just what was needed. One table with a couple ate just a few things and then moved on while others like us seemed to sit through course after course—the place was filled with smiles, laughter, and warmth. We were truly fed.
Much like today. You see this day is a very special day for us. Five of our children, young people will join us to receive their first communion. In so doing, they will take a bit of bread, taste a bit of wine. This will be new to them, but there’s so so much more here than just that first taste. This is for them and for us, a first course in a much bigger meal. It is a taste of the joy that will happen with the feast that will have no end. But until that time, because Jesus knows that his disciples are still hungry. We are still hungry, we are still hungry for welcome, hungry for forgiveness, and meaning, direction, and purpose. We are hungry for peace in our hearts, in our relationships, our families, our neighborhoods, our world. We are hungry for love.
So Jesus invites, calls, pulls to this table. Now I said just a moment ago that this is a special day for us, I said that very specifically—yes it is so important for these children but it’s also for us. For while, at this meal, we will not be completely filled, it will not magically remove all of our hunger, our questions, our pains. But we will be fed; we will be welcomed, and this meal will be deeper and better because we will see God in action in the lives of these young people, and together our eyes will be opened, and we will recognize that Jesus is here, among us, that we together are fed, forgiven, and loved—this is the meal we share. Amen