[I preached this sermon to the good people of Calvary Lutheran Church, usually pastored by my seminary classmate Kirsten.]
I Kings 19:4-8
I Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51
Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always. Amen.
We're in the midst of several weeks—like every summer—in John’s gospel, talking about bread. Why the composers of the lectionary chose August for this task, I’m not sure. I’d much more easily conjure delightful images of steaming loaves of bread coming out of the oven and warming my kitchen if this were November or February—instead, I’m sweltering in the Sacramento heat, reluctant to consider turning on my oven.
Fortunately, bringing the good news and breaking bread with you this morning did not involve any time in an overheated kitchen, just a while with these words, listening for what God is telling us about the bread life again this time.
I did a fair amount of listening this week. Thursday night was the GOP’s first televised debate of the primary season. Don’t worry—the guest preacher is not about to take sides from the pulpit! It’s amazing to me that several months prior to a single vote being cast, we’re already knee deep in political conversation, advertising, debating, accusing, demeaning vitriol.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has something to say about this behavior. How we conduct ourselves in social disagreements is always a challenge, but Paul reminds us to control ourselves.
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,” he says, “but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”
We should, in all exchanges, build one another up. In what ways do the words of our Presidential hopefuls build us up? Build up our nation? Build up the opposing party? Fat chance.
“Putting away falsehood,” Paul writes, “let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.”
We’re members of many things. This church, maybe. A book club, a PTA, a gym, a political party, a frequent flier program, a family, a union, a food co-op, a neighborhood association.
We are members, first and foremost, of the Body of Christ. As members of one body, we are called to be Christ’s hands, feet, ears, heart in the world. God’s work, our hands, our t-shirts might say.
In this Gospel text today, it’s very clear that Jesus’ words about bread were, well, not very clear. He opens with “I am the bread of life.” And immediately, his hearers are like, “What? First he’s Jesus, now he’s bread, who is this guy? He can’t’ve come down from heaven…he grew up around the corner from me.”
Jesus repeats himself, as usual, hoping that some form of the sentence will reach them. “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that you may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Now we’re talking. Not only is Jesus the metaphorical bread of life, but the bread he intends us to eat is his flesh. As we can imagine, this is not exactly what his Jewish hearers were used to hearing. We have chapters and chapters of Mosaic law that explain just what Jews are supposed to eat, and human flesh is definitely not kosher.
It’s language like this that got Jesus in trouble in the first place—and got Christians the grisly, incorrect rumors of cannibalism. The important, lasting piece here, though, is that the first thing the world knew about Christians is that they ate together.
An Episcopal priest named Cathy Campbell wrote a book about the Christian relationship with food. She says, “Food is a social good. Throughout history, people have used food to express hospitality. Christ’s ministry was no exception. Yet Jesus’ table etiquette subverted all the ways in which we commonly create distinctions among food, people, or places at the table. Jesus took his faith into the company of tax collectors and sinners, of thieves and criminals, of the forsaken.”
When we gather at the table, we gather with all people at all tables. We are all members of this diner’s club.
There are no rules, here. There’s no etiquette class, no dress code. Jesus ate with whomever was hungry—not who was wealthy or worthy or socially acceptable. Jesus did not exclude people from the table, and neither should we.
We don’t have to know anything about theology or be able to explain the “real presence” to experience it. All we need to know is that we are hungry.
And boy, are we hungry. When Jesus said, "I am the bread of life," he did not specify that he was the bread of life for some, but that whoever eats this bread will live forever. This morning is the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, infamously gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri last year. The ensuing Black Lives Matter movement has come from a deep hunger for justice, and has spread across this great nation to every community, in some way, black and white. Many preachers, some maybe even this morning, will say that Jesus said "all lives matter," but they will not know what they are doing. Jesus said marginalized lives matter--women's lives matter, the poor's lives matter, sick lives matter, ostracized lives matter. Black lives matter.
When Jesus broke bread with the disciples at the Last Supper, he acknowledged their hunger. He knew that every day for the rest of their lives, they would gather around a table to eat. Each time they did this, they were to recall that moment and that ministry. He knew that, very soon, they’d be broken—he’d be broken—we’ll be broken. But he knew, too, what words to say. “Do this for the remembrance of me.” That word, remember. It’s the opposite of the grisly dis-member. To re-member is put back together. To re-unify. To make whole.
When we remember Jesus in this bread and wine, we are re-membered, to God and to one another.
In the Old Testament reading from 1 Kings, Elijah lies down in the desert defeated. It’s a little dramatic, if you ask me, but I’m sure there are days when I, equivalently, lie down on the couch, defeated. But a still, small voice says “Get up. Eat.” The journey is long, and you need to be nourished.
This final stretch of summer, this may be a journey of great joy—maybe it’s been full of family vacations and days at the lake and the state fair and weddings and grandparents. Maybe it’s been exhausting. Maybe it’s full of deadlines at work or the stress of getting the kids out the door to the lake, or the expenses of back-to-school shopping, or the relentless 106-degree temperatures. Maybe you’re lying down in the desert, defeated. The good news is that there is good news. God comes to you, too, today.
Our God created us and so understands us—our bodies need nourishment to function. Our spirits, too, need nourishment. We need water and cakes in the desert, and we need bread of life from heaven. We need to get up and eat.
So, sisters and brothers, come to the table. Eat this bread that has come down from heaven, so that you may live. Amen.