SERMON 8/5/12 Pentecost 10B
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
Food is one of the basics of life and it is our earliest experience of interdependence. Have you ever noticed the miracle of the bond between mother and baby at feeding time. It is one of the most intimate of human interactions. There in the mother’s arms resting is the helpless child dependent on her mother, who gives of herself for the needs of the baby. The mother was serving as both nourisher and as nourishment. This bond of parent and child grounded in basic needs, is the beginning of a bond that will surely grow and mature through the years. Our lives begin and continue in an ongoing wrestling with in an insatiable need for sustenance, and the obvious reality of our utter dependence on others for that sustenance.
Today, we tend to forget that we are not independent islands, we must rely on others. It takes many hands, many people to plant, grow, harvest, prepare, package, deliver, and sell all that we eat. The USDA reports that we eat about a ton (1,966 lbs) of food per individual, per year. What would it be like if each of us really had to plant, cultivate, and harvest our own sustenance each year? Consider that the next time you drive down 776 on your way home, as you witness the plethora of fast food options, seafood bistros, and Publix/Sweetbay’s/and Winn Dixie’s. It is hard for us to imagine that obtaining our daily bread involves more, much more than merely making a five minute stop by the local Wal Mart bakery department.
The folks who got into the boat and went to Capernaum seeking Jesus were looking and hoping for their daily bread. Who could blame them. Filling their empty stomachs in those days, did not include a quick order at the McD’s drive-thru, a little stop at the local grocer, or a night out at the local seafood house. Working for their food was a natural part of everyday life and this new rabbi was giving out free lunch. Naturally, these new followers wanted to stick close to Jesus. The unfortunate part of this story, is that they followed Jesus not because, the recent miracle was a sign for them to strengthen their faith in who Jesus was and the life he offered. They had already seen that sign in the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000 and yet, they followed him because of their own personal needs, their empty tummies, and the food Jesus was giving out free of charge.
We have to be a little cautious as we read this story because, it is easy for us to condemn these folks for their supposed self-serving discipleship. We might say, “c’mon you need to follow Jesus because he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the promised one; you need to have a higher and loftier reason for following him.” Caution, there is more to this story. I believe their need for physical sustenance and the need for spiritual feeding went hand-in-hand. Jesus knew about their basic needs for food, air, and water. Jesus knew those hunger pangs pretty well and thus, he had compassion on the crowd and so he fed the multitude.
I am not convinced that Jesus was chastising these folks. I think he was saying, yes I will feed your body and at the same time, I will feed your soul, are you ready to feast? I think the challenge to these unlikely followers and we the followers of Jesus today, is we need to get spiritually hungry again. When was the last time you were hungry; I mean really, hungry? Following Christ goes beyond satisfying our own personal physical needs. Being fed by the bread that never perishes involves our deep connection to Christ in his accepting, reconciling, and restoring grace. It is only in Christ that our deepest hunger can, and will be fulfilled.
If we are honest with ourselves and each other, we all come here each week with hunger pangs. Whether, we come to this place seeking the presence of God, seeking to be filled through a sense of feeling good, or just seeking, coming to the table uncertain why we come at all, we all come hungry. We all come expectant, and yet, we may have in the past, come to the table and left disheartened without witnessing the miraculous signs of God’s grace all around us. Maybe we have come seeking a miraculous sign of grace in an uplifting song, an inspirational message, or something else. Maybe the bread we seek, the sustenance of grace that we are offered, can only be found in the miracles of the shared lives of these folks who are sitting beside us. Look around, we are gathered together as a community of the Spirit. We are gathered together all seeking to be fed. We are gathered together as beggars, who are showing other beggars where to find bread. We all come hungry and I believe we can all come to the table expecting a miracle and we can be assured, the miracles of God’s sustenance abounds, beyond our imagination.
Miracles still happen and billions are being fed every day. The miracle of Jesus feeding body and soul happens in some of the most unexpected places and in the most unexpected ways. A friend told me about such a feeding miracle the other day. She was having lunch with a colleague in a local restaurant and as they finished their meal, her luncheon companion called the server over and said, “Jill, please bring me the sales check for two tables back. Don’t tell them who paid it and don’t tell them it was paid until I’ve left.” My friend was amazed by such a show of generosity and hospitality, which her friend offered complete strangers. The server looked at my friend and said, “Oh, he does this at least two or three times a week.” In this miracle, there was no multiplication of loaves or fishes going on here, but there was an abundance of grace present that day. There was also more than a free lunch being shared at that table that day. The luncheon companion of my dear friend was demonstrating how feeding the body and giving unselfishly for the benefit of another, demonstrates how Our Lord feeds us spiritually.
Miracles still happen and billions are being fed every day. Last week our food pantry here at St. D’s was running low on a few particular items. Knowing that we were falling short and that some of the people we served would have to go without, a group of our pantry ministers gathered and prayed for God’s nurturing and nourishing grace. The next day, something amazing happened. A miracle, I believe. An abundance of food arrived and unbelievably, there was just enough food, and we received exactly what was needed to re-stock our shelves. Do you know what one of the most interesting things about this miracle that I found? The ministers prayed for nourishment, but not for themselves. The ministers were interceding for others and not themselves. They prayed for folks that they did not even know. There was more than a free lunch being shared at that pantry that day. Our pantry ministers were demonstrating how feeding the body, praying with intercession, and giving unselfishly for the benefit of another, demonstrates how Our Lord feeds us spiritually.
The table of grace, reconciliation, mercy, and abundance; isn’t that the table Jesus sets before us? Jesus is the food that satisfies our hunger and sustains our souls, not because our bellies are full, not because we are made to feel good, not because of the physical fulfillment of the day, which we surely receive. Jesus is the food that satisfies us, because we are fed by the one broken for us. In that meal, we are changed. Jesus is nourisher and nourishment and we all are brought together as one in that meal. The bread of life is not about filling our stomachs alone, it is about being filled so that we might feed others.
Jesus asked the rock on which he built his church, “Simon do you love me?” The church’s rock replied, “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus told the foundation of the church, “Then Feed my Sheep.” Jesus’ admonishment of Peter, the rock, the foundation upon which he built the church was this, “feed my sheep.” We are the church. We are beggars who protest, “Lord, feed us!” Our cry needs to include, “feed us, so that we might feed All your sheep.” We need to take up our part in the miracle of the “bread of life.”
We can begin to understand discipleship when we recognize that we are mere beggars, called to show ALL other beggars, where to find bread.” It is through our common life together, dependent on each other , together dependent on God, that we will truly understand the miracle of God’s grace. Remember, if we leave here hungry this day, it will not be because the right type of song was played, the best sermon was preached, the best program was offered, nor the right people did or did not show up. If we leave here hungry today, it will be because we failed to see the signs of the miracle of grace in the faces, the face of Christ, found in our sisters and brothers ,seated here among us, and the face of Christ we encounter in everyone we find out there on the streets.