Sermon for August 9, 2015
Proper 14, Year B
1 Kings 19:4-8 Psalm 34:1-8 Ephesians 4:25-5:2 John 6:35, 41-51
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
In this sixth chapter from the gospel of John, we have now moved past the miracle and the people’s belief that Jesus is the prophet God sent to deliver them from Roman oppression. We have moved into the questioning and doubt, complaining even. The people who were among the five thousand that were feed the day before are now complaining. They sought Jesus and asked him to provide them with another sign, that they might be certain he is the one, and he responds to this request with a teaching. Then starts talking about himself as “the bread of life.”
The people are now angry, they complain about him reminding one another that he is ordinary man – the son of Mary and Joseph. So, in about twenty-four hours after they were ready to make him king, he has moved in their minds from a prophet, to a common man – and a confusing one at that. Still Jesus continues to teach, saying:
“Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bead that came down from heaven.”
Today’s passage from John ends with Jesus saying he will offer himself “for the life of the world.”
Last Sunday I talked about the problem with miracles. Miracles not only confused the people who witnessed them in Galilee, they confuse us today – perhaps even more so . . .. Miracle stories in the Bible, such as the one from 1 Kings in which an angel brings food to Elijah and the manna from heaven referred to by Jesus in today’s reading, are distracting for our twenty first century minds. But each miracle has a message for us and the teaching from Jesus illuminates these messages.
Today, as Jesus continues the lesson he began in our reading last week, that he is the bread of life, Jesus helps us understand the eternal life God offers us is not physical, but spiritual. The bread that we eat feeds our bodies, but what Christ offers feeds our souls.
Elijah was ready to die, he asks God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” He has been God’s prophet, he defeated the prophets of Baal and now finds himself fleeing from Jezebel, the king’s wife, who had threatened to kill him. Now, alone in the wilderness, he wants God to be merciful, he wants to die.
I think most of us reach this point at one time or another. We do all that we think we can, and still, it doesn’t feel like we’ve done enough. We get tired of trying and we just want it all to end. This isn’t to say we’re suicidal, we’re just tired, filled with despair and perhaps even depressed. We want to be relieved of the responsibilities of this life.
But, like Elijah, God isn’t finished with us and God’s angels will provide us the nourishment we need to continue. As Christians we talk about seeing the face of Christ in others, and we talk of people being “angels” for us. We understand that God works through people, and when we are paying attending, we see this on a daily basis. Sometimes, too, we are surprised to find that the kind word or offer of assistance comes from the people we least expect to demonstrate God’s love.
Last summer when I was on sabbatical, a friend of mine and I took a road trip on our motorcycles. I had a flat along the way and managed to get to a gas station only to discover that it was the station one block further that had air – not this one. We needed some tools and the first person to offer assistance was driving an old truck that had seen better days. He not only found us the tool we needed, he gave it to us!
Unfortunately, we were unable to fix the leak with fix-a-flat and by tightening the valve core – so we were stuck until a couple of guys showed up in an old beat up SUV. They not only offered assistance, they left and returned with a trailer to haul my bike thirty miles away to the hotel where we had our reservations – then they refused to take money for their help or even for gas.
I suspect we all have such a story, though your story might simply be that a stranger offers you a kind word in the middle of a day when everything else has gone wrong. And whether we say it is Christ, or an angel of the Lord working through them, the meaning is the same. God offers us the substance which gives us the strength to continue our journey – and that is the message in today’s reading from First Kings. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us God offers more than that.
God offers manna to the people in the wilderness to give them the strength to continue their journey. But Jesus teaches us that the journey is not to the geographical Promised Land, but to eternal life – our life in Christ, who is the true bread from heaven.
These readings from 1 Kings, and John, tell us about the life that God offers for us, but it is our reading from Ephesians that gives us practical advice for how to live our lives in community. Though this letter was attributed to Paul, its authorship is subject to debate among biblical scholars. What is not debated, however, is that it is written to Gentile Christians, not Jewish Christians, and that it focuses on how members of the church are to relate to one another.
Today’s passage speaks of being angry, but not sinning, of dealing with our angry before the sun sets at the end of each day. It addresses the words that come out of our mouths, urging us to speak only those words which “give grace to those who hear.” Paul, or his disciple who writes this letter, urges us to be imitators of God and to “live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.”
Our life together here at St. Andrew’s makes a tremendous difference in how we live our lives. The true bread from heaven that Christ offers is shared by living in love with one another. I really liked the comment in last Sunday’s passage from Ephesians in which Paul said we are not to allow ourselves to be “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine.” This coupled with today’s reminder that we are deal constructively with our differences, teaches us to “guard our tongues,” if you will, and speak only in ways to build others up.
Living in love with one another does not mean we are in agreement, it simply means we seek to be supportive of one another. We may very well need to explore our differences and resolve conflicts, but Paul tells us to do this in way that builds up rather than cuts down or discounts the other’s opinion.
In the catechism in our prayer book, it says, “The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Commentator G. Porter Taylor reminds, “The nature of love is to love and to grow in that love.” Again, to restore unity does not necessitate agreement, but that we respect one another and see each other as the child of God we are – transformed by the love of Christ – who is the bread of life.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we thank you for this community, St. Andrew’s, and the love we share with each other. Help us we pray, to remain faithful to your call to us to seek to build each other up that when we leave here today we might take your love with us and share it with others. We pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.