The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


  

    




Sermon - August 5, 2018
Scripture Reading: John 6:24-35    
Sermon Title: Bread of Life



The Rev. Robert Vodra

    

     Before we jump into todayís reading, we should look back on last week, just to see where we are.  If I had one complaint about the lectionary, and ministers who preach mainly from the lectionary, it is hard for one to keep track of what is happening.  We see these little snippets of Jesusís life, snap shots, and hear what they may mean, but I always had a problem putting it together.  We all know that Jesus was born, lived, preached, was hung on a cross, died, rose from the dead, did a bit more preaching, and then ascended into heaven.  And we have 4 stories of Jesusís life, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all with similarities and differences.  We know that Jesus has to be born on December 25th, so we need some stories leading up to that before Christmas, a time we call Advent.  We know that in the spring we celebrate Easter, on the Sunday, after the first full moon, after March 21.  Count back 40 days from that, excluding Sundays, and we have Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.  Of course during Lent we have Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.  And then there are a few other seasons or special days like Epiphany, the day the wise men saw Jesus, and Pentecost, 40 days after Easter when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples. 


     Once you fill in all those dates with appropriate scriptures, you are left with these snippets.  Two weeks ago our reading was in two parts, the before and the after of the feeding of the 5000 and walking on water.  It contained neither of the miracle stories, just the before and after.  Last week we picked up those two signs in Johnís version of the stories.  Why did we jump from Mark to John, I have no clue.  I suspect that in the 3 years of the lectionary we focus on Matthew, Mark and Luke one year each, but with 3 years, 4 gospels, they want to stick in some John.  This all happens as Jesus is alive and his following is growing.


     So in this story from John, we have just had Jesus followed by the crowd to a hilltop.  There he tells them all to sit, and taking 5 loaves and 2 fish from a little boy, he feeds all 5000.  The crowds love that.  A man who sees a problem and solves it, with 12 baskets of leftovers.  They want to make him king, a human king.  He runs off, and that night his disciples also leave in a boat, without Jesus.  But later that night, when they were well off shore, Jesus appears, gets in the boat, and like magic they were where they were headed. 


     When the feast was over, and apparently after the night, those 5000 awoke to find Jesus and his disciples were gone.  Jesus is in Capernaum - Somehow someone knew, so they loaded into boats, and took off after him.  When they arrive they find him and almost accuse him, we were looking for you and you were gone.  They were looking for more bread, more food.  Hey, if Jesus can do this once, he can do it again and again and again. 


     Jesus tells them that they missed the whole point.  Sure, Jesus can feed 5000, no problem, and he can do it again and again and again.  Everyone eats and drinks, and then dies.  The bread of earth keeps you alive, but does not give you anything more.  But there is more than just your physical needs that you need met.  He informs them that they must work for bread that does not perish.


     And this is where many of us get hung up.  We have heard in the other gospels and old testament prophets what we are called to do.  Feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit those in prison, welcome the immigrant, do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.  And secretly I want Jesus to lay it out there.  Those are things I can do.  Not easily, or fully, I fall short, but they are at least somewhat concrete.  I can give to ministries that feed and clothe, I can support our prison ministry, or visit those when I can get into prison (it is harder than it sounds to actually visit someone in prison today).  I can lift up signs of Justice and work for it.  I can lift up signs of kindness and spread it, and I can try to walk humbly with my God. 
But Jesus says, believe that I am the one that God sent.  I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.  No orders from Jesus to do anything, except to believe in him and the God who sent him.  Thatís it?  All we have to do is believe that Jesus is the son of God?


     We get hung up on the stuff that we do.  Here we do some good stuff.  When someone needs something, we do whatever we can to help them.  We have our food pantry, sometimes we buy oil for people in the winter, we buy diapers when people need them.  Thanks to Sue and her helpers, children in the town have food to eat.  Sometimes I hear ďI donít have to go to church to be a good person.Ē  They are totally right, there are wonderful people doing wonderful work who do not go to church.  And on the other hand, Christianity has been used to defend horrible practices throughout history.  The Crusades, Colonialism and forced conversion to Christianity, support of slavery and even Christian Terrorism. 


     I would like to suggest that the difference between those who do good work and donít attend church, and those who do good work and attend church is where our energy comes from.  If you believe that Jesus is the son of God, and read what Jesus said, what we are called to do is clear.  Those good works come from gratitude.  God has blessed me, so it is only natural that I share those blessings.  Of course this is not just giving blessings of money, some of us have not been blessed that way, but we share in other ways.  Making a phone call, visiting someone, sending a card, or the more physical stuff, working with Habitat for Humanity, carrying things for the church rummage sale. Volunteering to help with Sunday School or the churchís Bible campÖ.I put those under the more physical things. 


     Those who do good but do not attend church do it for other reasons.  Of course it is good to help others, we are all on this little blue ball floating in space.  Some hope for some kind of reward, and even that is fine in some cases.  I am going to visit those in a nursing home, so hopefully if I end up in a nursing home people will come and visit me. 


     I think that Jesus is saying that the first step for Christians is to believe.  When you truly believe, it is natural to do all that you do based on gratitude.  As much as I wish Jesus laid it all out there, he doesnít have to.  It is all in the Bible, but the first step to receiving this bread that never spoils is to believe. 


     By the time the Gospel of John was written, baptism and communion were well established sacraments of the church.  Water, bread and wine.  Jesus calls himself all three, and those three are the elements we use in worship.  Water in baptism, bread and wine or juice for communion.  These are all so common to us now that it is hard to even imagine what those people gathered around Jesus thought. 


     Shortly in our service today we will celebrate communion.   This, for people outside the church, is very strange.  We used to think that everyone grew up in the church, but for many today that is not true.  Maybe they have seen it on TV, Christmas Eve mass, where the big wafer is held up, broken in two, and then people line up to get a little wafer they stick in their own mouths.  And maybe they have heard that it actually, somehow, becomes the body of Jesus.  If they show up in a Catholic church they might even be told that they should not receive communion.  I donít understand that, the body of Jesus is only for some?
And if they come to our church, some weeks we have a big loaf of bread. I break it in half and then ushers hand it out. People in the pews compete to see who can get the smallest piece of bread.  Maybe not, but seems like some people take just a tiny taste.  And that is followed by an equally small amount of juice.  Sometimes we have intinction, where bread is dipped into the juice.  We call it the body of Christ and the blood of Christ, but see it as symbols, not actual blood and body.


     I have been pretty honest, some weeks I go through the motions of communion.  We say some prayers, eventually ask the Holy Spirit to come in the bread and juice, everyone gets some, we say a prayer of Thanksgiving and that is it.  And then there are other weeks where something amazing happens.  I am able to share my belief in Jesus with many other people, through a simple yet often misunderstood sacrament.  I share a belief that someday Jesus will return, that somehow our life will be everlasting, and a hope that our lives until then will be full. 


     And that is why we have an open table.  That is why everyone who is in church today is welcome at this table.  Because some weeks something amazing happens.  I am pretty sure that it is not everyone some times and nobody other times.  But maybe today you will take communion and hear God saying ďThis is my son, believe in him and you will have eternal life.Ē  Or maybe this will be a week in which you think the bread is a little dry and wish you had a little more grape juice to wash it all down.  Or maybe this is the week you look around and realize that although it is all kind of confusing, it is an act that we have done for almost 2000 years, has meant different things to different people and maybe that is what God intends.  Maybe God is happy when we take time to remember, and ask what work we must to do receive this bread that never spoils. 


Amen.