Saturday, August 08, 2009

Today's Sermon: John 6:35, 41-51 "Feeding All God's Sons and Daughters"

We hear again about bread this week. A repetition of Jesus’ words: “I am the bread of life,” followed by some instructions about what that means.

Bread. The Bread of Life.

For those of you who work downtown, you may want to take the opportunity to see bread in action in a fresh way every Tuesday at 1 p.m. That’s when the Church of the Epiphany holds Street Church in Franklin Park, at the corner of 14th and I Streets.

A group of volunteers set up a small folding table, with a basket full of bread and a carafe of grape juice, and then they fan out into the park, inviting the homeless people to come over under the trees to share a brief service of Holy Eucharist followed by a sandwich lunch. Everyone gets a name tag, and everyone gets a paper that has the service on it.

Some of the attendees are regulars, who also attend the early Sunday morning service and breakfast called the Welcome Table at Epiphany. Some are poor workers in the area, the man who shines shoes at the Metro, the woman who sweeps the foyer at the office building nearby. Some are just people passing through, from places like Idaho and Oklahoma, with nowhere in particular to go, with no one in particular to care for them. Some mumble to invisible voices, some sing loudly, some don’t speak English. They may be coming simply for the promise of a PB&J and an orange, or they may be coming for a moment of connection with God and with other human beings in the midst of a difficult life.

I was there this past Tuesday, standing next to a transvestite named Kim who said he was from Hawaii, who wouldn’t sing because he didn’t like the sound of his own voice, but who recited the Lord’s Prayer with deep fervor. By him was John, a regular, whose gig beautiful baritone voice seemed a mismatch to his slight scarred body. To my left was Charles, newly arrived from California, with a long red beard and an old-fashioned courtesy and a single small backpack to live out of.

There were volunteers, older folks from South Carolina, several people from Epiphany, a group of youngsters with guitars and an electronic piano to provide some music. A cluster of people from the office buildings, curious and quiet, watching this motley band pray and praise God for a moment of bread, of feeding the soul and the body.

An odd mix of people, to be sure, connected by one thing – they wanted to be fed.

I wonder how the people to whom Jesus was speaking were hoping to be fed? Remember how they had come across the lake to Capernaum, following Jesus – we talked about that last week. He told them to expect something different from bread and fish, to take the food that he offered, the food of eternal life.

This week, we hear their confusion and response: Isn’t this that kid from down the block, Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s son? How can he say that he’s come down from heaven? So Jesus patiently explains it, as last week he explained that he was a different kind of bread. This is not the same kind of food from God as manna in the wilderness. It is a teaching of God that Jesus brings, the teaching that makes our relationship with God possible. And it is that loving relationship with God that brings us eternal life.

Relationship…it’s a hard thing sometimes to be in a relationship. We have to work to understand each other, we have to forgive the misunderstandings, we have to accommodate the different needs of the one with whom we are in relationship. In a way, Jesus models perfect relationship. He loves us dearly, to the point that he will do anything, even die, for us. He tries over and over again, to teach us. He is patient and loving with our mistakes and misunderstandings, and he keeps on teaching us, even when we are slow students. I doubt that many of us could meet that standard of relationship.

In fact, our human relationships are often marked with sadness as well as joy, with anger as well as love, with pride as well as disappointment. I would expect that everyone here today could tell a story of struggle with relationships.

That kind of struggle is exactly what we hear about in the Old Testament reading today – the death of King David’s son Absalom, and the king’s great grief.

The fact of the death alone would be enough to illustrate the awful challenges we face in relationships…but there is more to the story. Absalom is killed by David’s warriors in the course of a battle – Absalom has been trying to stage a coup and overthrow his father. And yet, even in the face of Absalom’s treachery, David first asks his generals to deal gently with Absalom, and when he hears of his son’s death among the trees of Ephraim, he weeps bitterly.

Relationships can be a struggle.

I thought of that as I stood under the trees of Franklin Park the other day, alongside the transvestite and drug addict, as we prayed and waited to be fed. Somewhere in these persons’ lives, a relationship was broken. Perhaps a parent died, or was herself an addict. Perhaps a person’s sexual orientation caused their family to turn them out. Perhaps they served in the military and their experiences broke their soul in some deep and painful way. A loss of a job, an illness, something happened…relationship was broken.

But still some kind of relationship with God, tenuous, perhaps, but still there, some kind of relationship remained. So we stood together, singing “Amazing Grace” and “We Shall Overcome,” reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm, asking for a renewal of that relationship with our heavenly Father. All of us, standing under those trees on a hot August day, were hungry. Wanting to be fed. Asking for renewal of relationship with God, through Jesus, through the sacrament of the Eucharist which reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice and the meal which memorializes it. And the service itself, with its moment when unlikely people wished each other God’s peace, was just such a renewal – not just with God but between human beings, some of whom hadn’t had a kind word or a loving gesture from another person in quite some time. The distribution of bread and grape juice was a tangible reinforcement of those relationships, especially our relationship with our loving God. And God was reaching out to us, by feeding us, to strengthen the relationships.

Because that’s the really beautiful thing – we don’t have to do all the work. Especially when we feel weakest, most hungry, most broken. God reaches out to embrace us in relationship by feeding our bodies and souls, drawing us in, helping us recognize God in ourselves and in those around us.

But once we’ve gotten that gift, we are compelled to turn around and use it, to pass it along to others who need it, too. To take the gift of the bread of life and share the meal.

That doesn’t necessarily mean going to Street Church and handing out sandwiches, although that might be a good thing for you to try.

It doesn’t necessarily mean evangelizing in the office, although working with others in a way that Christ would approve of is definitely better than engaging in office politics or gossip.

It doesn’t necessarily mean giving money to everyone who asks for it, although it is a surprisingly liberating thing to do, according to those saints who’ve tried it.

What it does mean is to know that relationship with God is an active and reactive thing, that it means work on ourselves and with others, and we don’t necessarily get to choose how we live that out.

So here’s the challenge: are you willing to look into the eyes of everyone you meet this week, and look for God in them? Are you willing to be fed and to feed all God’s sons and daughters around you? You may be surprised by the God you find there.


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