Archive - Aug 17, 2018

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The Bread of What Sort of Life?

Here is the audio of the sermon I preached at Grace and St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Hamden, CT on August 12, 2018:

The Bread of What Sort of Life (rough cut)

Below you will also find the text as prepared for delivery.

I would like to thank my good friends who provided feedback, both as I was writing it and afterwards. I hope to discuss some of their ideas in a follow up post, if I can make the time.


“I am the bread of life”. How many of you have heard verse before? If you were in church last Sunday, you probably heard it. How many of you have heard it so many times before that it has lost much of it’s meaning?

Last Sunday, I was at a folk music festival and went to a small church in upstate New York. “I am the bread of life” was written over the arch leading up to the altar. It was part of the appointed readings for last week. It is for this week also.

Since I was in New York, I didn’t hear what was preached here, but I suspect it was similar to the sermon I heard there, talking about freshly baked bread, about being hungry, maybe even about feeding the hungry. I’ve also read other people’s sermons which were about freshly baked bread.

If I wanted to play it safe, and not worry about repeating what was said last week, I could preach on other parts of the Gospel lesson or one of the other readings. Yet the folks who put together the lectionary thought this was important enough to repeat two weeks in a row, so I’ll expand a little bit on the verse.

As I think about this verse, I split it into three parts. “I am” … “the Bread” … and “Life”.

The phrase “I am” is very important in scripture. It is how God responds to Moses when Moses asks God’s name. In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes himself seven times with phrases that start off with “I am…” The final phrase is “I am the true vine”, which was the Gospel the last time I preached here. “I am the bread of life” is the first of these phrases. In these phrases, Jesus is linking himself back to God and Moses on Mount Horeb.

So, if you were to start a sentence with the words, “I am”, what would you say? Who are you - really? I was thinking about this as I was listening to folk music last weekend. One of the songs that jumped out at me was “I am the one that will remember everything”. It is about orphan refugees being trained to become child warriors. How much are we like orphan refugees, living out painful lives and being trained to deal with that our pain by bringing pain to others? To borrow from a different song, how much are we “living like a refugee”? How much are we remembering painful parts of our lives and perhaps causing pain to others? How much are we like “the least of these” that Jesus talks about, like “the others”, whomever the others might be?

In another song, Dar Williams has a response, “I am the others”. How is God calling us to treat others?

When we talk about “the bread”, we are reminded about manna. Manna is referenced in both last week’s Gospel and this week’s. Remember, God gave manna to the Israelites as they wandered and complained in the wilderness. This continues the discussion from last week, where Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves”.

Are we coming to God and to church primarily to have our needs met? Are we seeking some sort of wealth that prosperity gospel preachers talk about? God does want our needs to be met, but God has a much greater understanding of what our needs really are. God wants so much more for us. This leads me to the final phrase part of the quote. “Life”.

What sort of life are we looking for? For ourselves? For our church? What makes you feel really alive? This takes us back to the stories of David we’ve been hearing about over the past few weeks. God took David, that ruddy son of Jesse who’s been out tending the sheep and makes him king of Israel. God defends David from his adversaries. David shows his gratitude dancing before the ark of the covenant even though his wife derides him for this. God has provided for David greatly, but David wants more than is appropriate and seeks out physical intimacy with Bathsheba.

I want to be clear here. What David did wrong was not seeking physical intimacy. Unlike some conservative preachers, I believe that physical intimacy is another wonderful gift that God gives us. What David did wrong was to seek physical intimacy at the expense of others. We don’t know what Bathsheba really thought. The bible is woefully lacking in exploring the thoughts and desires of most of its female characters. This reflects a larger issue of men generally failing to respect what women want. It reflects the overarching issue of power imbalances.

This isn’t just an issue of Biblical times. We still hear it today. As one political media personality put it, “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Power continues to be misused today, and it’s not just politicians. In April, the founding pastor of Willows Creek mega-church resigned amidst sexual abuse allegations. At General Convention this year, the Episcopal Church had a powerful Liturgy of Listening in response to issues of abuse and harassment in the Episcopal Church.

Last week, we heard about Nathan confronting David of his great sin, and I’ve longed to hear people confront some of our leaders today in the same manner. Perhaps the closest we are to such prophets are ones who use the #MeToo hashtag.

I suspect if we really look closely at our lives, there have been times that we have been taken advantage of by people misusing their power … AND … I suspect that we have all taken advantage of other people by misusing our own power. Sometimes, we’ve probably done this without even knowing it. I believe it is something we should always be keeping in mind when we confess our sins.

This week, we hear more about David. He gets the news that his son has died in battle and laments, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” I won’t go into Absalom’s history. It is, like so many of the stories in the Old Testament, complicated. Yet I will say that I cannot imagine the pain and grief of losing a beloved child. It is hard enough to lose even a pet.

How do we respond to such pain and grief? For David, and I suspect most of us, there are things that are more important to us than our own suffering, even than our own lives. - “Would I had died instead of you”.

One year ago today, Susan Bro’s daughter Heather Heyer was killed at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. I cannot imagine her pain and grief. Yet she is calling on people today not to respond with violence. On top of that, I can’t imagine the pain that drives people to hate other people because of their skin color.

Yet I did just read a story that helps me understand a little bit. Ken Parker, an ex-neo nazi put it this way, “I had gotten out of the navy, it was hard getting a job and it was really easy to blame it somebody else, you know people with darker skin.”

This is, I believe, can help us understand today’s gospel lesson. The crowds were asking for physical bread. They were looking for food, just as people are looking for jobs and better lives today. Jesus was talking about something much deeper.

You know, there are these quizzes on Facebook: Would you be willing to live in a haunted house with no modern communications for a month for a million dollars? Todays lesson asks a similar question: Would you rather have a life time supply of bread or have someone love you enough to be willing to suffer and die for you?

Ken Parker’s story continued on to encounter Jesus, the bread of life, when he befriended a black pastor and turned his life around, being baptized and received into a predominantly black church.

Today’s epistle takes it the one step further. It says, “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands”. Why is this? It isn’t simply because stealing is wrong or that maybe we need to be doing our fair share of the work that needs to be done. The epistle tells us it is “so as to have something to share with the needy”. That is where we experience the joy of Christ. The epistle ends with “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

This is where we experience true joy, where our lives are most full, when we are living in love, imitating God, and sharing with those in need around us.

In a theology group on Facebook the other day we were asked what sort of church events other than the worship services did people ‘feel the spirit’. I mentioned Dinner for a Dollar. I believe it is in helping with things like Dinner for a Dollar that we are especially close to being imitators of God, living in love, that and deeply experiencing God’s love for all of us.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Amen.

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