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Sermon: What Do You Hunger For?

Inaugural Sermon preached at 1st curacy at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, Alexandria, VA on August 12, 2012
11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14); Year B: 2 Sam 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Ps. 130; Eph 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but I have a weakness for really good bread!  I’ll try to tolerate that most popular, often eaten in America, sliced white bread – with all its fluffy lightness, squishy texture, ordinary color and flavor so bland that it is hard to describe.  But good, full, rich, hearty bread which can muscle up under a hefty schmear of butter, or hold together after being dipped in olive oil with a touch of pepper is my idea of good bread.  And yes, I will use wheat or multi-grain when I get a hankering for a PB&J with a tall glass of ice cold milk.

I’ve got y’all just a little bit hungry now, don’t I?  Well, I certainly am.

So here we are – in Week Three with Chapter Six in John’s Gospel - we’re in Chapter Six of John’s Gospel A LOT, folks!  And throughout this chapter, we see the full cycle of the people’s response to Jesus.  And I would say they are hungry throughout this chapter – hungry for bread – and although they don’t know it yet – the Bread of Life.

First, there is the excitement over Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 prompting the people to want to make Him king.  The following day, Jesus rebukes the people for having interest only in physical things and not in spiritual truths.  Jesus used the miracle of feeding the multitude to provide an object lesson regarding the bread of life, and the provision of God, using words which would later be associated with the Lord’s Supper, our Holy Eucharist. 

We heard these words last week to end the Gospel, and again this week to open the Gospel.  “I am the bread of life.  They who come to me will never go hungry, and they who believe in me will never be thirsty.”  This is one of the greatest passages of this Fourth Gospel and, indeed, of the entire New Testament. 

Here in Verse 35, we have the first of the seven great “I AM” statements for which John’s Gospel is known.  “I am the bread of life.”  The six others, all familiar to us, are: I am… the Light of the World, …the Gate, …the Good Shepherd, …the Resurrection and the Life, …the Way, the Truth, and the Life, … and I am the Vine.  John is the only Evangelist who uses these “I AM” statements as a framework for his Gospel.

And with this first I AM, Jesus openly declares His identity.  He is the “I AM,’ who faced and called Moses at the burning bush, the One, as John earlier affirmed, by whom “all things were made.”  He is “food which endures.”  Sooner or later, any serious dialogue with Jesus will bring us to the place where we must deal with who He is; we must recognize who we hunger for.

This revelation of His identity serves also as His invitation.  Jesus opens His heart, inviting any and all who hear to come and believe in Him.  Not to satisfy a physical appetite, nor to assume that we can earn this bread, for that would be false pride.  We can only come to Jesus as beggars, both hungry and needy, if we are to accept the “true bread” which only He, the “I AM,” can offer.  The inclusion of thirst in His statement emphasizes that Jesus is the fulfillment of all our needs.

Yet these words, which comfort many of us now, were the very same words that disappointed the sensation-seeking crowds then, so much that they began to turn away from him. 

In Verse 41, it is the “Jews,” the term John used for those who constantly oppose Jesus, who now murmur against Him.  It is that same noise of unbelief that their forebears made while wandering in the wilderness.  How can this seemingly ordinary man make such an absurd claim that He is “bread from heaven?”

Remember: The miracle of Jesus’ birth is unknown to the general public.  His “father and mother” are simple, small-town, laboring folk who are regularly seen at religious feast days and in ordinary family gatherings.  To the people who know the family, this is a ridiculous statement to make!  Jesus puts himself at the mercy of the people, even as He is a King, cloaked in the flesh of a simple citizen.

But what is it about this bread that Jesus is talking about?  It may be bread that sustains life, but what kind of life?  Clearly, it is something more than physical existence since He has already chastised the people for desiring such physical things.  How might it relate to spiritual life? 

Over the years, I have participated in various feeding ministries: mostly at Carpenter Shelter with Grace Church, and the Kwanzaa Kitchen hosted by St. George’s, U Street in Northwest D.C.  I know ICOH is familiar with Carpenter’s Shelter, and the ALIVE! Food Drives in January and June, and Meals on Wheels, just to name a few.  I look forward to adding my hands to all of yours to help feed God’s people in Alexandria.  And the people I’ve met through these feeding ministries make me wonder how the people that Jesus encountered were hoping to be fed.  What were they hungry for?  They followed Jesus.  They pursued him, in fact, across the lake to Capernaum.  Jesus told them they should look for something more than loaves and fishes; He urged them to seek the heavenly food He offered, the food of eternal life.

John the Evangelist made it quite clear that the real issue and the ultimate stumbling-block to human naïveté is not on the level of physical marvel, but on the much higher level of the divine-human nature of Him who claims to be the bread of life.  For Jesus speaks of himself as the True Bread, and about its profit and its price.  And we know there is indeed only one who can claim to speak of God from ‘direct vision,’ the One who has come from him, Jesus the Son, the Word Incarnate.

When the Jews begin to murmur, Jesus does not deal directly with the objection they raised.  Instead, He returns to expound the nature of belief as the work and gift of God.  Watch as Jesus puts all the various terms in the right perspective and relationship for the final time: bread, life, descent from heaven, manna, belief, eternal life, death; all these things are said to find their real meaning in Him, who is the real living bread that has come down from heaven.  It is this bread that is available for the life of the world in the flesh of the Son of Man.

Jesus teaches to re-orient their understanding: He says He should not be likened to Moses, but rather that His proper counterpart in the Manna story is that of Yahweh.  In this part of the discourse, He forsakes the third person reference and the present tense, and speaks plainly about Himself in the first person as the One who will give the bread of life to the world.  Jesus knows this is the hunger the people have.

Christian faith is faith in Christ crucified.  True nourishment, which brings eternal life, is possible only for those who accept His sacrifice, who are incorporated by faith into His body, who are crucified with Him that they might live in Him, and who abide in Him because He abides in them – these truths are sacramentally set forth each time we partake of broken bread and outpoured wine at this altar table.

There is a distinct reason for connecting the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 to the death of Jesus on the cross – it is teaching relevant to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist which is blended together, purposefully.

We know that without Jesus, there may be existence, but not necessarily life.  Jesus is essential bread, supporting an essential relationship, providing the essential life that is found only in this bread and this cup which calls us, feeds us, and sustains us.  It unites us, inspires us, and empowers us.  It satisfies our hunger.

            In his book, Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen offers this reflection about Jesus, Our Food and Drink (Oct. 4):

“Jesus is the Word of God, who came down from heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, and became a human being.  This happened in a specific place at a specific time.  But each day when we celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus comes down from heaven, takes bread and wine, and by the power of the Holy Spirit becomes our food and drink.  Indeed, through the Eucharist, God’s incarnation continues to happen at any time and at any place.”

 Sometimes we might think, “I wish I had been there with Jesus and his apostles long ago!”  But Jesus is closer to us now than he was to his own friends.  Today he is our daily bread!”

So I join with Henri Nouwen to tell you, to invite you, and to welcome you:  If you are hungry, come, eat and be filled.  Taste and See that the Lord is good. 



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Aug. 13th, 2012 09:22 am (UTC)
I really appreciate your placing the text of your sermon on your web site so I can watch your growth as an excellent preacher. Your beginning with your own "weakness for really good bread" is a classic way to set the "teaching" as to what John was trying to do in his gospel. Keep that up because, for some in your congregation their Sunday service is the only time that they are available for opening up the true story from scripture, your sermon is the only way to "teach" by bringing those ancient writings into the 21st century. Your closing sentences, " If you are hungry, come, eat and be filled." "Taste and see that the Lord is good." are wonderful closings for your message. God sure chose a wonderful preacher when he called you and you responded; "Here I am, send me !" Love, Dad
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )