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Sermon for Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Year B - August 5, 2018)

Aug 05, 2018

Passage: John 6:24-35

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Detail:

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (2018)
August 5th, 2018
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel) 

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a            Ephesians 4:1-1            6 John 6:24-35

If you remember from last week, I said that if you showed up today that we’d hear the rest of the story of King David and Bathsheba. And this morning we heard the second part of the story. There’s yet more of the story to tell, but the basic lesson to be gathered from what the scripture tells us about David is that sin has a way of coming to light, no matter how we might hide it. Another way of describing this lesson is, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” And in this story we see how the abuse of power has consequences even for those who think that they hold all the power. I don’t want to take away from the fact that the whole sweep of this story is one of the more disturbing stories that we find in scripture, but I’d like to turn our attention this morning to the Gospel lesson because I think it provides an excellent corrective to the very human, but still misguided, desire for power.   

To briefly recap, Jesus has just wowed the crowds with the miracle of feeding the five thousand, and the people are following after him because they were so impressed by his deed of power. And when they ask, “What must we do to do the work of God?” they are basically asking Jesus how they can get a further taste of the power they just witnessed. Jesus’ response is to say that they should believe in the one whom God has sent. Not satisfied with this answer, the people ask him to provide another demonstration of power so that they might believe in him. When Jesus begins to speak about “the true bread from heaven,” it seems that the people still didn’t quite understand. Their request, “give us this bread always” seems to indicate that their hope was that Jesus would keep working the miracle of feeding them with actual bread so that they wouldn’t have to worry about providing bread for themselves anymore. Then Jesus spells things out for them by saying, “I am the bread of life,” and with those words, he dispelled their notion that he was going to keep providing literal bread for them.   

Now, this is going to sound really philosophical, but what we’ve got in the Gospel lesson is a distinction between the power over a thing and the power inherent in the thing itself. The people wanted Jesus to exercise power over bread - literally to perform an ongoing miracle that would provide them with bread - but by saying, “I am the bread of life,” Jesus ends up drawing attention to the power inherent in bread itself. 

And, much like a poor, first-century, wandering Jewish rabbi, bread, in and of itself, is a pretty humble thing. At least, so it might seem. But the power of bread belies its humbleness. 

I read a book a number of years ago by Br. Mark Gruber, a monk St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, PA. In the book, Br. Mark describes how one summer he was sent by the abbey to do some anthropological research in the Sinai region of Egypt. His primary interest was in studying the lives of Christian monks living in Egypt, but it was a chance meeting with some Bedouins that proved to be the most valuable part of his experience. Br. Mark set out one morning by himself in a jeep, and he was hoping to reach a small monastery in the remote desert, but about an hour into his journey, his jeep broke down. He was still many miles from his destination and he knew that he didn’t have enough water with him to make the rest of the journey on foot. He decided start walking in the hope that someone might come along to rescue him, and much to his relief, after about two hours, a Bedouin tribesman came by on a camel. 

The Bedouin took him to a small encampment, and told him that they would make the journey to the monastery the following day. Knowing the danger that Br. Mark had been in, the Bedouin then insisted that Br. Mark eat something. And the Bedouin brought out some bread. As Br. Mark describes it, the bread was a round loaf with a thick crust. But when the bread was broken, he found that the inside was dense, chewy, and exquisitely satisfying. In the desert, the thick crust of the bread acts as a barrier and can preserve the inside for weeks if a loaf remains unbroken. 

After they had finished eating the loaf, the Bedouin insisted that they eat another. Br. Mark was full, but feeling that he should not offend his host’s hospitality, he obliged. When they finished the second loaf, Br. Mark was full to bursting, but the Bedouin then brought out three more loaves - all that was left in the Bedouin’s tent. At this point, Br. Mark protested, but the Bedouin proceeded to break all three loaves. Br. Mark was astounded at this because he knew he couldn’t possibly eat any more and that all that bread would quickly go stale. He also knew that his host’s family would likely go hungry because all of their bread had been broken and it might be days before they could make more, so he asked why on earth the Bedouin had wasted all his bread in this manner.  

The Bedouin responded that it was an act of hospitality. He wanted to let Br. Mark know that he had given everything he had to make Br. Mark welcome and that he had held nothing back. Breaking all of the bread in this manner, then, not a waste of resources but rather an extravagant display of generosity and hospitality. 

In reflecting on this experience, Br. Mark saw what had happened as a perfect analogy for the Eucharist. His host had held nothing back, had given all that he had, and the symbol of his hospitality was in bread: broken, exposed, and shared. The bread itself was the means by which his host’s generosity was communicated, so in a very real sense, the bread contained a power within itself that went far beyond the simple ability to satisfy hunger. 

We are a long way from the Sinai desert in Egypt, but I think the lesson holds true for us here. We are all in some sense walking along in life suffering from a spiritual hunger and thirst; suffering from a longing that we sometimes can’t even name. And, no matter where we might be, God finds us, comes to us, and invites us to take refuge in God’s own house. Here in this house, we find many fellow travelers who, just like us, are hungry and thirsty and in search of refuge. And God provides us with bread. The bread itself might seem meagre, but in it, God holds nothing back, and in a truly astounding display of humility and generosity, provides us with God’s very own self. 

As I said, the lesson from the Gospel provides us with a great corrective to our misguided desire for power. Because in the bread we break and share, we are not exercising power over anything. Instead, the power of God’s gift to us in the bread we break is that it takes root in our lives and enables us to go out into the world to let others know that their hunger and thirst can be satisfied, as well; that they, too, are invited to share in the power of God’s generosity. 

Our job, then, is not to strive after control of God’s gift but rather to share it, extravagantly. Our job is to let the world know that there is not only room at the table, but plenty of bread to go round. Our job is to invite others to come to Jesus, who is indeed for us the bread of life.