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Sermon for August 2, 2015

Verlee A. Copeland, Preaching

                                    More than Snickers

If you’ve ever watched a football game, you’ve seen the Brady Bunch ads for Snickers, “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” A few years back when we were living in downtown Chicago, Snickers tried a different approach. Every yellow taxi had a sign on top that at first looked like a Snickers bar, same brown packaging, but with a twist. Each Snickers sign was actually a made-up word to make you think that nothing could satisfy your hunger like a Snickers candy bar: words like Hungerectomy and Snaxi. When we settle for a Snickers to satisfy our deepest hunger, we know we’re in trouble.

Jesus said, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.' - John 6:35-51

For those of you tuning in just now after a time away, or visiting with us for the first time, we’ve spent the past several weeks talking about Jesus’ miracle stories. Jesus develops a reputation for preforming signs and wonders to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand, and now a crowd of people are looking everywhere for him. Jesus continually lifts up their ordinary experience and reveals God’s presence in the midst of it: men who were blind, or deaf or disabled, a woman hemorrhaging, all were made well, though some could not accept the responsibilities of a healed life as we have said. Now that they were healed, they could no longer blame other people for their problems.

Jesus fed the crowds on a hillside with a couple of loaves and fishes, but still they cannot accept the abundant life God had for them. The Bible story today says that after that took place, they came looking for him, and he says to them: “You are looking for me because you saw signs, not because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. “ Then they ask for more signs, they want proof that God is with them in Jesus. They remind him that God gave them manna in the wilderness, bread from heaven, how is it any different now that God continues to give them bread when they are hungry.

They see the literal meaning, but miss the point. Jesus said to them. “I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” We can’t tell if their response was a genuine desire to enter into a deeper relationship with God through Jesus and a trust that he was who he said he was, or if they were taunting him when they replied, “Give us this bread always.”

Bread is a wonderfully sustaining foodstuff. Every nation and tribe of people on earth make a kind of bread from grain that nourishes their body and through the breakdown of carbohydrates, gives them the energy to live and work. Vitamins and minerals in bread help our bodies function as they should. It’s simple, nutritious and life-giving. It’s no surprise then that Jesus affirmed that hungry people need physical nourishment. He literally fed hungry people. God cares about our physical health and wellness. But now he wants them to see that God gives so much more than subsistence to get through yet another day. God gives full and abundant life that comes through Jesus, the bread of life.

The crowds and the disciples were settling for meager rations when God wanted more for them. At the start of the story they were still talking about what most of us now receive in a package from the Hannaford’s: bread made with wheat, which makes those with celiac disease sick; yeast, which I’m allergic to; and sugar, diabetics have to be careful with that. Jesus couldn’t be talking just about this stuff. Maybe he was talking about the crusty European bread made by our church member John Pendleton. Best bread on the planet. Bread matters. In fact Jesus said on another occasion, “Humankind does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And Jesus was the Word, God’s word spoken into the world, to feed hungry people. But not in the way they imagined.

Orthodox Priest and writer Alexander Schmemann wrote, “It is not accidental that the Biblical story of the Fall is centered on food… the original sin is not primarily that humankind ‘disobeyed’ God; the sin is that human creatures ceased to be hungry for God and for God alone, ceased to see that the whole of life depends on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God.”

         So what’s in this bread of life that God gives us in Christ? Let’s go see. I’m walking down the stairs to the communion table now. As I hold this loaf from the grocery store in one hand, and lift this bread from the communion table in the other, we might ask…

How is this (store loaf) different from this (Jesus Loaf)? Whether you grew up Catholic and believe that Jesus body is literally in the bread, or Protestant and believe Jesus’ body is symbolically in the bread, either way God surely feeds us with more than wheat, salt, sugar and yeast, or gluten free rice crackers. If you skipped breakfast, this bit of carbohydrate won’t be sufficient to get you through the da

Nevertheless, blessed and broken, this bread of heaven will get you through life. We say at communion, “God bless this bread, that we might come to know your presence at this table as you have promised.”

Break open Jesus’ life and smell his fragrance. It is the fragrance of mercy caring for those unable to care for themselves. Break open Jesus’ life and smell justice: for the marginalized, and maligned, the despised other.

Last Sunday evening our Speaker Tony Campolo said the mark of a democracy is how it treats those who do not have power. Campolo challenged us, saying that Christians have a tendency to draw lines of who is in and who is out. In Jesus’ time, it was tax collectors, and Samaritans and lepers. He said, “If you want to see Jesus, look for him on the other side of the line where he will always stand with the marginalized, the victim, the oppressed, the outcast, until God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as in heaven.

Jesus said it simply. “Truly I tell you whatever you have done for the least of these my brothers and sisters you did for me.”

Lift Jesus life and experience forgiveness, and reconciliation and peace beyond human understanding. Even a five year old understands that when we whack our neighbor on the head with a toy it hurts them, whether we meant to whack them or not. Saying “I’m sorry lets them know that we love them. It tells them that we know we hurt them and because we love them we don’t want to hurt them again.

But here’s the really big deal. Eat Jesus’ life and you will taste love. The primary ingredient in the bread of life is the love of God.

         Love looks like this. A little more than a week ago you may recall that the South Carolina State Legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the capital amidst great protest by some.

It was in this climate that Leroy Smith, a state patrolman and director of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety decided to work alongside fellow police officers at the protest in order to encourage their morale on what promised to be a difficult day.

Among the protesters were a group called the Black Educators for Justice on the north side of the State House, and on the south side, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. There were also neo-Nazi’s wearing the black shirts of the National Socialist Movement that believes only those of pure white blood, whatever their creed, may be members of the nations. Non-citizens may live in the nation according to their ideology as guests but will be treated as resident aliens. This includes Blacks, Jews and homosexuals.

“What the black state trooper saw was a civilian in distress… Yes, this man in distress was a white man, attending a white supremacist rally. And yes, he was wearing a black t-shirt with a swastika. The state trooper saw all this, but the “trooper concentrated only on this: an older civilian, spent on the granite steps of the state house, overcome by an unforgiving July sun and the recent, permanent removal of the Confederate flag, was in trouble. The black officer motioned for help from the Columbia fire chief, who is also black. Then with a firm grip, he began walking the wilted white man up the steps toward the air-conditioned oasis of the State House.

Mr. Smith was taken aback when someone snapped a picture of this scene and sent it out over the internet where it went viral, passed on to hundreds of thousands of homes by those who were moved by it. But the officer said he hoped that the image would help society move past the recent spasms of hate and violence, including last month’s massacre of nine black people in a church in Charleston. Asked why he thinks the photo has had such resonance with people, he gave a simple answer. Love.

“I think that’s the best thing in the world. Love.”

Jesus thought so too.

When Jesus started talking about the 'Bread of Life' the crowd thought he was talking literally about bread, and immediately their thoughts turned to their stomachs and back to the manna that God had provided for God’s people when they were in exile. But Jesus says, “There’s more for you. He's no longer talking only about the physical aspects of hunger. Yes, they had just witnessed something of a miracle when so many were fed and satisfied from the meal he provided courtesy of a few small fish and a loaf or two of bread, but that wasn't about showing off his power - it wasn't some form of conjuring trick to impress. As always with Jesus there was a spiritual lesson to be learned.

What he wants them to grasp is that within Him is all the food that they need to grow spiritually, real bread that satisfies hunger forever, not just the rumbling stomachs and hunger pangs that they might be feeling at that particular place and time. If you want real satisfaction, Jesus said, bless my body by breaking open mercy and justice. Lift my body by practicing forgiveness, reconciliation and things that make for peace. Eat my body by loving one another as I have loved you.

         For Jesus said, I am the bread of life.

“Bread of Life, you feed us

through word and sacrament.

The bread we share

a remembrance

of your presence with us.

Strengthen us for service,

that seeds we sow

in fertile places

might grow and flourish,

that food we share

in fellowship

might nourish and revive,

that words we share

in our daily walk

might glorify your name.

Bread of Life, you feed us

through word and sacrament

that we might feed others.

Blessed be your name!

When the journey is long

and we hunger and thirst,

Bread of Life, you sustain us.

When the road is hard

and our bodies weak

Bread of Life, you heal us.

When our spirits are low

and we can’t carry on

Bread of Life, you revive us.

When we offer our hand

in love and in service

Bread of life, you bless us.

When the challenge is great

and the workers are few

Bread of Life, you empower us.

When the victory is won

and we see your face

Bread of Life, you will rejoice with us!

We bless you,

God of Seed and Harvest

Provider of our daily bread

And we bless each other

That the beauty of this world

And the love that created it

Might be expressed though our lives

And be a blessing to others

Now and always

                  Prayer by John Birch, faithandworship.com

To eat at Your table

Is to accept Your invitation

And extend it.

To eat at Your table

is to trust Your provision

and share it.

To eat at Your table

Is to be hungry and receive good things.

It is to know there is enough

And be filled.

To eat at Your table

Is to know there is surplus for dogs,

To know there is a place for betrayers,

To know select seats belong to lame and blind.

Your table is set for the marriage banquet,

A festivity from which You, the Beloved Host,

Are abstaining until all are gathered.

Then Love’s wine will be newly poured

And sumptuous platters of sweet savories

In sacred delicacies will be passed.

Nothing anymore shall tempt a single soul,

Or be lacking to the human heart.

Every hunger shall be met,

Every longing blissfully satisfied

When we come to table with You.

It is this way with us now,

When we approach Your table

In anticipation.

Constance H. Black