A few years ago while I was still in Seminary I met a young woman who was considering going that route herself. She was very young about a year out of college, but exploring a potential call to the ministry. We were in a small group of people in coffee hour after church and she was talking about her plans. But then she brought up something that she said really bothered her about churches: Everything s always about food.
She has a point. There are coffee and doughnut holes before the service. There is nibble and sip food and drink after church. Is it really church without a coffee hour? There are the occasional or routine mid week parish dinners. There are breakfast groups and supper groups, newcomer s receptions and funeral receptions, casserole committees and soup kitchens, feeding programs for the homeless, etc., etc., etc. Face it. We are an eating and feeding people.
With a certain degree of frustration this young woman commented, Why are we so focused on eating? I hesitated for a minute not quite daring to say, So where do you think Holy Communion fits I? But then thought, Well, Seminary will take care of that one. My next thought was how I could say as kindly as possible, Get over it, honey! That is if you want a vocation in the church.
What is it about food and faith? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that both are essential to life.
I love cookbooks. Recently I spotted one in Cokesbury titled, The Bread of Life. A compilation of all the best recipes from Episcopal Church cookbooks around the country. I was proud and I admit it. I said to myself, That s my church. The Episcopalians love their food and here s the best of the best. Of course I bought the cookbook. Loyalty and all that . . . and so vocationally appropriate.
Some of the recipes in the book are good, but what I really enjoyed was checking out the names of the different cookbooks from which the recipes were taken. There were the usual, not unexpected, titles: Entertaining Grace-fully, Angels in the Kitchen, Food for the Flock, Savoring Grace. Nothing startling there. Then there were some that had a certain flair: Holy Chow and one of my favorites, The Book of Common Fare. Then there were those titles I would consider definitely Biblically based: Burnt Offerings, More Manna and a Little Quail, and another of my favorites, The Garden of Eatin . I could just imagine cookbook committees thumbing through the Bible for inspiration.
The Bible is full of stories about food. Both food and water. No wonder! Food and water are the most basic of life s necessities. The reality is: without food and water we die.
This morning in the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, Jesus says, I am the Bread of Life. Just a few verses earlier we remember the miracle story of Jesus feeding more than five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. But did those gathered there really get the message? Their stomachs were full, their hunger of the moment satisfied, but did they really see the miracle and that this was God providing for them?
Do you think the people on that first century hillside experienced even an echo of their Old Testament heritage? Ancestors wandering in the desert, starving. Moses plea to God and God s response: manna from heaven in the morning, a few quail in the evening and then later water from a rock.
The gist of these two stories, Old and New? God provides! As if those hungry had cried out, Our Father in heaven . . . . Give us this day our daily bread. And God heard. And God responded.
Bread for the day. But isn t Jesus in our Gospel passage this morning talking about something more?
Yes! He s talking about bread for life. He s saying, he s it. And he s saying we must feed on him if we are to have life.
Here, again, are Jesus words from the Gospel:
I am the Bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever . . . . (John 6:48-51)
This is not a new idea to us, is it? We are reminded of an upper room, a Last Supper. We are reminded of our sanctuary here, the altar and our coming together at table.
Whenever we celebrate communion together, the priest holds up the bread and says:
On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. (BCP p. 362)
And then just before the people come to the altar rail to receive communion, the priest says:
The Gifts of God for the People of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving. (BCP p. 364-5)
There is one last Bible story I want to highlight this morning. It s at the end of the Gospel of John. (John 21:1-19) It takes place in an intimate setting. It takes place early in the morning on a beach beside the Sea of Tiberias. The resurrected Jesus, appearing to his disciples one last time, cooks breakfast for them some bread and some fish over a charcoal fire. When they finish eating Jesus turns to Simon Peter. Three times Jesus asks Peter, Do you love me. Three times Peter answers, Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. You know that I love you. And each time Jesus gives him a command. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Jesus then gives a final command: Follow me.
Note how Jesus command to feed his lambs and his sheep is preceded by the question about love. It is out of Christ s love for us, as evidenced by his dying for us on the cross, and then out of our love in response that we are then to turn and feed others.
Here s how we may paraphrase the Gospel message, the Good News, that we hear this morning:
I am the Bread of Life. Feed on me. Feed on the immense love I have for you. It is not love for just this day, but forever. Feel it in the depths of your soul that part of you that seeks eternal and everlasting life and my peace that passes all understanding. In response, then turn, and nourished by the love you have received from me, feed others.
Without food we die a physical death. Without love we die a spiritual death. Jesus is love. Take, eat and go forth in love.
We are called to be an eating and feeding people. That s what the church is all about. Remember! The coffee and doughnut holes, the casseroles and the nibble and sip foods, the dinners and the breakfasts all this that we partake of and that we share with others are symbols. Symbols of the love we need to feed our own hunger and of the love we re called to share with others who are hungry. That all may be fed in both body and soul.
My sermon was meant to end here. But I feel called to add a postscript to it – because of the events of this past week, because of the events of the past several weeks.
Some have said that World War III has already started. It is the war of terrorism. It is worldwide.
Terror upsets our world, however you want to define the word world in your life. Terror and fear impact us at all levels as individuals, as families, as communities, as nations.
Is there anything in today s Gospel that may offer us some direction, some hope?
Here are some thoughts.
We have a choice. We can feed on terror. Terror feeds fear which feeds hate which feeds revenge. Life lived fed by terror, fear, hate and revenge is not the life God wants for us. It leads to death. God s son, Jesus Christ, came and died that we would have life not death.
The alternative? Feed on love. Stay centered on the loving Source that nourishes us and wants for each of us a life abundant, not a life diminished. Stay close to God. Stay close to each other. Love one another. Pray for one another. Pray for your enemies. Share the Good News: that love conquers all, that love never ends, that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God.
Dear God, may it be so!