Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, RCL Year B, Proper 13
August 5, 2012
at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Trussville, Alabama
Beloved sisters and brothers, let us look to the Lord.
May only God’s word be spoken,
May God’s word be heard.
So, Jesus and the disciples have crossed the lake, and then the crowds hop in their boats to come looking for him when they realize that he’s gone. Of course, crossing the lake is a passage of faith, a passage of faith that we all have to make. It takes place between that glorious picnic where Jesus is present, and the revelation in Capernaum of Jesus as vulnerable friend who will feed them with his presence.
Jesus is calling his disciples, calling the 5,000, calling us to move from a faith based on a very visible miracle that fulfills merely physical needs; to a faith that is total trust in him and in his words, words that can appear foolish, absurd, impossible, even scandalous.
This crossing of the lake can be a difficult passage for us all. It can represent the passage from childhood, where we feel secure with our parents; to adulthood, where we become responsible for our own lives. Jesus leads these men and women from the excitement and enthusiasm of budding discipleship to a mutuality of love and friendship that is more hidden and humble.
We might remember from last week how the disciples were confused and upset in the boat as they made their crossing, which perhaps also tells us something about ourselves. How easily they had seemed to have forgotten the blessedness of the picnic with Jesus! How easily we forget!
We can live blessed moments of the presence of God, in prayer or through an encounter with someone, where we sense God’s presence. Then something happens and we slip into sadness or even despair. We forget the moment of blessedness. Doubt, anger, and anguish rises up within us. We have short memories!
I have heard this from couples: they can live moments of incredible blessedness, and then a conflict arises and all the blessedness seems to evaporate and become a sort of illusion. I don’t know if that’s happened to you, but I know it’s happened to me. What we don’t seem to realize when that feeling of blessedness goes poof in the midst of a conflict, is that the blessedness was to give us strength, in order to deepen our faith and trust in each other, to help us go through the more difficult passages of trust that inevitably come.
So crossing the lake was a physical reality, but it also symbolizes our growth in faith, our passages of faith. We all have to go through those rough parts of our journey; it is all part of the journey of faith. It is not an easy journey since we have to die to ourselves; die to the desire to control situations, to control the Spirit of God, to control Jesus; we have to die to ourselves in order that we can abandon ourselves to be led by the Spirit of Jesus.
So, now, along with those who were present for the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 at that glorious picnic, we have crossed the lake to Capernaum to be with Jesus again and to learn from him.
They asked him,
“Rabbi, when did you arrive here?”
“Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but 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.”
Remember, the crowds of people who followed Jesus to Capernaum wanted to make him king, which was the reason he took off in the first place. These were the ones who saw the feeding miracle as an end unto itself; rather than as the sign that it was meant to be, something that pointed them to faith in the living God, in the Son whom God had sent.
This is why they ask Jesus for another sign. They have had a sign and still do not believe. Moses, Jesus reminds them, did not give the bread that came from heaven. It was God who gave the bread that satisfied their hunger, for one day only. The same God now gives them bread from heaven, that will satisfy forever. In response to this teaching, they ask him for this bread.
So, what is this food that they have to work for and which will last forever? What must they do?
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
And he adds,
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Now, this was something that the people who followed him across the sea to Capernaum could understand. For the Jewish people, the word of God, the Torah, was an incredible from of nourishment. It was bread for their hearts and minds.
In the book Ezekiel the Lord had said,
“Son of Man, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll and go, speak to the house of Israel”… Then I ate it and in my mouth it was sweet as honey.
The word of God here is the revelation of the love of God. It is also the revelation of what humankind is about, what our lives are about, what the whole history of the universe and of salvation is about. And it is as sweet as honey. Our intelligence needs and yearns for wisdom. We not only need practical wisdom that shows us how to live, but also an intelligence that seeks an understanding of the meaning of the universe. We need to be nourished by the word of God.
Those who were listening to Jesus could understand that the bread Jesus was talking about was the nourishing bread of the word of God.
So, now, here we find ourselves in the midst of another of those interesting times in our lectionary readings, these readings from the Bible that are appointed for each week, and in this section of John’s Gospel. For the next three Sundays the lectionary follows a whole progression of ideas about Jesus as the bread of life.
This work of trying to wrestle with, to clarify, what this bread of life means, might begin with the frank and honest admission that there is a good chance that whatever we think about it, we just may not get it. It’s an odd thing that as modern people we can sometimes feel that we have an inalienable right to comprehend everything. However, unfortunately, comprehension is not a democratic right.
What if we have a truth here that we are unable to ‘get’? It may be a truth that must be given. We ‘get it’ as a gift, rather than as a result of our intellectual achievement. Encounter and comprehension of the Word made flesh takes time, humility about what we can and cannot know, and a worshipful willingness to be taught by a Savior who does not always come naturally.
But what we do know how to do is to break the bread, and drink from the cup, and bless our work and life together… and take that out into the world!
Thanks be to God!