Sermon preached the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost…
click here to listen: We Are Bread Eaters
Bread has experienced a renaissance in the past twenty years. We have gone from supermarket aisles filled with plastic bags of the soft gluey white bread of mass production, to hearty whole grain artisan bread now widely available. Bread, the simple hearty staple for most of the world throughout time, has for North Americans moved out of the lunch box and fast food wrapper.
Growing-up I didn’t think much about bread. It was the vehicle to move peanut butter and jelly, or bologna or even just butter from plate to stomach. Most of it looked and tasted the same and I still remember the trauma of whole grain Roman Meal bread being introduced to our food repertoire. Even receiving communion was a bland white bread experience and I remember my first communion class where Pastor Lindholm got us to try the dreadful wafers with jars of peanut butter and jelly.
For decades, Europeans and other global visitors were appalled by what they found passing for bread here. But North Americans slowly but surely changed their white bread ways and as whole wheat and exotic bread like croissants and pita became more popular, even many churches shifted from communion wafers to something that was recognizable as bread. Bakeries and restaurants that made their own bread were sought out and market demand grew.
Author Tom Harpur says that “without bread and all it symbolizes… at the physical level, the life of the body would be impossible. Without the ‘bread’ of spiritual sustenance, the human soul lies empty and inert.” Jesus the Christ was born in Bethlehem, literally translated as “the house of bread.” For us as Christians, we eat the bread of Bethlehem and the Word of God, in with and under the bread and wine of the meal each week.
We are bread eaters.
The Season of Bread
We are also in the midst of the ‘bread season’ this summer as each Sunday we hear story upon story about bread. Today in the Hebrew Scripture from 1 Kings, Elijah is on the run from Jezebel trying to save his life. We find him is in the middle of a physical and spiritual wilderness sitting under a tree. Under that tree and in the midst of his despair, God provides. Elijah was fed the bread of heaven, a cake baked on hot stones and delivered by an angel, not once, but twice to sustain him.
In Ephesians today we are called to be imitators of God. This letter helps us see what the life Jesus gives looks like for those marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit in baptism. Of course we are not without sin, brokenness or challenges. But the Spirit blowing in and through us individually and gathered as the church guides us to invite, care, grow and share the love and forgiveness received through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are called to lift up one another and the entire body of Christ, giving ourselves away as bread for the hungry.
In the Gospel of John, eternal life begins now and is the heart of the good news. Eternal life is referenced sixteen times in John, seven in the sixth chapter alone. We are told that whoever believes has eternal life. Hard to believe…? Believing is a gift from God, as Martin Luther explains in the Small Catechism: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…”
Eternal life is not something we wait for at the end of our physical lives, but experience here on earth through bread broken and given for us. God sustains us unconditionally and through grace draws us close, and gives us faith. Faith to believe and trust that in taking and eating, all possibility of hunger is erased, and those who follow Jesus will live forever.
- Each time we eat, we are fed with the knowledge that eternal life begins in with and under the bread of life.
- Each time we eat, we are fed with eternal life now and with assurance that He is the bread of life.
- Each time we eat, we are fed with the promise that He will raise you up on the last day.
We are bread eaters.
Bread of Life
After worship today we will hear stories from our youth about how their recent experience at Jesus, Justice and Jazz in New Orleans was a sustaining bread experience. Here is another story about the impact of sharing bread at that event:
The end of July brought the biggest convention to town since Hurricane Katrina, but it wasn’t doctors, lawyers or other professionals. In fact, it wasn’t even adults. It was 37,000 teenagers and their chaperones who filled hotels all over town… spent much of their five days performing some 200 community service projects… and in many cases, thanked us for the chance to have done so.
We’re humbled. Humbled at their generosity. Humbled at the sight of so many young people traveling so far to do so much hard work during their summer vacation. Humbled that the “Katrina fatigue” was replaced with an enthusiasm even some of us find hard to muster some days.
Among the many small moments of grace between our young guests and the locals came last weekend at Betsy’s Pancake House in Mid-City. Into Betsy”s dining room came nine teenagers, led by a pastor and two chaperones, looking friendly but shy and a bit out of place. Tables were rearranged; coffee was brought. The waitress, with little prompting, welcomed them and told them the tale of the coffee shop during Katrina. The kids were more curious about grits. They opted for white toast instead.
Then, the waitress laid a $20 bill on the table. “That man who just left paid for some of your breakfast,” she said, and within a couple of minutes bills were being passed to the visitors from around the room — $10 here, $20 there, and the pastor’s wife began to cry, saying “Thank you,” to which the morning regulars replied, “No, thank you.”
How do you thank someone for helping rebuild your city? It’s a question with which we’ve all wrestled during the past four years, and the answer is: You can’t. But the simple act of buying a stranger a breakfast said “Thank you” in myriad ways: Thank you for coming, for caring, for not forgetting, for your sweat and your optimism, for your curiosity and bravery in traveling to a place so unlike your own home…
Most of all, thank you for reminding a city that’s so dependent on the kindness of strangers that there still are people in this world who come to town and leave behind things more valuable than overflowing cash registers.
http://bestofneworleans.com/ Gratitude for the Lutheran teens who visited New Orleans: The Kindness of Strangers, August 3, 2009.
Another powerful bread experience was shared by Sara Miles in her book Take This Bread.
One early, cloudy morning when I was forty-six, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans — except that up until that moment I’d led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion… This was my first communion. It changed everything.
Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I’d scorned and work I’d never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all, but actual food — indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, filled with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body, I realized what I’d been doing with my life all along was what I was meant to do: feed people.
And so I did. I took communion, I passed the bread to others, and then I kept going, compelled to find new ways to share what I’d experienced.
Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, New York: Random House, 2007.
We are bread eaters.
Mohandas Ghandi said that “there are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.
- Who are the people here, in our individual lives, or in our communities that need the physical or spiritual gift of bread?
- What is your most memorable, sustaining, or life changing bread experience?
- When in your daily experience do you encounter people who are not yet bread eaters?
- Where is that someone you know that needs to be fed by the promise of eternal life?
Jesus Christ, the bread of life, the bread of heaven, calls all to the table of abundance to taste and see.
Jesus Christ, under whose tree of life+ we sit, gives us bread today in this time and place.
Jesus Christ, son of God, born in Bethlehem the house of bread says to you, this is my body take and eat… Amen.