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Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven


“Sir, give us this bread always.”
John 6:24-35

IX Pentecost – August 2, 2009
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ

(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

What kind of bread are you eating?

Jesus makes a very clear distinction in this morning’s gospel lesson between earthly bread and heavenly bread.

This morning’s gospel story happens after the feeding of the five thousand – the story we heard last Sunday. Those who remained after that miracle went looking for Jesus and his disciples in Capernaum.

When they meet up with them, Jesus chides them for following him not because they seek him as a Rabbi but because they ‘had their fill of the loaves.’ He tells them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

He also tells them, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. “ The people said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

You may recall that the Samaritan Woman at the Well, to whom Jesus offers ‘Living Water’, makes a similar statement. “Sir, give me this water always,” she says.

Obviously, Jesus makes a compelling offer, whether it is Living Bread or Living Water.

What kind of bread are you eating?

Some of us are eating too much of the Bread of Anxiety.

It’s not hard to do in these days of war, harsh economic realities, pandemics, epidemics and uncertainty. The Bread of Anxiety is readily available and relatively inexpensive.

You can eat it while you are listening to the news on your radio or television, reading the paper, shopping for food, talking to your neighbor, caring for your children, driving in your car, or while doing your budget for the month.

Eating too much of this bread can lead to false perceptions, premature judgments, poor choices and bad decisions.

Others of us are eating too much of the Bread of Weariness.

This bread is often served in large quantities to those who care for those who eat too much of the Bread of Anxiety. This can lead to what is known as “Compassion Fatigue” – which is, actually, classified as a Secondary Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – which can manifest itself in hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, and a pervasive negative attitude.

This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of in competency and self-doubt.

According to one source I read, “Journalism analysts argue that the media has caused widespread compassion fatigue in society by saturating newspapers and news shows with decontextualized images and stories of suffering. This has caused the public to become cynical, or become resistant to helping people who are suffering. Journalism analysts cite research which shows that visual images affect brain activity in demonstrable and measurable ways.”

Those decontextualized images are one of the ingredients of the Bread of Weariness.

Still others of us are eating too much of the Bread of Control.

We are driven by ‘the bottom line’. We look to results and productivity as the primary indicator of success. We create illusions wherein we come to believe that if we only worker harder, faster, stronger, longer, we can actually change others or ourselves or the situation of anxiety or fatigue.

Some have come to eat large quantities of this bread, thinking it an antidote to the effects of the Bread of Anxiety and the Bread of Weariness, only to find the ‘cure’ much worse than the poison. It has been classified as a form of ‘spiritual junk food’ because it has little or no real nutritional value for the soul.

There are others, of course, but these are three kinds of bread which are readily available in large quantities in our world today:

The Bread of Anxiety.

The Bread of Weariness.

The Bread of Control.

Indeed, they have always been readily available in the world throughout history.

The church has sometimes even been a source of these breads – an Unholy Bakery of sorts – serving them up at Vestry and Committee meetings, as well as from the pulpit. Churches and sanctuaries are filled with people who are anxious and weary and turn to the church for an illusion of control – or tacit approval – of their spiritual state of mind.

Or, as a place from which they can exercise control they don’t have and can’t find in any other place in the world.

I don’t know too many churches that don’t have more than their share of anxious, weary people – and also several clergy – who try to control their lives or the lives of others, only to find themselves inexplicitly and increasingly anxious or weary themselves.

What kind of bread are you eating?

Jesus offers us what he calls “the true bread of heaven.”

Those who were the first to hear these words from the lips of Jesus ask him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The bread served here, at this altar and this communion rail, is that Bread. It is sufficient for our souls, our minds and our bodies.

Some of you may remember commercials for something called ‘Wonder Bread’ – a concoction of mostly chemicals that resulted in a white, tasteless, airy substance that promised to ‘build strong bodies 12 ways.’ The real wonder was how anyone could call this . . .’stuff’. . . bread in the first place.

The Bread served at this altar is not that kind of wonder bread; rather, it is the Bread of Heaven which, if taken prayerfully and reverently and thoughtfully, will fill your soul with the wonder and awe of God’s divine providence.

Oh, it’s not that this church is devoid of the Bread of the World. You can find it in ample amounts – primarily in the Undercroft of the church – the place from which the ministry and mission of the institutional church is carried out.

Many are wondering and worried about Tim’s year long LOA, teaching conversational English at the University of Beijing. Indeed, Tim is wondering and worried about his LOA in China.

Many are wondering how Jon, our Interim for Youth and Young Families, will do. Others have already asked me how we can get him to stay.

And while others are thrilled for Brandon’s opportunity to attend grad school in London, still others are wringing their hands and saying, “First Tim and now Brandon. Oh woe, whatever will happen to us? Why all this change? How can it be that we are back in this situation of searching for an organist again after only two years?”

The subtext of these questions is one of control, of course, which sometimes lends itself to the game of ‘shame and blame’.

It’s gotta be somebody’s fault, see?

Somebody’s obviously doing something wrong. If we or he or she were doing things right, there would never be any change. Things would stay the same, and no one would have to make any adjustments or extend any effort.

And there would be a proper order to the universe, peace in the land, cookies and milk and a story at bedtime, and all would be well in the world.

And I? Oh, my dears, my sins are ever before me.

I worry about the roof. And the fact that we are not – still not, after all these years – handicap accessible. And, the signage in front of the church that doesn’t present us well – if at all – in the community. And the leak in the basement. And, of course, those of our congregation whose health is fragile, or who are grieving, or who are unemployed or underemployed.

And. . . well. . . you get the picture.

In times like these it is important to remember that we worship and serve a God of Abundance, not scarcity.

It is from a few crusts of this bread and a sip of this wine that we begin to realize the promise of Jesus that, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

What is your hunger? What is it for which your thirst cannot be quenched?

As you consider your own hunger and thirst, I leave you with the question with which I began. It's a good question to consider as some of us - myself included (Thanks be to God) - prepare to leave our worries behind, at least temporarily, and go on vacation.

It's a good question for Tim to consider as he takes his leave, and Jon as he prepares for this coming year, and Brandon, as he prepares for Grad School.

It is the question implicit in this story, which follows the miracle story of the feeding of the five thousand.

If you believe in miracles, if you believe in Jesus, if you do the work of God – putting your whole trust and belief in God and Jesus as God’s Holy Child – then, the only question that remains is this:

What kind of bread are you eating?

Oh, and this: After you have read and listened to the words of Holy Scripture – those beautiful words, wonderful words of life – and sung a few verses of the great hymns of the church; and before you prepare yourself for The Great Thanksgiving, the Holy Eucharist; and after I give you a crust of bread and say, “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven,” and you take a sip of “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,” and you say, “Amen,” the question is this: what are you really saying?

What makes you get up on a ‘lazy, hazy, crazy’ Sunday in summer and come to church?

What do you believe?

And, how would anyone know that from looking at the way you live your life?

Amen.

8 comments:

Song in my Heart said...


What do you believe?

And, how would anyone know that from looking at the way you live your life?



Oh, amen and amen! Thank you.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Preach it sister!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Ah, Elizabeth, lovely. I know the bread that does not satisfy that I am eating too much of right now. It is the bread of weariness.

And, how would anyone know that from looking at the way you live your life?

Indeed! I think they would know.

Time to return to the Source of the Bread of Life.

susankay said...

But Elizabeth -- it IS WONDER bread.

Thanks

whiteycat4104 said...

Another thought provoking sermon ... as usual. Thanks!

FranIAm said...

OH MY LORD!

Best. Sermon. Ever.

And you've had some great ones.

suzanne said...

Excellent! Reading this made me slide my toes under my chair, and I'm at work!

Thought provoking, Elizabeth and Thank You.

Good luck with VBS.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oh, my.

Two months ago I was eating large quantities of the Bread of Anxiety.

Lately I've been mixing snacks of the Bread of Weariness and the Bread of Control. I know some of it is that we are in that long half of the "green season" in the liturgical calendar. I tend to feel "the doldrums" in this season. I grieve sometimes "The summer I was hoping to have but didn't."

Then once in a while I do get a taste of the Bread of Life and it's so intense it makes me have to catch my breath!