Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Jesus the Bread of Life” (John 6:35)
August 5, 2018
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
On Friday night my daughter Emily and I went to the Sugarland concert outside Atlanta. As most of you probably know Jennifer Nettles, the lead singer of Sugarland, is from nearby Douglas, Georgia. It was an incredible concert. One especially powerful moment was their performance of the last song on their latest album, a song entitled “Not the Only.” See if these lyrics resonate with you:
These are the days of the underdog, the counted out
The ones you don’t see coming
Times of the left behinds, the underneaths
The heart that’s tired but still keeps running…
Tell me I am not the only
One here feeling lonely
Tell me I don’t have to try so hard
Tell me I’m alright and then say
It’s all gonna be okay
Tell me you’ll be careful with my heart…
We want to live and give it all
To a love we can believe in
(From Sugarland’s 2018 album Bigger).
God has always had a heart for “the underdog, the counted out…the left behinds and the underneaths.” For over four centuries the Israelites were all of those things as they toiled in slavery in Egypt, as decade after decade, generation after generation they labored to build cities and pyramids for the pharaohs of Egypt. And God heard their cries for help and sent Moses to deliver them, to set them free, to lead them out of Egypt.
But after their deliverance from slavery, while in the wilderness the Israelites grew hungry, and angry as well, as the writer of Exodus tells us:
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:2-3).
Moses was having a fun day as the Israelites blamed him for their hunger and took out their anger on him. Hunger and anger are often directly connected. Have you heard of the word “hangry”? It is a combination of the words “hungry” and “angry” and an actual word in the Oxford English Dictionary defined as an adjective meaning “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.” The Israelites in today’s passage were hangry, and of course they are not the only ones.
There are lots of hangry people in America today, maybe even some here this morning. When it comes to being hangry there are plenty of warning signs. Perhaps you have experienced some of these: the easiest item on your to-do list seems like an impossible task, little things can feel like the end of the world, your self-control goes out the window, you can’t concentrate, your coworkers seem especially annoying, and you snap in anger at those around you. Sound familiar?
As Moses learned firsthand hangry people can be challenging to be around. Along these lines one of my favorite people texted me a hilarious and true quote last week: “Never ask a woman who is eating ice cream straight from the carton how she’s doing.” But be honest, haven’t you been hangry at times, and perhaps occasionally eaten directly from the ice cream carton?
And yet how did God respond to the hangry Israelites? Scripture tells us:
In the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” (Exodus 16:13-15).
God fed the hangry Israelites in the wilderness with manna, or as the psalmist wrote in today’s psalm, “He rained down manna upon them to eat…So mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them food enough” (Psalm 78:24-25).
These miraculous events from the Old Testament foreshadowed a miracle Jesus performed in the New Testament, the one miracle recorded in all four accounts of the gospel, the Feeding of the Five Thousand. John recorded it this way:
A large crowd kept following (Jesus), because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages* would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they* sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted (John 6:2-11).
Just like the Israelites this crowd found themselves in the wilderness and hungry—likely some of them were even hangry. And just as God had “provided for (the Israelites) food enough,” Jesus provided so much bread and fish that everyone in the crowd ate “as much as they wanted.” And yet Jesus took it a step further when he later told his followers:
“Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the 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.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:32-35).
So let me ask you today, “What are you hungry for?” As Bruce Springsteen put it, “Everybody’s got a hunger, a hunger they can’t resist” (from “Prove It All Night” on his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town). Maybe some of you have crossed the line from being hungry to being hangry—or maybe some of you are among “the underdog, the counted out…the left behinds, the underneaths.”
The gospel is good news because the same God who provided manna for the Israelites is the same God who sent his Son into the world to be the Bread of Life for you.
In the gospel-soaked 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast a refugee named Babette from 1870’s counter-revolutionary France flees to western Denmark and spends fourteen years working as a housekeeper and a cook in a small village. She unexpectedly wins 10,000 francs in a lottery, but instead using it to return to Paris to start life over again, she remains in that small Danish village and spends the entire 10,000 francs on preparing a lavish feast—completely free, with no catch. The villagers watch as exotic ingredients are delivered from Paris for this feast, the likes of which have never been seen. At the feast, the table overflowing with the most extravagant meal imaginable, the distinguished General Lowenheilm rises and beautifully articulates the meaning of the feast Babette had prepared for them:
Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another. Man in his weakness and shortsightedness believes he must make choices in this life. He trembles at the risks he takes. We do know fear. But no, our choice is of no importance. There comes a time when our eyes are opened and we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it in confidence and receive it with gratitude. Mercy imposes no conditions. And lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us. And everything we rejected has also been granted. Yes, we even get back what we rejected. For mercy and truth have met together; and righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.
On the night before his passion and death Jesus established the sacrament of Holy Communion at the Last Supper. In the same way he had done at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, Jesus again took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it them, but this time he added, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). Jesus gave the disciples more than manna that night, even more than the bread of angels—he gave them the Bread of Life.
And on Good Friday Jesus, the Bread of Life, gave his life for a hungry and hangry world, gave his life for “the underdog, the counted out…the left behinds, the underneaths,” gave his life for you. On Good Friday mercy and truth met together.
And the general at Babette’s feast was right, the mercy of God is indeed infinite—a mercy that imposes no conditions, a mercy you can await in confidence and receive with gratitude each week at Holy Communion when you receive anew Jesus, the Bread of Life. This mercy reminds you that as Sugarland sings, you are “not the only one here feeling lonely,” that it is “all gonna be okay,” that God will be careful with your heart.
The same Jesus who at the Last Supper gave himself to his disciples when he instituted Holy Communion, the same Jesus who on Good Friday gave himself to atone for the sins of the world, is the same Jesus who gives himself to you today, regardless of how hangry in the wilderness you may be—as the early seventeenth Anglican priest and poet George Herbert wrote in his poem “Love (III)”:
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, you shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat;
So I did sit and eat.
The love of Jesus the Bread of Life for you…is a love you can believe in.