The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost, August 1, 2021

The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: 2nd Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:24-35

From the Gospel according to St. John, “(The people said to Jesus), ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     Some time ago, I dabbled in breadmaking. I began with simple recipes that would yield a couple of loaves of bread – usually white or wheat bread – you know, nothing exotic. But one day, with the Jewish High Holy Days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah right the corner, our local newspaper published a recipe for Challah Bread - one of my personal favorites. Off I went to the store to get all the ingredients. I have to admit my mouth was watering just thinking about what I believed would be my greatest bread-making accomplishment.  

Well, in retrospect, I should have known there was something very wrong with the recipe. It called for 15 cups of flour. Do you know how much flour makes up 15 cups? I do now: a 5-pound bag! And while I was determined to make this bread, I had to stop after trying to force the 9th cup into what was quickly becoming an impossible mixture to knead. Nevertheless, even though well short of the 15 cups, I braided the loaves together, brushed them with egg white, and popped them in the oven. The end result is they looked beautiful when they came out of the oven – oh and the aroma was to die for. Imagine my disappointment when I cut into that bread and the insides poured out like sawdust. And it tasted horrible. You know, the next day, the newspaper published a correction: “our recipe should have called for 5 cups of flour, not 15.” So ended my bread making career. Nevertheless, to me, the smell of fresh baked bread is one of sweetest aromas on earth. 

     Perhaps that’s why I understand the yearning in those simple words form today’s gospel reading, “Sir, give us this bread always”. John tells us that people continued to follow Jesus wherever he went. Now they said they were following him just to “be sure that you, Jesus, are of God.” But Jesus confronts them with the reality that the only reason they follow and seek him, the only reason they are tagging along, is because they just ate their fill of fresh bread and fish on a mountainside. I understand that allure. But Jesus’ response goes beyond the temporal, beyond the immediate eating of physical food, and touches upon a deeper hunger: a spiritual hunger - that endless desire to be filled, to be satisfied, to be redeemed and made whole with ourselves, one another, and with God.

     To fully understand Jesus’ response to the plea, “give us this bread always,” we need to go back a couple of chapters to that day when Jesus met the woman at the well. In that encounter with a Gentile woman, an outcast of society, mind you, Jesus told her that whoever drinks of the water he gives will never be thirsty ever again. So, the woman says, “Sir give me this water.” She probably expected Jesus to grab a bucket, lower it into the well, and draw out something miraculous. But he didn’t. The water Jesus spoke about cannot be drawn from an earthly well. It is a gift of God, a gift from above, a gift that satisfies not the stomach, but rather, fills, refreshes, and renews the heart and mind – all that we are and have - and does so forever. And so it is in today’s reading. Jesus offers a bread that will never grow moldy, a bread from heaven. But it is much more than heavenly bread or manna, it is eternal. This bread is Jesus himself. It is of him who has come to satisfy hungry hearts and minds – hearts and minds hungry and desperate for redemption, for meaning in life, to know that their lives matter. It is a gift that cannot be baked or bought. It is God’s grace to the whole world. It is the bread of life itself.

     In today’s Old Testament reading, the prophet Nathan confronts David with the atrocity of his sin and God’s pending judgment. And David responds not with a defense of his actions, but rather, a clear admission of guilt. And that admission is incredibly deep and challenges us still today. See, David doesn’t just say, “I have sinned,” but rather, “I have sinned against the Lord.” This is why I have such a deep admiration for David: For all his gifts and abilities, scripture reveals that David is just as human as you and me, prone to sin like anyone else. David reminds us that regardless of what people think or say about us, we are all sinners and that our sin is always against God. And this is the grace to be found in David’s life: When he has done wrong, he is able to set his pride aside, and in all humility, cast himself upon the mercy of God saying, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And while there is judgment for his actions, after all, sin has consequences, nevertheless; David always finds redemption. As echoed in his Psalm which we prayed/sang aloud this morning, David has confidence in the grace and mercy of God.  After acknowledging his sin – and this is an important teaching for us and for all people of faith – an honest acknowledgment of who we really are, what we have done or left undone – is key to grace, to fulfillment, to redemption. And in the midst of his confession (and his desire to amend his life), David expresses complete confidence in God’s mercy, in God’s grace, in God’s promise to redeem all who ask. David says, “Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. God’s grace is available to all: to David, the woman at the well, the thousands who followed Jesus on foot, available to us and to all still today. Sir, give us this bread always. Sir, give me this water. All we need do is ask. And yet, we can’t know what we really need unless we acknowledge who we really are: sinners just like David, like the woman, like the thousands that followed Jesus; sinners like our neighbors, our leaders, like you and me; sinners like everyone else. We are all in need of God’s grace and mercy, God’s forgiveness and love which we are invited to embrace and share at our Baptism (Sir, give me this water) and in our weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist (Sir, give us this bread always).

      St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, urges Christians to lead lives worthy of the “calling to which we have been called” and he goes on to clarify what that calling includes. He says, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bear with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Paul reminds us there is only one hope to which we are called. It is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in all. One of the great crimes in Christian history is our endless divisions. Time and again, well-intentioned Christians have divided the Church over interpretations of scripture - usually interpretations that shake up the status quo, that question how one lives, whom one should welcome or unwelcome, whom to feed or not feed, and so on. And in the process, while quoting scripture and insisting, “but, I know I’m right and you’re wrong,” we forget that what we have been called to is not our desires, but rather, God’s desire. And what is God’s desire? To believe in Christ, to speak the truth in love, and foster unity, patience, and forbearance. In other words, we are called to live lives that embody and demonstrate grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. Those very things we ask God to bestow upon us we are called, we are commanded, to offer freely to others- even to those with whom we disagree.

      Our scripture lessons this morning challenge us to recognize that to ask God to fill our hearts and minds with what truly matters, that eternal water and eternal bread that fills and satisfies us from within, requires that we freely bring and offer it to others. God’s grace is not our exclusive property to hoard for ourselves. It is a gift to be shared. In the words of St. Francis, “it is in giving that we receive.” In the words of our Lord, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven. It is in seeking that we find, in knocking that doors open. Sir, give me this water. Sir, give us this bread always.

     In a few moments we will celebrate and partake in the incredible continuing grace of God to us and to the world: the sharing of Christ’s body and blood sacramentally and truly present to us in the bread and wine. Yet, an amazing thing about this bread. It is a broken bread. In fact, it has to be broken in order to be shared. In all reality, it is a broken bread offered to a broken people in the midst of a broken world. And it is in communing together at this table, acknowledging with David, with the woman at the well, with the thousands who followed Jesus from that mountaintop, and with saints past, present, and yet to come, our own broken, sinful, and tarnished lives, that our hearts and minds do become one redeemed body, one flesh called to one hope in one Lord, one faith, one God and Father of not just you and me, but of all.

     Every question about who is worthy enough let alone able to enter God’s presence and be redeemed, who is worthy enough to come to this table and receive Communion – the body and blood of our Lord - is answered once and for all in Jesus’ words that conclude today’s gospel reading: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Friends, if we are truly Christ’s body in this world, then it stands to reason that we, too, must become as Christ, become that bread of life, become that grace of God, to one another, to our neighbors, to all whom we encounter. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus, give us this bread – make us this bread – always. Amen.