Service & Sermon

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Pastor Laurie's sermon is below:

10th Sunday after Pentecost – August 1, 2021

In the Middle Eastern culture of Jesus’ day, bread was truly the staff of life.  Most people were subsistence farmers who depended on bread as their main source of nourishment. Meat was a rare luxury; most people only had lamb once a year at the Passover festival. Their diet was supplemented by fruit and vegetables in season, beans such as lentils, some chicken, and, if they could afford it, fish. But bread was the main source of nourishment, the centerpiece of every meal. 

Thus, it makes sense that bread is a common metaphor in scripture. Our first lesson from Exodus takes place as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, after they escaped from slavery in Egypt. It was not long before the people forgot about being grateful to God for liberating them from the Egyptians. They began to whine and complain to Moses and Aaron about the lack of food. They even wished they could have stayed in Egypt rather than starve to death in the wilderness. Aaron and Moses were the targets of their anger, but they were angry with God. They expected God to provide for all their physical needs. God’s response was to send bread, in the form of manna, which appeared on the desert plants every morning, and quails to hunt every night. 

As a test of their trust in God, they were instructed to gather only what they needed to eat for that day. But the Israelites did not trust that God would provide for their every need, and so they disobeyed and gathered more than they needed.  Because they were not able to believe in God’s promise of food; their instinct was to hoard the manna and quail in case God did not come through with food again. It is like when people buy all the milk and bread in the stores when a bad storm is forecast. God told Moses that when the people are full of the food that God promised, then they will know and trust God. They needed to learn that the most important bread is that which satisfies our spiritual hunger.

In our gospel lesson, the people brought up that familiar story and Jesus used it to illustrate that the point of trusting God is not found in bread that satisfies physical hunger, but in the word of God, which is revealed through him. In this story the questions from the crowd guide the conversation. First they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” That was not a literal question about his arrival at that place. They were asking about his origins, which he tried to explain, can be traced directly to God. 

The second question is “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”  Jesus assures them that they must first set their minds and hearts on believing in him and his message, and good works will follow. Finally, the crowd asks for a sign, which is incredible because the day before he had just fed the crowd of 5,000 with enough bread and fish to satisfy everyone, and there were leftovers! Jesus knew they were thinking with their stomachs instead of their hearts and minds, so he tried to move the conversation away from actual bread that satisfies physical hunger to the metaphor of the bread that will satisfy their spiritual hunger. He tells them, “I am the bread of life.” How does that translate into our lives today?

One of the speakers at the National LYO Gathering in Detroit in 2015 was a 24-year-old woman named Veronica. She was a child of addicts and grew up feeling worthless. No one thought she and her siblings would amount to anything. The saddest thing is that their relatives did not bother to learn their names because they did not believe they would be around for long. She almost failed 6th grade until her grandfather took her aside and said she was well on the way to being just like her parents. He said the only way out was to do well NOW. He did not have material wealth, but he shared his wisdom, that she had to change her attitude and trust that with God she could have the hope of a good life. She was surprised at his message and started to do well in school.  Eventually she received a scholarship to college where she majored in art. 

The requirement of one class was to create a project that people needed. She went to a shelter for women three nights a week. The first time she went the counselor, who had his arm in a splint from breaking up a fight, shut off the TV.  About 100 women started cursing at her. She told them she needed them to help her pass her course, and asked them to tell her what they needed. Most of them said they needed their TV turned back on, but about eight of them spoke with her seriously. Her grandfather encouraged her to continue to show up, build trust, and keep at it. Eventually more and more talked with her. She saw a tent across the street in a park where two homeless people lived. One day it was burned down in a gang war and the people died.  She came up with the idea for a warm jacket that can also be opened and slept in like a sleeping bag. She went through several designs until the women liked it. She did not know how to sew, so it took her 80 hours to make the first one.

She started a company to make the jackets and her first hire was a 55-year-old woman named Annis, who had been in prison for many years. She was tough and slept on cardboard on the street. Eventually Annis became like a mom to the other employees, all women from shelters. She moved into a house and started a college fund for her granddaughter. One day Annis got out of the car after work and dropped dead of a heart attack. That might seem like a tragedy, but without the job at Veronica’s company, she would have died on a piece of cardboard on the street. Her son said he had gotten to know her better in the last three years than in all his life and his daughter finally had a grandma to remember. 

Veronica’s story illustrates what God was telling the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness, and what Jesus was trying to teach the crowds who came to hear him. We need to have our physical needs met to sustain life, but we also need to have our spiritual needs met to have a truly satisfying life. Her grandfather sustained her with wisdom and encouragement. She sustained homeless women with the jackets to keep them warm and with jobs that provided both income and self-esteem. Annis learned to sustain the women who worked with her as well as her family. Both physical and spiritual needs were met.

Our faith is based on a relationship with God whereby we know God well enough to trust that God will ultimately provide for us. Once we are confident that God will provide for us, we can then help to sustain others, by giving them the tools to provide for themselves. We must trust that God is doing something new, which human actions cannot undermine or negate. We need to bring everything, including our most pressing concerns, to Jesus. We should be more open to what God is doing. The bread of life is more than the bread that satisfies our physical hunger, it is the bread that only God can provide, the bread that nurtures us in all ways and makes our life complete.  Amen.