Sermons

8/1/21         “The Bread of Life”    Ex. 16:2-3, 9-12, John 6:24-35

 Haven’t you wondered how all the people of the world are fed today, tomorrow and a year from now?  It should be a question not far from any of our minds.  Oddly enough, we live in a country where most of us have plenty and it is easy to think that people here do not go hungry.  But we don’t have to look far—around the corner, down the street, or on the same street corner to find the unfortunate and hungry people who make us uncomfortable because we realize by the sight, how much better off we are than they.

 Scientists have said that a large part of our food may one day come from the ocean and from our homemade efforts to grow microscopic plant life call algae.  Someone once made the statement that we emerged from frogs. Well, eating algae seems like a step backwards.  And flies, not even chocolate covered ones seem appetizing. 

 Some parts of the world are frantically anxious about the shortage of food.  This should be a matter of concern everywhere because everyone’s hunger is everyone’s problem.  And if you think it could never happen to you, then you are not very realistic.  We live in uncertain times, not unlike the days of Jesus.  Each new Caesar brought new challenges and changes.  Food was hard to come by because the royalty, staff and armies were eating well. 

 The problem is not new.  People have never had an easy mind about food.  Yet the demand for bread can become a craving passion that erases every other value in life if you are hungry enough.  Jesus himself said, “You have the poor with you always.”  But he never gave the task of caring for them to Caesar: he gave it to his sheep, His church.  “Inasmuch as you do this to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to Me.

 During WWll, the Germans forced many twelve and thirteen year old boys into the Junior Gestapo.  These boys were treated badly and given inhumane jobs to do.  When the war ended most of the boys had lost track of their families and wandered around without food or shelter.  As part of an aid program to post-war Germany, many of the boys were put in tent cities.  Here, doctors ad psychologists worked with the boys in an attempt to restore their mental and physical health.  They found that many of the boys would wake in the middle of night screaming in terror.  One of the doctor had an idea for handling that fear.  After feeding them large meals, he put them to bed with a piece of bread in their hands, which they were told to save until morning.  The boys then slept soundly because after so many years of hunger, they finally had assurance of food for the next day. The same holds true of having Jesus in your life.  You hold the bread of life in your hands and have the assurance that you will not go out of this life in terror or fear.   

 Last week we heard about how the crowd of 5,000 were fed having only 5 loaves of bread and 2 little fish.  The crowd was amazed and delighted and soon were thinking  Jesus was the man who could lead an army of Israelites against the hated Roman Empire.    Israel would be unbeatable if they had a food supply that could not be exhausted.  You see every goose is certain she can lay golden eggs if only properly fed.

 So, the idea spread like fire among the people. “Let’s make Him king!”  they said.  Far from discouraging this sort of thing, the disciples appeared to go along with it, if they were in fact not the actual instigators.  But Jesus fled from the mistaken mob.  In the night, the disciples and Master met in a dramatic encounter on the Sea of Galilee.  The next day, a part of the feverish crowd located Jesus with his disciples.  The text tells us that far from feeling flattered at the sight of those who pursued him, Jesus met the crowd with a sharp rebuke.  He exposed their persistence to materialism and accused them of following him because they were pleased with the promise of economic security.

 This reminds me a story I read about a Confederate spy named Rose Greenhow, who tried to avoid capture during the Civil War.  Most important to her was that she didn’t lose her fortune because she sewed her gold into the seams of her dress.  But the ship she boarded sank, and the weight of the gold made it impossible for the life preserver to support her.  She sank to the bottom with all her wealth.  It has been pointed out that death did to her what it does to all of us, because we “can’t take it with us” when we die. But sometimes it takes us with it!

 The people followed Jesus with intensity.  Think about it.  An endless supply of food.  Someone in the crowd had already figured out how to capitalize on the idea.  Poverty can be and is today a big business.  Today, about 530,000 government employees (federal, state, and local) are paid to staff the welfare machine.  The monthly payroll is $600 million, that’s 7.2 billion a year.  No one has yet computed the cost of offices, equipment, phones, travel expenses—or welfare vendors who profit from the problem. 

 Then there are the homeless.  We are approaching a point of 50% of the people in homeless shelters are families with children.  It is probably higher than that now since the covid hit.  It has gotten to the point where church missions and relief organizations cannot keep up with the increase in homelessness.  25-30% are alcoholics, drug addicts, and mentally ill patients who were released from hospitals when the mental health system was deinstitutionalized.  But get this: “75% of the homeless are average Americans who have had regular jobs and led normal lives—until that is, they found themselves on the streets.”  The homeless also includes about 1 million teenage runaways who resort to robbery, drugs and other unidentified acts to keep from going hungry.

 Milton Friedman has said, “If you pay people to be poor, they will be poor.”  That means we have systems in place that encourage long-term dependency.  This makes me questions the repeated stimulus checks.  Christ did not assign the job of caring for the poor to Washington; he assigns it to us.  And frankly, we have not done a very good job.  I am not coming down on this congregation, because I see with my own eyes the abundance of giving you do.  Sometimes the goods are stacked outside the office, especially at Christmas!  You are a wonderfully caring and giving group of people that understands the assignment!

 Many years ago a woman was preparing a box to be sent to some missionaries in India.  A child used her penny to buy a bookmark with a Christian bible verse on it to be included in the box.  Eventually the box reached a Burmese chief and the bookmark led him to the saving knowledge of Christ.  The chief told the story of his conversion to his friends, many of whom believed.  Eventually a church was established there and over 1500 natives became Christians.  The lesson is clear: no gift for God is too small for him to use.

 God used the prophet Isaiah to give us a word picture of the true faith:

            Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from you own kin?  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicators shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”  (Isa. 58.7-9)

 What a challenge!  What a promise!  What a way to glorify God!  What a reward!  “Blessed is he who considers the poor; the Lord will deliver him in times of trouble.  The Lord will protect him and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth.” (Deut. 15: 7,8)   God’s principle of sowing and reaping still applies.  If every church would adopt one needy family in its community, the federal welfare dole-out could be eliminated and Christians could bring charity back to where it belongs.

 I have to wonder sometimes, if we are any different.  Does our chief interest in Christ lie in what he can do for us in every way but spiritual?  His belonging to us differs greatly from our belonging to him.  We may want to “use” Christ for our selfish purposes.  But He wants us to be used in the eternal purpose of God.  There have been times when some have sought to use Christ to further their political aims, to enhance their success in the business world, or to confirm their economic views.  Most subtly, they have emphasized Jesus’ love for sinners to the exclusion of his hatred for sin; they have welcomed him as Savior and rejected Him as Lord.  Perhaps most of us have sometimes tried through our prayers and actions to make Him a different Christ from the Christ he is and the Christ we need.

 There is nowhere in the Bible that condemns our labor to earn daily bread.  Jesus taught his disciples to pray for their daily bread.  In fact, Paul declared that one who refuses to work is not entitled to eat (2 Thess. 3:10-12).  That’s probably the shortest sentence Paul ever wrote!  Even so, Jesus declared as his doctrine the teaching of the Old Testament: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deut.8:3)

 There is food worth working for.  It does not decay or become unstable.  It is not gone with the eating of it.  This food is spiritual blessings given by Jesus Christ.  He is qualified to bestow it, for he bears the seal of God the Father, that is, Christ is the Father’s appointed representative.  Therefore, the food Christ gives has to do with another world and a different kind of life.  It is for the nourishment of the life of God within those who believe says John 17:2-3.   We have to be careful that we are not like the pig who ate his fill of acorns under the oak tree and then started to root around the tree.  A crow told him, “You shouldn’t do that.  If you uncover the roots, the tree will wither up and die.”  “Let it die,” said the pig, “who cares as long as there are acorns?”

 Its true, Jesus is that food.  He said, “I am the bread of life.”  But you have to remember this statement came after a long argument with the Jews.  Even after the healing of the lame man and the miracle of the loaves and fish, the crowd refused to believe.  The miracles just didn’t impress the Jews.  They demanded another sign that fit their age-old ideas about the Messiah.

Well, guess what, so do we.  With all the wondrous works of God all around us—in nature and in human life—we ask for one more sign that God is gracious, and that Christ is true.  But the most dramatic miracle possible would still call for another to satisfy the heart that will not believe.

 A Hasidic story tells of a little boy playing hide and seek with his friends.  For some unknown reason they stopped playing while the boy was hiding.  He began to cry.  His grandfather came out to see what the matter was.  After learning what had happened, the grandfather said, “don’t cry my child, because the boys did not come to find you.  Maybe you can learn a lesson from this disappointment.  All of life is like a game between God and us.  Only it is God who is crying, for we are not playing the game fairly.  God is waiting to be found, but many have gone in search of others.”

 

The Jews expected the Messiah to prove his truth by bringing again manna from heaven to fall before their greedy eyes.  If you recall, the Israelites were wandering around in the Sinai complaining saying, “Oh, Moses, if only we had died in Egypt—at least then we were eating our fill of bread” and now look where you have brought us to die of hunger.” Poor old Moses took the complaints to God, who must have been just as frustrated with these whinners as Moses was, and the Lord told him what was going to happen.  Through Moses’ intercessory prayer, the people received what they termed “bread from heaven.”  Although they had never seen bread like it before.  It was a sticky, sweet substance, a honey-like juice that oozed from the desert shrub.  It was years before scientist determined it did not fall from heaven, but covered the trees during the manna season, May and June.  But we are like that.  When we experience something different from anything we have ever known before, we say, “it must be a God thing.” 

  Jesus said that manna was not the true bread from heaven.  It was an indirect blessing from God.  But the true bread came directly from heaven.  Jesus had himself in mind.  God gave him directly.

 But the crowd still couldn’t see Jesus as the bread of God.  With their minds yet on material things, they said, “Lord, even more give us this bread.”  Then he confronted them with the blunt truth: “I am the bread of life.”  What the world needed then and needs now is not so much the bread that Christ can give as the bread Christ is.  Our basic need is to have our spiritual hunger met and satisfied.  Yet, as Calvin said, “We are prone to see something in Christ, other than Christ himself.”

 When William Cary, the “father” of the modern missionary movement, was a young man glowing with dreams of preaching the gospel to heathens, he tried to stimulate a group of ministers to share the burden of his heart.  His efforts were rebuked by a revered, saintly preacher: “Young man, sit down.  When God wants to save the heathens, he’ll save them without your help or mine.”

 To be sure, some of the scripture seems to lead to such a conclusion.  Bu the truth of the sovereignty of God in such verses is always held in balance by other verses that clearly show our responsibility.  Jesus speaks of the overruling power of God.  But he also speaks of our responsibility of coming to Him and of believing Him. 

 God in His mercy gave bread and draws the hungry to be near Him.  But the hungry must respond, come, and eat.  Those who refuse to be fed perish by their own folly, not by the will of God.  Those who receive God’s mercy receive the promise of a meaningful present life and of a triumphant and complete life hereafter, for they have within them the life of God himself.  And so, the bread is more than bread, it is life.  How very perfect it was that Jesus left us a way to make the connection.  He knew that our faith was not in the discovery, but in the remembering.  He died that we might live.  We remember that we do not honor Jesus for what he received, but we are rewarded for what he gave.  Today we partake of the bread of life that reminds us of our responsibility to him and to each other.  Paul said, “let this mind be you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”  We are called on to have a persistent love that give itself in serving people.

 When my hip was healing after replacement surgery, I was pretty much bed bound at first and house bound for a while.  People from the community came by with food—more than any one person could eat.  Some washed dishes, cleaned the house and fed the cat, and mowed the grass.  Some took turns watching me sleep in case I should awaken and need help.  People called during the day to see how I was doing.  I kept thinking, I don’t know how I will every repay all those people and what they have done for me.  I made the comment to my neighbor who said, “maybe some day you will have a chance to do something like this for someone else.”  I know we can’t repay a gift of grace, but such a gift can move us to give.  We share God’s gift of himself, and we share the joy of giving to others in his name.  The cup of cold water, the piece of bread, the article of clothing, the words of encouragement and comfort, the listening ear, the strengthening presence, a quiet prayer.  We have a wonderful privilege of being Christ’s hands and feet, ready to help.  May the bread of life we share today remind us of the depth of our sharing to a hungry world eager to be refreshed and filled.  May your hands be filled with God’s riches.

                              Empty or Full?

I gave them to Him, all the things I’d valued so

Until I stood there empty-handed, every glittering toy did go.

And I walked earth’s lonely highways, in my rags and poverty;

Till I heard His voice entreating, “lift your empty hands to me.”

Empty hands I lifted to Him, and He filled them with a store

Of His own transcendent riches till my hands could hold no more.

And at last, I comprehended, with my mind so slow and dull,

That God could not pour out His riches into hands already full.

Closing Prayer:  God of all time, place and memory, let us never forget you have made us and not we ourselves.  From the dust of the earth, you blew your holy breath into our being and called us forth to life.  We who had no shape were formed grandly in the gentle cradle of your master hands.  We who had no image were made in your very likeness, eternal goodness beyond our best kowing.  We who had no name were chosen, set apart, blessed and called your children, your people.  We who had no hope for salvation were given the matchless gifts of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord.  god of bold expectations and boundless grace, we pause in time and place and remember and voice our thanksgiving and praise.  Receiving God, Lord of holiness, forgie our taking light your creation, overlooking the grandeur and wonder of it all; for belittling the sacred gift of life; for tarnishing your image within us; for forgetting our name and lineage which comes surely from you even in Jesus Christ.  As members of your body and your church, let us open our hearts and arms to those who have less.  Teach us to be more like you and less of ourselves that we might truly glorify you.  We pray for those who are sick and hurting, grieving and alone, weak and afraid.  Have mercy on all your children who seek wholeness and healing and spiritual renewal.  We pray Holy God, for a deeper understanding and experience of the sufficiency of grace and love; for fresh indwelling of your power in our weakness; for wisdom and passion to know and follow the way that leads to life and wholeness.  O loce that call us, names us, blesses us, and will not let us go, we give your lives to you freely and gladly, even in Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us each to pray, Our Father…..

 

August 8, 2021    “A Lasting Affection”   Col. 3:12-15, John 13:1-35

August 15, 2021  “All or Nothing”    Job 23:1-9, John 6:56-59

August 22, 2021  “Take The Right Hat”  Hebrews 12:18-24, Ephesians 6:13-17

August 29, 2021  “Hands and Hearts”  James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 21-23