We had this couple that joined the congregation in Ellicottville that brought with them a long and storied history in the restaurant business. After they became active a lot of things quickly changed in the kitchen. For example, I had suggested several months before Lou and Phyllis first entered the basement kitchen that we should have a coffee maker that is hooked up directly to the water line and electric so that we would have coffee available whenever desired. I had in mind a Bunn coffee maker not quite like one at Tim Hortons but similar. Well, needless to say that idea was dropped quicker than a spilled cup of coffee. It was a selfish request, I know, because I was the one looking for coffee every day of the week and not the decision makers. Months later now, Lou says we need a coffee maker in the kitchen just like at a restaurant hooked into its own electric and water. Well you would have thought that was the greatest idea since sliced bread. Within a week we had the perpetual coffee maker operating. Speaking of sliced bread, Lou is an excellent bread maker. I say “is”, because even at 92 years old he is still using his culinary skills. In discussion with Linda they decided that bread making classes might create interest for those really wanting to make bread the “old fashioned” way; that is, not using some machine. Even though I never attended such a class, I truly benefited from it. I want you to know, and she will be humble about it, Linda is one superior bread maker. In fact, she hardly ever buys any bread products from Wegmans. Believe me, there are times when a loaf of her bread and some butter would satisfy my hunger for the day. Nothing else needed to eat. Just the bread, fresh from the oven, crusty on top and soft in the middle, a little warm with a pound of butter nearby (I exaggerate), and I will be as happy as they come, filled and satisfied, feeling as close to heaven as can be.
One sermon can hardly do justice to the readings assigned for this 10th Sunday after Pentecost. These texts for today are marvelous and I think we could talk and talk around a table for hours about their symbolism and meanings. Not always do we associate the feeding of the 5000 with the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years. Of course the Israelites were in a barren place, not fit for communal existence. They were mindful of what they left behind when they took up this forever journey away from slavery in Egypt. Suddenly slavery wasn’t so bad. Their bellies were full each day. Not so now wandering around perhaps in circles for decades. Grumbling sometimes pays off as God provides them with manna and quail. The 5000 were also hungry after being so attentive to Jesus when all must have lost sense of the time. Jesus reminded his disciples and followers in their discussion of the 40 years of wandering that it wasn’t Moses who gave them the manna, but his Father. Backing up in time a bit, we recall when God first discussed his plans for Moses. Next to the burning bush Moses asks God his name. “Yahweh“-- “I am who I am”. Jesus addresses his audience, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is the great “I am”. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus comes pointing us to his Father in heaven as the one who told Moses and his people, “I am the Lord, your God!” That was God’s great promise as he gave us his 10 Commandments. Now, before us in his time on earth, in his spirit in this gathering, in the Word proclaimed and preached, and in the bread and wine set apart for this day’s feast of salvation, the Great “I Am” is here.
The Gospel of John records “signs”, not “miracles”. For John all that Jesus does that stuns those near him are signs to lead and point us to his Father in heaven. They are not just meant for the moment. They are not just actions that satisfy us for a day or two, or until we are hungry again. They do not fill our bellies alone or give us enough just to keep us from complaining or whining for a day or two. All of what Jesus does in miracles are signs to point us to God’s Benevolence and Kindness, to his providing for us day in and day out, for giving us all we need to survive in this world until the next. They are signs of how much God cares for his people, and reminders that he indeed hears us even as our cries may sound a bit selfish or complaining and whining. God knows what we need. God gives us his help through the wildernesses of our lives and God gives us his love that will never end. Above all, the signs proclaim Jesus as the great “I Am”, the only One who deserves our worship, and the only One who truly provides the bread of life.
In most of my preaching about now that I shift the focus from God to us. Since I already know in advance what I wanted to say at this point, I already started squirming a bit before I even got here. I believe it is good that we squirm a little when we come before our Lord and God. No matter the flavor of the worship service or its structure, we can never assume that we are standing before our “good buddy”. In other words, we can’t get away with bad behavior, or thoughts, or actions, or words, or deeds, or our sin and sins presuming anything with God. Thus, I am one of the 5000 that was fed that day, and you, too, are there, and with the Israelites complaining and whining about nothing to eat. How quick we forget. Really, Israelites, slavery was better than freedom? Are we seeking Jesus to fill our bellies? Of course we are. How many of our prayers are spoken for the moment? How many times do we approach God and ask for something that is perishable? We want the miracles to help us in the moment, and seldom do miracles point us further ahead in time to eternity. We all are like that even if we want to deny it. We live in a temporal world seeking that which helps us live the temporal life. We compare things of the temporal with the temporal.
Biblically, a wilderness is not a place where you spend a lot of money to go camping or poaching for a lion. A wilderness is lacking almost everything. The best I can do is imagine what it was for the Children of Israel because I haven’t gone long without food. I can’t say I have really ever been famished. I can’t imagine not finding water in a desert, or relief from heat in the day and cold at night. What about the wild life that would seek my life in the wilderness. One poisonous snake would be all I would need to see. We don’t live in a wilderness like that, but we are racing through life as if there is nothing around us of importance for us to slow down. We hear about the violence in other neighborhoods and yet have no idea who lives in our own. We live in a throwaway society, and after two years it’s time to upgrade our cell phones, or in some cases smash them. We throw away money in globs for things that satisfy us for that moment, and how much else we have and seek that are perishable, rust, are consumed by moths, and wear out. And yet, we seldom take the time to say thank you to God for all that he does provide us in this moment of time. And why does he give us all these things that we keep wanting for our pleasure?
Why did God answer the complaining whiny Israelites with manna and quail? Why did Jesus feed the thousands that late afternoon? Why do we have so much available for our use? What about our house and home, cars and RVs, boats and snowmobiles? What about the comfort of AC and warm water? God cares and loves us. That is about the best I can do to answer those questions. God heard the complaining and realized the needs in the desert and provided. Jesus knew the people were hungry with no place nearby to buy a sandwich or some cool drink. God is so abundant in his goodness that we have even more than we really need, and still most times enough to give away. All of these are signs pointing to God’s love for the world, and for us, assuring us and promising us God gives more than the perishable or worldly gifts. We must not leave out the greatest sign we keep before us; the one marked on us as it is this weekend for Norah Ivy Lefler. The cross is greatest sign of the “I Am’s” greatest love for us. We are forgiven of our whining and complaining of not having enough or what we want. We are forgiven of our temporal mindset and our attitude towards our wants. We are shown that Jesus gives us the bridge to the world of the eternal where love and grace, goodness and kindness, prevail and sustain us. We are given Jesus himself.
The sign points to Jesus who is present with us today, amidst us, in us, and for us. Jesus brings us the gift of his Word that strengthen us in our walking in faith. Jesus’ Word gives us life beyond our earthly years, and fills our hearts and souls with hope and strength, confidence and assurance that in Jesus we are never without what will keep us strong until the first breath of eternal life. In the Holy Communion we receive the gift of God’s love tasted also in the manna of the wilderness, and in this sacrament we are given the bread that sustains us through our journey of this life. We are given the ability to do God’s work through the gifts of Jesus himself. That work derives from our believing and trusting Jesus is our God, and is presently with us always. The great saints of faith realized it and in their witness we also trust in God that as he provides us with the perishable wants of this life, he gives us the imperishable needs to keep us trusting that we are provided all things eternal. That is, we are loved, forgiven, granted hope and promise, given food and drink for body and soul, given friends and family, community and assembly of believers. In this gathering we hear the eternal promise of God loving the world that we would not perish, and knowing the kindness of God hearing us even when we whine or complain. The peace we share with one another is the peace that passes the world’s understanding of it. The community we build in faith is here for us through all our wildernesses and deserts. The bread of life satisfies us today. The bread of life gives us the promise that we are fed for everlasting life with all the company of heaven. These are not just miracles that we experience. The eating and drinking of bread and wine is the sign that we receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the great “I Am!” Jesus Christ, Sir, give us this bread always. Amen.
The Rev. William L. Kay
St. Paul Hilton, NY
August 1, 2015