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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Feeding The Hungry - 08/26/2018

As we come to the end of our five weeks of bread and teachings about being drawn to Jesus by God, flashback scenes to manna in the wilderness and Jesus’ invitation to eat bread and wine as though it was his flesh and blood, I think it may be an opportune time to go back up to the 10,000 foot level on all of this.

And to start, I’m reminded of a story I once told about a couple of people in my family who really need to make sure they do not skip meals. They get hungry and their blood sugar gets low and then …. watch out. Here comes Mr. Super Crank. One of those people is my step dad Rodger, who some of you know. One time I found a picture of a t-shirt on FB that was perfect for him. And so I posted it on his wall. It was a gray t-shirt with big bold letters on the front that said: “I'm sorry for what I said when I was hungry.”

Mostly this is part of long-running jokes about hunger and certain people in the family, but the truth is we all watch to make sure these certain people have eaten because we'd really rather not hang out with hangry. And it's not really their fault – it's the physical manifestation of their hunger – it completely distracts them mentally, throws the body chemistry into a tail spin, and brings less pleasant emotions to the surface.

This kind of thing really affects us all, to some extent. Even for those of us who haven't really experienced true hunger or the fear associated with not knowing where your next meal will come from, we may be able to imagine it and how it would take over every waking moment, especially if we had the responsibility of feeding the young and the weak besides just ourselves.  Is it any wonder that one of our most natural responses to God's grace and abundance in our lives is to feed the hungry?

I think Jesus was quite aware this reality of human existence. When you at where we started in these readings – the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 people with just a few fishes and loaves – it takes the familiar “I am the bread of life,” story to another level. It makes it clear that we're talking about different dimensions of hunger and bread. And I think taking it to another level is precisely what Jesus was and is still trying to do here.

By this time in Jesus' ministry he's attracting the crowds. Word has been spreading about his teachings and the signs he performs. Curiosity is up and people want to hear for themselves. The whispers and questions are rippling throughout the region, like the words of the Samaritan woman at the well: “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” “Come and see,” someone answers.

But before Jesus can begin teaching the people about the “bread of life” and what his presence in the world means in today's gospel reading, he has a more immediate problem. The people are hungry. They are like 5,000 people who perhaps didn't wear t-shirts, but certainly sported attitudes that may have latter led them to say something like, “I'm sorry for what I said when I was hungry.” Or “I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you over my belly growling.” Or “My child is starving and you want me to listen to you talk about raising me up on the last day?”

So the people are fed.  With the weight of daily survival lifted from their bellies and hearts and minds for the moment, they follow Jesus across the Sea of Galilee. Their bellies are full but they have become hungry for more of what Jesus is offering – and at the very least, maybe they can get their fill of fish and bread again. He begins teaching them: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” (6:27) Jesus is taking this idea of bread up a few notches. The bread that satisfies the eternal hunger of our souls is given to us by the Son of Man, the one bearing God's seal, the anointed one, the Messiah.

“I am the bread of life.” “I have come down from heaven.” Jesus reveals himself to them fully.

I have a suspicion at this point in the story that the people still weren't quite getting it. And there are clues to this. For instance, even after seeing how Jesus fed 5,000 people and then, somehow, got across the sea without a boat – Jesus is still asked to perform signs so they may see and believe that he is the one sent by God. The Jewish authorities start getting all bent out of shape about how Jesus could possibly be the bread come down from heaven when they surely know his father Joseph and his mother too.

So Jesus takes it up another notch. This time I suspect the way he does it doesn't quite match up with the way we typically portray Jesus. We contemporary Christians of mostly comfortable existence often see Jesus as a pretty gentle man. Of course there are exceptions, but in general I think we often identify more with Jesus the servant king, or the wise teacher who brings his pupils along with patience and persistence, or the one we call the Lamb of God who is on the path to Jerusalem and death on a cross. But he could be forceful in his teachings too and his message was radical. What he says next is quite forceful and inflammatory, as I said las week.  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Now the Jewish leaders are really bent out of shape and the Jewish people who have gathered to be fed some more are stone cold silent … maybe some of their mouths were hanging open a little as they tried to wrap their heads around what was being said.

Jesus doesn't leave it there, of course. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

As I also mentioned last week, this is absolutely shocking to the people its on purpose. It's part of Jesus’ teaching method here. This idea of eating his flesh and drinking his blood is scandalous. Drinking blood or eating flesh with blood it it was loaded with meanings and images. Blood was a sacred thing, a tabooed thing, a revered thing, a feared thing. And it had been so since the earliest days of our time in creation. When the Lord said to Cain after he killed Abel, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Gen 4:10-11)

But these shocking statements sure got the people's attention and in a way only Jesus can manage, he pulled off the blinders of assumptions and conditioning so the people could really start to see the drastic way Jesus changes the relationship between God and creation, between God and humankind.

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life,” he continued. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

If what Jesus said was true it radically changed the authority of the time. If the will of God was that all of creation were given into Jesus care … if it were true that Jesus would never put them out of that covenant … if it were true that Jesus would raise them up to eternal life on the last day … if all that were true then earthly powers were completely undermined. The power no longer rested with the empire and its whims, its call to worship state gods and imperial leaders. The power no longer resided with the Jewish elite who had become puppets of Rome and micromanaged God's law and covenant with the people until all its life-giving promises were hidden in an inner sanctuary and made unreachable by ever-changing interpretations of the law.

The shock value of the message was immense in the ears of  the people this gospel was written for too. Remember that those early Christ followers were still Jews in a community were the Jewish leaders said that anyone who professed Christ was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue and community. But the power no longer rested with them either because in the Son of Man, in Jesus, those Christ followers abide in God and God in them. Synagogue or not. Community or not. It changed everything,

Today this language may not seem so shocking to us, although I have met people who are very turned off by this idea of eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Christ. For most of us though, we've heard these words for a long time, we've grown up with this language, we partake in the bread and wine at the table regularly. It's part of our familiar, like electricity and fresh water.

But perhaps we should try to hear it as inflammatory as it was originally meant to be. Because we too find ourselves subject to earthly powers that do not align with our Christian beliefs. It often happens so gradually, just under the radar, until before we know it we've adopted the viewpoints of others, placed money or power above God, turned our back on our neighbor. And sometimes we can use a jarring reminder that in Christ that authority over us is undermined.

And like the people crowding around Jesus in our story today and the people in the community of the gospel writer, following Jesus way is not an easy journey. Today, as always, it means carefully examining our allegiances to people and ideas. It means that many of us will be ridiculed and rejected because we speak truth to power.

From the beginning some could not find the strength and courage to follow Jesus. “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it? … because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” (6:60, 66)

And it isn't any easier for us then it was for those first followers of Christ. But beginning with those first disciples and down through the generations to us, God does abide in us through Christ and will continue to do so. We have the gift of God's presence with us through the our holy scriptures. We have our faith communities to support us along the way. Christ feeds us generously and graciously as we gather around this table today … where remember that Christ is the the bread of life come to us from heaven. Where we remember and pick up the words of the disciple Simon Peter when Jesus asked if he and the remaining disciples would also turn away.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Amen.


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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