“The Delicious People of God,” Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 7th 1994 – My First Sermon for First Lutheran Church in Oakland, California
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 7th 1994 – a sermon for First Lutheran Church in Oakland, California
Exodus 16:2-15 – Psalm 78: 23-29 – Ephesians 4:17-24 – John 6:24-35
The Delicious People of God
Bread can be very tasty. Just take children into a restaurant in which bread is served before the meal. Sometimes it comes in a basket, the hot rolls inside covered by a red and white checkered cloth. The children open it up and with some butter, can make a whole meal of it, instead of waiting for the main course. The way the children mix up the bread served as entrée with the meal, the people that Jesus fed with the loaves and fishes, mixed up bread with the Word of God, the Gospel, the promises of God, and indeed Christ, who said, “I am the bread of life.” That’s as if to say, “Don’t be satisfied with ordinary bread that fills your stomach. But come to me, because I am the bread of God and when I feed you with my very self, you will never be hungry or thirsty again.” Christ alone fills the hunger of your heart, mind, and soul.
We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3). And now in our New Testament, Jesus the Christ is the Word of God given for us. And the Word became flesh and his flesh is food indeed. His body is the Wonder-bread sent from heaven to nourish you with abundant life and for the nourishment of the life of the world.
“I am the bread of life!”
And you and I, chiming into the great “I am!” also become transformed into words of love spoken by God and also become some personal bread given as food for others. When Jesus had his disciples collect the left over bread in the feeding of the masses, there were twelve baskets full, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel; and seven baskets full in the second feeding, symbolizing the seven nations of the Gentiles. Thus you and I are changed into bread, yes, food for our neighbors by the Bread of Life, Christ – with whom we commune, when we come to him, responding to his call.
Have you ever thought of yourself as food – food for others who also have hungry hearts? My family and I have been vacationing out in Lake Cochuma near Solvang and Santa Barbara. My eight year-old Joshua wanted badly to go fishing – something I’m not good at. No one ever taught me how to do it. Out on the pier fishing, I figured something out. If you can deceive the fish, it thinks it’s eating food, but in goes the hook, and that trout has become food for us. Now if you don’t deceive the fish, you just end up feeding the fish.
Now forgetting all that deception, I will tell you straight out – Christ will make you food for others. “When Christ calls us, he bids us come and die,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said. The way is via the cross. We preach Christ and him crucified. His dying gives us life and our dying to ourselves and coming to life before God and coming alive for our neighbors in need, gives life to the world and ourselves. The children of God become wonder-bread, food for the world, delicious, persons delicious and wholesome to taste, as they offer themselves, their very selves for others.
Mostly we have Italian, French, Greek pita bread, Indian corn bread, short’nin bread, but that is ethnic, not personal bread. Are you bread? What does your self taste like when you offer yourself in relationships? Myself – I’m Peter-bread. My mother always baked bread. But what we are speaking about here is not baking bread, but oneself becoming bread, as a person become bread, the basic nourishment, the food for others.
This sermon is bread, food for your heart, mind, and soul, not merely food for thought, but for your new life, your righteousness in Christ.
That is the transformation that happens when you respond to the call of Christ- when you run to him, when he cries, “Come to me for the real, the true bread of life after which you will never again hunger and thirst.”
In the story you heard in the gospel lesson, Jesus had to keep correcting the people because they misunderstood him. They were not “rice Christians,” as missionaries have called some, who responded, but “bread Christians.” They followed Jesus because they wanted more bread, daily bread: prosperity and financial success.
Jesus says that it can only happen via the cross, via Christ and Christ crucified. So you seek me not because you are interested in my signs, but you loved the meal and you want another one. A sign here is more than a miracle. It is a miracle that leads into an understanding of the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus the feeding of the masses compares Moses praying for the bread from heaven, the manna from heaven for feeding the children of Israel in the wilderness; with Jesus in the Gospel, praying and giving thanks, so that all the nations of the world including Israel, would receive the bread of heaven, their Lord and King, who will lead his flock to their true daily bread.
That is the Gospel of the promises of God, the promises of bread for the whole world. But just feeding the world will not help. Coming to Christ is the way people become food and then all is overcome. When people become delicious bread, who feed each other on a daily basis, then the promise of abundant life becomes fulfilled.
Note that I had to bake up this sermon for you. I hope it is not half baked and it could be twice baked, Zwieback in German. It is food for your soul. To extend the metaphor, this sermon is a two or three course meal, serving you with the Word of God. And should I become your interim pastor, I shall have to become bread for you. I need to become God’s words of love, a Word of God for you – a Christ, the way you become words from God, bread of life for each other.
Turning this metaphor another way, this congregation, this body of Christ needs to turn into bread for others in the community, so that it becomes bread for this particular area in Oakland in which it does its mission.
Jesus had to correct his followers a second time. They believed that following Jesus would bring them bread and it does not work out that way. Their priorities have to remain straight. Christ comes first. Seek you first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. But when you take what is secondary and make it primary, then all these things become subtracted from you.
For example, when a church puts stewardship, in terms of its budget first and then orients its evangelism around it, then it is really putting its budget before the Gospel and the promises of God. Although mission understood as the witness to Christ could be first, in terms of mere service, not even it can be first. Christ has to come first and the proclamation of the Holy Gospel of all the promises of God; and budget, economics, daily bread has to be secondary.
You and I have come to Christ, because it is upon him that God the Father placed the divine seal and the seal is printed in blood, because it is not via Christ, but Christ crucified. And it is the cross and Christ dying upon the cross that is the seal that authenticates the Word of God.
Thus the poor fish have to flop about on the pier and die. Then their flesh becomes food indeed. And you and I have to die to our old selfish lives, which take, batter, and abuse others for our personal gain, and dying to that with Christ on the cross, we rise up to become alive to God and new life to our neighbor. We simply become delicious persons, people who satiate the hunger of people’s hearts and quench the thirst of their souls. Providing that meal envelopes us in love, peace, and joy. There is no peace in the old selfish life.
Let me end with a sweet desert. In Coney Island, where we did vacation day camp, we always took the kids to Great Adventure, an amusement park with a safari ride as part of it. When we drove our old 1966 GMC Church bus through all the sections of the safari, the last one was filled with monkeys, the children’s favorites. Some of the kids started feeding the monkeys Jewish rye, a loaf we had left over from lunch. All the monkeys climbed, swung, and scampered onto our old bus for some of it. What an excitement for the kids! When the bread ran out the monkeys got mad, pulled the reflectors off the bus, the overhead lights, even pulling at the wires. Then they started pelting our bus with parts that they had pulled off it. We had to get out of there fast. Becoming bread for others is no piece of cake. It is always via the cross.
Ah, our mission only adds to the music of our witness! Christ is the gateway into abundance, into abundant life. Christ is the bread of life for the whole world. Christ is really all we need, Christ alone. Amen.