Won’t you pray with me?
Almighty God, it is once again that You have called us together. We ask now that you would bless us, cover us, hold us, but most of all, fill us for all of the places that You will send us. This we ask in Your wonderful name. Amen.
I am always compelled to note the appreciation and humbling of the worship and preaching moment. As we are given this moment where together we look within and look without at life. It is a moment when we are all divinely positioned. We’re positioned in a certain peculiar fashion and presented with the opportunity to examine ourselves, examine our relationships, the communities, societies, and even the world in which we live. We have what may be described as this transfigured moment. When we often look at our lives, our contributions, and dare I say, sometimes our lack of contributions, that have shaped our lives, the lives of those who are around us, and for many, the world in which we find ourselves. There are so many topics, thoughts, and reflections that come to mind in this moment. But when we still ourselves, when we listen to the gospel, when we open this book we know as the Bible, and reflect upon the words of Jesus, we come face to face with the central concerns of life and living. Whether listening, reading, or recalling the passages, all of the passages and circumstances may shift, but the issue of life and our living is woven into every moment. The names, the locations, and even the conversations are distinctly unique, but at its center is always the issues of life and our living.
The Scottish author and minister William Barclay stated, “There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” The gospel, the scriptures, and the words of Jesus cause us to wrestle with them both. It is in this moment when we are in the company of the divine, that we begin examining ourselves, the lives that we have been given, the world in which we live. That we experience the feelings and sometimes the realization that something is missing. We may not recognize where the need is rooted immediately, but all of us, once we recognize that something is missing, we begin to seek ways to satisfy this need. I am thankful for my clergy colleagues who in recent weeks have pressed this point. As First Canon Corsello provided us a lens to see this reality, as she expressed, and many identified, with moving through the marketplace, eyeing and sometimes buying. Simply put, she said shopping. Or as Dean Hollerith provided and called us and gave us a lens by which we could recall the shared experience of standing in front of the refrigerator door wide open. As if we’re waiting for something to speak to us, to claim us, or identify us, and tell us what is missing so that our need would be fulfilled.
We do activities like this, and we do all sorts of activities that would fill the temporary. Not the eternal, but the temporary needs that consume us. We engage in activities on every kinds of levels. Riding in cars here, going to amusement parks, doing different things to somehow make us feel like we are alive. We engage in these activities with the hope that there would be a transformation of our present disposition and our present reality. I have felt this need in my own life at times, and often wrestle when looking not only at my own life, but I recognize this need when I look at the lives of those who are around me, but also when I look at the world in which we live. It is a need that declares that there is a deficit or an emptiness somewhere. It is an experience and it is experienced not only by us, but a wrestle that has been part of human history. It comes to even greater light and awareness when we look out on the world and we see neighbors who lack regard for another neighbor. Suffering that is present in the world as a result of a lack of regard for one another. It is even seen in greater light when there is a yearning, because we recognize there is a lack of compassion, kindness, and love in our homes, in our relationships, in our communities.
We struggle when we recognize that it is absent in the encounters, the headlines, the tweets, the texts, the messages, the actions, all of the things that flood us from moment to moment, we recognize that in this world, something is missing. Well, Jesus speaks to those who are in this text, as well as those who are listening to his words this morning, who are sitting here, who are gathering with us online across the world. He speaks to us in this moment and attempts to deal with the fact that something may be missing and that there is a need, as he speaks to us about bread. I remind you that the crowd within this passage had been searching for him. And many after experiencing, they were searching for him because they had experienced the miracle of the feeding that had occurred earlier. This crowd had crossed the waters. Some had struggled to follow him on foot. They had walked in order that they would receive more of the bread that he had provided earlier. Their conversation, if you’re paying attention, was challenging. And it was moving, as Jesus spoke earlier of another bread, which was of life. And it was bread that produced life. In this conversation that was moving rapidly, Jesus calls them out and earlier he tells them not to work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life. Life and living become the central issue. The crowd seeks to make sense of his words and the self-characterization that he put forward of himself as bread. As if his initial characterization of himself was not challenging enough, Jesus immediately, and what was read this morning, elevates the conversation to another level. As Jesus looks at them and recognizes something about them. He adds a simple yet mystifying modifier to his description of himself as bread that changes everything. As they look on, perhaps hoping for bread in their hands, an immediate shift in this conversation takes place as Jesus says, “I am the living bread. 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.” Not just bread, living bread. Life and living are thrust into the center of this conversation. And with all of the reflections, their time with Jesus had touched all of their human senses. Their time with Jesus had touched their sight, sound, smell, taste, and even their touch. But here Jesus engages them on a different level as if to embody a mysterious sixth sense. What more could there be beyond what they had seen, what they had heard, what they had smelled, what they had tasted, and what they had touched? A sixth sense?
I relate to this, as I lift that term this morning, as I remember that moment when over 20 years ago now, I sat in a crowded movie theater, caught up and captivated by that Bruce Willis movie of the same name. Watching as the young child actor, Haley Joel Osment is haunted by a dark secret. He’s lying in bed, clutching the blanket, needing assistance, while the chill was running through his room, the room he was in. It was also running through the theater and the room we all sat in in that moment. His breath runs cold as he looks out, and he looks at those who are walking in front of him, and he declares with a six sense, “I see dead people.” Perhaps this is what Jesus was concerned with. He looked at them and saw that they were moving, but not alive. Consuming, but not alive. Walking, talking, eating, working, but not alive. I worry that there are moments that our creator looks down at us, even as we’ve gathered in here, and he’s concerned because he says, “I see dead people.”
What does it really mean to be alive? To have life and to have it more abundantly? Is our definition of life limited to the simple recognition of bodily activity? Are we bound by the biologists, the philosopher, and even the scientific definitions and understanding of life? Is life simply all about amassing of personal possessions? The eating of food? The need for power and position, so that we can have privilege and subjugate those who are around us, rather than elevating those who are in relationship with us? Even in this pandemic moment, that is to be dominated by the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism, so aptly expressed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Is life just limited to what we can hold in our hands and not have in our hearts? Is life so limited that it’s all about who gets the most, wins the biggest prize?
Well, Jesus offered himself and said, “If you eat this bread, that life and living would move from the temporal to the eternal. That whoever would eat this bread would find life.” I am here this morning to remind you that in Jesus, we find life. In Jesus, we find everything that we need. Many of us know what it is to feel as if you are at the end of your rope. You have had the experience of feeling as if all hope was gone. You may not want to admit it, and don’t want to tell even the ones who are around you, but all of us know what circumstances look like, that we’ve looked at and even said it was dead. We were at the very edge of the moment, existing only by the aid of life support found in the wrong places. Drinking too much, smoking too much, trying to find something to fill our need. But it was in that moment, somebody lifted the name of it of Jesus.
It is our life, our lives and our living that Jesus came to transform. It was the theologian, Karl Barth, who stated that, “The goal of human life is not death but resurrection.” When I consider Jesus, life is available through him. This is really the central issue that has troubled so many. The problem with Jesus is not centered on the fact that Jesus was born. Many are comfortable wrestling with the circumstances and questions about his life. Numerous others accept the fact that he was hung on the cross, and that he was buried in the grave. As Dr. William Augustus Jones, pastor of Bethany Church in Brooklyn, New York, once stated, he said, “The real issue with Jesus is that those of us who follow Jesus and are in his service, we believe in Jesus because in Jesus, festival follows funeral.” Hallelujah comes after hardship. And Sunday will always give answers to Friday. Bread is not meant to just sit on the table. Bread is not meant to just stay in one place. Bread is meant to be served. And I remind you today that he is alive. Jesus is living bread.
The truth is, it’s changed my life. And I invite you today to try him because he will change your life. I invite you today to remember that in him, we find life and find it more abundantly. And because of him, I’ve got hope when I’ve been hopeless. Because of him, I’ve been able to lift up my head after it being hung down. As the hymn writer made clear, and I remind you today, that I live my life and am able to celebrate life because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future. And life! Not what I’ve got in my pocket. Life! Not sometimes when it’s floating through my mind. Life! Not just because I’ve been in good places and even been in the valley low. Life is worth the living just because he lives.