Sermon

 

A Sermon preached at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church

Lake Placid, Florida

 

Year B –10 Pentecost (Proper 13) Elizabeth L. Nelson

August 2, 2015 Rector

 

2 Samuel 11:26—12:13a; Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

 

Almost all of David’s story has been a story of God’s great blessings on David. But last week we saw that even those who are the most blessed can fall given the right circumstances with the perfect temptation. David succumbs to the beauty of a woman and has her husband killed in order to marry her and shield her pregnancy. And the story continues with our reading today. Bathsheba hears of her husband Uriah’s death, and after an acceptable time of mourning, David takes her as his wife. And the consequences for David’s sin begin.

 

God sends Nathan the prophet to David with a message that is delivered in the form of a story…there were two men, one rich, one poor. The rich man has many sheep and lambs; the poor man has one lamb that is like a daughter to him. Company comes to the rich man’s home and instead of taking one of his many lambs to prepare a feast for the company, the rich man takes the poor man’s one and only lamb. He kills it and serves it at his banquet. David is listening to this story and doesn’t even wait for Nathan to ask David for his thoughts on the story. David immediately blurts out: “What an awful man! He deserves death!” And Nathan responds, “YOU are that man!” And in words given to him by God, the prophet retells all the wonderful things God had done for David, making him king, giving him victory over his enemies and he says, “Why have you done this evil…sleeping with Uriah’s wife, having him killed, and then taking her as your own?” And God gives David a frightening prediction: “The sword shall never depart from your house; there will be trouble in your household; and your neighbors will lie with your wives…in the daylight…because what you did was done in the dark.” And what is David’s response to the word of God? David says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” What else can he say? All that he has done is laid out before him; God knows it all; there’s nowhere to hide. And David confesses and admits to his sin. This is the key—even for us—if we seek salvation. Next week we shall see how God responds to David’s admission of guilt …(to be continued…)

 

Moving on to the Gospel, we pick up the story where we left it last week. Jesus has just fed the five thousand, and while the people are still basking in the awe of what has happened, Jesus and his disciples leave. You may remember that the disciples take a boat to the other side of the lake and Jesus follows, walking on the water! Now the people look around, they see that Jesus and his band are gone, so they get into a boat to search for them. Why? Well, surely they want more food. They want to know how to make this happen at dinnertime tomorrow so they will never be hungry again. They are looking for food that never perishes…

 

Food that never perishes. That makes me think of fruitcake! Fruitcake—an enduring Christmas tradition—and the butt of a thousand jokes. I remember Johnny Carson used to say that there was only one fruitcake in the entire world and people keep sending it to each other, year after year. He added that it made the perfect gift because the U. S. Postal Service hadn’t figured out a way to damage it. Still dating myself, David Letterman had a Top 10 List entitled “Uses for Holiday Fruitcakes.” It included slices to balance that wobbly kitchen table, sending them to the U.S. Air Force as weapons to drop from airplanes, and to be used as speed bumps, just to name a few. You know the tradition of keeping the top layer of a wedding cake in your freezer for your first anniversary? It started with a fruitcake!

 

And Jesus says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” (And he’s not talking about fruitcake!) He sees the crowds with beaming faces and full stomachs and he knows why they’re looking for him. They want to be fed…again… but they missed the point of what Jesus had done.

 

The early missionaries to India used to talk about “rice Christians”: people who would show up without fail, eagerly professing their love for Jesus—whenever rice was being distributed—but who never darkened the church door at any other time. Maybe in this scene, Jesus could be calling his audience “the bread-and-fish Christians” as he tells them something they’ve never heard before.

 

“I am the bread of life,” he says, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Can you even imagine the impact those words of Jesus would have had on a people who knew no milk in milk cartons, who never heard of refrigeration or Tupperware or Ziploc bags? In that culture, unless you dried it in the

sun, salted it down or stowed it in a granary, you had to eat it right away. Otherwise, it would go bad. So what is this word…whoever comes to me will never be hungry again?

 

The gathering of food was a deadly serious business to the people of Jesus’ time. In fact, it occupied most of their time. If you needed it, or if you wanted it, then you grew it yourself — or you traded for it in the marketplace and you ate it that very day. Food that doesn’t perish: that’s nonsense! (Obviously, they’d never heard of fruitcake.) So what could this Galilean rabbi be saying?

 

Jesus is talking about life that endures. His enemies thought that by nailing Jesus to a cross they would end his little crusade, but they had no idea what would be unleashed on Calvary…life that endures… Jesus would rise on the third day, and that good news of his victory over death would travel to the ends of the earth and for all time…life that endures…the bread of life that would endure forever.

 

In our lifetime many world leaders have done their best to eradicate Christianity, but could not. We have seen monuments come tumbling down, and the cross raised once again atop those churches whose doors were once barred shut. When the communists threw the missionaries out of mainland China, there were many in our country who despaired of the future of Christianity in that land. But when the curtain was finally lifted, the church had not only survived, but it had grown! “Do not work for the food that perishes,” says Jesus, “but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

 

This is the truth of the communion bread of which we share here in this sanctuary, every Sunday, on the command of Jesus himself when he consecrated it at the Last Supper. Whether we make the bread from scratch, as some churches do, or whether we buy it, wrapped and perfectly shaped into what we use here, God allows it to be something very, very special, something exceedingly holy, with simple words of blessing. After the bread is placed on the altar and the wine is poured into the chalice, the celebrant says, “Sanctify this bread and wine that it may be to us the Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.” And with those words, through his blessing, these ordinary elements truly become “food that endures to eternal life.”

 

There once was a teacher whose job was to visit children in a big-city hospital and help them keep up with their lessons. When she was given the name and hospital room number of one particular boy, she first called his regular teacher and learned that his class was studying nouns and verbs. It wasn’t until the visiting teacher got to the door of the boy’s room that she discovered he was on the burn unit and she wasn’t prepared for what she saw… a badly burned little boy, racked with terrible pain. But she had agreed to do this, and so she walked into his room and blurted out something about being the boy’s teacher, and how she’d come to teach him nouns and verbs. As you might expect, the grammar lesson didn’t go well. The little boy was uncomfortable and he couldn’t concentrate. As for the teacher, she wondered about the wisdom of putting this critically injured little boy through such an exercise. The next day, a nurse from the burn unit came up to the teacher and asked, “What on earth did you do to that boy?” The teacher was about to apologize, but the nurse went on, “We’ve been very worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. Now he’s fighting back, responding to treatment. For whatever reason, he’s decided to live.” Later on, after he’d left the hospital, the boy explained what had changed. He had indeed given up hope—until he saw that teacher. Looking at her as she stood at the foot of his bed, he said to himself, “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and verbs with a dying boy, would they?”

 

The Lord’s Supper is like that. On one level, there’s nothing exceptional about this bread, any more than there’s anything exceptional about a lesson on nouns and verbs. Yet, the wonder of this meal is not what’s on the menu, but who’s on the guest list. For everyone who comes to this table is a sinner—invited here by sheer, unmerited grace. The wonder of this meal is that Christ chooses to be our host at all, that he comes to offer us ordinary bread that is—by some mysterious means we cannot understand—at the same time the bread of life, the bread of heaven, the imperishable food that is offered to us for no money, yet, for the highest price…paid on the cross of Calvery.

 

Remember, as you receive the sacrament, that this bread is for you—because you are worth it. Even David was worth saving. Unconditional love conquers all. We are worth it because the Host at this banquet says we are. He died for all our sins, and he has invited us, personally, to partake of this bread that endures forever. He says, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry or thirsty again.” That’s a promise we can count on!