"More Bread From Heaven" – John 6:56-69
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go 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."
You may be as glad to know as I am that this is the last, in a long stretch of Sundays, where the lectionary has given us reading after reading, from John’s Gospel, about Jesus as the Bread of Life, and about the power and meaning of the Bread from Heaven that God gives, and about what we’re to make of our celebration of Holy Communion because of it all. (At least that’s where it seems Pastor Aaron and I have taken these texts this time around.) So next week, it will be time to shift gears, finally, as far as I’m concerned, anyway. I’m almost out of things to say about the Bread of Life and about Bread from Heaven and about Holy Communion and all of that.
Almost, but not quite. Because I was reminded this week, again, of some really powerful ways that we are sharing this Bread of Life, offering this Bread from Heaven, giving away this Living Word of God, in Jesus Christ – beyond the confines of the table of Holy Communion, even, that we set from one Sunday to the next in this place. Because what we do here, matters, for sure. But it doesn’t matter all that much if it doesn’t impact or inspire what we do “out there,” to some degree.
So, first of all, I want to make sure you all have noticed the little blurb in our bulletin about our most recent gift to Haiti. From the 5% we set aside from our Building Fund, we were able to send a check for $10,000 off to Family Health Ministries – the organization that gets us to Haiti to do our work, year after year, in Fondwa. We sent that check because that $10,000 was able to be matched, and turned into $20,000, for the sake of the Women’s Health Clinic, that’s being built in the community where we stay and serve when we take our mission trips.
That money – and the pharmacy, birthing center, and maternity hospital – it will help to finish, will mean Life and Bread and Good News in practical and holy; worldly and spiritual; earthly and heavenly ways, for women and children and families who wouldn’t receive it otherwise.
And there’s this Eucharistic Ministry program that’s up and running again, too, where week after week, I’m pleasantly surprised to see a new communion kit sitting on the altar, waiting to be blessed and shared with someone who can’t join us for worship, for whatever reason. Our own Partners in Mission are sharing Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Life, in Jesus Christ – connected to and through the rest of us – in homes, and in hospitals, and in assisted living facilities with friends and family members and strangers, too. This bread and wine is the flesh and blood of Jesus, hand-delivered by the Body of Christ, because of our ministry.
We also made a new connection with one of our local elementary schools this week. I was contacted by the school counselor who, with all sorts of doubt and uncertainty about how I would respond, I think, asked if there was a way we might possibly…perhaps…maybe… be able to share some food from our pantry with a couple of families who need help feeding their children over the weekend, when they can’t get the free breakfast and lunch the school provides them Monday through Friday. I said we would love to do that, and we did. We loaded up some backpacks full of peanut butter, jelly and mac- and-cheese and a gift card to the grocery store. And I’m praying this will be a long-term connection that will grow, so that we can keep sharing the Bread of Life and this kind of food from Heaven with some Children of God who live right around the corner. (Let this be some kind of inspiration and invitation, too, to keep our pantry in mind while you shop. The shelves are looking a little bare right about now.)
And finally, I heard more glowing reports about the holy experience our volunteers had serving for and with the women of the Agape Alliance this past Monday night. The women and girls coming to Agape live and work in the streets, if you haven’t heard. And we shared a great offering with this ministry through our Mission Sunday a few weeks back. We were told that the $1,200 we gave them was a real boon for their bank account which, until they received our offering, had a balance of just $38.00. And our people have shared communion as part of their Monday night mission trips, too, which is no small thing, don’t get me wrong.
But where the rubber meets the road in that ministry, it seems to me – where the Bread of Life comes down from Heaven, even beyond the sharing of the sacrament – is when many of you have purchased and prepared food, in your own kitchens, to be shared with women and their families you may never get a chance to meet. And when the handful of our Partners in Mission leave this side of town for “that” side of town, to deliver the goods, and to sit with and pray with and spend time with women and children of God whose paths may never otherwise cross.
So, whether it’s sharing communion in someone’s living room or at their hospital bed, delivering dinner to a strange church on the other side of tracks, sending food home in a backpack on the school bus, or cutting a check to build a hospital in another corner of the world – this is what the radical hospitality of God looks like. This is what the bread from heaven, in Jesus Christ, came down to do: to feed hungry people; to comfort the lonely; to heal the sick; to make outsiders, insiders; to forgive sins; to love enemies; to welcome strangers; to find common ground among the people of God where the world says there is none.
But this isn’t as easy as it sounds, is it? This is hard work, the call of discipleship – some of Jesus’ own couldn’t hack it, we’re told. We convince ourselves, and each other that we’re hard-pressed for time. We convince ourselves and each other that we’re even more hard-up for resources. Others try to convince us that it’s not safe, or that it’s not smart, or that they may be taking advantage of us, or that those we feed may not really need or want or appreciate this bread we have to give.
When it’s Haiti, some say, “Why aren’t we helping our own, closer to home?” When it’s in our own neighborhood, some say, “What are they doing to help themselves?” When it’s “those people” on “that side of town,” some just can’t even imagine going there, literally.
But my prayer is that we receive this bread again today. That it finds us and fills us to overflowing, until we can’t help but share it. That we’ll use it to remind us of the many ways we’ve already been blessed. That we’ll let it compel us to live differently… let it move us to follow somewhere new…let it stir something up inside of us, so that we might stir something up – in the name of God’s grace – out there in the world where we live.