Sunday, August 10, 2003

Ninth Sunday of Pentecost
1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell.

I have heard it called perpetual bread, but it is more commonly called Sourdough or Amish Friendship Bread. The Amish version is much sweeter. These breads begin with a starter -- a batter that is kept alive over time and shared with others. A friend once gave me a cup of starter and the instructions for the bread. It is really rather simple. The starter is kept in a plastic bag or plastic container. On the first day, some ingredients are added (depends on which type of bread you are making) and stirred. You stir the ingredients once a day for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th days. On the fifth day more ingredients are added. More stirring on the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th days. Then on the tenth day, more ingredients are added and the mixture is divided four ways. One cup is used for bread or cake and the others are shared with friends. It goes on forever.

One website I visited for information claimed that there are starters still being used in the US today that can be traced back hundreds of years. Other countries have similar starters for different kinds of bread. It is amazing to think that the bread I eat today might have gotten started so long ago in a different time and place. New generations of people eating new generations of yeast which keeps it alive week after week, year after year.

For the past few weeks, we have been hearing the story that revolves around Jesus' claim that He is the bread of life. It began with Jesus performing a miracle - feeding thousands with just a few loaves of bread. Then Jesus told the crowd they were following Him for all the wrong reasons. They wanted more bread, but He was here to give them something better. They wanted something they could hold, touch, see, smell and taste - proof of who He is. Jesus came to give them the Kingdom of God, which cannot be held, touched, seen, smelled or tasted, but it can be experienced and enjoyed.

In today's lesson the Jews are grumbling about Jesus' words. Jesus is nothing more than a carpenter's son, the child of their acquaintances Mary and Joseph. How could He have come from heaven? Jesus answered that they cannot know who Jesus is unless God Himself had made them aware. "And they shall all be taught of God. Every one that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto me." The grumblers weren't hearing from God, they weren't listening to what He was telling them. They did not have that connection that binds believers together - the Word of God.

They were so caught up in the expectation that the Messiah would be like Moses - one who would give them what they need and deliver them from their enemy. They did not realize that the enemy was their own selves and that what they needed was far more than food for the belly. Jesus said, "Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which cometh down out of heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die."

Then Jesus gave them the most shocking revelation of all. "Eat my flesh and you will live forever." We'll have to wait until next week to see their reaction, but we can already see where Jesus is going with this. They say hindsight is twenty-twenty vision and we live on this side of the cross. We know that Jesus died for our sake, reconciling us with God and making up part of the kingdom.

We do not need a hundred year old starter to make a loaf of sourdough or Amish friendship bread, but we need starter. Yet, every website I visited had a different recipe, some admitting that they are still trying to figure out the right combination of ingredients. They do agree that it is best to begin with a cup of starter from a friend.

The same can be said of our faith. We can try to come up with some understanding of God on our own, or follow the teachings of some great leader, but we can't see God unless He reveals Himself to us. We see Him in Jesus, through the words that He spoke, the miracles He did and the gifts He gave. Jesus knew it was not enough for us to have just the words to experience Him, so He gave us ways in which we could hold, touch, see, smell and taste the living bread from heaven. Today's Gospel ends in the promise of the Eucharist, the means of grace by which we can partake of the living bread from heaven.

Sometimes people do not want to experience God or do what He calls them to do. Elijah had just done a most incredible thing. Through Him God revealed His power and defeated the prophets of Baal. Jezebel threatened revenge and Elijah was tired of it all. He ran away and asked God to let him die. But God did not give Elijah what he wanted; He fed Elijah and then sent Him on a journey. He was about to reveal Himself more fully to Elijah the prophet, so that he would have the strength to continue God's work in this world.

Being part of the kingdom of God is not easy. Elijah faced persecution and possible death by obeying God's word. Jesus shocked the Jews by claiming to be the living bread from heaven. But those to whom the truth was revealed were greatly blessed. The psalmist knew that God was not far away, but that He is close and hears the prayers of those who call to Him, He guards and delivers His people into His kingdom. "Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good: Blessed is the man that taketh refuge in him."

Paul writes, "Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell." We are called to become more than just a copy, but to be part of the kingdom of God that has extended over time and space. The relationship with God is not some disconnected affiliation, but we are joined together by the living bread of heaven. Paul gives us some direction to help us live in our relationships with God and each other. These are not commands of how we should act to gain the kingdom - the Jews tried it that way and they never saw God.

Paul encourages us to share the bread of heaven by living as God would have us live - free from falsehood and anger, gaining good things in a right way and speaking encouraging words. We are to rid ourselves of negative feelings that grow into unhealthy action. Paul shows the difference, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you." In this way God perpetuates the bread of heaven, as He reveals Himself through out lives so that others might know Him and be saved.

Thanks be to God.

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