Sermon, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (August 5, 2018)

They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  (John 6:34-35)
The value of the U.S. market for the diet industry is estimated to be 66 billion dollars. It is one of those sad ironies of modern life that in a world where too many still go hungry, others, myself included, spend money to cure ourselves of the discomforts and diseases resulting from too much food. In a world where our fridge is always filled, groceries are within convenient reach, and restaurants cater to our appetites, we have come to suffer from our abundance.   
Our meals give structure to our life – breakfast, lunch, and dinner …snack time, second breakfast, desert time – they create rhythm by which we mark daily life and special occasions. No matter how different we all may be, as human beings we all need to eat, and all like to eat. Food is universal, and it is no coincidence that all the great religions include thoughts and spirituality concerning the food we eat and share – may these rules concerning preparation, restrictions about the food that should not be eaten, seasons of fasting, or commandments regarding hospitality and the sharing of food with others.
Food is important to our common life here at St. Mark’s too. Beginning with the weekly refreshments we share each Sunday after service, and the gracious hands that prepare these treats each week, to the monthly ‘sharing Sunday’, when we really live it up. Yet, when people say that this is their favorite Sunday, I think they are talking about more than just food and fried chicken, but also about the warm fellowship and friendship we share on those occasions. It is a feeding of body, mind, and soul.
Food has been a central component of worship at Southside Abbey from its very beginnings. This makes sense because nothing creates friends as easily as sharing a meal; Jesus shared meals with his followers, with family, friends and strangers, with sinners and saints; and, our weekly holy communion is our liturgical participation in the final meal Jesus shared – the Last Supper – in which the new covenant between God and humanity is sealed. Our daily meals can be utilitarian, but also profound events, and even sacred occasions. But unlike all the other meals I so frequently participate in, our meals at Southside Abbey have introduced me to my neighbors who are hungry.
In Jesus’ teaching that follows after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus contrasts the earthly food that sustains us, and the spiritual nourishment that brings us into eternal life. This does not mean that one should be neglected for the sake of the other. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “for our daily bread,” we ask God for both – for spiritual andphysical nourishment. One cannot exist without the other.
The early church understood this connection more easily than we do today. Theologians may debate if the agapecelebration, or love-meal, was indeed an early form of the Eucharist as we know it today; it was most definitely a sacred moment in the life of the community, in which all came together, regardless of means and social standing to share a common meal, and to feed those who were hungry. When we share ‘one bread, one cup’ today, in the form of a wafer and a sip of wine, at our weekly Eucharist, we sometimes forget the implicit commitments we make therein to feed, to really feed, those who are not fed.
It seems fitting to the occasion that St. Mark’s will once again host the community meal tomorrow. Some time, mid-morning, volunteers of our parish family will gather to start cooking the meal that has been planned, and later in the afternoon others will join to serve a meal to some of our neighbors. Sure, it is easy to think of this as just another church program, another chore to be done, but I think, we all know something much more significant is happening here. Our work at the community meal on Monday is an extension of our Eucharistic table meal on Sunday. When we sit down tomorrow evening to share a meal with the members of our community, it can be an occasion for new friendships to grow, for existing relationships to more deeply, and to encounter Christ in the other, and in ourselves.
We gather each week around this table to be nourished – to pray together, to share with one another our hopes and dreams, our fears and our worries. We come together to sing, to read and study Scripture, to share in fellowship and friendship, to share a meal, and holy Communion. I come to you today with two invitations; opportunities to strengthen our faith, and grow more deeply into our spirituality.
First, a new inquirer’s class on Sunday morning. This class – Episcopal 101 – will begin in a few weeks or the dates found in your bulletin. On Sunday November 11, Bishop Brian will be with us for his first visitation to our church. In the Episcopal Church, bishops are important. Our parish is officially his church; as a priest, I serve at your invitation and with his approval. So, his visit is ‘a big deal’. It marks the occasion when we are all invited to renew our baptismal commitments, and when new members are confirmed or received into the church. For six Sundays, I invite you to join me at the parish house, for coffee and donuts, and to learn more about all things Episcopal – our history, our sacraments, our governance, our spirituality, our book of common prayer. In short, everything you ever wanted to know about the Episcopal Church, but were afraid to ask.
Second, a new group that will meet on Tuesday evenings, once a month. In fact, the first Tuesday of each month, beginning in September. On those evenings, we will first share a potluck meal – I will provide a protein – and next use the Animate Faith curriculum by Sparkhouse publishing. Using a brief video by leading theologians, and the questions of the study guide, we will talk about the great questions of faith – about faith as a quest, how we might think about God and the Bible, about spirituality and about love. There are no right or wrong answers here; just an invitation to engage each other into conversation and to live more deeply into those things that nourish our lives.
Jesus says: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” (John 6:27) Whatever the nourishment is that you seek today – may it be for your body, your mind, or your soul – be welcome in this place, at God’s table, where God reaches down into human lives, the lives of you and me, to touch us and to change us. God invites us into eternal life in and through the food we eat, and through all the things that nourish us. God, who art in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread.