Brian, Baptism and Bread
August 5, 2012
Grace, peace and love to you from God.
You know I have a lot to do in this sermon, today. I have to say goodbye to an intern, welcome a baby into the community of faith, say something about the youth gathering that I spent so much time in the last three years working on, and proclaim the goodness of God through Jesus the Christ. So I have titled this sermon Brian, Baptism and Bread.
I don’t know if you realize it, but preaching is a daunting task and every time I stand to talk to you about God I get knots in my stomach. Perhaps I take it too seriously; but I try not to think that I am smart enough, good enough or even able to preach in a succinct and interesting way all the time. Some sermons come easy and others ---- well, God has to pull them out of me.
One thing I do is give thanks to God that the lectionary text, the old testament, new testament and gospel lessons are chosen by someone other than me. So along with writing a sermon, I don’t have to decide what the scripture text for a giving Sunday should be.
This week the choice of what to preach was hard. I wanted to use the words of the text from Ephesians to say to Brian: "I beg you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility.... These are words that everyone needs to hear occasionally, especially we who are called to word and sacrament ministry, we who plan to live our lives as those who teach, and proclaim the word of God, as those who accompany God’s people in times of joy and crisis, we need to hear this plea ---- those of us who are tasked with helping pass on the faith, who live as examples, and witnesses of the love of God for all to see--- all the time.
It is so easy to take our calling fore granted. It is easy to forget that to preach and teach and to be involved in the lives of a community of faith is an honor and a privilege. None of us are good enough, smart enough, able enough. It is all the gift of God. I forget this sometimes. So, I wanted to remind myself and Brian, as he is just at the beginning of this vocation, that this calling to parish ministry is by the help of God,“to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
One scholar says, that the goal of these words are the advancement of unity, love, maturity and that we grow in faith. All of our vocations and the vocation of pastors are especially for “building up the body of Christ.”
The scripture says: “We must no longer be children tossed to and fro and blown by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness and deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
I wanted to use the well known story in Exodus, the story of “the bread that the Lord gave the Israelites to eat,”as we baptize William Grant Shannon, to assure his family that God is a God of love and provision. That this God who hears the complaints of the people in the wilderness will always hear our cries: the cries of parents ----- as well as the cries of children as they grow, learn and negotiate the world.
William is joining a community of faith, composed of members who understand that God hears but also know that they are called to hear the word of God and try their best to reflect the grace of God in who they are and move from this place sharing Christ’s love in tangible ways in the world: by helping those in need, feeding the hungry, and speaking words of encouragement.
Yet, I decided to focus on that text in John’s gospel to continue the bread discourse and to ask the question: why bother to feed 33,309 young people? But first......
In last week’s gospel lesson Jesus feeds 5,000 with two fish, five loaves of bread, prayer and the power of God. When the people are feed, the event was so spectacular; they proclaim,“This is the prophet who has come into the world.”
They try to make him king; he withdraws: later Jesus catches up with the disciples and travels to the other side of the shore with them.
In today’s lesson the crowd who ate their fill get into their boats and go looking for Jesus. When they find him they are a bit confused. They never saw him get in a boat; they never saw him travel to this side of the lake with the disciples. So they began asking him questions. “Rabbi when did you come here.” Perhaps Jesus is slightly annoyed with their question. So he accuses them of looking for him
not because they saw the signs pointing to God, but because they ate their fill and want more.
He tells them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” A back and forth conversation ensues and they have no idea what Jesus is talking about. They simply want to understand who he is how and why he fed them in the first place.
Jesus is trying to tell them it isn’t about the food that filled their stomachs. It is about the one who God had sent into the world to feed them. So he proclaims,“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Did you know that settng up a staging area for communion during a youth gathering is a major fete? Ask Jane Bowman, she helped. First you have to find where the shipping company has dropped all the supplies: the vessels, the many bottles of wine and the 900 loaves of bread. When all that is done five rows with five tables each are positioned and an assembly line of volunteers unpack the pottery communion vessels trying not to ding, chip or break any of the pieces while placing 8 communion sets on each table. Now we are ready to feed 33,309 participates plus volunteers on Sunday morning.
But why bother? Hadn’t all the excitement already taken place. Night after night, the participants had heard the proclamation of God’s goodness through the stories of amazing speakers. They heard the Sarcastic Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber and Shane Claibourne who lives in community in Philadelphia and has been arrested for serving meals to the homeless. Leymah Gbowee a Liberian woman who protested for peace in the middle of a civil war was there. For her efforts she received the Nobel peace prize. Andrena Ingram my friend who has the distinction of been an HIV+ Lutheran pastor spoke.
For three days they left their hotel rooms to go out and practice discipleship, practice peacemaking, and practice justice--participating in service projects all over New Orleans.
So, why feed them? Wasn’t Sunday going to be kind of anti-climatic? Besides most of the participants had already eaten there way through New Orleans: beignets at cafe du monde, gumbo, jambalya and oyster po boys at Mother’s Restaurant. Was it really necessary to work out all the logistic to place over 150 teams of communion assistants to offer the Eucharist meal to tens of thousands of people in a football stadium?
Hadn’t they had enough fun? Hadn’t they cried enough, sang enough, danced enough? With all the conversations, the stories, the activities the explanations of who Jesus is and what God has done for us, didn’t they get the message? Hadn’t they had their fill?
The purpose of the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering was:
to help to pass on the faith to young people,
to help them see they are not alone,
to point to God,
to help them understand that believing in God through Jesus Christ does make a difference.
Yet with all the dancing, music, and spectacle one has to wonder did the message get confused?
You see we had no illusions that we were smart enough, or good enough, or even able to further this purpose on our own. Even though the collective wisdom of all those who worked to plan the gathering was amazing.
The youth gathering wasn’t about the lights or the music or even about all those wonderful speakers or service for the sake of service. It was about the one who God sent into the world, the one who gave up his life on a cross, the one who rose from the dead.
So we fed them 33,309 young people plus volunteers; we fed them bread and wine, body and blood of Jesus, so that the living body of Christ in this world might be built up---so that fed and nourished that they might go out into the world and make a difference---that they might experience--receive the precious gift of God --- Jesus the Christ in the simple form of bread and wine.
As we send off our fourth intern, as William Grant Shannon is baptized, as we come to the table might we all receive this precious gift of God in the simple form of bread and wine. May we all be fed.
Being fed, may we contemplate and remember the words Jesus spoke: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Amen