Sermon for Proper 13, Year B
August 1, 2021
Exodus 16:4,9-15 Psalm 78:23-29 Ephesians 4:1-16 John 6:24-35
Jesus feeds the 5,000 bread and fish, then leaves for Capernaum. When the people realize he is gone, they look for him and find him there. They ask, “When did you come?” Jesus then says, “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus is moving from caring for their physical needs to teach them something about faith. “Do not work for the food that perishes,” he says, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
One of the pioneers in the care for terminally ill patients, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross, once said, “You cannot address the spiritual needs of a patient when what he needs is a bedpan.” It is difficult to address our spiritual needs when we are hungry. Jesus feeds the people, and when they come back to him, is it for food or something more? Feeding the crowd is a sign for them that Jesus is a prophet, so I suspect they have hunted and found him to learn what God wants of them.
Jesus tells them they are to do the work of God, so they ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” The answer, “believe.” Believing is, for some, more difficult than doing “good works.” Many of us want to do something so that we feel we are making a difference. There is nothing wrong with that, it is a good thing to see and respond to the needs of others.
When Jesus was asked what is the greatest of all commandments, he gives us the two great commandments:
Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. The second is like unto it, thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Belief that we are beloved children of God is what enables us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind.
So, when Jesus answers the people’s question today about what they must do, saying they must believe, this makes sense. When we believe and love God completely, we can see others as God sees them. Our hearts are then filled with compassion for those who are lonely, isolated, hungry, or in need of shelter. In this context, we can see that good works in the hope of receiving salvation is not the same as acting out of love for God and one another.
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” What must we do? First, we must believe that we are beloved children of God. Then, we can be feed with the spiritual food – the true bread from heaven. Being filled with God’s love we can make a difference in our world, which at the present time is filled with people who are suffering and hungry for companionship – for a return to being able to be around and with others without fear.
In Ephesians, we are told, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Becoming one body requires us to accept the grace given to us by Christ and share the gifts we have been given by God, combine our gifts with the gifts of others that we might share God’s love in our community.
For, as the reading continues: “The gifts he gave were . . . to equip the saints [and by saints, he means believers in Christ] for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” We are to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Faith needs to be more than our individual response to God; it needs to be communal. Our community of faith, working together, can accomplish so much more than we can accomplish on our own.
Today, as I distribute the bread of communion, I want you to hear me say, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” with these two lessons in mind. When I say, “the body of Christ,” I am addressing you. When I say, the bread of heaven, I am referring to Christ in whom we believe and through whom we know what it means to love and be loved.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: we humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our ord. Amen.